When the World is Your Classroom {Why We Don’t Use Formal Curriculum}

When the World is your classroom--why one family doesn't use formal curriculum in their homeschool.

I’ve had a lot of questions lately about our laid back style of schooling. So, I am going to do a little series, “When the World is Your Classroom” to share about some of our methods and philosophies.

I tend to be an out-of-the-box kind of person. Not in a unique and creative way, but in a more annoying, don’t-really-fit-in-anywhere kind of way. None of the defined homeschooling methods really describe us, so I just say that we are eclectic and laid back…with a leaning toward unit studies, unschooling, and Charlotte Mason. And probably some others thrown in there as well.

There is one thing we are not and that is traditional. We don’t use traditional textbooks or structured curriculum.

This fact has earned me many raised eye brows and dropped jaws over the past couple of years, so I thought I would take some time to explain why we chose this non-traditional route.

It all comes back to our philosophy about education in general.  I have shared before about our mission statement and vision for homeschooling, Here are some of the beliefs we hold that led us to a more laid-back style of schooling.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. ~Albert Einstein

Learning should be fun

The Reading Game Review & Giveaway

My number one priority, academically, for these early years is to instill in my children a love of learning. I believe that is the single most important thing for a child to learn in these early years.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. -William Butler Yeats

If I push and push, I can teach them a few things. Maybe even a lot of things. But if I inspire them with a deeply ingrained love of learning, there is no limit to what they can learn. And that passion will carry them far beyond a few facts and figures. I believe if the desire to learn is present, all the facts and figures will take care of themselves, naturally.

School is never forced for us. I facilitate, but we are very child-directed. Because of this, my children will spend a morning doing worksheets, playing educational games, and exploring the world around them. I check off those boxes of things they needed to learn, and they will tell someone who asks that they didn’t do school that day.

To them, they didn’t do school, they just had fun. But they were learning what they need to know, which I consider a win-win.

That’s not to say we don’t believe in and teach the value of being disciplined, we do that as well, just not with textbooks.

Learning is Natural, Textbooks are not

Babies are born with a natural curiosity.  Learning does not have to be forced. I have seen so many children begin their schooling with this curiosity and passion for learning, only to have it quickly snuffed out by lessons that are dry, boring, and forced.

My boys do worksheets as they desire, and it is an amazing thing. Some days, they don’t want to do them. So I don’t make them. Other days, they ask, completely unprovoked, if they can get out the workbooks. They have been known to do an entire workbook in one sitting!  By allowing them to have this bit of freedom, schooling remains fun for them. And we still stay “on track.”

Relaxed Homeschooling

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives. ~Robert Maynard Hutchins

Learning Should Be Practical and Applicable

We believe that learning should be practical and applicable. We live in an area with a large Amish population. Their children attend Amish schools only through 8th grade. Yet they are very smart. They are successful tradesmen and entrepreneurs.

Among the general population, there is a growing trend of young people going back to trade schools rather than pursuing a traditional college education.

Caeden Name

Because it is practical, and applicable to the student. We believe that our children will naturally seek out the knowledge and skills as they are necessary for them. We don’t believe in forced fluff and busywork. It doesn’t make sense to us to deny our children’s natural curiosity and teach, instead, things that aren’t any more relevant to them just because someone said so.

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. ~John W. Gardner

Learning Should be a Life-Long Venture

We believe that learning is a life long venture, and that it can’t possibly be contained to school books and school hours. So, we don’t want to even try. We’ve been watching Little House on the Prairie lately and on Laura and Mary’s first day of school, the following exchange took place between Laura and her mother:

Laura: Mom, how long is all this learning going to take?

Ma: We start learning when we’re born, Laura. And if we’re wise, we don’t stop until the Lord calls us home.

DPA Settlement Boys

I have found that so often among students, they see learning as something that happens with textbooks, and ends with the school day or when they graduate. We want our children to associate learning with life and not with school.

Learning Should be True-to-Life

Building on the fact that we believe learning to be a life long venture, we believe that our boys’ education should prepare them for that. We want to teach them now how to take initiative and learn as adults, and not depend on a textbook to tell them what they should know, or learn, or be interested in.

They say that we are better educated than our parents’ generation. What they mean is that we go to school longer. It is not the same thing. ~Richard Yates

As adults, we should be constantly learning. But if we’re honest, most of our learning doesn’t come from textbooks. It comes from the wisdom of people around us, living books, and it comes from doing. We believe that education is more effective when it is hands-on. We are in a unique position to allow our children to learn through experiences rather than textbooks. We believe it is both more fun, and more effective.

For example, which would you be more likely to remember? Reading a textbook lesson about tree tapping and maple syrup, or engaging in that process yourself?

Tap My Trees Taste Sap

Closing Thoughts

I am not suggesting that everyone give up their textbooks. My boys have a love of learning. Is it because we have fostered this attitude, or is it something unique to them? That is hard to say. But because of their natural excitement for the simple things, this method of home educating works really well for us. I’m not saying it would work for everyone. However, I do believe in these principles.

This post is a part of iHomeschool Network’s dueling blog posts. Click here to see why my friend Judy prefers to school her children with textbooks.



  1. Mel says

    Love this post! We are just getting started, (literally today!) with our first day of homeschool preschool & this was the perfect read to wake up to this morning…it describes my thoughts exactly!

    I also have two boys who are natural learners, and I had to chuckle at the first pic of your son, with the bookshelf in the background. That’s exactly how mine looks after they have “cleaned up” haha! But I can’t complain about having kids who devour every book on the shelf :)

  2. nourishingmyscholar says

    This is great! we also don’t force learning, but let learning happen naturally as our children desire. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. says

    This was great to read! I knew when our first was born, and my husband and I had already chosen to homeschool, that I didn’t want to replicate public school in our home. I see no point in that. But trying to figure out what I did want to do was harder. I have definitely felt more comfortable with a relaxed homeschooling view, and that’s what we do.
    My daughter devours work books, and my son has days where he likes them as well. But in the meantime, my kids are learning daily through practical things like baking, or helping dad in the garage, tearing apart an engine, or planting a garden. We definitely feel like everything we do each day is an opportunity for learning.
    This year we joined Classical Conversations, and it has fit well with what we’ve been doing already. It takes me about 20 minutes a day (and there are days we skip it) to go over the info, and I’ve been amazed how much my kids love it. The rest of the time we’re just learning as we go :)

I love to hear your feedback and value your thoughts! All I ask is that we remain respectful and civil, even when we disagree. Thanks so much for reading. I appreciate you!

Thank you for joining in the discussion!