My question has to do with how to know if what you’re doing is enough – it’s really difficult to predict in the midst of it all how things might turn out, and of course it’s impossible to actually know until it’s over. I often find myself struggling to know when to push harder and when to relax. I worry that I’ll get to the end and find that my kids are very unprepared for the life ahead of them because I was too lenient in my requirements and expectations during their school years. But at the same time I worry that doing too much will just be detrimental rather than helpful. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
This question is at the very crux of our parental responsibility when we decide to be their primary educators, is it not? When we peel back the layers of what is being done day to day, the core issue is summed up as to whether or not an appropriate education is being provided to those children who are entrusting their future to our decisions.
As overwhelming as those words sound and as awesome as that responsibility is, stepping back and looking at our families from the outside and forming a long distance perspective will help. All educational outcomes do not have to be achieved in a single day. We have 13 academic years to prepare them for adulthood. So, if we keep that long distance perspective, the question then becomes how do we narrow in on a single academic year or even a single academic day? Baby steps. Really.
Think back to when you were first handed your beautiful newborns. Were your first thoughts centered around developing a plan for x number of hours per day on directed muscle development in order to get them rolling as soon as possible? Or when they were belly crawlers, did you create an exercise plan to get them up on all four so they would crawl sooner with the intent that if they crawled sooner, then you could get them to move more rapidly toward walking? Or did you (hopefully!) recognize that each child develops in their own natural rhythm. We can rejoice when little Suzy next door starts running at 9 months while being 100% comfortable when our own little 9 month old isn’t. We know that little ones develop at their own rate and that there is a very broad range of normal development. We know that if certain milestones aren’t being reached by certain ages, then intensive interventions might be necessary. However, intervention isn’t our first, natural response.
Homeschooling is very much like recognizing that natural development we immediately recognize in babies. When we step back and look at the big picture, it is easier to create a realistic baby step approach for getting from non-reader to AP student. We don’t have to have 8 hours of pre-K academics in order to achieve high academic standards. Long academic days do not meet the very real developmental needs of a pre-K child. Young children need to play, run, explore, not sit at a desk like a miniature adult. Keeping child development in the forefront of our mind enables us to focus on balancing the needs of the whole child–physical, mental, and spiritual–and not hyper-focus on just the mental.
Creating general end-of-year goals at the beginning of the school year not only helps keep us on track but also lowers our stress about whether or not we are doing enough. These goals don’t have to be complicated eduspeak objectives. They can be simple, easily quantified goals that encompass appropriate skills. For example, solid end of the year goals for an average kindergartener might be
- correctly forming letters while holding the pencil correctly
- reading simple 3 letter short vowel sound words
- adding digits that add up to 10,
- recognizing the numbers 1-100, etc.
Having broad target objectives for an entire year in our mind as we go through our single school day allows us to relax and just focus on that day. We don’t have to master 1-100 today. Today, we can master the small, single task in front of us.
My end of the year goals have never been the same for any of my kids because not a single one of them has been like another. I have had a 6th grader where writing comparative essays by the end of 6th was a realistic goal. I have also had a 6th grader where writing a cohesive, logical paragraph was a realistic goal. How did I know which was which and if it wasn’t just a matter of needing more pushing? I taught them every single day of their lives. I knew that one mastered everything easily. I also knew the other one struggled with everything. Both always wanted to do their best. Their best just didn’t match up with anyone’s abilities or expectations other than the ones they individually possessed. I didn’t make either one work longer than the other. It wouldn’t have made any difference. Focused, attentive work that is developing new skills is hard for any individual. It doesn’t matter if for one student that focus is on an essay, and for the other student the focus is on forming a good topic sentence. For both, it is hard work. The end of the school day was the end of the school day. They were still 11/12 yr olds that needed time to exercise, play, and develop the other parts of their lives that did not connect directly to their academic work.
I have found around an hour of solid academic focus per grade level has been appropriate for my kids. For my first graders that would mean about an hour to an hour and a half of focused math, phonics, reading, and writing. My 3rd graders spend about 3 1/2 hours on focused academics, 6th graders about 6. Where this hour/grade level starts not to work is late middle school to high school. Those grades can range from 7-9 hours per day. It depends on the student, their goals, and how much they are pushing themselves. (My problem has been having to tell my older kids, no, they can’t take on more. I haven’t had the problem of students not wanting to complete the work that they have.)
Not sure if that is an answer that helps or not. Perspective. Individual goals. Long-range view. All of those form my daily objectives. But, more importantly, I want to make sure that I never lose sight of the fact that they are children who need to develop their whole–body, mind, soul—not just students.