If Charlotte Mason was right, education is a life. Education will restructure a life, but it’s a two-way street. Life also structures education, intentionally or accidentally.
It is near-impossible to drum up a sustained interest in ancient literature if it doesn’t enjoy so much as a mention in everyday conversation. Conversely, the table saw used by an uncle for his job as a carpenter will arouse a fascination, regardless of its absence in the curriculum.
There is a curriculum in the space between lessons, in the figures who model ongoing, meaningful learning projects. Here are four ways you can take Sonlight to the in-between places.
1. Bring Math-U-See to the Workplace
I can sympathise with my daughter who sees mathematics as a distraction from real life. She would drop it in a heartbeat to connect with a friend, but I want her to experience the places where mathematics is actually the means of social connection.
One evening I asked a friend who owns an artisan bakery if he would let us come and be a fly on the wall, to see the inner workings of the bakery. (Whether we proved to be more like a fly on the wall or like a bull in a china shop, they invited us back.)
The next time, I brought the Math-U-See manipulatives in the car. Over lunch with the children, I interviewed the couple who owned the business. I asked them why they started it. I asked about their experience employing staff, and about the finances.
Before driving home, I turned to the backseats and used the manipulatives I had brought to explain income, expenses, and profit.
Before we next visited, I asked my seven-year-old to be an investigative journalist. After questioning them, she wrote in her journal that they loved reading comments from satisfied customers and that they were using ratios to measure the right amount of flour.
The next morning, the kids were playing baker shop featuring the 1:10 ratio and some very happy customers. The hidden curriculum had worked into their pretend play.
My daughter needed to see that the manipulatives communicated something, not just of educational value to Daddy, but of social value in a person’s life-work.
2. Bring The Odyssey to the Dinner Table
Those who are not stay-at-home parents enjoy a special opportunity to flesh out the relation between your learning program and the adult world. They can set your learning to the tune of something bigger.
Set up a video call with the missionary family your church supports, and ask them if they have ever had to be honest with the government like Gladys in Gladys Aylward. Have your archaeologist sister-in-law over for lunch and ask if she has encountered superstitions like the archaeologist in Sticks Across the Chimney.
If your conversation with your partner over dinner consists of nothing but money problems, scheduling, and an occasional movie, those little listeners may begin to believe that math only presents problems later in life, and that literature is something one grows out of altogether.
On the other hand, if mom and dad have a conversation over dinner about the difference between the portrayal of violence in The Odyssey and in the Old Testament, maybe literature is a serious business. That's when the hidden curriculum comes into focus. Maybe understanding cultural perspectives on suffering is a note in the song worth hearing, even when there is a schedule to worry about.
3. Bring Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to the Trampoline
When I started homeschooling my kids, I would read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to my two eldest who bounced on the trampoline. I would walk around the trampoline, talking over the maddening squeak, putting the six-month-old to sleep in the encircling push-chair. I can’t say I was enjoying Alice, having read it aloud four times already, but this was a moment for the hidden curriculum.
When I was a young teen, I played music to my father in the car. I was into Christian death metal. He wasn’t. Not only did he listen for hours, he would listen closely enough to analyse the music with me.
Daddy, a former music producer, regarded my musical interests as more important than his. When it came to another day around the trampoline, I called Daddy’s humility to mind.
There is a time for grammar, and there is a time for the fifth reading of Alice. Follow them to the trampoline and they will eventually follow you to the chalkboard.
It matters where you take the Sonlight curriculum. It matters
- If you expose Math-U-See to meaningful work,
- If your partner takes The Odyssey seriously
- And if you take Alice to the Sisyphean trampoline.
Take the Sonlight curriculum to the in-between places and allow it to illuminate your children. The curriculum behind the curriculum is the life and heart of the purposeful parent. You are the hidden curriculum.
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