So my wife has been preparing the curriculum for next year. Tonya is one of those (few, I suspect) people who works best when she knows exactly what lesson she will be teaching on any given day, for a year in advance. I was skeptical of this approach at first, but seeing how well it worked out this year, I'm now on board with whatever Tonya wants to do.
Well, as she's been preparing the lessons, she's been getting out big stacks of books and leaving them out. After all, she needs to read through them next to the computer as she's putting together next year's lesson plans. She knows, "Ok, I'm planning 36 weeks, and we're doing History three times a week, so I have to break this book up into 108 roughly-equivalent lessons.
I have no expectation that other homeschoolers do it this way, by the way. If I were the primary parent-teacher, I'd be using a much more, ahem... unstructured approach.
Which means I'd basically be winging it. But then, compared to Tonya, everyone is winging it. :-)
So the Second Grade science books are just sitting out (earth science and astronomy), and the second grade history (Medieval times) and literature (medieval literature) books are just sitting out, and the second grade math books have made an occasional appearance in the stack by the computer.
Now, the Pillowfight Fairy isn't dumb: she knows what these books are for. And she's curious. What kind of stuff are they going to inflict on me next year? So periodically she wanders over here and rifles through the pile, and pulls books out that look interesting to her. Then she drags them over to the sofa, gets comfy, and starts reading.
This is mildly upsetting to Tonya's orderly, clock-like universal worldview. She's reading all the curriculum early! She's already going to know it by the time I teach it to her! Of course, Tonya doesn't discourage this in any way; for one thing, it makes us parents proud as punch to see the Fairy reading about Shakespeare on her own (even if it is just in a comic-book format), or flipping through her new math text to see the amazing things she'll be able to do by the end of next year, or reading through her books about space and earth science.
So how much of this free-reading of hers is actually penetrating? Well, just the other day I caught her making some spontaneous drawings:
As you can see, the Fairy subscribes to the No-Matter-What-They-Say-Pluto-Is-Still-A-Planet school of thought. But she's picked up about both the Asteroid belt and the Kuiper belt, so I'm pretty impressed.
I mean, heck--she even got the colors of the planets more or less right.
Then I got a peek at this beauty, and I asked her to explain it for me:
Here's her answer, somewhat paraphrased: "This is Saturn. First, there was a collision that happened on a moon. Then [pointing at the second picture] the moon broke apart into lots of little pieces. Then [third picture] all the pieces started going around and around Saturn, and then they turned into a ring."
Now, the fun thing about this explanation--aside from being an accurate description of our best understanding of how the rings of Saturn formed--is that we never told her any of that! She picked that up entirely by reading the books that we just left lying around as we were planning her schoolwork for next year. She was curious about all these books with the pretty covers, picked one up at random, started reading through it, and--almost by accident--has educated herself about the structure and origin of the Solar System and the stuff therein.
Anyway, at this point she flipped over the paper and revealed that she'd already diagrammed the formation of the ring around Uranus, which she has informed us is her favorite planet.
I like to think that maybe it's her favorite because it's been knocked completely off its original axis, and so she has some feelings of fond affinity for it. Me, I've always been partial to Neptune. The Fairy asked Mommy what her favorite planet was, and Mommy (ever practical and prosaic) declared, "This one!" The Fairy thought this was somehow an amusing answer.
Of course, we're also facing the questions that we'd been putting off for a while now, which every Christian family must ultimately address: how to square the stuff we read in science books with what we learn about in Church. Now, Tonya and I have pretty well already decided how we were going to answer these questions, but we were hoping to have a little more time before we had to deal with them. Not anymore--the fact that the Fairy is insatiably curious to read and understand this stuff is forcing the issue. She's already familiar with the concept of the Big Bang, having read about it in numerous places--so how this fits in with "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is something that we must face, and soon. We may not even be able to get away with waiting until next year, when we were actually planning on covering the material.
But I'm constantly amazed--and very proud--to see the kinds of things that the Fairy gets into, purely from her own curiosity. Charlotte Mason presented the idea that education is like a banquet, and if we fill the table with lots of good food (and keep the unhealthful stuff off of it!), the children will choose what to eat, and will do so with enthusiasm. Our experience with the Fairy tends to point to the truth of this analogy.
(Though it somehow doesn't seem to work with actual food food. It's apparent Charlotte Mason was never actually a mom herself.)
And it also makes me think that the unschoolers among us may be onto something. We're not so radical as to try that approach ourselves--our kids inherited from their Daddy way too much of his lazy streak for us to be confident that they'd prosper if we started unschooling--but I see how much my kids learn even when we aren't making them learn, and it makes me curious to hear more testimony from unschooling parents about their methods, successes, failures, etc....
So by all means, leave your books out where the kids can get at them. Let them know that "this is the stuff we'll be covering next year", and let them read through the stuff if they get curious--even the teachers' manuals (the ones with all the answers). It may even give you ideas about what to cover, and where their interests lie, and which of those ridiculously complicated craft ideas you have to start mentally preparing yourself for now....