One of the main reasons I began homeschooling was so I could support my children’s interests. We all learn better and retain information when we are engaged with what we’re doing and we want to learn the subject. I have never seen much point in forcing kids to keep learning about things they aren’t interested in (notice I didn’t say to not teach at all) or forcing children to learn subjects they are not developmentally ready for.
Yet as my son turns nine-years-old, I find myself teaching him more and more, and it’s not just because he’s getting older, and I don’t want him to get behind… I admit that’s partly it. (After all, I never planned to unschool him.) But now I see a more important reason for teaching him. It’s from observing my son and supporting his interests these past few years – key components in project-based homeschooling – that I find myself doing more directed learning with him. I know that sounds contradictory. Let me explain.
There are some career paths in which my husband and I feel it is not necessary to go to college, so we are not opposed to a different path, if that turns out to be in our child’s best interest, but we feel college is still going to give young people the best options in the long run. Most importantly, our eldest son’s interests, if he keeps them, will probably lead him to college.
As a conscientious parent who spends considerable time observing, talking with, and supporting my son’s interests, I have found that he is going down a certain path that I can further support by making sure he is solid in his academic subjects, especially math and science.
When I was a child, I wrote poetry. I played with my stuffed animals, and I enjoyed reading books. When I was ten, I said I wanted to be a writer, and I never changed my mind. I’ll also add that I always hated math, didn’t like science, and avoided all those classes as much as I could. Sadly, if I had been introduced to them differently, my appreciation for those subjects might have been different, but I digress.
If I had a child like me, I would be homeschooling much the same way, although my child’s interests would probably make us sit on the sofa reading books more than we are now. I would supply my child with lots of paper, pens, and pretty journals. I would take more dictation. I would want to give my child many different experiences, just as I’m doing with my boys now, but those experiences might look a little different. Maybe we’d be going to more theatre and story times and author readings than science classes. It would depend on what peaked my child’s interest the most.
In contrast, my son loves working with his hands. Whether it’s Legos or clay, he’s a natural builder, and now he’s playing the piano too. He also absorbs information about nature and animals like a sponge. He’s always seeking more information on these subjects. Though I read literature and poetry to him, he has only a mild interest in these subjects. He is also not the athletic type. He enjoys classes in which he learns something. He likes listening. He also likes teaching others. My mother-in-law says he’s a little professor.
In the course of his short life, my son has said he wants to be a “snake scientist,” “scientist,” and now “engineer,” specifically a “bio-engineer.” He also decided he wanted to take piano lessons, and he’s doing much better than we ever imagined he would. As many of you know, music uses many of the same skills as you would use in math.
We don’t care what our son chooses to do with his life as long as he continues to love learning and becomes a productive citizen who can make a living. Most kids love dinosaurs and robotics and similar things that my son likes, so he’s probably going to add many more possibilities to finish the statement “I want to be _______” before he becomes an adult.
But there’s a good chance he will go into some kind of STEM career, and if that’s the case, I don’t want to fail him by not teaching him the skills that will help him get into the best programs available. Even if he veers off this course and picks music instead, I would feel the same.
(Let me add here that I’m talking about my eldest son. He has always had a vision for his life. If you ask my younger son what he wants to be when he grows up, he’d say, “I have no idea!” which I love because of course it’s hard to know at such a young age. But my eldest son is more like his father and me, who both had clear intentions early in life.)
This is why math is a priority this year even though it’s not his favorite subject (although he does like our Life of Fred curriculum). We will also work on the other academic subjects because all of it is important, if he is college bound.
We are also willing to sacrifice some luxuries in order to put him into classes that support his interests. He takes piano lessons, and occasionally he takes pottery classes. This year, we were lucky enough to find some homeschool classes that will introduce him to the different fields of engineering. If he says he wants to become an engineer, he needs to learn more about it so that he can make an informed decision someday.
I will interject here and add that I wonder, if I had been given more guidance into what it takes to become a writer, would I have stuck with that plan? Giving children a chance to explore their interests at a young age can help them learn earlier what their limits are, what they are willing to sacrifice for, and therefore help them make wiser decisions as they choose their vocations. This doesn’t mean they’ll always make the right decisions, but I don’t believe traditional school helps children learn about the real world or their chosen vocation like it should.
But this leaves me in a place where I find it sometimes difficult to balance his immediate desires with my desire to instruct. As I make my child study math and become a more competent writer and reader, I am often tempted when the going gets tough to cut our lessons short and let him play because I know that has great value for a child. Other times I find myself pushing too hard, causing tears, and my husband comes down from his upstairs office and takes over, making the lesson funny and light, and I think, “Why couldn’t I have done that?”
Homeschooling is hard, folks.
But it’s also flexible, and I’m re-learning why I chose this lifestyle. Because we can go slow. We don’t have to do it the same way they do it at school. I can try different things. We can take a break. I have my husband to thank for reminding me of that.
With the holiday season upon us, I’m going to go slower and begin emphasizing the things that are most important to me – creativity, nature, books. It’s a good time to take a break from the harder stuff.
I don’t know if I have it right. Striking the right balance is hard, and sometimes there is no balance. I will keep observing my son, and I will try to make sure he learns what he needs to know so that he’ll have plenty of good options when he becomes an adult. But I’m going to try different speeds and sometimes different resources until I get it as close to right as I can. Learning can be challenging, but it shouldn’t be torture.
Stay tuned. I’m going to write about how I am trying – though not always well – to make time for my children’s projects in an upcoming post.