The Curriculum Dilemma: Sucking The Fun Out Of Learning


Meet the humble aphid.  A soft-bodied, slow insect that sucks the juices out of fresh new growth on plants.  They can literally kill a plant, and those they leave alive will have stunted, deformed leaves or worse.  A gardener’s annoyance and a ladybug’s dinner.

Yes, I’m still on aphid duty.  The baby mantis are proving to be inept hunters who struggle to catch the quick fruit flies.  So, aphids.  Again.

And it occurred to me as I harvested aphids tonight on my nightly pond run that they’re a perfect metaphor for the curriculums we’ve been testing out lately.  Like the aphids, these curriculums seemed designed to suck the fun right out of learning.

Today we signed the Engineer up for a trial month with Acellus Academy: an online school with videos, questions, and a complete set of curriculum.  Supposedly you can pick and chose which levels your child needs – in reality, that’s difficult to do with a pre-reader.

His assessment tests put him in second grade math, third grade science, third grade social studies, and first grade reading.  The first lesson for reading was all about the letter A and the sounds it makes.  He’s known that A says aaahh since he was 2.


Second grade math and third grade science both required me to sit there and read the questions to him.  He could do the content, but not read the questions.  So much for trying to ease up on my workload.

What struck me the most during the Engineer’s first social studies lesson was that despite the opportunity online school offers, they stuck with the standard teacher-in-front-of-a-board format.  In this case the board changed a few times to show a couple of photographs.

The subject was Community: learning what community is.  Instead of walking around a town and pointing out public service members, houses, and so on, they showed points of San Francisco: sea lions, the bay, the bridge, a person at a desk working.  I don’t think sea lions are part of a community personally, but they were on the quiz at the end of the video.

I get it, not all learning has to be fun.  But on the flip side, neither does learning have to be excruciatingly boring and dry.  And so far, every curriculum we’ve tried pales in comparison to life.

It’s really hard for me to tell my kids “here, sit down and do this lesson” when even I think that it’s boring.  That’s not fair to them.

Interesting.  Engaging.  Gripping.  Applicable.  That’s the kind of curriculum I want, the kind the kids need.  Not dry, boring, or completely unnecessary.

On one of the assessment tests they asked the Engineer if the directions on the map were cardinal or diagonal directions.  He looked at me, completely confused.  I looked back, also confused.  I’ve gone my whole adult life without knowing that North, East, South, and West were cardinal directions (see, I looked it up!)  And frankly, I’ve never needed it.  Ever!

I would much rather that he learn which countries border our own.  Or be able to point out Tanzania on a map.  Or any number of more applicable life skills that we are woefully lacking as Americans.

We’ll work on the things he’s interested in, like Elementary Engineering, and when our month is up, we’ll disengage and be done with Acellus Academy.  I’m not sure what we’ll try next, but hopefully the SEA conference will give me a better idea of the direction we’re headed.  Because right now, we’re headed full blast into unschooling.

Oh well.  At least it gave him the wonderful experience of sitting down and doing a test.  After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?  /sarcasm

Note: I’m sure that Acellus is a wonderful program that works for a lot of people.  I was excited to use it because it looked like it would work for us.  It’s just not a good fit for us. 


The Power Of Physical Touch

You remember the newborn stage, right?  When the medical professionals preached about skin-to-skin contact, or when you could calm your infant simply by picking them up?  Infants crave physical touch.  It’s critical to their health and emotional well-being, among other things.  But here’s a secret for you:


They don’t outgrow it. 


I know.  America is a bit of a stand-off kind of society.  We value our personal space.  We don’t like little kids invading it with messy faces and grimy hands.  We hold hands when we have to, and drop them when we don’t.  Hot, sweaty little hands are irritating and slimy, right?  And it’s just plain weird to hold hands with our teens or tweens – and they probably wouldn’t want to anyway.  God forbid you actually hug them.

I’m very much a stay-out-of-my-bubble kind of person, but having kids changed that.  Actually, I changed that.  On purpose.


Supporting My Gifted Kid


Most almost 6-year-olds like Disney’s Cars – Transformers – Splatoon – even Sponge Bob.  They want crazy chaotic, cartoon birthday themes.  What does my kid want?  Carnivorous plants.

It’s his current craze – his project.  I think we’re probably nearing the end of the intense fascination because we’re running out of materials to take it any further.  Still, when asked what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday ….

Good grief.


Grieving Over The Reality Of 2e


Today … how do I even describe today?  The part of the doctor’s visit where I found myself physically restraining my son not once, but twice in an hour’s span?  The part where he complained that the Brainpop video about carnivorous plants didn’t have anything new in it – he knew it all.  “And mommy, they called them creepy!  They’re NOT creepy!”

The part where he lost it emotionally over his little brother taking apart his carefully designed train track?  Where he lay weeping on the floor, inconsolable over a toy that could easily be rebuilt?

Today was more than the last few days have been.  The last few weeks – months even.  I had lulled myself into forgetting what life can be like with 2e because we had such a great stretch of improvement.  Today was a bobble.   A stumble along the road of maturity.  But it still sent me into a tailspin of mourning what he can’t have.


What The ____? Why I’m Ok With Letting My Kids Swear

Language warning: please do not read if you’re easily offended by curse words.


My current parenting policy on swearing was formed about 30 years ago.  The kid-that-I-was I had goofed – messed up bigtime.  My mom was MAD at me!  And it took a little explaining for me to understand it, because I had no idea what it was I had done that was so bad.

I used a “bad” word.  I don’t even remember what word – probably damn or something similar.  Whatever it was, it made my normally calm mom upset and flustered.   You see, in our little sheltered circle, kids didn’t use swear words.  In fact, kids who swore had their mouths washed out with soap: a holdover from a more corporal punishment kind of time.  Swearing was bad.  Swearing was dirty.  Good girls didn’t swear.