What to Teach in Homeschool

Dear Reader,

When I went to the state homeschool convention, I was overwhelmed by the amount of things available. There is an awful lot we as homeschoolers are trying to teach our children and a myriad of ways to do each subject. And while the purveyors of all these products are usually nice homeschool moms and dads themselves, they are also business people. They are trying to sell you something. Everything sounds essential when you listen to the sales pitches. So how do you know what you really need?

Charlotte Mason urges mothers to consider these questions:

“[The mother] must ask herself seriously, Why must children learn at all? What should they learn? And, How should they learn it?”                                                   [Home Education, p.118]

These are wonderful questions to ask oneself, and I think every parent should spend some time on them.

Before I began to read much about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, I began to think about these questions of why we study each thing we do. I was inspired by my oldest son who asked at the end of a grammar lesson why he had to do this anyway. Now I am not opposed to all grammar by any means, but I have to admit that the grammar we were using at the time was quite tedious. And I was already paring it down quite a bit from what was in the text.

So I started with grammar and asked myself, Why do we learn this? The answer for me was to be good communicators, both in communicating to others and in understanding what others are saying to us (or writing to us).  I do think it is good to know how a sentence is constructed so that we ourselves can compose good ones. But the truth is that as an adult I have never needed to know how to diagram a sentence or what an adjective is versus an adverb. Grammar is tools we need to use effectively, but usually we are not even aware of the tools.

I went on to think about each area of study in these terms and to ask why we are studying each. I posted long ago on our own philosophy of education that I came up with here. I won’t reiterate here what I came up with for each area. But here are some general principles: We all have some general callings like telling others about Christ and being good stewards of what He has given us. These things require basic skills that all should develop, particularly good communication skills, basic math skills, and a general understanding of government and economics.  Also included in this category can be what would traditionally be called home economics skills. Our children will also have specific callings that we cannot yet discern (we may think we can, but I would hate to assume and limit children as to what they can do in the future). So we should give them a broad basis in a number of areas so that it is easier for them to delve deeper into these areas if they find they need them in the future. The sciences fall into this category as well as certain other skills that not everyone ends up needing but which are commonly needed in our culture, like basic computer skills including some understanding of programming.

But all these things are in the realm of tools we need. None of them feed the soul. Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is all about giving our children (and ourselves) spiritual and intellectual food. The food we give them is ideas. There are some ideas that we can pick up from addition facts and grammar rules, ideas about constant truth and orderliness. But there are even more ideas ready to be discerned when we come to history and science. In science we learn about creation and the One who has made all things as they are. In history, we learn about humanity, about their courage and their many recurring faults. We also learn how God has dealt with them.

The arts also have their value. Ideas can be transmitted through visual media and music and not only through words. But even without that, our God is a God of beauty. He has created a beautiful world and instilled in us a sense of beauty and we do well to feed it on lovely things.

As my children get older, it is easier to see how the whys of our education affect the hows. I can look at how other parents choose to structure their homeschool time and discern what their values are.  Often these are not things they have consciously thought about, but the values still come through. So I would encourage all homeschool parents (and all parents) to consider early on what their goals are and what they value for their children. And to adapt their schooling to those values. It can be hard to pass by all the curricula that you are told is so essential, but our time is short and we need to be focused on what we truly value.

Nebby

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One response to this post.

  1. Interesting thoughts. Makes me want to sit down and figure out our “whys”.

    Reply

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