Let's talk about curriculum for a second. Curriculum is an artifical construct - something not found in real life - that's created to progress the skill of 20-30 kids at the same time and in the same way in a classroom setting. There's nothing natural about that from the standpoint of evolutionary biology. I'm not saying we should never have classrooms or curriculum. Heck I'm finishing up my 2nd masters and have 40 doctoral credits. I'm familiar with curriculum. Thing is, I chose this path of my own free will because the degrees mean something to me. On the other hand, most kids would not willingly choose any or much curriculum if they knew there were alternatives; and curriculum is by no means the only or most natural way of learning a skill. It's not how humans generally learn. It's not how humans evolved to learn. That's what I mean when I say it's an artificial construct. I mean it's something people have made up for a specific purpose and place.
We all accept that each child learns to walk and talk in their own time and their own way. If I were to propose talking classes for toddlers it would sound ludicrous to you. But what's the difference between talking lessons and writing lessons? If humans are capable of learning spoken speech all on their own can't they also learn the intricacies of written speech all on their own?
Yep. They can! And unschoolers are great evidence of that.
I can hear the arguments running through your head, because many of the same ran through my head at one time or another...
- "But my 10 year old never writes. If I don't force it they'll never learn!"
- "My 6 year old can't write a sentence yet. She's so behind. How will she ever catch up?"
- "My child has dyslexia and never even began reading until 8 years old. I need to work with her or she'll never learn this on her own."
- "My 13 year old will need these skills for college. I have to teach them!"
- "My state requires these skills for annual testing! We have to teach them!"
Nothing could be more simple - or more difficult. Difficult, because to trust children we must trust ourselves - and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted. John Holt
In the ensuing years, Helena has challenged everything I once believed about education and how children learn, specifically the role of reading and writing in learning. (Hint: it's super overrated!) Over the years I've learned - sometimes the hard way - to back off my fears, to focus on connection and relationship first, and to trust her. In time she's shown me that she is learning all the "basics" in ways that are uniquely and beautifully her own, on her own timetable, and not at all the way I would have predicted or planned.
In 4th grade she came to me wanting to write an APA style research paper like I do for grad school. She decided she wanted to write it on snowy leopards and her primary question was "Do snowy leopards in zoos have more toxins in their blood than those in the wild due to being closer to civilization or are toxins higher in wild cats from environmental pollutants?" Wow! That sounded more like a doctoral thesis than a 4th grade project, but ok. Together we read a few library books on these cats, made notes on cards and organized them into piles of topics, and then delved into Google scholar and peer-reviewed articles. We never were able to answer her question but we did learn a ton and had fun! And her paper impressed our public school teacher/neighbor. I think it's important to note that prior to this Helena had never written more than a couple of sentences. There was on linear progression from sentences to paragraphs to essays to research papers.
But what if she hadn't done this paper? No problem, she'd learn APA fomatting and about peer-reviewed scientific literature later - if and when she needed that info.
After this project, Helena wrote nothing for a long time. Then in 5th grade she wanted to write fiction. She used voice dictation to write down her stories and met with local homeschool mom and international award winning author Jennifer Roy for a writing club. Jennifer wisely advised "Don't make her finish what she starts writing" explaining that she'd lose the joy in it if forced and telling me that she herself started stories all the time as a child that she never finished. Sage advice even if it did leave me hanging in suspense a number of times when not one story was finished.
In 6th grade Helena wrote and published a few articles for iGen21.com and created her website Paws for Herbs.
In 7th grade, thus far, she's begun one story. You can read it here on her IG account. I read it and thought, "Wow! This. Without worksheets, grammar lessons, or forced writing...!" It's a great beginning for a story!"
Thoughout the years I've exposed Helena to topic sentences, making a heartmap to get ideas out and turning that into an outline, basic parts of speech by playing MadLibs, and other proper grammar and punctuation mostly by noting when it's improper in articles, books, and so on. No worksheets needed. Just living real life.
Your own child's path to learning written speech might look very different from Helena's, and that's ok! Bottom line is if you're living life together with an ounce of intention it will happen. And let me tell you from exprience... there are MANY college students, graduate students even, who can't string together a coherent paragraph with a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and conclusion. 12 years of curriculum and they never learned the basics! Trust your child to learn. They mastered the spoken word in their own unique way and will master the written word likewise.