Why do you do what you do, homeschool mom? |everyday snapshotsRecently I took part in an online conversation with homeschool moms about the value of cursive writing and whether it should be taught in a homeschool. It was a polite, but lively conversation and a number of people weighed in on the topic.

The most surprising thing about the conversation was that instead of relying on their own family goals or the latest research on the subject, so many families were basing their decision to teach cursive on the whims of the public school.

“They don’t learn it any more in the schools in our town” and “My friend who is a teacher says…” were common refrains.

That got me to pondering. If pressed, many homeschooling families can succinctly spell out why they homeschool. Homeschooling is tough; it is likely someone won’t be homeschooling long past the first few months of eight-year-old math angst, without that knowledge of purpose and conviction.

In addition, most homeschoolers can explain quite well why they follow a specific homeschooling philosophy. Whether they are Charlotte Mason because they believe in a broad, liberal arts education for even the youngest child, or are Unschoolers because they believe you can’t learn anything by coercion, they have thought enough about the philosophy before taking it on to know why they wear the label.

Where I see a lack of forethought on the part of homeschoolers is in thinking about the whys of their day-to-day subjects and schedule. Much thought and deliberation goes into the purchase of curriculum, yet how much thought goes into the idea of why you should even buy curriculum to do a subject in the first place?

Are we doing elementary science because our neighbor is doing it or does it have a specific purpose?

What is the reasoning behind the study of geography? (We do it, because I am afraid my kids will one day end up on the Jay Leno show and not be able to find their state on a map. I’m only half kidding here.)

Why learn a foreign language, especially one that nobody speaks anymore?

And once and for all, what is the purpose of algebra if everyone knows we will never use any of that stuff in real life anyway?

Can you answer those questions? More importantly, can I?

For some homeschoolers the state still dictates what they learn and this discussion is rendered moot.

For those of us fortunate enough to have totally shaken off the shackles of bureaucratic oppression, (no that is not too extreme a visual. Do you remember what it felt like to sit through your high school government class?) we need to take a hard look at our learning plans and adjust them based on our own goals, beliefs about learning, and even the interests and abilities of the individual child.

And for goodness sake, you need to know the laws of your state well enough to realize which category you fall into. I am constantly amazed at the people homeschooling under the specter of “the requirements” in our state, when there actually aren’t any other than enrollment in an umbrella school. (The requirements of the umbrella school are a different matter entirely, but those vary widely and you can find umbrellas that are not intrusive. Mine only requires that I submit my letter of intent, record 160 days of attendance each year and be able to provide the record if asked. I like it like that.)

So I am issuing a challenge to you. Take out a sheet of paper and make a list of every “subject” you cover during your homeschool week (be sure to include outside activities like co-ops and music lessons).

Then take some time to pray, think, consider your goals, do some research, talk to your spouse, and if they are old enough, your children. Bounce some ideas off of a trusted friend. Then come up with your reason for teaching every single item on that list.

If the reason that ends up on the paper isn’t compelling, if it ends up being something like: “we’ve always done it that way”, “it’s what they do in schools”, or “I have to do it because it came in my big box of books”, then it might be time to consider dropping it altogether.

Be firm in your conviction that you know what is best for your children. I have been on the other side, and I can tell you that with a little research on your part, their reasons are no more knowledgeable than yours, and what is in the best interest of the student is often not their main motivation in deciding what to teach or not teach.

Then sit back and reap the rewards that I am confident will come from this decision.

Ponder the following:

  • Imagine what your days could be like if they were not crammed so full of busyness.
  • Imagine how much time you would have to spend on what is important to your family, if you stopped doing what was unimportant.
  • Imagine how effective the learning would be in the subjects that have value, if you didn’t have to do the ones that hold little value.
  • Imagine how convicted you would be when faced with opposition (of your own child and the nosy neighbor variety), if you are secure in the knowledge of the importance of what they are learning.
  • Imagine how happy your husband will be if the curriculum bill for the year was cut by a third or more.

Don’t think I am advocating a non-academic education or lack of rigor here. Our homeschool looks more academic this year than it ever has before, because of a choice I made after careful consideration. And yes, I am seeing great rewards.

As homeschoolers we are so blessed. We get to decide what is right for our family and our children. Just please make your reason for teaching what you do based on what is best, not on what is being done down the street.

Will you accept the challenge?

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Pam Barnhill

Pam is the author of The Your Morning Basket Guide and Plan Your Year: Homeschool Planning for Purpose and Peace. She also is the host of three popular  podcasts -- The Homeschool Snapshots Podcast, Your Morning Basket, and The Homeschool Solutions Show. She lives in the Deep South with her husband and three kids, where she is the go-to lady for great curriculum recommendations or a just a pep talk on a rough day.
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