This question is similar to, “How Do You Know What to Teach?”, but it differs in that the inquirer knows the kinds of things to teach but just has so many options that they don’t know where to start.
Ever been there?
For example, in History you know that you want to teach your children about the Ancient Greeks, Medieval Times, the Ancient Egyptians, the World Wars, Australian History, and all those other fascinating periods of history. But where should you start? Well with History I prefer to work chronologically. It makes the planning easier to navigate and I think it makes things clearer for the students as well. It builds a bit of a timeline in everyone’s head.
Math also has a logical order, and to some degree Language as well. Simpler skills are the basis for more complex skills. What are these skills? Do what I do? Cheat! No, not in the ‘naughty’ way. Check out the table of contents of any general Math or Language textbook. Online many textbooks share their ‘Table of Contents’ as part of their sample pages. Print a copy of one. Voila! Your course of study. Alternatively, you can buy a textbook and follow it. I do this. Life’s not meant to be hard, I reckon. And there’s nothing stopping you from adding in extra juicy bits, so the textbook meal doesn’t become bland. I do this too.
Science is a different kettle of fish. You could buy a textbook and follow it. But many Science textbooks cover a specific area of Science, so you’re back to square one having to decide what to study next. Well there is a train of thought (from the book, “Well Trained Mind”) that you follow a sequence that links in with History. When you study the Ancient period, you study the Science field that the Ancients were most familiar with – Biology (animals, plants and the human body). When you move into the Medieval and Renaissance periods, you could study Astronomy (space) and Geology (earth) while learning about the greats, Copernicus and Galileo. Then Chemistry during the period when the first great chemists lived and finally Physics during the modern period. I certainly started out doing this but I have tended to stray as the years have progressed. You see these subjects don’t need to be chronologically taught, (although some of the topics are more suitable to different maturity levels). I have found that the world around us better dictates which topic to study when. For example, a couple of years ago it was, “The Year of Astronomy” so it made perfect sense to study Astronomy, although it was totally out of ‘order’. When cool critters crawl into our ‘classroom’ we studied animals. Of course, we don’t only follow timely topics, otherwise some topics might never be covered. I keep a list of Science fields and make sure we cycle through them all before repeating topics. You don’t have to be super strict about it, but the list just helps to ensure areas aren’t totally neglected.
While we do follow our interests when selecting some topics to study, I don’t rely on it solely as unschoolers might. Through experience I have found that I would avoid topics that I ‘thought’ were not appealing, but when ‘forced’ to study something I wouldn’t have freely chosen, I can actually enjoy the topic. This happened last term when we studied Australian Explorers. I couldn’t have been less motivated about that topic if I tried. But it was on the chronological list of History topics to study so we hesitantly ventured forward. Surprisingly, we all really enjoyed the topic. We would have deprived ourselves of this experience if we’d been led by our emotions and interests. So tread carefully if interest is your sole compass. You may miss a lot of gems.
So, when pondering what to study next, look for a logical order of study or sequential list of skills to be learned. If there’s no real order then create a list of topics and work through them in a way that makes sense to you. Try not to get bogged down for too long in the same topic (‘too long’ being years…or when everyone cringes at the thought of the topic) and be careful not to avoid topics because you fear them or lack interest in them. Dive in, keen to explore. I’ve dreaded plenty of topics but I’m yet to loathe any topic once we’ve started. I used to think I hated Chemistry, since I had terrible memories of it from school, but the boys and I had such fun studying it. I couldn’t help but like it. And it made me chuckle to think that I was studying a topic I did so poorly at at school. My Chemistry professor would never have believed it!! Hehehe.
Having a basic structure of what needs to be studied and which topic you might pick next, brings peace and clarity, and a sense of direction and achievement. I’ve seen people study themselves in small circles and others who’ve hopped superficially all over the place. If we were going on a worldwide holiday of a lifetime we would certainly plan out an itinerary, not of every little detail, but at least a basic idea to make sure we saw all of the important stuff. Our children’s education is worth more than, or at least as much planning as a holiday, or so I think. And truly, it’s not as hard as it might seem (it’s certainly not as convoluted as the National Curriculum makes it seem), just a simple skeleton of an order or key areas of study.
Then pack your suitcases and you’re off on your homeschooling adventures.
Bon voyage! 🙂