education · Homeschool · waxing philosophical

Day 240: The Long Game

The great thing about homeschooling is that I can teach my kids anything I want them to learn. The awful thing about homeschooling is that I want them to learn absolutely everything right now.

I want them to get good at writing. I want them to learn how to draw. I want them to hear and love great poetry. I want them to understand math the way I understand language. I want them to volunteer in the community. I want them to know and understand all the Jewish prayers. I want them to speak Hebrew. I want them to learn how to debate, how to formulate an argument, how to be persuasive. I want them to learn to cook. I want them to learn how to do research and think for themselves. I want them to appreciate just how much there is to know about everything in the world. I want them to know everything Mr. December and I know, and more.

That’s not so much to ask, is it?

(Before you say it—yes, I’m very aware that the above list is about what I want for the kids, not what they want or even what they’re interested in. Frankly, I don’t really care what they want right now. The world is wide and they’re young. They don’t even know what they don’t know. Also, it’s my blog. It’s always about me.)

On days like today, when math, writing, literature, and geography fill our day from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, it’s hard to see where we could add all the rest of it. I mean, sure, if I don’t call it “school” then I can do it over the weekends and evenings, but I do need a bit of rest too.

We’re trying to add subjects one at a time. Math and writing were already well established from last summer, so I added in literature in October. A week later we introduced geography. I also slid in some Hebrew so stealthily that the kids didn’t notice until I pointed it out on their schedules. Every time I think of another subject we should learn together, I mentally calculate where that subject is in the queue and how many weeks it’ll be before we can start.

I realized a while ago that many of the things I know I’ve learned since I graduated from university. Yes, school should introduce students to many things and we should have high aspirations when it comes to what our children should learn. But I’ve been learning my whole life. What I know now is the result of over forty years of experience and exploration. I can’t teach it all to my children before they finish elementary school, and I sure as heck won’t be able to cram it all into this one year. I’d be foolish to try.

In a world that’s all about testing and data and numbers, it’s hard to plan for the long game in your child’s education. We want to see mastery and understanding today, immediately after the lesson, not in twenty years. I don’t think that’s how our brains work best, though.

I’ve noticed that my kids are far more interested in learning about things they’ve already heard of. In day-to-day life this means that the first time I introduce a concept to them, all I’m really expecting is exposure. If they remember all the details of today’s science lesson including Archimedes, displacement, density, and buoyancy, that’s wonderful. But if all they remember is the words themselves, that’s okay too: next time they hear “density” they’ll perk up their ears because they’re already familiar with the word. They might even associate those terms with something fun if they remember how I accidentally knocked a beaker of water out of my hand while explaining density (note to self: don’t gesticulate wildly while holding a cup of water.)

Apparently something similar holds true for children and new foods: they may have to taste a new food many times before they start to like it. The key is to keep offering the food at various intervals.

The great thing about this philosophy is that it eases the pressure on me just a wee bit: they don’t have to have a deep understanding of a concept after just one lesson, or even just one unit. The bummer is that it will be weeks, months, or even years before a full understanding develops.

That’s why I’m okay with the fact that it might look like the kids haven’t learned much in their year of homeschooling; this year I’m laying the foundation and exposing them to as much content as possible so that they’ll be eager to learn more about it in future. In short, I’m playing the long game.

One thought on “Day 240: The Long Game

  1. In early childhood education I learned “you cannot learn what you do not already know” basically meaning your build on ideas and skills and exposures you have already had…… even the exposures in utero prepare the child for the language of the environment surrounding the mother.
    What you are doing this year is increasing exposures for your children so they have the blocks for lifelong learning.
    You are doing wonderfully! Keep on thinking about all you want them learn and know.

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