Homeschooling Basics Part I: Balance
Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: May/June 2005
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How do we decide what to teach and at what pace? Having opted out of the school system in order to give our kids the personal touch, are we still following their choices of what to cover and when? Are we nervous about getting our kids a diploma by eighteen? Has following the dictates of the school system meant rushing our kids through anything challenging by urging them to memorize for the test in order to move on? If so, we aren’t doing them any favors. Let’s put it this way—would we want to undergo surgery at the hands of a physician who was educated with this method or by someone who took the time to understand and then practice what he’d learned? In order to actually equip our children for life, we need to take advantage of what homeschooling allows us to do—choose our goals and set the pace according to our children’s individual needs.
Imagine qualifying to enter a gymnastics competition as the diploma. Obviously, memorizing written descriptions of how to perform required routines would not be enough. Our children would have to practice physically, developing the strength, balance, and coordination necessary to actually perform those routines. We need to adjust our educational goals from the general “complete the text” to specifics that can be performed—concepts and skills that they are able to use.
If we think of education as applying to the whole person, our focus will shift from curriculum and diplomas to the development of talents, interests, abilities, and godly character. In other words, we will balance academic requirements with opportunities for personal growth. For example, we might have a child interested in sports. Instead of refusing permission to participate because he’s behind in his studies, we can use that interest to help him accomplish various academic objectives. We can replace some math problems with word problems related to the sport, assign physical education exercises and nutrition studies (health) that will aid his performance, and use sports-related content to cover reading comprehension skill. Participation on a team can be the vehicle for developing perseverance, commitment, and responsibility if we insist he prepares and arrives on time for practices and games. (Our role here is crucial. Being haphazard about getting our kids to events will teach them something too—self-absorption and a lack of consideration for others.) Poor performances are opportunities to teach him how to handle frustration or failure. Wins are chances to teach him to be gracious, instead of a braggart.
Certainly there will be content to cover that doesn’t relate to our children’s interests. Then we should find a way to make it meaningful or, if they’re too young to recognize its value, appealing. When we find a way for an activity to cover more than one objective, we are also buying the time we need to develop the whole child. For example, typing a Scripture verse or composition means practice time is doing double duty while also reinforcing typing as a useful skill. Letting him use practice time to type his birthday wish list, while not buying extra time academically, will make typing appealing. Using the appealing activity of playing store provides an opportunity for the practical application of several math skills, reinforcing math’s usefulness. Fun software or math games can make needed practice appealing. Writing and sending letters to friends, businesses, or to the newspaper makes composition meaningful. Allowing kids to write on topics they find interesting will make the subject appealing.
Instead of merely absorbing texts, we can use the content as a springboard for discussions of worldview. Themes and statements can be compared to godly principles found in the Bible. Our academic goals are being met right along with the development of godly character.
Balance also applies to daily schedules. Even meaningful or appealing approaches will leave children discouraged if little time is allotted to building up areas of talent or extreme interest. There’s often something a child just “must” do daily in order to feel calm. Some draw or work on a craft, others write. Some need to move—running, bike riding, shooting baskets, others need to build something. My daughter “had to” have time to read books of her own choosing, while my son “needed” to create songs on the piano or violin.
Adults look for jobs where the required skills come fairly easily, not where they must rely on weaknesses day after day. Therefore, kids need to spend time building talents and abilities, working on weak areas to the degree that they won’t hinder their future. Therefore, a balanced educational approach will include focus on building our children mentally, physically, and spiritually over all, but with an eye to meeting their need for personal expression. We are each unique, with a God-given purpose. As homeschooling parents we are in a position to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in order to train our children in a way that will prepare them for their destiny in Him.