What Are We Preparing Our Children For?

Note: This column was printed in the January 4, 2012 edition of The Barrow Journal.

For several weeks I’ve been mulling this topic over in my head: What am I preparing my children for?   The question came to me after I read the article, “My Parents Were Home-schooling Anarchists” in the New York Times Magazine.

In the article, the parents homeschooled their children in the early years, but they did not follow any academic standards.  They lived outside the U.S., but later they moved back and both parents got full-time jobs, so they put their children into public school.  At that time, the kids were unprepared academically or socially for the school environment.

The children in that article are adults now and seem fine, though I think it’s unfortunate that many people may read it and acquire a negative opinion of homeschooling.  I think the article had more to say about that particular family than about homeschooling in general.

But it brought the question to my mind that I mentioned above.  What am I preparing my children for?  This is a question that all parents should ask themselves whether they homeschool or not.

For homeschoolers, it is important to consider whether or not you will put your children into public school at some point because homeschooling until middle school may look very different than homeschooling until college.

I experienced a very different culture in middle and high school than I ever did after I graduated.  After graduating from high school, I was able to make my own choices, and I put myself where and with whom I wanted to be.

Homeschooled kids will be different because of their different experiences, and though different can be quite good, depending on their age and maturity, they may not be ready to enter the world of peer pressure.  In my research I have mostly read about the success of homeschooled students entering public school, but parents do need to think about this and make sure their children are ready to enter public school.

On a broader level, I am asking myself this question because whether I homeschool for a few years or all the way through high school, I know I want to prepare my kids for more than what a typical public school education would give them.  All parents do this to a certain degree: School prepares them for academics.  Parents prepare them for life.

But do we?  There are many students entering college or graduating from college, but they know little to nothing about how to manage daily life.  Why is it such a shock to young people when suddenly they are on their own and they have to cook, clean and pay the bills?  Should we blame it all on immaturity?  I think parents could do a better job of preparing their kids, and it should start when they’re young.

Whether or not I’ll be able to succeed in teaching my children academics and how to live a happy, productive life remains to be seen.  But as I go about planning their education at home, I want to consider what their needs will be for their Whole Life, and by “whole” I mean all aspects of their lives: home life, vocations, finances, and spiritual lives, i.e. how to handle failure, how to relax, and how to be productive in this life.  That might sound high minded, but when it comes to my children, I’m not aiming low.

I want to teach my children how to manage a household and take care of their basic needs.  They’ll learn to cook, clean and do laundry.  I don’t understand parents who don’t make their kids do chores even in the name of “they need more time to study.”  When I was in Japan, I learned that their schools did not have janitors.  The students cleaned the schools!  Twenty minutes a day was devoted to cleaning and taking out trash.

I’ll also teach them about money management, and depending on their age and ability, I’ll let them know exactly where we stand as a household in money matters.  I already tell my five-year-old when something is too expensive for us to buy, and when I say that, he doesn’t pester me for it again.

Financial literacy is so important that it should be taught in high school. Kids are signing up for college loans that they may or may not be able to pay back, and it saddens me to know people who have made such bad financial decisions that they’ve created a lifetime worth of debt.

We expect kids to go to school and learn how to read, write, do math, and know some history, yet they enter the world without a clue about how to manage daily life. There is more to life than what schools are teaching our kids, and it’s the parent’s job to fill in those gaps.  Whether homeschooling or not, we need to think about what we’re preparing our children for and give them the tools to lead balanced, happy lives.

Please stay tuned….in my upcoming posts, I’ll be talking about our homeschool mission, priorities, and exactly how I’m homeschooling my young children at this time.

18 Responses to “What Are We Preparing Our Children For?”

  1. I was just thinking about this today! My husband and I talk a lot about transitional periods in social history – when agrarian society gave way to industrial society and now when technology and virtual systems are crushing industry/manufacturing.

    For our family we feel the need to help her become an “all terrain” kiddo or a Renaissance jack-of-all trades who is quick to recognize larger social patterns and has a solid and wide foundation of skills for whatever comes.

    It’s sad to see mainstream media feature less than stellar examples of homeschooling – but then it is mainstream so you can’t really expect a different result.

    Thanks for this thoughtful essay – it’s pretty radical to have parents actually think about what their children need to learn.

    • Leigh, Thank YOU for your thoughtful response. “…jack-of-all trades who is quick to recognize larger social patterns and has a solid and wide foundation of skills for whatever comes.” That is very insightful, and I agree. It gives me more to think about as I homeschool….thank you.

  2. i feel like this is a balance issue. knowing how to make a happy life is crucial, and *part* of that is about finding meaningful work that can support you, but part of it is about managing your daily life, your relationships, your money, your wants/needs.

    when it comes to finance, the majority of people are focused on how to *get* money, and they drop the ball learning/teaching how to manage one’s financial life once you have it. most parents can’t teach their children because they don’t realize it themselves, but it’s possible to live richer by managing your money well, living below your means, etc. etc., and *not* only by bringing in more and more.

  3. I agree with Leigh on the jack-of-all-trades.
    What seems most important right now is learning how to learn, investigate, research…
    I aim to teach him at least one practical trade every two years.
    Right now, he makes and sells his own jewelry, so if I were to die today,
    he would at least be able to feed himself with his small business, which sounds extreme,
    but I sleep better at night because of it. Next year, he’ll take on an apprenticeship with an electrician.

    Once I know he can earn money if need be, grow and cook his own food, and keep himself healthy,
    we’ll start thinking about specialization in his areas of interest.

    I think that giving them some easy-to-learn money making skills gives for a lot of freedom in that,
    if he wants to pursue, say, science or art, he doesn’t have to worry about whether or not it will make him money.
    He will have money covered by other things, which will give him the freedom to pursue his passions
    instead of choosing his path based on what is more financially viable.

    • I think it’s so cool that your son is already earning money! I hope I can find mentors and apprenticeships when my boys are old enough to do that. Thanks so much for your comment, Gabriela.

  4. This is a great post and something I have been thinking about a lot recently.

  5. I tell my children all the time that if they are prepared to be hard workers, they will succeed in any environment. To help them with that preparation, they do a LOT of work around the house. They know how to cook, clean, do laundry . . . it’s good for them and it gives me some free time to pursue my dreams. As you said in your article, I hope that I am preparing them to succeed academically. But many very intelligent, highly educated people don’t succeed in daily life — and that seems more important to me.

  6. Great post. Life skills are definitely important to learn and seem to be of a dying breed. Kudos to you for taking the time to teach your children.

  7. I am LOVING this blog! Yes, I am up at 3 in the morning worrying about whether or not to homeschool, and this blog popped up in a GA homeschool search and I am feeling that FINALLY someone somewhere is really on my same page. No wonder I didn’t make many meaningful connections at Public School last year, despite my being there more than 8 hours a week helping how I could, being the room mom, reaching out to families for play dates and meeting times. As far as a comment on this post goes, I started watching Suze Orman a few years ago. Dave Ramsey is another fabulous money (live below your means!) teacher. They both love young people and love to teach them this too. I have heard 8 year olds call in to the Suze Orman show to ask if they can afford things. Fantastic!

    • Thanks so much, Angela! You flatter me. I’ll have to check into Suze Orman and other money people for resources for homeschooling. I had not thought about that! Thanks!

  8. I totally agree with your assessment and in fact, I’ve started a website of my own devoted to that very topic – LifeSkillsRx.com. I still have a lot more research and writing to do, but I’d love to hear what specific topics parents would like to see covered.

    • Kelsey, I checked out your site, and I think it’s a wonderful idea. I wish you much success with it! My two cents is for parents to bring their children along as they deal with daily life! Let their kids watch them, help them, and converse with them about what it takes to run a home, work, and pay bills, etc! It’s very easy (necessary) to do this while homeschooling, but I know any parent could do it.

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