Any homeschooler will tell you that one of the chief advantages to teaching your children yourself is that you as a family get to decide what is important to learn. Never mind national standards, the state curriculum, or the care and feeding of 4th graders.
What Every Second Grader Should Know. I know the authors mean well, but those books are comparable to What to Expect the First Year. Before you have a child, you read the book religiously and think it's an instruction manual similar to the user guide accompanying your DVD player. After you've survived a year with the first kid, the instructions make no sense whatsoever. What's that saying? With the first you boil the bottles, with the second you rinse them, with the third you just check to make sure nothing is stuck to the bottom.
On the other hand, maybe you will have a typical, average, normal second grader... or fourth grader or nth grader. Surely there is at least one child out there that actually knows all the appropriate things for a 3rd grader – no more but no less. The rest of them are more like mine, I suspect, all over the academic map.
I have a 7-year-old taking high school Shakespearean drama whose handwriting skates perilously close to illegible. My eldest T.A.s in virtually all of her classes and volunteered for a pet store for nearly a year, but does language mechanics exercises only when forced to at the point of a gun and gets the answers correct only through the laws of statistical probability. Come to think of it, her printing is pretty lousy, too. Maybe it's the teacher's fault. I haven't written anything down in nearly a decade. And Mera? She's a class all by herself. Actually, she's three or four classes since her academic ability stretches from 3th to 9th depending on the subject.
But unless you educate your children via the most radical unschooling path, eventually you join the rest of us -- we all have to answer that question, “What do I teach next?” For the most part, the question solves itself as your children dive down a literary, scientific, artistic, or historical rat hole. What you do next is to stand back like the tutu girl in a magic show and unobtrusively hand your magician tools, colored handkerchiefs, and small domesticated animals while he or she awes and delights the crowd. Then you pack up all the props and costumes and move on to the next show.
Sometimes, however, this process needs a nudge. Or a shove. Or maybe you just need to push your child off the cliff. I believe the unschoolers call this process “strewing,” an activity which sees you littering your home or boat with things that might happen to tweak the child's interest back into the learning process. You might drop a magazine on a table or add a book to the library shelf. There are email messages with interesting links, trips to craft shops and hardware stores, or a walk in the woods with a jeweler's loupe and a notebook. The process is elegant in its simplicity and in the gentle, almost noble manner in which it brings out the eager learner in your child.
And this is where I depart from the radical unschoolers, because I just don't have the patience for strewing. When the girls run out of things to do and start whining at me like “regular” schoolers two weeks into summer that they have nothing to do and are “bored, bored, bored”, I pull out the state curriculum and tell them it's time to learn World History.
I think of World History as the bully club of strewing. Where subtly fails you, a large book entitled America: Revolution the Present or World Geography and You do wonders for inspiring your children to more seriously take their education into their own hands.