Three Lessons We Learned

by Carolyn Forte

          As a new homeschooler in 1982, I had only vague ideas of how to proceed.  Having taught in public schools for 5 years, I thought I knew how to teach and certainly had opinions about what to avoid.  Above all, I wanted something for my children that would be far superior to a classroom education.  In those early days, I fell victim to the common delusion that I could produce a “wunderkind” who would read all the best books and eagerly learn everything her doting mother/teacher had to impart.  In my dreams, we would plow through math, spelling, penmanship and composition quickly and happily  and enjoy the rest of the day with science projects, nature studies, art music and more.

            Looking back after more than 3 decades, I thank God my educational blueprints never made it past the wish stage.  I know now how impoverished those plans were in reality.  Lesson # 1:  You can’t learn it all in 12 or 13 years.  New homeschool parents often obsess about “keeping up” and “teaching everything they need to know.”  Stop and think about it. Do you know everything of importance?  Do you care to learn about everything?  Then don’t expect more of your child than you do of yourself.  If you continue down that road, you are far more likely to meet frustration, rebellion, boredom and burnout than an eager “lifelong learner.”

            When our elder daughter was a junior in college, I asked her what her greatest advantage over schooled classmates was.  She replied, “I have the ability to teach myself.”  As it happened, she had never encountered a great deal of the subject matter to which schooled students are exposed, but it mattered little. Conversely, few of them were exposed to her learning experiences.  She had all the basic tools and she knew how to learn.  More important, she wanted to learn.  She maintained a 3.5 GPA and earned a B.S. in Aviation Technology at the age of 21.  It was not the number of facts in her head that allowed her to succeed in college and in life, it was her character, and her eagerness to grow and learn coupled with the basic educational tools: reading, writing and math.

            This brings us to Lesson # 2:  You can buy a curriculum, but you can’t make them learn it.  They will learn if they want to and are able, period.  You can try to force your will on your children and if they are compliant, you may succeed in a sense.  But, if too much of it is forced, you will loose one of the greatest advantages and purposes of homeschooling, an ingrained love of learning.  An enthusiastic, eager learner cannot be created by force but he can be discouraged, deflated and depressed by a rigid adherence to some one else’s notion of what a ten year old (or a fifteen year old) should know.

            Just because a school teaches chemistry, it doesn’t mean that subject is necessary or even important for every child.  Just because schooled children are taught to read at six and build a mission at nine, it does not follow that your child must.  I had to learn this the hard way and it is my sincere hope that I can spare you some pain and disappointment.  We all learn more easily when we are ready and interested.  If someone plunked me down in a computer programming class, I would need enormous incentives to maintain attentiveness, but put me in a classical music class and I will learn with no prompting.  Children are no different.  They have built-in interests, which we ignore at our peril.  Basically, you have two choices: (1) go with and capitalize on your child’s interests or (2) try to swim against the current and insist on imposing your chosen agenda on your child no matter how poorly it fits his interests and developmental stage.

            You don’t have to change your goals in a broad sense, only your methods, timetable, and possibly materials.  For example, if the goal is to teach your child to spell properly and he resists your efforts, change your methods.  Find out his learning style by taking the learning style profile on our website and use methods that will work for him at a pace that is appropriate for his age and maturity.  This may take a little trial and error and a generous dose of patience but it will yield great results.  You may have to give up your dream of turning your child into a constitutional lawyer; if God programmed him to tinker, you may have to settle for a future inventor or engineer.

            Finally, we come to Lesson # 3: The best things (and lessons) in life are free and quite often unplanned.  Take stock of the free resources available to you.  The county library system is beyond incredible.  We in Southern California live amid hundreds of free (or nearly so) parks, beaches, hiking trails, museums (all county facilities have a free day once a month), sports facilities (many L.A. County Dept. of Recreation programs are free or very low cost), concert venues, etc., etc., etc.  Many museums and community centers have low cost and sometimes free classes.  The L.A. County Fair has dozens of contests and events for kids age 0-18, which cost nothing to enter and can provide an incentive for your child to work hard during the school year.  You probably know people with a variety of skills they would share if asked.  Think about it.  Now seize the day and develop a love for learning.