Scope and sequence syndrome manifests itself in the teaching process but how strict an adherence is required of the homeschooler and the teacher? My philosophy changed radically as I considered what I wanted my kids to learn.
When I began homeschooling in 2005, I wanted to make sure my kids knew what they were "supposed to know" by each grade level; so one of the first things I did was locate every possible scope and sequence I could find. If I was going to homeschool, by golly, I was going to make sure I was doing it "right!"
So I downloaded World Book's Typical Course of Study for each child and the Scope and Sequence from Bob Jones Press and Abeka; I checked out books from the library like E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge Series, What Your __ Grader Needs to Know and Rebecca Rupp's Home Learning Year by Year. I even downloaded Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (my state's education standards) for all of my children's grade levels.
I felt so prepared! I just knew that those scope and sequences would be my guide as I homeschooled. They would be the gold standard by which I evaluated whether I was doing things correctly or not.
But I quickly noticed that none of the scope and sequences agreed with each other. I was confused. Wasn't there some all-powerful, all-knowing educational guru out there who determined what each child on Earth truly needs to know in each grade level? How in the world will I know if I'm doing this whole homeschooling thing "right?"
My confidence obviously wavered.
And so for that first year of homeschooling I still tried to check off skills from the scope and sequence as I hurriedly introduced them to my kids. But before long I realized what I was doing wrong. I wasn't really teaching my children; I was just throwing facts at them and then checking things off a list so that I felt good about the job I was doing as their teacher.
Not a good situation.
The Critical Question
And so I reevaluated. I asked myself a pointed question:
Why am I homeschooling?
When I answered that question, I finally found my direction.
Why am I homeschooling? I want to prepare my children to be competent and independent adults, fully capable of being a productive member of society. I want them to know what they believe, but especially why they believe it.
I discovered I don't need to rely on a generic scope and sequence to tell me what I need to teach my kids. My children don't necessarily need to have a specific skill learned by 1st or 7th grade if my goal is to prepare them to be an adult?
When I stepped back and looked at this big picture, things were incredibly simplified.
Flexibility in Homeschooling
As their parent and teacher (at least to some extent) I can determine what they need to learn — and when. There is a certain body of knowledge in most subjects which is important to impart to my kids, but I am not beholden to a certain time-line. The SAT and ACT test a certain body of knowledge, and I can't change that.
But for many subjects, and even within English and math somewhat, the door is really wide open to be flexible. Does my child really need to be pushed to take advanced calculus or trigonometry if her desire is to become an art teacher, or should I have her take extra courses in art, drawing, and art history instead? Some of the sciences are the same way; do my children need to take advanced science courses simply for the sake of saying they've taken them? Or should I have them take just the basic requirements so they can focus more on their interests that may lead to a fulfilling career.
What's really going to prepare them for adulthood and for their careers? Knowing how to cook is a very important skill, but how many times have you seen that on a scope and sequence? And why do I want my children to study history? Is it more important for my children to be able to list all the monarchs of England from 1066 to the present or to understand why certain governments have failed or succeeded in times past? Is it good if my children can name all the states and capitals of the world if they don't know enough about the Constitution of the United States to recognize when their rights are being stripped away?
Re-evaluating the Scope and Sequence
Once I realized that I was preparing my children to be competent, productive adults, that I didn't answer to the invisible creators of the infamous scope and sequence, I was able to look at those scope and sequences in a whole new light. I was able to prioritize what they really needed to know; and I discovered that what I wanted them to know wasn't less, but more. Just a different variety of skills.
Taken as a whole, a scope and sequence can provided a nice list of suggested topics to teach, but they are in no way the gold standard for educating my child. I can add or subtract and change the order as I see fit without having to feel guilty about it (which is especially helpful when I'm homeschooling multiple ages at once). I'm not doing it "wrong" if my child learns to multiply in the first grade but doesn't study magnetism until the 6th grade. The end result is what matters. It's the big picture.
Honestly. How much do you remember from your school years? Most likely it's the major concepts, and not the minute details that you retained. So should I drill my children in facts and figures, checking off the "skills" as I present them, all the while obliterating any joy they might have had in real, life-long learning; or do I focus on those things that ignite their desire to learn more, that help to mold their character and their ability to think for themselves, that prepare them to have the skills they'll truly need as adults?
I think that answer is obvious.
A Couple Caveats
I'm very blessed that I live in a state that is hands-off concerning homeschooling, so I don't have to submit records or have my kids tested on an annual basis. In addition, I plan to homeschool through high school, so I don't have to worry about making sure my kids are on track with their peers so that they can re-enter public school at some point. If either of these situations change, I might have to re-evaluate how I approach homeschooling.
But for the time being, I'm confident I'm doing what's best for my children in allowing them to learn at their own pace, following their own interests in many things, and focusing on the skills that are really important. Am I cured of the scope and sequence syndrom? I hope.
I've also stopped asking myself, "Have my kids learned what they're supposed to have learned by now?"