Homeschoolers: What’s the Least You Need to Teach?
Do you ever feel a bit overwhelmed at the thought of teaching your student everything he or she needs to know for life? I know it happens, because I often talk with parents who are feeling a bit desperate because their child is either not “getting it” or not interested in school. The parent usually worries that little Fred will be locked into a “Would you like fries with that?” job for life, and it will be all their fault for not sending him to a nice traditional school where he would have been fascinated by everything the brilliant teachers shared. Or not.
A serious reality check will probably help you recall your own fascination with the academic side of school, and your diligence at pursuing all the extra bits of information that your teachers seemed to find so important. A further dose of reality will probably remind you that your learning didn’t stop when you received your high school diploma. You probably went on to learn work/career skills, parenting, French, computer skills, and all sorts of things you didn’t imagine you’d ever need while you were in school.
Lay a solid foundation
With that in mind, I’d like to encourage you to relax and look at homeschooling a bit differently. Your job as a teaching parent is limited. You’re simply laying a foundation for the learning that will happen throughout your student’s life.
For the 12-18 years that you’re influencing your child, it’s a relief to know you don’t need to teach them everything they’ll ever need. Learning goes on for a lifetime, (as long as students aren’t inoculated against it by the notion that graduation means they know it all and are finished learning). Rather than being stressed into trying to create school at home, you can choose to create a warm, nurturing learning environment that will help learning happen as you “sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). It’s what Charlotte Mason meant when she described education as “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”
Your primary job as a homeschool parent is first to disciple and civilize your child; then to start them on the road to cultural literacy (the culture of Western civilization, not current pop culture). No matter what they do, they’ll need three foundational tools of learning which they will use to absorb and integrate knowledge from all they read.
Tools of learning
- Communication skills
- Thinking skills
- Numerical skills
If you are familiar with classical education, you may be thinking that the tools of learning look a lot like the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy), and you would be right. No matter what approach you use to teach students or what you call the skills (3 Rs, anyone?), the foundational tools of learning remain the same. The tools of learning will allow students to
- think clearly
- communicate with ease and style, including
- listening with focused attention
- speaking with clarity and confidence
- reading and writing fluently
- observing and describing both verbally and graphically
- find, evaluate, and process reliable information
- discern philosophical perspective
- make thoughtful, reasoned decisions
Like most other worthwhile things, these learning skills can best be absorbed by application (aka “doing”). And the best way to practice them in by working with the building blocks of cultural literacy, especially the humanities (areas of study concerned with human culture; especially literature, history, art, music, and philosophy). So . . . teach the foundational tools of learning through immersion in great books and ideas. That’s the least you need to teach in order to provide a foundation your students can build on for life.
In a future post, I’ll talk a little more about cultural literacy and how it simplifies knowing what to teach. You may also enjoy “The Core Curriculum Teaches Connections,” which has, of course, nothing at all to do with Common Core.
*Note: When I write about things like this, it’s not in a spirit of “we did it all right,” because we didn’t, but in a spirit of encouragement. I share these ideas because I believe they’re helpful basic principles. If I’d had known these things when we first began homeschooling, the journey would probably have been easier, but I’m glad it’s never too late to learn.
You might also enjoy the posts Read to Learn, Not Just for Story and Reading for Fun is the Foundation of Literary Appreciation.