How do I determine if I'm being too lax or strict with my son or daughter? I want learning to be fun, but sometimes you do have to put your nose to educational the grindstone. I'm nervous that my children would have a better experience in a classroom because they would be required to behave and achieve.
This is an excellent question. And the concerns make sense. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I sense that a few myths are creating the majority of the tension here.
Myth 1: Children behave better in a classroom with a teacher. I'm certainly more well-behaved at work than I am at home. I can relax at my house with my wife who loves me. Sadly, this means she's the only one who really sees me at my worst. I don't have to "contain" as much around her and keep things "professional." So, there is much truth to this myth. On the other hand, classroom behavior is limited to oversight and authority. Kids can start to act up the moment the teacher steps out of the room or looks away. Worse, misbehavior can be contagious. I've been teaching Sunday School long enough to know that when we get certain kids together, trouble is not far behind. Thus, personality has much more to do with how a child behaves both at home and in public. The fact that you're the teacher is not the deciding factor, though, depending on your relationship with your child, it can have a significant impact.
Myth 2: Classrooms require students to get their work done in a timely fashion. This is absolutely false. Classrooms do demand that students comply with the schedule. But the consequences for failing to do so are ineffective and unhelpful. The fact that my local high school is failing to teach 30-80% of students should give you pause. Talking about accountability and getting kids to achieve are two completely different things.
Myth 3: My son would do better in a classroom that would make him sit still. No, no, no! I talk about Why Gender Matters often because this is so important: Boys and girls are different. Sitting still at a desk may be one of the worst things you can do for your son's education. Read the book. Consider your children. Act accordingly.
Myth 4: Learning isn't always fun at home. This is completely true. The implication, however, is untrue. School isn't always fun either. I can think of many times both homeschooling and in the classroom that were miserable. And while I loved my high school and college experiences, I enjoyed learning at home much more. One benefit of homeschooling is that you can tackle difficult subjects and frustrations as you and your student are ready. You don't have to wrestle through the subject late at night when you're both tired and the assignment is due in the morning or the test is tomorrow. With homeschooling, you can work when it is best for you and your child.
With that as background, how do you determine what's asking too much of your child and what is the subtle button-pushing kids get so good at doing?
Here's my advice: As often as possible, let your students discover the joy of learning. There are times when kids simply need to eat their educational vegetables. And there are times when that's a battle you need to choose to fight. But more often than not, you could probably just let that one go. Provide plenty of opportunities for your student to encounter the content, but don't push it. When we discover how much fun it is to learn, we're drawn to figure things out. Being pressured into "learning" can stifle that desire. Model how you use that skill or knowledge set in life, and let your student become curious. And give it time. It could be that your student simply isn't ready for Latin at two or even three. I didn't master reading until way late in the game. Instead, I found a way to adapt to my struggle and did just fine in school.
You're probably noticed that I didn't actually address the question. That's because I don't know how you'd determine if you've set proper expectations. I hope, even though I didn't give you the three steps to figuring out if you're letting your student off easy, that you've been able to more clearly consider your situation. You know your children best. You probably know what inspires them. So keep an eye out for slacking off, but consider carefully that your student may simply not be ready for the content yet.
Give yourself and your student time. And keep focusing on the life-long love of learning.
Because if you've discovered the secret to teaching yourself and love doing so, when you are confronted with a new challenge, you can develop the skills you need.
The same is true for your children.
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester