June 1, 2019

Look with Different Eyes

The average academic year for institutionally-schooled kids has 180 days. If we presume an average of seven hours on campus per day and multiply the days and hours by 13 years, we yield 2,340 days or 16,380 hours of “schooling” from age five to 18. In contrast, home-educated children are in their learning environments – i.e., in their homes, on outings with their parents, or engaging in activities with others expressly designated by their parents – for 365 days a year and are probably awake for 14 hours a day, on average. Thus, for the 13 years between ages five and 18, homeschooled kids have 4,745 learning days or 66,430 learning hours available to them.

Put another way, homeschooled kids have nearly double the days and over 50,000 more hours during the course of their childhoods for learning at least the equivalent of what schooled kids cover. Or to think of it yet another way: The typical seven-hours-a-day school content could be covered in just about six years and five months if kids attended 365 days a year, giving homeschooled kids more than six and a half years of “wiggle room” to accomplish the same! Add to that the demonstrable truth that the one-on-one and small-group tutorial approach is markedly more efficient than lecture-style large-group instruction – i.e., a child can learn in 15 minutes of one-on-one time that which would take 45 or more in a classroom setting – and it’s clear any way you slice it that home education is more effective than its institutional counterparts.

Of course, we seldom think through such data and its ramifications because far too many of us have been mentally whipped into thinking that institutional schooling – especially of the government-sponsored, “public” variety – is our measure. Thus, we gloss over the system’s (many) problems, fail to see all the extra time we really have at home with our kids, and dismiss the wide and varied opportunities they have for holistic, real learning – of typical academics and beyond. Our mental default is to elevate seven-hour-desk-sitting days as “right,” to bemoan our “failure” at even approaching that “ideal,” and to then panic when life throws a wrench in the works, making our “failure” even more glaring.

I’ve seen it in moms of kids of all ages:

  • The senior who’s only completed half the advanced biology book by March;
  • The freshman struggling through pre-algebra who somehow “must” cram in everything through calculus before graduation;
  • The 12-year old who can’t write a short story;
  • The nine-year old for whom reading is only now beginning to click;
  • The five-year old who refuses to do worksheets.

We all hit panic points along the way – bumpy, jagged places on the homeschooling journey through which we feel we must shove our kids as quickly as possible to make ourselves feel all better, if only for a moment. But what if we could take a step back and realize that our real goal is raising happy, healthy, content kids through to fulfilling adulthood, rather than mimicking the factory-designed system we eschew? What if we could get ourselves to walk alongside our kids through the rough patches, guiding them to step carefully and avoid unnecessary injury, and seeking an alternate route if possible?

Perhaps the senior can simply stop where she is so her last 10 weeks of high school aren’t filled with rancor between the two of you, and you award a half-credit rather than a whole. Or maybe you challenge her to get through Chapter 9 – 75% of the text – and award the full credit, knowing that’s fair because the book is of a much higher caliber than what is used by the schooled kids who will be her “competition” in college. Alternately, if she really wants to complete the whole thing because her ultimate goal is medical school, you find ways to quickly wrap up her other courses to free up more time each day for the biology. 

Does the freshman really “need” to push all the way through calculus? He’s not lazy – he really tries – but math has never been his strong suit. And his ultimate goal, which he’s retained without wavering since he was four, is to become a firefighter. He’ll need an associate’s degree, admissions for which never requires trig or calc. So, stop shoving. Take the time he needs to walk him through the math he’ll really need – maybe basic algebra and some geometry, definitely personal finance – and relax. That’s not a cop-out; it’s good stewardship of that child’s time in order to reach his goals for adulthood.

As for creative writing, that’s never imperative – even if it takes up three chapters in the curriculum guide every year. Writing well is a crucial life skill, to be sure, and we absolutely must encourage and empower young people who demonstrate an interest in and talent for composing short stories, novels, plays, and poems. Additionally, all kids must – at an age-appropriate time in sensible ways – learn expository writing (i.e., summaries, essays, resumes, business correspondence, etc.). But a child with no desire to write fiction will not be at a disadvantage if she never does.

Learning is not a straight-line endeavor. Your little guy didn’t become potty-trained incrementally, a little each day in steady progression. No, though he showed interest at some point (“too late” according to a few “helpful” relatives), he couldn’t actually make it to the potty chair in time for three months. Then he did well – almost no accidents – for a couple of months before having a setback when his baby sister was born. But eventually his attention span and neurology coalesced and now you wonder why you ever worried. And it’s the same thing with his ability to read. He was a late bloomer, preferring to be read to for a long time, and then you tried a few phonics options before finding a good fit for him. But he’s getting it now and, before you know it, he’ll be spending an hour on the john engrossed in The Count of Monte Cristo while his sister pounds on the door to no avail. You don’t need to push him to “catch up.” He’ll do it all on his own if you nurture the developmental process.

As for the five-year old and worksheets, just don’t. Unless she begs for them. If she clamors for printables, provide them to her heart’s content. But most little kids rightfully balk at the prospect, knowing intuitively that – despite what their schooled peers must endure – they’re meant to learn in active and mostly informal ways for some time to come. They have well over 4,000 days or 66,000-plus hours ahead of them; worksheets can wait.

My point in all of this isn’t to suggest that we keep low standards for our children or never press them to persevere. But sometimes the remedy for the pressure to fast-track is to see with different eyes – to acknowledge that we actually have a lot more time than we initially thought or that the perceived need isn’t real after all. Discerning whether or not to pursue a fast track solution is sometimes tricky. But if we keep what really matters – our relationships with our kids and each one’s unique, real, ultimate needs (not factory-school norms) – at the front of our minds, we’ll figure it out.


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