I have noticed that the deep distaste among many home educators for curricula is often expressed in the form of a false dichotomy. The idea is promoted that a curriculum would harm the child's development and stunt his love of learning by preventing him from pursuing his own interests. In other words, either a child can be completely free to follow her own interests or she can be taught. One or the other, but not both. This might well be the case for a child trapped in school. Schools take up so much of a child's free time, that when they actually stagger home at three or four in the afternoon, many of them are in a bad mood and simply wish to slump down in front of a television and watch cartoons. A parent's attempts to engage the child's interest in anything by the time he is in that state are often fruitless. This is of course one of the big problems with school and one of the reasons why I did not think it worth sending my daughter in the first place.
None of this is the case with a child being educated at home. There is usually endless time to do whatever the child wishes to do. Since most of the time at school is wasted anyway, either on nonsense or just waiting around; the actual time spent learning does not amount to more than a couple of hours a day at most. I do not believe that even the most fanatical and dedicated structured home educator spends more than two or three hours a day on directing their child's education in an even remotely formal way. This length of time is more than is spent on actual work and studying in any school; even the best independent one. The implications of this have a profound influence on how we can conduct home education most efficiently.
Let's get up at around half past eight in the morning, have breakfast and then settle down to work in a semi-formal fashion. I say semi-formal, but in reality no home educating parent's activities with their children, even when they are adhering to a curriculum, are really in the least formal. It's their own child for heavens sake! But any way, let's sit down after breakfast and spend two or three hours working according to what the parent thinks should be learned. Twelve o'clock comes and that is it. We can now take a picnic to the park and the child is completely free to say what he wishes to do now. He is in charge of his own education and can choose for himself what happens. If he is pursuing an interest in wildlife, we can go to the zoo. If it is science, we can arrange to visit a museum or perhaps a lecture somewhere. Maybe he wishes just to work off some energy by running round the park; that's good as well.
My own daughter had a succession of passions, ranging from bird watching to fencing, bell ringing to ballet, gymnastics to chess, church, Duke of Edinburgh Award, Girl's Brigade, painting, guitar, piano, theatre, opera and cycling. The couple of hours each morning which we spent working on academic subjects neither impinged upon any of these activities nor discouraged her from taking up new ones. I have only listed a fraction of the things in which she was involved. Bear in mind that I was pursuing what would be described by many as a very structured and formal education, following the specifications of eight IGCSEs, as well as my own ideas of what should be learned. We never found that this took any time away from her own interests.
What I am suggesting is that the whole idea that a structured education will somehow discourage a child's own curiosity and thirst for knowledge is probably a myth. I have not seen any signs of this in my own child, nor in the children of those I knew who were also quite structured in this way. Of course, the case might be altered for children who have actually been to school. This can be a pretty damaging experience for a child and it is quite possible that such children have had their desire to learn harmed in such places. For any normal child though, I do not for a moment believe that spending a couple of hours each day with a parent learning about the Tudors or studying English grammar is likely to cause any harm at all. On the contrary, teaching like this often inspires a child and gives her new ideas about things which might interest her. You will often find that something upon which you touch during the teaching of history, say, then becomes one of those topics which a child wishes to pursue in her spare time. This happened with my own daughter with things like castles and then later mines. The result was that we visited a number of castles and museums containing suits of armour at her own request. When she was eight, she would far rather have gone to a castle than visited the park.
I am suggesting that when done in a relaxed and good humoured way, teaching a child what you think she should know does not harm her at all, but instead stimulates her. I think that the problem is that quite a few home educating parents have formed their views on the teaching of children by observing pathological behaviour in their children; disordered thinking and behaviour caused not by teaching per se, but by schools. This has given them a jaded view of education, which they then translate into a dislike of any formal teaching.