Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom
Monday mornings at our breakfast table usually start the same way. The kids munch away on their cereal while I kick off a new week by reading aloud our learning manifesto, which hangs in a frame in the same room.
This may sound like a glamorous moment, but I assure you it isn’t. There’s the typical amount of yawning, chewing, and interrupting, but one part of my declaration always seems to grab their attention. The kids’ voices join in as I speak out:
“We learn because we are inspired, not required!”
Inspired, not required. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But what the heck does it mean? And does it really work–if so, how?
The phrase ‘inspire, not require’ originates from an educational philosophy called Thomas Jefferson Education (also known as Leadership Education). It’s one of the seven keys of great teaching as they define it:
“If the purpose is to train leaders, it’s important not to force the young person through their learning experiences. Force in learning kills the spirit, dampens the passion and destroys the zest and life of learning. Force trains followers, not leaders.”
~ Oliver DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, page 42
Why I choose to inspire, not require
When I initially considered homeschooling, I was in the midst of a healthy dose of chaos from having a four-, three-, and two-year-old in the house.
I spent what felt like long days in survival mode–starting to teach the basics of kindness and character. This took up most of my reserves of time and energy, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of adding another level of “requirements” as well.
This doesn’t mean that life is a big free-for-all in our home. We have certain areas that most definitely are “required” — they fit into the character and responsibility department. We require kindness, manners, and mutual work that blesses the family.
But that worksheet about what sound “SH” makes? Not so much.
What this really looks like: An invitation
Inspire, not require at its core means modeling from Mom and Dad. It means doing and learning the things yourself that you want your children to do and learn.
I recently started brushing up on my math skills, which have languished for quite a few years. I’m reading the NYTimes Bestseller Math Doesn’t Suck (I know, great title) at the dining table, chatting about it with the kids. Jonathan likes to check in the back of the book to see if I’ve gotten the answers correct. This is one of the first steps in my plan to inspire the kids to increase their formal study of math.
Remember how good it feels to be invited to do something? To go to a birthday party, to speak to a group, to write an article, to be asked out on a date?
I like to do the same with my children. I invite them to study, to learn. An invitation makes something a privilege.
In a few months, I’ll be inviting my children over the age of nine to study math with me. When my children reach the age of eight they receive an invitation to begin baking lessons with me.
Before Christmas I invited Trishna, Jonathan, and Elijah to make their own handwriting books. When they complete the entire alphabet, they know I’ll invite them out on a date to celebrate their accomplishment with a hot chocolate and a treat at the local coffee shop.
All three have eagerly been working away–by their own motivation and at their own pace. Just today I overheard one child say, “I love handwriting.” Insert happy mama’s sigh.
Here’s the great part of an invitation–you can turn it down. That’s part of inspire, not require too–letting your children tell you when they’re ready, and when they’re not.
What about core subjects?
Inevitably when I talk about inspire, not require, I hear some version of this statement: “This sounds good for free, discretionary time, but surely I can’t inspire my kids’ reading instruction, math, or writing.”
It’s really true: You can inspire, not require core subjects. Doing so just means you have to be willing to go at a different pace from a traditional classroom. I‘ve noticed that by letting my children choose these things, they have retained an enthusiasm that enables them to catch up to or surpass their peers–when they’re ready.
And that requires me to let go and trust the process. Which can be scary, let me tell ya. It can also be downright breathtakingly beautiful.
What about meeting legal requirements or if I need to put my kids back in school?
It’s true that in some states or countries certain academic requirements must be met. My answer is to meet them (or to move. )
But have you taken the time to stop and evaluate those requirements? For example, even if you had to prove formal math study you could accomplish that with a page of math a day, leaving you many hours for inspired learning.
This philosophy works well for our family because, as far as we can foresee, we are committed to homeschooling long-term. We’re not concerned with keeping up with certain standards “just in case.” We have embraced a completely different paradigm of education.
If you think you might need to put your children back in traditional school at some point, you might be interested in research done by Raymond and Dorothy Moore, pioneers in the early homeschooling movement.
After reviewing over 20 studies that compared children who entered traditional school early and those who entered at a later age, Dr. Moore had this to say:
“Comparative studies of early and late school entrants indicate that late school entrants generally excel in achievement, adjustment, leadership in general, social-emotional development and motivation. These studies suggest that children remaining at home until later than average, do better than average. These studies have been made of high, middle, and low socio-economic status youngsters, and measurements have been taken at virtually all grade levels with substantially the same results.”
What if you hate everything I’m saying?
We have found what brings peace and joy to our family and homeschool–and we love it. You should find that, too, and it could be something completely different!
Is what you’re doing adding life and energy to your family? Are your children falling in love with learning? Can you continue this pace long-term? If so, keep doing what you’re doing!
Inspire, not require is an art, not a science. A flow, not a system. We discover it as we move forward in faith and courage, and we recognize it by the spark it ignites in our homes.
What does “inspire, not require” mean to you?