Inspiringly Peculiar Curriculum Approaches
This writing is coming to you from quiet time revisited, an erstwhile habit that I am once again leaning on. An hour to oneself in one’s room with a book or an empty page, dim with just the dappled sunlight from the window, maybe the bed is made and crisp to rest on, maybe not—it works wonders on the mind.
And the kids, who have the run of the rest of the house, fall strangely silent as they pursue their own ideas. The six-year-old is usually found in the kitchen, arranging and rearranging some sort of snack platter. The three-year-old likes to stay nearby me, and roams in and out of her bedroom across the hall, singing to herself, rearranging toys, and sprawling on her bed (though never, never, falling asleep). I often need to remind her that “it’s quiet time” and I can’t resolve her question right now, and each time she brightens as if thinking—"that’s right! you said that!” The nine-year-old and eleven-year-old rarely need ideas to occupy them, often seen curling up with a book or sprinting across the lawn, talking to themselves, in a realm of their own.
*To be clear writing this newsletter was not done in an hour.
Two years ago almost to the day I sent a substack newsletter entitled 4 Summery Homeschool Strategies: soaking up the season as you capitalize on its leisure time.
I stand by the principals elaborated in that newsletter, they were:
Plan for the breaks
I’m not going to repeat those ideas, but if you are interested in reading more here’s a link to that newsletter.
In today’s newsletter I would like to dwell in the inspirational category of Read Ahead, in particular to take a look at two people given entirely unique educations and how that went for them.
A Wonderful Writer Who Was Homeschooled
A new file under the “Homeschooler Doing Something They Love” heading is the writer Emily St. John Mandel. Mandel writes fascinating sci-fi novels—beautiful detailed writing set within surreal, dark sci-fi plots. Her books garnered even more attention during the early pandemic because she had published Station 11 just a few years earlier, a novel about a global pandemic that wipes out 98% of the population of earth.
I looked up a few interviews with her to find quotes about her experience to share with you. She would be the first to say she didn’t receive a comprehensive education at home from her parents—there was almost no math or science education. However reading was abundant, and at one point, writing was the only thing required of her. Here’s a summary from an interview she gave …
Mandel: Eventually I went to this alternative high school program. It was meant for high school dropouts. You had to have been out of school for at least three months to qualify. Because I'd never been to school at all, I qualified. You also had to take an aptitude test to get in—everybody got in, but they wanted to know where you were, education wise. So on this aptitude test I scored in the first percentile for mah and the 100th percentile for English. That influenced the whole course of the rest of my life, I think.
I: The bottom one percent? Were your parents skipping math during homeschool?
Mandel: There was not a lot of math, no. Not a lot of science.
But lots of time to read, which I'm sure had something to do with my current career.
But I didn't actually ever like math that much, to go back to that aptitude test. So, I didn't finish 12th grade. I never did the math component, so I don't actually have a high school diploma. […] It was an interesting education, but I read a lot and I wrote a lot. (You can read the whole interview here.)
Mandel published her first novel when she was 30 years old, without finishing high school or attending college. My takeaway? Of course we all aspire to offer accessible learning in every subject area, but it’s also nice to remember that if a child flourishes in a particular field early on, encouraging it as much as you can is not such a bad idea.
Another way to see it: your child’s talent will find a way to reach the light and blossom, but try to keep an eye out for the sprouts.
an interview with her that I really loved, though it doesn’t go into the homeschool detail, is this one with Ezra Klein. Podcast/ the transcript
The Last Letter of a Visionary 14yr Old
This is a deeply sad one to share because the young man I want to talk about died in June in a kayaking accident. But he has been on my mind ever since I read about him; and the message his parents enabled him to pursue is worth spreading. Cole Summers described himself a teenager who intended to “spend all my time trying to work toward changing the business model of desert farming to quickly stop aquifer depletion while keeping thousands of acres from being turned into dust bowl farmlands.”
If you go back through his twitter feed (which I recommend) his writing vividly shares his passions as a 12, 13, and 14yr old—solar-friendly energy-optimized buildings, helping his parents around the house, water conservation, learning to operate a farm, and writing a book.
The resounding sense from reading his work is how much purpose he found in life on a day to day basis.
You can also read one of the last things he wrote, intended to be shared with the world: How to Be A Pioneer. An excerpt…
I started homeschooling because my parents are both disabled, and them being homebound enabled us to try it. I started unschooling specifically because I started watching videos of Warren Buffett on YouTube at my father’s suggestion after I asked him, “Daddy, how do people get rich?” I was fascinated by Mr. Buffet’s teachings about how he uses the process of elimination in his decision-making. I guess I was an odd six-year-old. At that time, my parents were trying to copy public school curricula. I asked if I could make studying people like Buffett my school instead, and they said yes.
That’s how I spent my first grade year. I learned about business, but I focused on decision-making processes.
I couldn’t help but contrast Summers’ obvious joy in his work with the message many young people are given today: not yet/ you don’t know how/ there’s nothing left to discover / wait until you’re older. Isn’t this thing—purpose—the very thing we are sensing many early adolescents, in particular males, searching for lately? Aren’t we seeing this in our rates of depression, suicide, bullying and the money spent in online gaming? Young adults are hunting for a purpose, a way to share their immense value with the world; and as a society we are struggling to help them see it.
🌾 Around Here
A few things we are into around here:
11 yr old: Finishing up the Keeper of the Lost Cities series and eagerly anticipating the publication of the ninth book in the series, due this November. Intrigued by this comic book about migrants that our local library had available. Enjoying the Netflix series of Marvelous Mrs. Ladybug and Where in the World in Carmen Sandiego?Talking about her goals for this academic year, advocating for me to find her a tutor in geology, and thriving in a local three-week long theatre camp.
9 yr old: Almost the same as her older sister regarding shows and theatre camp, reading many graphic novels and joyfully keeping up with the summer reading challenge (and prizes) at our local library. Listening to Dad read aloud The Count of Monte Cristo. After the summer camps are done, she’s eager to sign back up for the drawing classes she takes from Outschool (she enjoys the ones run by the Young Art group on there).
6 yr old: spends a good bit of her day on self directed art projects, and another quarter of it looking at books by herself. She soaks up as much read-aloud time as she can get from me—about an hour every day—often focused on graphic novels (I mentioned many of them in this post). She asks to do a formal reading lesson once or twice a week in the summer. Likes to talk about what we should make for dinner, how we might set the table, and check the garden for new tomatoes, peas, lettuce and flowers that she can harvest and bring into the kitchen.
3 yr old: plays with duplos and magnatiles every day. Listens in on her older sister’s read alouds, but then asks to be read simpler illustrated stories. Asks for a reading lesson anytime she hears her older sister doing one. Loves it when her older sisters will help her build lego castles. Loves to run and yell outside, swing, and play imagination games (though these only happen when I stay in one place and she can come check on me).
A Stack of Recommends
Certain homeschoolers are already sharing the curriculum they’ve chosen for this coming year. Intimidating to encounter; fun to read. (I’m intrigued by the book she mentions, How to Think Like a Scientist.)
And a quote for you (resonates with me 100x)
And so what started as a drive for achievement, and for her to be ahead, and challenged, and all these things, kind of morphed into almost the polar opposite—now homeschooling and wanting to cherish a slow childhood. Feeling it a privilege to be able to—not hold her back—but just to let her be.
-Amber Johnston, in an interview on the Homeschool Conversations podcast.
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