Ready or not, here we go!

By Jonathan Lewis on August 25, 2017

Now that Patrick is five years old, my wife and I are beginning our first official year of homeschooling. It will admittedly be fairly low-key this year, with an emphasis on reading, early math concepts, and a smattering of other subjects on a rotating basis.

As I look at our two oldest (Timothy will be four in a couple of months) I’m reminded of the benefits of creating a learning-rich environment in our homes. The truth is, Patrick has already learned a lot of what he’s “supposed” to learn during his kindergarten year—and most of it happened very informally, simply by reading countless books together, talking about things we see and encounter during daily life, and the fun, educational activities we’ve done.

I’m also reminded about the value of real experiences versus the more artificial world of workbooks. I have nothing against formal curriculum—we’ll use plenty in the coming years—but for the little guys, I’d much rather see them doing “real” activities instead of filling out countless pages in a stack of workbooks.

If I could go on a rabbit trail for a moment, think about this: how much time does a typical student spend on busywork that has little value beyond keeping kids busy for a certain number of hours per day? I know there’s some value to repetition and practice, but I can’t help but think that as a culture, we’ve taken it too far—especially for our youngest students.

Something I’ve often thought about is the arbitrariness of the typical school experience. There’s no inherent reason (in modern times) to do school nine months per year and take June, July, and August off. Why those months? Why not September, October, and November? Or April, May, and June? (Yes, I know historically there was good reason for taking the summer off, but those reasons are no longer broadly applicable.) Similarly, there’s no inherent reason to spend a certain number of hours per day or take a certain number of years to graduate. I’m sure there were reasons for all of these structures once upon a time, but are they still valid? And more to the point, are they valid for homeschoolers? In many cases, probably not.

Okay, enough of the rabbit trail. Where was I? Ah yes, talking about “real” activities.

Not only would I rather see our little guys spending most of their time on real activities rather than workbook pages, I would also far rather see them doing real things instead of being glued to a screen. Screen time for our kids is virtually non-existent. Not only has that shielded them from a boatload of questionable content, it has also freed up countless hours for more real pursuits such as building with Legos, reading books, drawing, and the like.

We’ve let our kids have some limited and careful screen time in the past. My wife and I didn’t like what it produced—protests when it was over and clamoring for more in the future—and have cut back. I don’t regret that decision. I don’t want my kids staring vacantly at a screen when they could be doing something real.

The start of our first school year also reminds me that this is a sobering responsibility. To accept the roles of both parent and teacher is big. There’s a lot to cover over the years. But it’s also exciting. And what’s more, I know God has put us on this path, and He has good plans for our future.

So ready or not, here we go!