Although I was a good student in elementary through high school, I hated history with a passion. I hated it so much that I went out of my way to avoid it whenever I could, even into my college years. If I could skip history and take government instead, that was the option for me. And it all boils down to the books. I’ve loved books since I was small, but some way the history text books I encountered as a child were boooorrrrriiiiiinnnng. After that, when I started to discover that history could be interesting, imagine my surprise and confusion.
The people who write these texts are authors, and one would assume they wouldn’t be writing history texts unless they have a passion for history. What the heck happened along the way? Did the books get edited until the emotion was removed? Did some political group who chooses texts for public schools decide that dry was the only fair way to go? Did the author fall on his or her head in the middle and lose the ability to translate that passion into English?
And it isn’t just history. Science texts could put you to sleep –science, which is the all about discovery and should be incredibly cool! English texts end up being all about grammar and rules of writing (which are meant to be broken anyway). English, now called language arts should be rife with stories and powerful writing. And math. Good lord, the average math text book is the nail in the coffin to any remotely distractible mind. Lucky there were teachers to show me how, because I’m pretty sure that I’d never have gotten anywhere in math based on the directions in the book. And I was a good student. The rest of my class, not as willing to ask for help, got hopelessly lost over and over.
I’m not the only one who has noticed this. I buy a lot of stuff from Rainbow Resources now. You can tell by the blurbs which textbooks passed their dull-o-meter and which ones didn’t. If I’m going to use a text book, I can pick something that isn’t a total drag. But the best part about homeschooling is that I don’t have to use a book at all. That’s right, no text books.
I can remember that my first year of homeschooling, I’d never have considered this. At that point, the notion of unschooling was as foreign to my ears as the Korean language (meaning that’s one of the few languages where I don’t know even one word). That first year, Pumpkin was in a homeschool coop, and the teacher, a good friend, (who had homeschooled her daughter for eight years) mostly picked the books. A few of those are collecting dust on a shelf because they were total bombs. We bought those first books through Winter Promise, which doesn’t offer ratings or commentary and doesn’t let you see a sneak peak. My friend picked things that might have appealed to her daughter but didn’t pass my son’s dull-o-meter. But even my friend remarked that a few of her favorite publishers had gone downhill in just a few years.
We briefly tried unschooling. Pumpkin didn’t feel that was school, and while it was fun, he wanted to feel that he was in school. Secretly I suppose I’m grateful. There are lots of kids who learn a lot from unschooling. I felt like mine was spending hours on legos and nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, there are great things to learn from legos and I still have that as part of his education. But I’m not sure how much standing still we’d have had to do before he started to really grow in his learning again. And anyway, I want him to feel that he’s learning too.
But I did discover some things from unschooling and I incorporated those into our rather jumbled schooling philosophy of today. We don’t have a science book, but I do have lesson plans (mainly because it helps me have experiment supplies on time). We do experiments and he writes them down. We did a little more hard-core science year before last when we did the periodic table lap book. I used an elements book to help me, but it wasn’t a text, it was a Costco find written by an element collector. We do have history books, but they’re written well and I broke the books up into small lesson chunks of reading followed by hands-on activities that again include a lap book. For language arts I don’t have one text, I have six. I mix them up with free writing assignments. Free reading is really free. He can read absolutely anything he wants to. Math doesn’t have much description at all. We’re using a book designed to supplement learning. It’s very colorful and it’s full of games. Our other courses don’t include any texts whatsoever. Spanish is being learned through library checkouts, sometimes CDs.
But the best part is that sometimes we actually just use games. Scrabble, Math Bingo, Anagramania, Yatzee, Labyrinth, Around the World, Trivial Pursuit, and more. They are all part of our learning plan.
And really there is only one rule to our learning plan — no boring texts allowed. The dull-o-meter hasn’t gone off in quite some time.