How to End the Homeschooling Year Without Despair
Now that the homeschool year is winding down, are you worried your children didn't finish everything you had mapped out for them? Stop! One of my favorite, unforgettable homeschooling moments was when my daughter's friend, knowing she was ahead in math for her grade level (her mother was a math whiz), innocently asked my daughter what grade she would be entering in the upcoming year.
When my daughter replied saying she would be moving into the seventh grade, her friend objected insisting that wasn't possible because she hadn't finished a certain area of math (what that area was long escapes my memory). My daughter, with a huff of indignation, retorted, "I know what I know and you can't put that into any grade. I'm going to be in the seventh grade next year because I just finished the sixth grade!" Her friend had no further objection.
Grades in my home were always about age and not about subject matter studied, because the reality is that a child who has been homeschooled cannot—into a grade level—be squished. The world of knowledge is infinite. What a child is expected to learn per grade in public school is basic and narrow compared to homeschooled children who have the luxury of diving deeply into vast areas of interest plus the time and freedom to learn far more about any subject than their public schooled peers.
Homeschooled children may seem precocious because they naturally learn things considered advanced next to their schooled counterparts, such as the classic case of a young homeschool child who memorizes the periodic table of elements or the Declaration of Independence, which might also mean they get to some basics like memorizing the multiplication tables or 50 state capitols a little later. What homeschooling parent has not fretted about a child lagging behind grade level in a particular area only to reflect on the child's advancement in so many others?
And herein lies the problem: don't compare what your homeschooled child has learned to his public schooled counterparts! It's like comparing apples to oranges; homeschooled children are on the road less traveled and that makes all the difference. You have embarked your child on an adventure in pursuit of knowledge for its own sake; an institutionally schooled child is trying to pass tests and keep his grades up. While both paths will eventually lead to a career, how they both get there is so utterly different that it's unjust to try to compare them.
That's not to say that basic subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic should be ignored—not at all. Some subjects are better taught at certain ages, but if your child loves and excels in math one year at the expense of a little grammar, or vice versa, it's not the end of the world. Keeping that in mind, memorizing facts like times tables and parts of speech when children are younger is much easier because they love to commit things to memory, as Dorothy Sayers illustrated so cleverly in her famous essay The Lost Tools of Learning, and what they memorize when young tends to remain with them.
Remember too that public schooled children receive much less instruction per school day than a typical homeschooled child does. What public school children study for an entire year, homeschooled children can learn in a matter of months or weeks. Think of summer school crash courses. Therefore, if you're worried your child has slipped behind in a subject, you can quickly remedy the situation. What you must avoid doing is letting your child think he's behind, for this may cause dismay.
Keep the 3R's in mind but make room for diversions of interest. Without a good reason to do otherwise (and I can't imagine now what one might be), avert the tendency to deny your child the opportunity of learning something he's expressed an interest in because you prefer he sticks to your school schedule. He may not be interested in the same subject later and there's nothing more difficult than teaching a child something he has lost an interest in learning.
Furthermore, maybe that subject you denied him held the seed of a great opportunity later only to remain forever unrealized. (With the love of learning being socialized out of school- children, it's no wonder our literacy rates in the US have dropped and that we've become a nation of mediocrity.) The surest strategy is to have a plan, as one does need a direction and final destination, but be flexible enough to digress when your children's interests travel off your map. They will arrive, but their journey may be a little more exciting than you previously imagined.
Now is a good time to take stock of the year without panic, stealthily do any last minute catch-up, if you think it's necessary; reflect on—if not marvel at— all the additional things your children learned because you allowed them the freedom to pursue their self-directed interests rather than rigidly following your prescribed schedule. This is the real glory of homeschooling.
Elizabeth Y. Hanson teaches parents the secrets and skills to raising smarter children with a focus on getting the early years right. She is the founder of Smart Homeschooler™ and has been a consultant and researcher in children's education since 2001.
You're invited to take advantage of Elizabeth's Free 15-Minute Consultation for new clients.