A Little Education Goes a Long Way

Playing child reaching

Thus far, my posts have been designed to introduce myself to you, and to share my heart. But now that you know, and hopefully trust, me, I imagine you’d like me to get down to the real meat of the issue …. what can I share about homeschooling?

Perhaps some of you brand new to homeschooling might be wondering, “What am I going to teach my children?” And my answer right now is, very little!

That’s probably a bit surprising, isn’t it, given that my homeschooling goals included my children being accepted into whatever colleges they desired? But the truth is, you don’t need to start out with Einstein’s theories to be an effective homeschooler.

Suppose you have little ones and you are starting out by homeschooling kindergarten or 1st grade. The first thing you ought to understand is, children learn through play. Painting, clay, games, and drawing are not just a waste of time. They are actually the “work” of childhood. Children learn through exploration, through experimentation, through games and puzzles and active engagement. Children also need activity throughout the day to alleviate their pent-up energy. Children do not thrive by sitting at a desk for 6 hours a day, doing seatwork.

I recently saw a question on a homeschooling website, from a mother asking if she shouldn’t put her kindergartener into public school, since she couldn’t get him to sit at his desk doing worksheets. My answer would be a resounding “No!” I do not believe she needs to put him into school. Instead, she could allow the child to learn on his own time table; she could give him the opportunity to play and explore, and, yes, learn, in the way that young children are developmentally designed to do. In fact, studies have shown that children do better in later academic achievement when formal learning is postponed.

In kindergarten, I probably spent half an hour or so on “academic” work, which may or may not have included sitting in a seat – a coloring worksheet or a tour of the house to collect everything we could find that began with whatever the sound of the week was. (Our only schooling experience was that my son attended kindergarten, so my daughter is the only one homeschooled at that age. I did need something to keep her occupied while he did his schoolwork, so we also used educational videos, but she was free to walk around or play with toys while they were on … they gave my son and me a little work time, and I know she picked up a lot of great information from them, even if she wasn’t particularly focused on them.)

In early elementary, we increased that time to an hour or two, and even later we never spent more than 3 or 4 hours a day on “schoolwork” until they were in high school. (My goal was to be done by lunch time, so that the afternoons were free.) Not to mention that throughout all those years, we spent an average of one day a week on a “field trip”. And each day was punctuated by opportunities to expend that energy I spoke about earlier. We took frequent breaks to “shake the wiggles out” or to run madly around the back yard, shouting and laughing, or to move to a different location, a different position.

But what if, instead, you are beginning your homeschooling journey slightly later than I did, in middle elementary, junior high, or even high school? Should you then push your child to succeed, make up for lost time by doubling down on the academics? Here, again, I submit my humble opinion that you should wait.

The classic belief is that children beginning homeschooling need one month to decompress for each year that they were in school. Now, that doesn’t mean that if you start homeschooling in, say, 7th grade, that you can’t do any work at all almost that entire year. It just means that you should take things slowly, be willing to pull back at times, take things a little easier, “pause” a lesson and start again another time. Just like we were, your children have become conditioned to the pressures of schooling, and they need some time (as do you) to realize that learning is not synonymous with schooling. In fact, a month or two of no “work” whatsoever is perfectly fine. I promise you, schoolwork is not the only way your child will learn.

So what do I suggest you do instead, or during the rest of those many hours of the days? First and foremost, young children need a lot of unstructured play. “Pretending” is something that has almost disappeared from children’s lives. Give a kid a box, a few pieces of Tupperware, and a basting brush, and they can explore the universe. (Don’t ask.) When was the last time our school systems fully fostered children’s creativity? Give your child access to a few sheets of construction paper, some feathers and buttons, glue and markers, and allow the masterpieces to flow … this also gives you some much-needed time to clean your house.

As they get older, children also need time for introspection. They need to daydream, to imagine the possibilities for their life, to put things into perspective. I am quite sure that some of the greatest inventions in history have come about because someone was “wasting time”.

Never fear that your children aren’t following the educational timetables of the school system.  Those grade level standards and benchmarks are not the 10 Commandments, and the fact that public schools learn certain things at a certain grade level doesn’t mean we have to. We have many years to educate our children, and what they don’t learn this year, they will another. And if homeschooling has done its job, they will know that education is a lifelong journey, and if they want to know something, there are ways for them to learn it. And much fun to be had along the way.

Schooling may be a 12- (or 16 or 18) year part of their lives, but there are a lifetime of adventures to be had, and I’d hate for our children to miss them because they didn’t look like school. What does education look like for you?

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