Almost Anything is Better Than a Workbook

I know that unschoolers don’t use curriculum, but what if your child is asking for it? Is it wrong to give them a workbook and let them go through it?

This questioned is posed a lot in our Facebook group. It will pop up every so often and I always try to answer in specific terms to the discussion and person asking.

My personal response usually goes something like this:

Yes – but with caveats. It’s not “wrong” to give your child a workbook, textbook, or curriculum as a resource to use. Unschoolers are not against those things. In general, we disagree with requiring a child to learn or complete a curricula. If a child is interested in physics there is no reason to deny him any resource that would help him learn it – including schoolish ones.

After that, I usually try to find out why the child is asking for such resources, and why the parents are so eager to provide them.

I know that unschoolers don’t use curriculum, but what if your child is asking for it? Is it wrong to give them a workbook and let them go through it?

In my humble, biased opinion – workbooks are boring. Preschool workbooks seem to have fun activities and colorful illustrations, but after 2nd grade they get increasingly more bland.

Workbooks are built for shallow learning. The gist of most workbooks and textbooks I’ve seen is to cram a broad range of information into a small amount of time, evaluate rote memorization, and keep everything in bite-sized chunks.

I can’t stand workbooks for the most part. There are so many other rich, engaging ways to learn out there that I wonder why unschoolers wouldn’t rather use something, ANYthing else.

There are certain cases where we have found curriculum useful. We have supplemental workbooks to use for practice while learning Korean. However, our main method of learning is through real life encounters, media, apps on our tablet, etc.

Which brings me to the caveats of my general answer above.

It’s not wrong to give your child a textbook or workbook to use in their journey. You can strew them in their paths for topics they are interested in, or if they ask for help finding resources you can suggest them.

However, and this is big, ask yourself why.

Deschooling yourself and your kids

Unschooling involves thinking about education in a new way. It is not just about your kids choosing to learn schoolish subjects on their own. It’s about living a life of learning.

Is the reason your child is asking for a workbook because it’s all they know as far as learning? Perhaps you yourself have been waiting for them to do something “educational” and are relieved.

If so, it would seem you and your child both need a little more deschooling. Curriculum isn’t any more valuable than any other resource in unschooling. And pursuit of so-called “educational” resources and topics should not be held in higher regard than other activities.

More often than not, I’m afraid, parents ask the questions about workbooks and the like because they have not yet opened their eyes to the learning that is going on around them. They seem pleased that their child is finally coming around, on their own, to study algebra or the Civil War.

There is still a dichotomy between “learning” and “living.”

raven reading workbook

Instead of just giving a child a workbook, an unschooling parent might ask what activities their child is involved in that spurred the sudden interest in the topic and then go from there. Sometimes the desire for curriculum stems from internal or external pressure that the child feels to be “normal” or catch up to peers. In that case, it’s helpful to talk with them and help them understand the concepts of learning through their passions.

You can also open up your child’s world, so to speak, by showing them ways to find out about an interest that doesn’t include reverting back to school books.

Stop making lists of educational subjects that are being accomplished each day and just start being curious – together.

I can almost guarantee you that if you simply join your child in being curious about a topic that you will probably NOT be led to a text/workbook.

And if you do, and it interests either of you, by all means – devour it!

~ Aadel

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