Saying goodbye to the Ontario Curriculum
A year of road travel will teach you to be less rigid in your scheduling. I’ve always thought that I’m a pretty laid back person, not really prone to anxiety over small things, and that I’m flexible with my planning. While that’s all very true, I also came to the realization in the last year or so that I was way too attached to one way of doing things when it came to education. Which is ironic, since I’m a fairly eclectic homeschooling parent. But the teacher in me was still hanging on the the Ontario curriculum.
While we were travelling, my husband did most of the homeschooling while I turned my attention to freelance writing full-time, which brought us some extra income on the road. While we carried the Ontario Curriculum checklists with us, we didn’t often reference them. Our structure for homeschooling while we were travelling was very, very flexible, especially because so many of our outings had so much educational value. Here are just some of the things our kids (and their parents!) were able to learn when we let go of rigidity and fully embraced our life of travel:
1. Learning Science without the Ontario Curriculum
We learned about the lives of insects at the Newfoundland Insectarium, about desert ecosystems at Saguaro National Park, about bogs at Kouchibouguac National Park, about seals and their life cycle at La Jolla Cove, about chemical reactions at the Saskatchewan Science Centre, and the list goes on and on.
2. Learning History, Social Sciences, and World Cultures without the Ontario Curriculum
We learned about history when we ran across commemorative plaques on walks, we learned history at various museums, and we learned more at historical villages like Orwell Corner and Percé. We learned about indigenous culture and history at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor and the Museum of the American Indian in New York City. I could keep going, but you get the picture.
3. Learning social skills without a kindergarten curriculum
With all due respect to hard-working kindergarten teachers and Early Childhood Educators, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: full time kindergarten is free childcare for working parents. Number 1, it’s not mandatory, so please stop asking parents, with tones of excitement in your voice, with what sounds more like a statement than a question: “So your kid’s in kindergarten!”
The focus of kindergarten in the Ontario Curriculum is play-based learning, which is wonderful. But children do not need to be put in a box and given structured play to learn. Young children are always learning, always inquiring, and the best way to encourage them in these pursuits is to allow them to play freely. Lots of time outdoors, and lots of room to let them decide how they want to play is the name of the game if you really believe in playing to learn.
Although living in a less than 400-square foot space may seem restricting, it’s quite the opposite. We spent very little time in the RV and a lot of time in the great outdoors, hiking to our hearts’ content, visiting libraries, exploring both works of literature as well as works of architecture, going to amazing playgrounds, and simply exploring our surroundings. Each time, our kindergartner had zero issues coming up with play activities that helped her have fun, learn, and make new friends.
4. Learning math and language arts at our own pace, without the Ontario Curriculum
For math and language arts, particularly for learning to read, we still did “seatwork,” because that’s the way our kids were learning best at the time. Still, the Ontario curriculum fell off the wayside as we concentrated on teaching what our kids were ready to learn. Yes, when people ask what grade my son is in, I say “grade 2,” because that’s the only thing people who don’t homeschool can relate to. But no, he’s not doing the things the Ontario curriculum says he should be doing during grade 2.
Because we’re working with him at his own pace, he gets excited over being able to do new things, without pressure to prepare for senseless testing. As he works at his own pace, he gets more and more interested in learning for the sake of learning, exploring for the sake of exploring, and in the process, a lifelong love of learning can start to develop.
My oldest daughter is a bookworm, so we allowed her to read to her heart’s content. Yes, she read more than she wrote, because at the time, that’s where her interest was. This year, without being prompted, she’s writing more. Because she’s more interested in it. By not pushing her to do something she didn’t want to do, she came to it of her own accord, and her love of writing will develop as she grows and learns along with us.
Leaving the Ontario Curriculum behind
Up until we returned from our year on the road, I was still hanging on to the Ontario Curriculum, sometimes anxious because I knew we weren’t hitting every target for each kid. But upon coming home and realizing how much learning my kids did when we allowed unstructured play and exploration, and the fact that they still remember the majority of that learning a year later, I decided the Ontario Curriculum is not necessary after all. At least not for me, a homeschooling mom with the luxury of not having to worry about classroom management or a scoreboard for the school.
But if I don’t follow the Ontario Curriculum, how do I know I’m providing appropriate instruction?
Firstly, to put any fears to rest, please understand that homeschooling parents in Ontario are not required to follow the Ontario curriculum. This is explicitly stated in the Policy/Program Memorandum No 131, which further clarifies the rights of homeschooling parents, as stated in the Education Act. Therefore, parents have the right to use whichever curriculum they see fit to teach their children in the way that serves them best.
Secondly, I know I’m providing appropriate instruction because I’m helping my children develop a lifelong love of learning, which is what education is supposed to do. I’m also teaching them to become contributing members of society by involving them in their first community: the home, and their outside communities, such as their extracurricular activities at the YMCA and at our library. I know I’m providing appropriate instruction because I see them grow everyday, being curious, getting excited over learning how to read or how to write poems, working through practical math problems both as we sit down with a math book and as we go about our day.
What we use instead of the Ontario Curriculum
We are a fairly eclectic homeschooling family. We don’t follow any one particular philosophy of learning, and we adapt to accommodate the way our children learn best. With one extremely introverted child, one extremely extroverted child, and a child who has ADHD, is on the Autism Spectrum, and has Developmental Coordination Disorder, flexibility and adaptation are the name of the game in how we teach and learn in our household and beyond. We pull from various curricula and philosophies to do what works best for our family.
This year, we have been using Right Start Math, The Good and The Beautiful, How to Teach Art to Children, Who am I? and the Blessed series. We learn science according to the children’s interests, and research what they would like to learn about. Currently, we’re reading about cheetahs and the domestication of cats; last month we learned about rocks and the rock cycle. We often go back to studying more about the solar system, as they are fascinated by the facts surrounding it. The solar system song is still a favourite.
We also learn from reading a tonne, using Duolingo to learn French and Portuguese, and using the odd video to supplement our research into the children’s interest for science and social studies. We teach physical activity by example as we exercise together as a family; we teach about healthy eating by planning and prepping meals together, and they learn about household management by helping out at home whenever possible.
I also develop some of my own curriculum for some subjects. Being a trained teacher helps in this regard, but is absolutely not necessary. In fact, most of the curriculum design I learned, I learned from experience rather than from my teacher’s training.
For now, this system is working for us. Next year may be different; even next month may be different. We learn and adapt as we see our children grow and their interests change. Being homeschoolers allows us great flexibility in choosing our learning activities, and letting go of the Ontario Curriculum was a great step in the direction of better individualized learning for our family.
If using the Ontario Curriculum works for your children, by all means continue to use it. But if you have even an inkling that it may not be working for you, try setting it aside for a while and following the kids’ interests. See where it leads. The results may surprise you.