Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home
At a recent roundtable discussion organized by our homeschooling support group, a brand new homeschooling mom raised her hand and asked the perennial question: What counts as homeschooling?
I have heard the same questions dozens of times through the years: Can I count playing board games? Can I count hiking as PE? Can I count the afternoon we spent talking with a veteran about WWII? Can I count our trip to Washington DC? Yes, yes, seriously? and YES!
I know the question that is being asked. It comes from a deeply ingrained assumption that if it is school, it must be ___________ [boring, tedious, difficult, taxing, mind-numbing, repetitive—you choose]. For some reason, we feel that we must put an official stamp of approval on an activity in order for it to “count” as “school.”
At this point, a redefinition is necessary. Since most of us were public schoolers ourselves, we have trouble confusing the word “school” with its intention, “education.” Education is, at its core, developing the abilities of the mind: acquiring general knowledge and skills, developing clear thinking and good judgment, and ultimately working toward navigating in the world at a mature level.
Instead of asking ourselves “does this count as school?” we should be asking, “Is my child learning something worthwhile?”
Our job as educators is to be able to recognize what is worthwhile. Ask yourself if a particular activity serves to help your child acquire general knowledge and skills, or develop clear thinking or a new perspective in some way.
Did your six-year-old learn how to crack an egg into a bowl while you were baking cookies today? That is a skill that some adults haven’t yet mastered. Does your teenager lead devotions at youth group? She is learning organization and leadership skills that absolutely “count.”
Some use the mantra “learning happens all the time.” I’m not convinced that any learning goes on while a child is watching “Sponge Bob,” but the idea behind the mantra is valid.
The world is full of opportunities for learning new things. Seize them. That is what counts!
Some of us will need to mentally (or physically) check a box: museum field trip = history; letter-writing = language arts; going for a nature walk = science; finding and measuring every rectangle in the house = math. Don’t apologize if you need to keep track of these things in a formal manner. Some of us are wired that way.
If you have someone in your life who is skeptical that “learning happens all the time”—or if you are doubting yourself—try recording every little detail of your child’s daily life. Put each activity into a category (math, language arts, science, health, art, music, etc.). I think you’ll find that those things that seemed so un-school-like are, indeed, worthwhile learning opportunities.
As home-educators, we need to focus on the “worthwhile” part and not on the what-looks-like-school part.
We shouldn’t be teaching to the test; we should be teaching to the mind, to the heart, and to the soul.
Because that is what truly counts.
Do you have trouble deciding “what counts”? How do you define learning?