Note from the Editor:
Have you ever struggled to know when you should structure your children’s learning and when they should be given freedom? Does your child show a strong disinterest in certain subjects, or worse an apathy toward learning in general? In this post, WinterPromise author and founder as well as mother of seven, Kaeryn Brooks offer some advice on this topic for homeschool parents.
A foundational goal of Charlotte Mason-style homeschooling is to create a love for learning. An important part of growing this learning love is having the freedom to investigate and self-motivate. But kids also need structure and direction, especially as they begin their homeschool journey. How can a parent strike the right balance?
For many parents, this might instantly bring to mind a conversation like this:
“Buddy, we can study anything you want — really — anything! What would you like to study?”
“I don’t know….”
“But you’re interested in a lot of things. What do you want to learn more about?”
“Come on, yes you do! Let’s put some ideas down on paper.”
(Paper begins to be filled with useless doodles as parent badgers child to come up with ideas. Score one for student as parent ends up frustrated and student has proven his “point.”)
“Come on, there must be at least one thing. Just tell me one thing you’d like to study. Anything.”
“Okay. Bagpipes. You know, like I saw that guy play last weekend at the Irish festival.”
(Parent leaps upon this idea.) “Irish music! You want to study Irish music?”
“No, I want to learn to play the bagpipes.”
“Bagpipes? We don’t have bagpipes! And I don’t know how to play the bagpipes! How are we going to do that?”
(Child, with more despondency than they actually feel, and a whine for good measure.) “But you said anything!”
Oh, is this familiar! And any experienced parent will tell you that this is the conversation that most parents have with their kids when they are offered a world of choices. Either the choices seem so limitless that they can’t make a choice, or they attach to an idea that (an adult knows) was never really on the table. Or both.
The only fix is a principle I call “Choices within Options.” That is, that children are given options from which to choose, and then they have the ability to choose what is to their liking. This is not strictly a homeschooling principle, of course, it is a parenting principle. I know, for instance, that my son should not be given unlimited control of what to wear to a funeral, as flip flops and pajama bottoms don’t make the cut. So I present to him the only pair of dress pants he owns, and say. “You have to wear these blue dress pants. Would you like to wear this sweater, your new shirt, or that button-down one you like so much?”
This principle of “Choices within Options” examples to students that even when we ourselves are making choices, not everything is a reasonable option. It provides the structure and direction that kids might not have on their own, and offers parents a point at which to provide meaningful input. And, in making their own choices between a limited number of options, children learn to weigh the pros and cons of each option and make better and more thoughtful decisions. In short, it teaches them to be decision-makers.
And because kids are making their own choices, they receive:
- the benefit of self-motivation (“I like doing this because it’s what I wanted to do.”)
- the opportunity to grow in perseverance and grit (“Even when I like it, it is still hard work.”)
- the chance to learn to value the input of others (“I’m glad you gave me this option.”)
- and, the opportunity to practice submission to the oversight of others.
Finding ways to provide “Choices within Options” allows you to provide your students with some well-thought-out options, and allows them to exercise control and practice good decision-making.
Do you have other ways to balance freedom with structure in your homeschooling? Be sure to share your strategies!
Founder and Author of WinterPromise Publishing