The Curriculum Dilemma: Sucking The Fun Out Of Learning


Meet the humble aphid.  A soft-bodied, slow insect that sucks the juices out of fresh new growth on plants.  They can literally kill a plant, and those they leave alive will have stunted, deformed leaves or worse.  A gardener’s annoyance and a ladybug’s dinner.

Yes, I’m still on aphid duty.  The baby mantis are proving to be inept hunters who struggle to catch the quick fruit flies.  So, aphids.  Again.

And it occurred to me as I harvested aphids tonight on my nightly pond run that they’re a perfect metaphor for the curriculums we’ve been testing out lately.  Like the aphids, these curriculums seemed designed to suck the fun right out of learning.

Today we signed the Engineer up for a trial month with Acellus Academy: an online school with videos, questions, and a complete set of curriculum.  Supposedly you can pick and chose which levels your child needs – in reality, that’s difficult to do with a pre-reader.

His assessment tests put him in second grade math, third grade science, third grade social studies, and first grade reading.  The first lesson for reading was all about the letter A and the sounds it makes.  He’s known that A says aaahh since he was 2.


Second grade math and third grade science both required me to sit there and read the questions to him.  He could do the content, but not read the questions.  So much for trying to ease up on my workload.

What struck me the most during the Engineer’s first social studies lesson was that despite the opportunity online school offers, they stuck with the standard teacher-in-front-of-a-board format.  In this case the board changed a few times to show a couple of photographs.

The subject was Community: learning what community is.  Instead of walking around a town and pointing out public service members, houses, and so on, they showed points of San Francisco: sea lions, the bay, the bridge, a person at a desk working.  I don’t think sea lions are part of a community personally, but they were on the quiz at the end of the video.

I get it, not all learning has to be fun.  But on the flip side, neither does learning have to be excruciatingly boring and dry.  And so far, every curriculum we’ve tried pales in comparison to life.

It’s really hard for me to tell my kids “here, sit down and do this lesson” when even I think that it’s boring.  That’s not fair to them.

Interesting.  Engaging.  Gripping.  Applicable.  That’s the kind of curriculum I want, the kind the kids need.  Not dry, boring, or completely unnecessary.

On one of the assessment tests they asked the Engineer if the directions on the map were cardinal or diagonal directions.  He looked at me, completely confused.  I looked back, also confused.  I’ve gone my whole adult life without knowing that North, East, South, and West were cardinal directions (see, I looked it up!)  And frankly, I’ve never needed it.  Ever!

I would much rather that he learn which countries border our own.  Or be able to point out Tanzania on a map.  Or any number of more applicable life skills that we are woefully lacking as Americans.

We’ll work on the things he’s interested in, like Elementary Engineering, and when our month is up, we’ll disengage and be done with Acellus Academy.  I’m not sure what we’ll try next, but hopefully the SEA conference will give me a better idea of the direction we’re headed.  Because right now, we’re headed full blast into unschooling.

Oh well.  At least it gave him the wonderful experience of sitting down and doing a test.  After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?  /sarcasm

Note: I’m sure that Acellus is a wonderful program that works for a lot of people.  I was excited to use it because it looked like it would work for us.  It’s just not a good fit for us. 



  1. But, how will he ever pass the test? When they ask him if there really is a bridge on the San Francisco bay, how will he know? In reality, they DO ask nonsensical questions like this on standardized testing. Your child WILL need to know diagonal from cardinal or the data just may say your child didn’t do so well in Social Studies. Ridiculous. Have fun and keep it real. 🙂


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