Friday, 10 June 2016

Should I use a curriculum?...

I noticed a few new home educators have been asking, which curriculum should we use?
Can I suggest, what about no curriculum! No curriculum? Really? ...I am not anti formal learning, I just want to open your eyes to the possibility of the wonderful world of flexible home education.

I can talk with confidence about this, as we have used curriculum, when I first started home education, 18 years ago, there weren't many people doing it. I managed to find a few people and pinned them down and questioned them with my list of 'how to HE' questions. One veteran home educator wisely counselled me not to tie myself to a formal curriculum as it would restrict our creativity and exploration of subjects. I heard what she said, but I was scared and under pressure from disapproving relatives and friends around me, I felt I should formally follow a curriculum as then I won't miss any topic of learning or mess up.

So thats what we did, I found at the time there weren't many curriculums available in the UK, as all of them were developed and produced in the USA. So we used one that was being imported at a reasonable price, which looked pretty comprehensive. We stuck with this until my eldest was 10 years old, but I observed that my eldest son was getting more and more morose, many mornings he would come down stairs, stop half way, sit down with a sigh, and ask me how many pages of work he had to complete today. This wasn't making my heart sing, as my idea of home education was exploring topics and enjoying them, finding things fascinating, exploring the world.

When my eldest son was pre-school age, our favourite thing was to snuggle on the sofa and read lots and lots of factual picture books, my son loved learning, and was fascinated. I didn't see this when he was working his way through work books from a formal curriculum.

I didn't start my younger son on the same formal curriculum, as he was such a lively practical child, he didn't suit this learning style at all. This is when I started to doubt what I was doing. I tried many different learning styles out, we did Charlotte Mason, 5 in A Row, Sonlight, workbooks etc. Non-really suited us, so finally with trepidation, I stopped searching for formal ways to lead our learning and started exploring things that interested us, at the time my eldest was fascinated with marine life, so we started exploring that, reading books, watching documentaries, visiting Sea Life centre, going to the beach to catch crabs and explore rock pools. Suddenly this is where our learning became alive, we weren't restricted by how many pages we had to complete that day, and we reignited that passion for learning and exploring.

Having never liked history at school, I absolutely didn't want to get a dry old text book and teach my kids dates on a timeline. Instead, we read books together of stories set in history, like 'The Machine Gunners' or 'Huckleberry Finn'. We read and listened to a ton of Horrible History stories, my youngest could sing some of the songs from them, learning history with out realising. We visited castles, and places of historical interest, like Omaha beach in Normandy, which the boys were so moved by the cemetery for all the dead, which was very shocking, and helped them grasp the horror of war.  We watched movies based on historical events, which always an sparked interest in the era that the movie was set.  For example, I remember watching Oliver, and the boys starting to ask about the Victorian times, which is not something we had ever looked at, from that we found the amazing 'Victorian Farm' series on TV, plus 'Turn back time' which looked at the history of the high street. We found that so fascinating, we went to visit our local village high street butchers shop, and they had old photos of the shop through the years, they were very happy to chat to us about it.

As well as topic learning, we went out and about joining in with other home educators. We did group art lessons, practical hands on group science lessons, we learnt to build cob walls, we did nature groups with pond dipping etc. We did sports groups, many kinds. We went on trips, walks and park visits together.

We have taken several trips to Europe, where we toured about. In one trip we tried to experience as many countries as we could. Which included learning to speak the languages of the country we were in, reading signs and menus, talking to locals. Experiencing the biggest mountains my sons had ever seen at the time, which sparked a plan to climb all the highest mountain in the UK, which we will have completed this summer. We have been to the Olympics, we have met the Queen, and over the years the boys have gone off on many adventures with their various scouting and cadet groups.

Need I say, we really didn't miss a full formal curriculum, we did use various online maths tutorial programs to keep maths ticking over, but this didn't kill our love of learning in the other subjects.

This is how we enjoyed learning up to the age where my sons started to think careers and wanted qualifications to support their future careers. At that stage we studied IGCSE's with my eldest and are currently doing the same with my youngest, but this is very positive formal learning as we have a clear goal in mind and we are looking to the future. My eldest then went to Sixth Form College to study A levels, where he studied History formally for the first time, his History teacher told us it was so refreshing to teach a student that was genuinely interested in the subject. This week he is sitting his exams and after he will be heading to a top University to study Law.

I hope this might inspire someone to take the plunge and try flexible Home Education.


  1. Such a brilliant HE blog! So valuable to others. Don't know why I haven't found it before. All the best. x