Organic Learning vs. Curriculum Learning

Organic Learning vs. Curriculum Learning

I’m finding this subtle balance in our school days as we are almost at our halfway mark in the school year! I’m finally finding a balance! I want to comply with State laws (PA is a stringent state with their homeschooling laws, in my opinion, they are *too* strict and overbearing, and in their over regulation they limit the parent’s ability to school their child as the child needs. But that is for another post!) I also want to teach Sarah on her level, at her pace, and in a way that reaches her experiential knowledge, instead of just giving her a lot of useless facts to memorize and then forget by the time she turns 16, or 18, or 23.  Useless facts can be good for cognitive function, memory development etc. but I want to teach her things she can apply to LIFE!

In trying to strike a balance between curriculum and life, we’ve found that we can hit all “curriculum” areas, and easily log them, if we make sure to emphasize certain concepts.

Formal Curriculum Use:

Each day we do at least two ‘formal’ curriculum activities. We do a formal math activity, which is a written math exercise. I like to do 2 pages for Sarah. She blows right through them, even with the difficult concepts! What a Math centered child she is! We also do a formal Reading/Writing exercise. Which usually includes one of these, a book read aloud, a writing exercise, a journaling activity, a McGuffy’s Primer Lesson, Or a Reading Comprehension exercise. We do mostly the McGuffys, but on some days we stop to do a Reading Comprehension, and often when we do a HUGE science project, we journal about it, and practice 1st grade science related Vocabulary words.

Several days a week we do other formal Curriculum activities. For Science we use “The World God Made” By Edward J. Shewan, and “History for Little Pilgrims” by Christian Liberty Press. These have overarching themes and build on prior knowledge.

Every day we try to do a Bible activity. We use the Bible itself, studying passages that apply to daily life, such as Eph. 6, Matthew 18, and whatever else we deal with daily that we need scriptural exegesis to find principles to live by. If we aren’t having a day where that is the focus, we may review Proverbs (we try to listen to each Proverbs every day, so that by the end of the school year they are at least familiar, if not memorized.) We also supplement with a Catechism Book called “Small Talks on Big Questions” which is a classical catechism approach. On most days we also study AWANA verses.


This is the fun aspect of homeschooling! The unschooling doesn’t mean that they aren’t schooled, but that concepts and ideas are reinforced in everyday life, and not JUST in curriculum activities. It is a philosophy of purposeful living, catching those “teaching moments” in the act, and using them as a moment to encourage thought, skill building, or the forming of good habits. For instance, We don’t just do a formal review of the Bible, it is mentioned, quoted, referred to, spoken of, and lived by in every aspect of daily life. For instance: If somebody is being mean to the cat we discuss what Leviticus has to say about animal cruelty. Or If someone throws trash on the floor, and is asked to “think of others needs higher than self.”  so that they learn to be considerate and consider the need to keep our home tidy!

Apple Picking is a yearly activity for our family. We’ve gone from picking apples at orchards, to growing our own fruit trees in our backyard.

  • Math: this is reinforced in things such as cooking, portion sizing, dividing up legos fairly when playing, setting a timer to clean up the toys, figuring out how long it will take to drive to Grandma’s, counting out coins for a grocery store purchase, choosing how many potatoes to bake for dinner (if there are 5 of us, and everyone gets 2 how many should we bake?) Organizing toys for put away, how much can I fit into that bin? etc.
  • Reading: This one is my favorite! Reading a headline on a news article, the words in their favorite cartoons “Hey MOM! That says DANGER!EXPLOSIVES!” A funny picture on facebook with a caption, trying to decipher what that sign says, how much those peanuts cost at the grocery store, what does this book say? How do I navigate the menu on the DVD player and/or Netflix? Who is calling us on the phone? The possibilities are endless and change daily. It is just a matter of noting, and making the most of, the use of text in our daily lives. Fluent readers don’t even realize how much we read, until you have an inquisitive 6 year old beside you saying “Mom? What does that say?”
  • Science: This one is a whopper! Things such as cleaning out a pumpkin to cook, picking apples, caring for the garden, finding a caterpillar, discussing the pregnant cat’s gestational cycle, why the woodstove makes our house warm, how to prevent a fire, how to start a fire in the stove safely, why ice cubes freeze, melt, what happens when we mix a batch of wet ingredients, add heat, then they are done? Making Christmas presents for relatives, etc etc. Collections in the backyard (Hey Mom! I found 500

    Ren Faire Costumes sewn when the girls were little.

    rocks!) (Hey Mom! I brought in a WHOLE PILE of leaves!) (Mom! Look! The cat killed this mouse and ate half of it! What is THAT?!)  It can be gross, difficult to explain, but terribly fun and adventurous, if you’re willing to stop the gag reflex long enough to explain!

  • Social Studies: The outright lie  erm… myth, that homeschoolers are socially inept is just laughable. The opportunities for social development within a homeschooling framework are much more rich and diverse than the day in and out peer dependent framework of a traditional school setting. On a regular basis homeschooled children can participate in church services, group functions (of ALL ages! birth to 100!) donation efforts for Christmas, emergencies, etc. They can, and do, interact with that lady at the store, my co worker and employers (I clean homes on the side, and sometimes they come with me.) cashiers, teachers, our Pastor, their friends on play dates, special events such as plays, gatherings, etc. They know how to interact with new babies, young toddlers, other children their age, older children, teenagers, adults, etc. They talk to the friendly couple at the restaurant, manage the business interaction at the grocery store, post office, gas station etc. They also join me at the bank, when meeting with our tenant, viewing our property, and other business activities. They see, learn, and participate in many different social situations as they grow, and mature into new roles and opportunities.

    Pumpkin Cleaning, something we do EVERY year to prepare for all the holiday goodies we will gladly bake!

  • History:This is just a regular thing for us. I am SUCH a history buff it isn’t even funny! We sew costumes, attend the Ren Faire on occasion when the wallet allows… Or we watch movies with a historical setting (I am a HUGE Jane Austen Fan!) We discuss the differences in social niceties, items available (Mom! What DO they do without TV?!) food preparation… etc etc. I am also a huge fan of museums, field trips etc. It is HIGHLY likely that we do more field trips than most folks. I just LOVE them! I also have become quite adept at finding free/cheap places to go

    Every year we spend all of Spring preparing our garden for what will hopefully be a full summer of fruits, vegetables, berries, and beautiful flowers!


  • The Arts: This is also something I am vastly interested in. The children are always on the lookout for new ballets available in full online, or on Netflix. The Nutcracker and Swan Lake are the current favorites. They also enjoy local band and orchestra concerts. We make it a point to find out when and where we can attend those. Each time the kids give their own pop quiz on instruments, their sounds, uses, and distinctive qualities. Hopefully, as God provides, we can add into that a bevy of personal music lessons. The dream right now is for a violin. We’ll see! 🙂
  • Documentaries:This has a category all of its own! The girls are avid fans of Dirty Jobs, How Its Made, MythBusters, Discovery Channel Documentaries, The Creatures That Defy Evolution series etc etc. They are more likely to request these things than Superman, (1942 cartoons, I’m SO into classics!) Rocky and Bullwinkle, or PopEye. If they want to spend an hour a day watching documentaries on Ancient Egypt rather than Blue’s Clues, I’m totally cool with that!Overall this combination of Curriculum led activities and “unschooling” methods with purposeful teaching has led to some pretty fun “ah HA!” moments, and an education that isn’t just a passive submission to a plethora of facts being stuffed into one’s brain, but an experience that lasts a lifetime, and teaches an application of theory that has more longevity than any test, quiz, or other paper and pen application of education! And, it starts long before any of the children are “of school age.”

About measureofagift

I am a mother of a growing group of sweet kids. We laugh, we cry, and we grow together in Christ. Every day is a new adventure. I love chocolate, sticky kisses, quirky smiles, and funny qoutables my kids come up with. :) Belly giggles, snuggling, and homeschooling round out the list of loves. Not every day is easy, but every day IS a beautiful gift. Our life as a family is slowly changing and growing as a result of a renewed interest in God's Word. His influence has been a slow process of sanctification, and this blog is evidence of it. Past posts, and current posts have changed in tone and goal, and are a testimony of all that has changed in our lives. <3 "Now, All glory to God who is able through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we could ask or think." Eph 3:20

8 responses »

  1. I am by no means criticizing nor pushing my beliefs, I am completely curious on the whole “homeschooling/unschooling” aspect. I went to Catholic school throughout elementary and high school which was incredibly structured (which is possibly where some of my questions stem from). you stated that where you live there are strict home schooling standards. I am assuming that there is government testing in order to show that children who take part in homeschool are where the state thinks they should be. The “unschooling” (which I think needs to be renamed) the children learn through experience, conversation, and questions opposed to a textbook. Does/could that impose an issue? Lastly, how does the whole “dimploma” thing work? Is that State issued or do they have to pass a test? I feel like the “unschooling” word causes confusion, as the children ARE learning just not as formally as society is accustomed to.

  2. Unschooling is a term coined by John Holt in the 1970’s. It mostly means that children can learn more fully by doing things rather than just reading about them. (my own take!) For instance, a Home Ec class is fine, but no replacement for someone who has spent their entire life helping Mom in the kitchen, Dad with the bills, and whomever is making repairs. Reading about how to replace brake pads isn’t the same as doing over and over and over until you get it! We do a mix of traditional methods, and unschooling. The traditional curriculum approach can be more balanced, in that it has regular reviews, covers subjects in an ‘orderly’ manner. That is why I do some of that. I know everything is covered. (You are correct in assuming there is formal testing in PA. But you also have to submit a portfolio, log school days/hours, and cover a specific set of subjects. On top of that you must send a notarized statement to your school district that you are homeschooling, and they must approve of your portfolio/test scores, and if not, they can require additional documentation, if you do not meet these requirements, they can force you to place your child in a school.)
    In any case, unschooling as a whole tends to just be living purposely. Taking the time to explain WHY you must put eggs in that cake, or why it didn’t raise when your child forgot to add the baking powder. Taking the time to teach your child how to count out change while you at at the grocery store, etc. Also, in the beginning, requiring your child to participate in the household needs, doing chores, and purposefully contributing to household needs. On top of all of that, as they grow, and mature, you add more to your “unschooling” it increases in complexity. Perhaps you may support their language learning by learning it yourself and speaking only french at dinner. Or you may apply learned principles from science or math to car repair, practical applications such as allowing them to help you balance the checkbook. Or asking them to figure out an itinerary for the family vacation, figure out leaving time, arrival time, stops in between, what route you will take etc. That alone includes geography, math, and just plain common sense! 🙂 Many people today just socialize with their children, we like this because EVERY single moment is a teaching moment. Right down to what they choose to wear in the morning. That alone can be a lesson on weather, fashion history, art, etc.The possibilities are endless! By losing the rigid structure, you gain so much more! The only difficult part/downfall is in making sure that you are comprehensive in what you cover. (Sorry for such a long comment, but your question was so good and multi faceted! LOL! I hope I answered it well enough!)

  3. I forgot the diploma! In the process of homeschooling in PA, one hooks up with an evaluator. The evaluator sees your child to determine if schooling is adequate, to administer testing, and to review portfolios. This is separate from the school district where I am. The evaluator I intend to use is one who also runs a local Christian School. Your child can get a diploma from his school. Otherwise I’m not sure how that works, since I always knew I would take this process, as he was my evaluator, and did a great job!

  4. Hi,
    I saw your comment on either KimC’s blog or Raising Olives (can’t remember which one) about homeschooling in PA. I think you said something PA requiring 180 days, but you didn’t know if they really cared when in a calendar year you did them. (Hopefully I’m remembering that comment correctly!) As a homeschool grad from PA I just wanted to let you know that honestly the state doesn’t care when those 180 days happen. The school year officially runs from July 1st to June 30th every year and if you start on July 1st or October 24 they don’t care provided that you get those 180 days in.

    Also, I think you mentioned that your oldest is 6. In case you weren’t aware, in PA school is not mandatory until 8 years old* so until the 6 year old is 8, that child doesn’t have to have an affidavit filed. * The exception is if the child has already gone to school or if you’ve already registered them as a homeschooled child. Once that happens, they DO have to be registered if you are homeschooling them. So, if your 6 year old has never gone to school or has never been registered with your district as a homeschooler than the state and district really have nothing to do with your homeschooling until that child hits 8. (Obviously, you should make sure that you check this out in detail for yourself. This is all as I remember it being when I graduated a few years ago, and I’m pretty sure that nothing major has changed. has a message board (it’s on the left side of the page) where you can get more info and they have a lot of links and all the laws well spelled out. This site also spells everything out pretty well too.

    Hope you don’t mind my jumping in here, but I wanted to make sure you were aware about the 180 days not having to be from September to June and the 8 years of age thing.

    Hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving!


    • Thanks Vi! I have since found out that that is ok (My Mom homeschooled my siblings and in PA and I checked with a few contacts.)
      As for the 6 year old not being mandatory, I know I don’t have to log anything as of yet, or keep any records, but I am anyway, for personal purposes. There is a whole gamut of reasons why we need to keep track of what she is doing and when. One reason being it is great to get in the habit sooner than later! 🙂 For now though, there are a few other reasons as to why I’m going the extra mile. I really appreciate your info though! Nice to have all of those little details confirmed!

      • Yes, keeping record early can be great! My mom did it for us even before it was mandatory and it’s been nice to go back and look for fun at what we did in 1st grade for instance. She didn’t do the full log or anything but did keep records out what we read and any field trips etc.

        Anyway, I hope you didn’t mind my jumping in I just saw your comment and wanted to make sure you were aware of those things. 🙂

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