The Unhurried Homeschooler
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I’ve noticed how moms who are homeschooling young ones will often panic about how their children aren’t cooperating, seem disinterested or simply aren’t covering the material that they feel is necessary.
It makes me want to cry. I want to stand up, shake my fist and shout NOOOOOOO!!!!!!! No to schoolwork, no to pressure, no to unreasonable expectations, NO to the educational system that seems to want to take away something precious. Something we can NEVER get back: our children’s childhood.
I cannot stress enough to you how very important it is to BACK OFF of curriculum and too much book learning that isn’t initiated by the interest of your child. There are several reasons for this:
Children are born with a natural love of learning. Every child is curious and quite naturally explores on their own the things they are interested in. When we allow them that natural investigation, their love for learning grows and their desire to learn is ignited. It reminds me of starting a fire in our wood stove. We carefully lay the fuel to get the fire burning. It starts out small and as we encourage the flame, it grows. Sometimes we blow on it, sometimes we add a bit more fuel A LITTLE AT A TIME, but if we add too much of anything all at once, we extinguish the fire. And it’s true for learning as well.
Too much too soon is stressful for children. Children have good sense of when they are ready to learn things and when they are not. They will exhibit certain behaviors that clue us in: crying, defiance, lack of interest, stressful responses. We need to pay attention to these, especially in the early years. Children are adept at learning their own way if we allow them the space to do so. Be a student of your child, observing what strikes interest and curiosity in them. Trust and respect their natural ability to learn. Studies have also shown that children whose environment is restricted visually (to basically only classroom and books) have a much higher rate of myopia (near sightedness) I have at least observed this in our own family. My husband has been wearing glasses since 3rd grade (he went to traditional school). If vision problems are genetic, then at least some of our children should be wearing glasses by now. We have eight children who have all been homeschooled from the beginning and not one of them wears glasses.
The early years are foundational for character building. Instead of spending the early years fighting our kids on doing book work, our time would be better spent teaching them character through helping around the house, serving others, reading together, working alongside each other having good conversation, teaching good manners and how to treat others. These characteristics are life skills that will serve them well in whatever path they take and that core character is built early on.
The latest trends and fads to “educate early” are in direct opposition to nature. Think about it: children’s development plays a huge part in their ability to be able to grasp whatever it is we are trying to teach them. Their natural curiosity is the key component in enabling them to absorb information. In other words, if it’s interesting to them, they will learn SO much more! It makes sense, then, that we should allow them, at the tender “school age” of 5-8, to keep things simple, explore and do more of what comes naturally for them. We can read books with them about things that pique their interest and listen to them as they tell us what they are learning along the way (this is called narration) This is the equivalent of writing a report, only at this age, it is far more profitable because they are processing information on many levels without having to overcome the obstacle of writing. Here is an explanation of the benefits of narration. To believe that these precious little ones are ready for our adult version of “education” is one of the biggest mistakes we can make. The slower, gentler approach lends itself to growing WITH your child so that by the time they reach the age of logic (approx. 12-15 yrs old), they are EXCITED about all that they can learn and suddenly their learning takes off at warp speed and more than makes up for the “slower” start. In fact, studies show that in 2-3 years a child can learn everything he or she needs to know for success in high school and college. 2-3 YEARS!!!
It reminds me of a word picture that I often have referred to over the years: Let’s say you want to dig post holes in Alaska. You have two choices, you can either 1.) trudge outside everyday through winter slowing chinking away through the snow and ice OR 2.) you can wait for the spring thaw and get it done in a fraction of the time!
Children MUST be ready developmentally for what they are trying to learn and far too many of the standards for testing, etc. are NOT age appropriate. Children are being expected to know more and more at younger and younger ages and this unnecessarily sets them up for failure when their little brains are simply not developed enough for many of these concepts. We would never think of trying to force a 3 month old to walk. They walk when their bodies are ready for that stage of development. The same is true in education.
Trust your instincts as a mom and the rest will come. Think about it: you naturally have taught your child how to sit up, walk, talk, eat with utensils, etc. Why do we freak out when it’s time to learn to read? I think part of the problem is that we have too many voices telling us a million different ways to do things. This creates doubt in our own hearts that we are, in fact, very capable of teaching our children, when, it’s much more likely that WE are the BEST teacher for our child. “The Smithsonian Institution’s study of twenty world-class geniuses stressed three factors: 1) warm, loving, educationally responsive parents and other adults; 2) scant (not to be confused with non-existent) association outside the family (yes, you heard that right, socialization isn’t as important in the early years as we are led to think), and 3) a great deal of creative freedom under parental guidance to explore their ideas, drilling as necessary. These ingredients for genius are a mixture of head, hand, heart, and health. Mixed in with balance, and your sound example, they bring out great characters and personalities.” (read more here) And remember, you don’t have to know everything to teach your child well.
After homeschooling for over 20 years (with 7 more to go), I can tell you that the YEARS ARE FLEETING. Our children look back with fond memories on the childhood I refused to take away from them. I have NEVER regretted introducing our children to learning FIRST by doing little to no bookwork in the early years and have systematically watched them blossom into life long learners. I didn’t have to know everything in order to teach our kids because they know how to learn things on their own. I encouraged 1) a love for learning (mainly by not burning them out) and 2) resourcefulness…learning to find out what it is they want to know. They have far surpassed my knowledge in many subjects and I love it!
I know not everyone will agree with what I have shared and experienced, BUT if this resonates with what you have already been feeling, I encourage you to trust that instinct and move forward in courage. You won’t regret it!
Here are a couple of resources:
This is an interview I did with our son who was 19 at the time and a senior in college (he has since graduated and launched his career…at 21 yrs old). He talks a lot about having time to be a kid: Interview with Jake
The response to this post I wrote was so strong that I decided to write a simple, mercifully short book expounding on what I talked about here. The book is available on Amazon and it’s called, The Unhurried Homeschooler. Go check it out…I think you’ll love it!
A few older books I read years ago, but they offer some time tested wisdom in taking a slower approach to homeschooling: