Sunday, January 21, 2007

When is a curriculum not a curriculum?

Spend any amount of time on a message board or forum associated with general homeschooling issues and sooner or later (my money's on sooner) you'll encounter a post that goes like this:

Help! I don't know what to do with my preschooler! She's three and soooo inquisitive - please tell me a curriculum I can use with her. I'm so lost!

Responses to this desperate plea can generally be categorized according to type. Some will assert that the OP is doomed to ruin her child's love of learning forever if she doesn't banish the word curriculum from her vocabulary immediately and cease all attempts at guiding the young mind. Others will quite earnestly recommend packaged pre-K set-ups from well-known homeschooling suppliers and suggest that surely a three year-old is ready to conjugate. (At this point, it's not at all uncommon for the thread to derail completely into the very tired and tiresome Homeschooling Method and Approach DebateTM, the details of which can no doubt be recited by heart by anyone who frequents such boards and upon which I, if granted the ability to impose my will on the subject, would institute a strict moratorium.)

For my part, I see the poster's question differently. Most of the time I have encountered this problem so wrenchingly posted, I don't see it as a request for curriculum at all. I see it more as a request for help with ideas for enjoying time with a young person whose needs have all of a sudden morphed from naps and nursing to shapes and colors. This transition can be a difficult one for everyone concerned and many parents find themselves just adjusting to the idea of a "baby" when all of a sudden they find themselves with a kid - one who runs, jumps and creates with what seems to be a physics-defying velocity.
For these parents I recommend activity books, which are the very same sorts of publications marketed to teachers as curriculum, but without that hot-button designation attached. Re-read the post this way...

Help! I don't know what to do with my preschooler! She's three and soooo inquisitive - please tell me a book of activities I can use with her. I'm so lost!

...and the request takes on another tenor entirely, one much less threatening to those who would react to a single word rather than the content of the message and clarifying to those who would enroll the child as soon as possible in the nearest co-op. It's a completely different question, and one that has less to do with politics, nomenclature and self-identification by method within the homeschooling community and much more to do with sharing ideas, parent-to-parent. If we knee-jerked less and cared more.

For the record, I have a few books I recommend to parents in such straits. Some of these are intended for parents (and are, then, activity books) and others were written for teachers in an institutional education setting (and are, then, curricula). All of them are beautiful, full of songs, games and crafts and easy-to-execute activities just right for the parent wondering "what shall we do today?" with no hand-wringing or fretting over method needed.

The Everything for Spring/Fall/Winter series is chock full of rhymes, recipes, games and crafts. Some activities were written with a classroom in mind, but are easily customizable.
This science-related activity book is meant for younger kids and is chock full of interesting little projects that are easy to accomplish with household items.
A wonderful book geared focusing on the rhythm of the seasons and (primarily Christian) holidays and offers detailed activity and handwork instructions for toys, dolls and games.


Lady Liberty said...

Sometimes getting the right answer is in asking the right question. Sometimes you are not even should what the question should look like. People with more experience should keep this in mind.

Sarah said...

Wonderful post. Like many I always shudder at the idea of curriculum with preschoolers. You put this so succinctly, getting right to the heart of the matter. I've always just suggested oodles of hands-on activities at this age, surfing the web for ideas. I forget sometimes that some folks need a more concrete book of ideas.

Marsha said...

Lady Liberty - Sounds like you know just what I'm talkinga about! I hope you've been able to find resources to help you and your family execute your educational vision!

Sarah - thank you!

Lara said...

I put off buying anything that resembled a real curriculum until my son was in first grade. Generally, kids will tell you what interests them. No matter what that might be, you can usually find something about it at the library. My son and I read on all sorts of highly unusual things at that age. And crafty people (of which I am not) can usually find corresponding crafts to go with most topics that would interest a preschooler at any number of websites. Kids learn so much at that age with so little effort as long as the oppotunities are there.

nina said...

Well said. I am home schooling my preschooler using "activity books" for ideas. I want to offer her different experiences and hooks for the future. I also think it is difficult to be a home schooler when your oldest is only a preschooler.