The Curriculum of Life

What curriculum are you using this year? The girls and I are going to be using the curriculum of life.

Surely day-to-day life doesn’t provide many learning experiences? Most days are the same, aren’t they? And perhaps this is true unless we regain our sense of awe and wonder about life, and keep alert.

How often do we wander from day to day without asking any questions? I am sure we miss so many opportunities to muse and ponder and take delight in what’s around us.

On Friday, the repairman returned to fix our washing machine. After hand washing our clothes for nearly three weeks, I certainly took great delight in a washing machine restored to perfect working order. And the delight may have ended there except Sophie said, “We won’t have to hang dripping clothes on the line any more. No more soggy clothes! I wonder how the machine makes them so dry.”

We found ourselves talking about centrifugal forces which led to other forces such as gravity. We mentally visited a playground and an amusement park. We rode the roller coaster and slipped over on an iced-over lake. Then the best bit of all: I told the girls an old story of when I used to work in a research lab in a university. (They love hearing stories of my life before children!) I described how I used a centrifuge to separate the contents of my test tubes.

Later that same day, Sophie and I were making yogurt and we did some more wondering. It started when Sophie wondered if her batch of yogurt would be a success. Perhaps it would end up runny like a few of our recent yogurt making attempts. Could the yogurt culture be alive? Is it similar to yeast? What is it exactly? After we’d determined that yogurt culture is bacteria and is indeed alive, we then talked about how we have microbes living within us. I won’t describe how we moved onto worms. That was rather an icky story!

We are having a solar hot water system installed in a few days’ time. Andy is busy putting down some pavers for the water tank to stand on. “It’s a big tank. Lots of hot water and we won’t have to pay for it!” Soon we were discussing the advantages of solar hot water. We  compared clean renewable energy sources, to that generated by electricity power stations. Someone even remembered the wind power farm we saw near Canberra. The discussion went all over the place. Oh my! I am sure we covered a huge part of the school curriculum in one conversation, without even trying. But we could have done even better…

Andy and I did the initial research when we were trying to decide which solar hot water system to buy. Perhaps we should have included our children in the discussion. We could have shared the maths too, when we were working out the bills and wondering if we should use some of our ‘extra’ mortgage payments to buy the system.

Electricity came up again when someone noticed that some appliances have a two pronged plug while others have a three pronged one. Why? I had another old story to tell: “When I was a teenager we lived in England for a while. The appliances there were sold without plugs. We’d have to buy a plug and fit it before we could use whatever we’d bought.” I then described the wires inside the cords and how a plug is fitted. The girls were very interested: It’s all different from their own experiences.

This morning, on the way home from Mass, we were discussing some statistics that had been published in our parish bulletin. They had been taken from the last census and described the Catholic population in our two local parishes. We found ourselves comparing numbers. We tried to work out why some figures were higher for one parish than the other. We talked about percentages, and made some predictions about our growing Catholic community… We did some real life maths while we travelled home from the church.

There are learning experiences everywhere…

I bet there’s a whole wealth of them in our supermarket trolley. Sophie asked me the other day if I read labels. Do I read labels? Oh yes! All the time!

The girls are sewing dolls. I bet there’s lots of things to discuss there. Gemma-Rose asked me to buy her a piece of black felt so she could make her doll’s eyes. But does she know what felt is exactly? And how does the synthetic variety differ from the real stuff? And how does a ball of wool end up multi-coloured? (I would like to know the answer to that question!) And when we look at a paper dressmaking pattern, what exactly do the imperial measurements, the ones we usually ignore, mean?

Do you think anyone could learn anything while doing the housework? How about the action of bleaches and disinfectants? And stain removers. Then there’s static electricity and dusting. How do vacuum cleaners work? Oh dear! If we muse too long, we’ll never get the cleaning finished.

Musing too long… Turning everything into a lesson could be overwhelming. Asking questions that we expect our children to answer, might dampen their curiosity: “Oh no! Mum’s asking questions again.” I could easily have ruined a great trip to the animal sanctuary on Gemma-Rose’s birthday by turning the outing into an excursion: “Now Mum’s giving us a lecture!”

And I wouldn’t want to force my children to listen when they’d rather learn about something else.

But idly pondering on an equal basis can be very enjoyable. Taking the time to talk together about anything and everything, and telling stories… I reckon stories are a wonderful way to share. They fix things into our memories without any effort at all. And the best stories – according to my children – are the ones I tell about my own experiences, especially if they belong to another time and place.

I think I might get out my homeschool records book, and jot down all the things I mentioned in this post. I’m sure we covered a lot of the school curriculum without even meaning to (which is rather useful as we have to fulfil certain homeschooling registration requirements.) Why make complicated lesson plans? All I need to do is share all the experiences that happen every day around us – just in case my children are interested – and be willing to answer all the questions they are always asking… and then write it all down in my book at the end of the day.

And, of course, if the day does look like it’s going to be rather ordinary and boring, and no one has any ideas of their own about what to do, there’s always strewing… That’s good too!

I’m saying good night to Sophie and Gemma-Rose. Before I turn out their bedroom light, Sophie smiles and says, “I really enjoyed talking to you today, Mum! Didn’t we have some interesting conversations?”
“We certainly did!”

Image: Andy and the girls looking at the birds at the animal sanctuary on Gemma-Rose’s birthday.

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    • Hwee
    • February 5, 2014

    We are enjoying learning from the opportunities that life presents to us, and drawing from simply being curious about what's happening around us and in our environments. I find that learning in this way feels more natural and relevant because whatever arouse our interest/curiosity is much closer to our daily experience and concerns, rather than the topics suggested in certain syllabus or textbooks which can feel very remote and sometimes quite irrelevant.

    1. Reply


      I think you are so right! I noticed how you were learning about fogs a few days ago when you were experiencing them where you live. Kids can see the value in the information they are learning. Yes, it's relevant!

  1. Reply

    I love those conversations with my kids! I learn so much more because they think of questions which never occurred to me. I had to laugh about ignoring the imperial measurements – I'm surprised you have them! We ignore the metric…

    And happy birthday to Gemma-Rose!

    1. Reply


      It's those enjoyable conversations which cover so much that convince me we are on the right track!

      Imperial measurements… I suppose the envelopes of the dressmaking patterns are printed for the international market. We actually had a great conversation leading from this. We did some research about the history of measurement. I didn't know your American system isn't quite the same as the imperial system. Did you know the distance from Henry I's nose to the thumb on his outstretched hand was one yard (or so they say)? Such funny ways to measure some units of measurement!

      Thank you for the birthday greetings for Gemma-Rose!

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