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Creating Curriculum the Natural Way

Creating Curriculum the Natural Way
By Helen Michniewicz

As life learners, we believe that learning happens organically. Curriculum naturally unfolds when you follow your child’s interests. What a truly powerful process this is! I’d like to share an example of what this looks like for us.

Following Our Child's Interests

When my oldest was five years old, she loved to collect rocks. She looked forward to looking for cool rocks every time we went outside. So I took this interest of hers and went deeper with it. We went to the library together and got some books on rocks, which led to getting books on minerals, gems, and crystals. We read a lot on the topic. I took her to the local museum of lapidary art. That opened her eyes to a whole new world of the earth sciences. I signed her up for various classes and programs at the museum, which deepened her knowledge and interest in the subject. She learned how to identify rocks and minerals at one of the classes, which was taught by a professional geologist. She went on a field trip through the museum where she collected fossils and learned how to identify them. I got her some rock, fossil, and gem kits that helped her continue her learning at home. She gained knowledge and skills that most five year olds don’t typically receive. This simple hobby of collecting rocks turned into this wonderful learning experience; a “unit study” or “curriculum,” if you will, naturally unfolded as I followed my child’s lead. She’s almost eight now and continues to add to her rock collection.

Science Supports Natural Learning

When you spend time with your child and pay attention to what they like, a deeper learning naturally occurs. This is arguably a more effective approach to learning as the child has an authentic interest and wants to learn; it isn’t something that is forced. It has real meaning and connection for the child, thus the child is more open to learning and more engaged, and retains the information better. This is analogous to the research on corporate training. Fortune 500 companies around the globe know that “on the job” training and “in the moment” coaching is a much more effective training and development approach than scheduled, structured training classes. The field of corporate training discovered this twenty years ago and has shifted its mindset, yet schools are still following outdated approaches.

As a corporate psychologist, I’ve conducted research on how people learn, how they are motivated, and what leads to high performance. I’ve learned that when you spend your days focusing on a curriculum that was designed or selected months ago, you can miss out on opportunities to dive into interests as they emerge.

I think John Holt said it best: “We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions – if they have any – and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” So instead of spending a lot of time on planning unit studies and researching the best curriculum, life learners invest more time in being with our children and learning what inspires them. We are not afraid to take a step back and let learning happen naturally.

Helen Michniewicz’s passion is to learn and inspire through curiosity and adventure. She is a corporate psychologist, wife, and mother to three girls. She runs her own consulting practice while joyfully facilitating her children's home-based self-directed learning. She has fifteen years of experience in Fortune/Global 500 companies where she’s led research on how people learn, how they perform, and how they are motivated. She uses the principles of natural learning to educate her children without school… and learning freely.

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