Grade based curriculum packages offer a level of security which feels reassuring, but they have some significant drawbacks.The majority of these products are either books designed for schools, or programs for home educators which follow the Australian Curriculum. In some states, HE (home education) families have to follow this curriculum, and as HE numbers have grown, companies have seen a market opportunity. Victorian families have the choice to follow their own learning journey, one which meets the needs of their child. However, that can seem the harder option, and concerns about ‘keeping up’ and ‘covering the right things’ can make packages look appealing.
The reality is that few kids are ‘at grade’ in every subject. This means that when you purchase a package, some of the content will not be appropriate to your child. Many packages are based on workbooks, generally the least exciting way to learn anything, but having written ‘proof of learning’ allows boxes to be ticked. The reality is that just because a question has been answered in a workbook, there’s no guarantee that real learning and retention has taken place. The low tech method of talking to your child is actually the best way to find out what they really understand, and help with areas they are struggling with. There’s a reason why PhD students have to sit a viva.
The quality of all in one bundles is often lower than individual products, as they are usually written by a committee rather than a passionate, knowledgeable individual. As a result they are less likely to inspire joy. They are seldom written by home educators, the very people who understand what HE parents really need.
In return for the convenience of a package, there’s usually a financial cost to pay. It’s true that the bundle may be cheaper than buying each product individually, but if you were buying individual products, would you really want everything that’s included? Certain key learning areas (KLAs) are being covered already by nearly everyone through everyday life. Most kids are active in some way, and most parents help their kids understand the importance of physical, dental and mental health as well as good diet. That means Health and PE are being covered more than adequately, and health is a great example of something which needs to be learnt at just the right level, and at the time the question arises.
Arts and Technology are hands on subjects, where creativity and the freedom to follow an interest are key. Why paint a daffodil or learn how to draw circuit systems, when you could illustrate a comic about your superhero dog, build a chook house, or make an Arduino intruder alarm? Creativity, problem solving and soft skills are more valuable skills than filling the blanks or following someone else’s plan.
“That’s all very well for some KLAs” you might say, “but what about English and maths?” Well maybe those are the areas where you buy a workbook (after first checking the content, rather than just the grade), or purchase a curriculum for that subject (second hand if you can). Look for things which match your child’s learning style, are visually appealing and have good content. Many HE specific products are multi level, meaning siblings can work together. They are often written by educators who aim to inspire, and are less likely to be made simpler or too basic for children with a keen interest. It’s common to see open ended tasks, a greater degree of choice for assignments, and integrated hands on activities.
Alternatively, you could work with what you have already, particularly as you establish where your child is flourishing and where they might need more support. Play games, read together, discuss the world around you. Humanities and sciences are KLAs where an interest based approach is particularly suitable. If a child is passionate about, say, birds, you can find resources online, purchase a field guide, sign up for an online course, take excursions and join a birdwatching group. A passion in one area of science is likely to expand to other areas in time, whereas being forced to move on to the next chapter of the general science book is unlikely to do so.
There’s nothing wrong with using a curriculum, but it’s a shame to spend a lot of money on something that’s not what you expected or which doesn’t fit your child.. Wherever possible borrow, or buy second hand– expensive is not necessarily better. The school curriculum is designed for use in a class, based on the ‘average child’, it covers set subjects in a consistent order so that kids can move from one school to another without being disadvantaged, and it’s a progression created to give kids the skills they need to succeed at VCE — even though the majority of the content will have no relevance once they leave school.
If you were to write a list of the important things you have learnt in your life, would it look much like the Australian Curriculum? The idea that one set of facts or skills is a preparation for all lives is absurd. Some skills such as reading, writing and basic maths are universally required, but don’t have to be learnt in any set way, or at a set time. The all in one, grade based bundle cannot cope with a child who is great at arithmetic, but not geometry. It will force a child to study Australian explorers even though they live and breathe Romans, or go over science concepts that they grasped a couple of years ago.
So if you are looking for resources to support your child’s learning, I’d encourage you to step a little outside the grade based box set, and to take advantage of the freedom we have to create a tailored education for our children.
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