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.