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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Yep, There WILL Be Gaps, And that’s OK!

You want your kids to be brilliant. 

You want them to learn all that they need to learn.  Maybe you even took them out of a brick and mortar school to homeschool them because you felt they weren’t learning the right things.

And then maybe you’re worried.  Maybe you’re wondering if you can really educate them well enough to avoid any gaps in their knowledge?

Maybe it would be reassuring to know that there WILL be gaps.  Everyone has knowledge gaps.

Even if you limit the “knowledge base” to the important stuff (and who decides what’s important?), there’s simply too much to know.

That’s why your family doctor has to read medical journals and books to keep up with the latest studies and techniques.  And it’s why people like you and me continue to read and learn, because there’s always more to know. 

Not to mention that commonly accepted “facts” are being disproven and revised continually. 

Don't freak out over knowledge gaps.  Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Pluto’s not a planet anymore, y’all. 

Dinosaurs may have been more closely related to birds than lizards.

The statues on Easter Island may really have “walked” to their final locations.  I didn’t say they did it of their own volition.

How many of the facts that you learned when you were in school are now myths?  It’s a good thing that learning is a lifelong endeavor, right?

You just cannot cram all there is to know in 12 years of grade school---and I wouldn’t want to.  Talk about a pressure cooker!

But learning at home isn’t just about acquiring knowledge.  Given the right tools and know how, anyone can continue to acquire knowledge throughout his lifetime.

And it’s not even just about acquiring skills.  While learning to do arithmetic and writing complete sentences are both important and essential parts of educating your child, they are just parts

In our family, education is about raising kids in such a way that they can reach their full adult potential.  That’s going to look a little different for each child since they are unique individuals, but while part of it is helping them to acquire knowledge and skills, a bigger part is helping them to develop into independent thinkers who have an inkling as to what to do with their knowledge and skills.

Real life isn’t about filling in blanks, after all.  It’s a lot messier than that.

Let’s look at grammar for a minute.  The study of grammar is a worthwhile endeavor, but it’s not an end within itself---after all, the purpose of writing is to communicate something, not to have subject-verb agreement, right?

Grammar is just a tool we use to help to make our message clear and to reduce misunderstandings.  If the message is not there to be conveyed, grammar by itself is useless.

The same is true of arithmetic.  It’s a tool we use to solve problems.

Real problems (not word problems, but that’s a topic for another discussion). 

Arithmetic tells me if I have enough money in my wallet to pay for the food in my cart.  It tells me if I received the correct change.  It tells me what time to start dinner I the crockpot to have it ready at a certain time.   It would be really hard to get by in life without being able to add and subtract and so on.

But it’s unlikely that I’ll just randomly start adding numbers for no particular purpose.  The invention of numbers themselves came from human beings’ need to keep track of possessions, sell stuff, and figure out stuff.  They are not an end in themselves, but a means to a particular end.

The point here is that the tools by themselves are worthless without the know how and understanding of how to use them. 

Imagine trying to use a hammer to eat dinner---not very effective, right?

Now, I’m not saying that content isn’t important, I happen to think that having a good knowledge base is very important (but that’s a topic for another discussion).

I’m also not saying that learning skills like arithmetic and grammar are unimportant.  We would have a lot of trouble getting by in the modern world without them.

But ultimately there is something at the bottom of it all that’s more important, at least when it comes to academics.  Actually many somethings:

  • the ability to think critically
  • the drive to learn
  • the motivation to do 

These are not things that can be learned in a vacuum, but are an integral part of educating our children.  If we can help them to acquire these, they will have the background to assist them in learning anything and everything they need to learn.

If you teach them “to fish,” they can feed themselves intellectually for the rest of their lives.

I think one of the reasons many public schools fail to truly teach children is not because there isn’t enough emphasis on content or skills…but because all the emphasis is on content or skills, as if these things are our final, all important goal. 

Maybe that’s because it’s hard to devise a standardized test to check for those special somethings and so much easier to devise one to look for specific knowledge or skills (filling in the blanks, y’all). 

So, if you are worried about gaps…Don’t. 

There will be gaps.  Knowledge gaps (and even skill gaps) can be filled.  It’s not your job to fill your child with all the wisdom of the ages.  It’s not the end of the world if you miss something. 

It is your child’s job to continue to learn new things throughout his life.

That doesn’t meant that you shouldn’t try to help him develop a knowledge base that’s both broad and deep (we don’t shoot for the minimum around here), as that will definitely serve him well.  But it does mean that you don’t need to freak out or obsess over whether he knows every little thing he ought to know. 

Try to focus on the whole picture of who your child is becoming.  Try to help him acquire the background he needs to be the adult he’s meant to be.  Try to help him develop that drive to learn and motivation to do…those alone will take him far. 

After all, he’s not going to have you standing over his shoulder nagging him to do his work when he’s an adult in the workplace.

What aspect of home education do you think you worry too much about?

Dear Homeschool Mom ...


  1. Probably History. I wonder if we should be more focused with it. But then are doing Chemistry the last 8 weeks and learning about the early chemists. We are studying Art and Music and learning about the 1800's. We talk about topics and the boys seem to have a timeline flow of where to put a topic. We are a very verbal family, oral narrations and chats, so I worry that we don't make the boys write down their answers enough. When they have to, they do fine, but our chats are just so delightful.

  2. I think the key with writing is to find a balance that works for your family. There's no reason they should have to write everything, right? I try to be selective about writing assignments so that it doesn't feel like busywork---and it helps if the child "buys into" the assignment. I had no idea, for instance, when I asked my 8-year-old to do a retelling of the epic of Gilgamesh that he would dictate a 3,000 word, well, epic, lol! But he was inspired and that's not something I would expect on a regular basis.


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