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Did You Have a Good Homeschool Year?
At the end of a school year, it’s common (and beneficial) to look back at those previous months of work and do a little mental review: Was it a good homeschool year? If not, why not? If so, what made it a success? Of course, every year is going to have its ups and downs, its triumphs and its challenges; but over all, how did it go? That’s the question we often ponder. But the answer heavily depends on what you’re looking for, how you define success. Today I want to share what Charlotte Mason encouraged you to look for as you consider whether you had a good year.
Most of us start a school year with great hopes and plans. This is the year that _____ is going to happen. This is the year that little Joey is going to learn his times tables, or finish Algebra II, or whatever. But perhaps you got to the end of the year and things didn’t go as you had planned or envisioned. Maybe things took an unexpected turn because of an extended illness or a move. Maybe you experienced a home disaster that upended everything for months. Or perhaps you walked through a season of grief from a loss or joy from a new arrival—both of which require a lot of energy and time.
Life happens. And when you’re homeschooling, that life happens very closely to the schoolwork because it’s all taking place in the same location with the same people all day long. If you’re basing your idea of a successful school year on the number of books that you finished or the number of checkboxes that you were able to check off, you might be disappointed when you look back.
But, my friend, those things are only means to an end. The goal is not just to finish a book. You might read every single page and none of it stick in your student’s mind. The goal is not just to check off every assignment. Checking it off doesn’t mean anybody learned anything. They might have; but you have to look at more than just the checklist to evaluate whether it was a good year.
Where do you look? The books and checklists and assignments all are tools to use toward the main goal, and that main goal—the one thing that you’re looking for in each student—is growth. Did my student grow? and In what ways did she grow?
Now notice, I didn’t say “Did my student grow to this specific level?” She might not have grown as far or as fast as you wanted her to. But remember “the child is a person,” and part of respecting that unique individual is feeding her mind and heart and allowing her to grow at her own pace without the pressure of comparison to other unique individuals. So rather than fix your eyes on the finish line you were hoping to get to, and obsessing over how far short your student fell from that goal, I encourage you to shift your gaze to the starting line, where your student started at the beginning of the school year, and look at how far she came along the track. Did she grow?
Sometimes it’s hard to focus on growth, because it’s not as easy to see that as it is to see the checkmarks in the planner or the finished books on the shelf. So how do we look for growth?
Charlotte gave us some guidance when she wrote,
We must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 231
So think through those four areas.
First, did your student grow physically? That might include a growth spurt in height, but I think it also includes that student’s relationship with herself. Did she come to a new realization about herself this year or gain a new skill in caring for herself? My youngest with special needs is now able to do her own laundry without reminding. That’s growth in a physical skill! Perhaps your student learned a new physical skill. Or maybe she strengthened a relation that she had already started about how her will works or how her conscience needs good instruction or how good habits set her up for success. Did she grow in perception of herself and how she is fearfully and wonderfully made by her loving Heavenly Father? There are so many ways our children can grow in this area.
Second, think about how your student grew intellectually. Did he grasp some ideas about how the universe around him works? about God’s irrefragable laws in arithmetic or geometry? about the seasons and the laws of science? Most likely he didn’t grasp every single detail in every single lesson, but which ideas nestled into his heart and expanded his mind? In what ways did he grow intellectually?
Now, if you had expectations that your student would complete a certain course or learn a certain body of information, it’s tempting to look at what was not accomplished. But remember, education is not about how many ideas he did not grasp; it’s about which ones he did grab onto for his own possession. “We do not say he will remember all he knows, but, to use a phrase of Jane Austen’s, he will have had his ‘imagination warmed’ in many regions of knowledge” (School Education, p. 243). That’s intellectual growth.
What about moral growth? That’s the third area to look at. In what ways have you seen your student grow in her relationships with others: respecting those who are different from her; forming her opinions justly and after careful thought; showing kindness, generosity, and candor in conversations; embracing timeless principles and wisdom from the past and the present? These are only some of the ways that a person might grow in relation with other people. None of us is perfect in this area of life, even as adults. So look at this area with grace-filled eyes and see in what ways your student has grown morally over the past year?
The fourth area in which to look for growth is spiritually. Did your student grow in his relationship with God? Look for growth in the aspects that Peter laid out in 2 Peter 1: make every effort to add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, steadfastness; and to steadfastness, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly affection; and to brotherly affection, love. In other words look for ways that your student is growing in trusting God, doing what is right, learning more about God, controlling his passions, persevering instead of giving up, honoring God, giving grace to others, and loving well.
You might be thinking, “But what does loving others and trusting God have to do with my student’s education?”
Everything. It has everything to do with your student’s education, because you are educating the whole person, not just a brain. The ideas from the books and the checked-off assignments are only some of the tools that contribute to educating your child. Life experiences contribute greatly. The atmosphere of your home, the ideas that you live out and discuss every day during life experiences—those comprise at least one-third of your child’s education as a person. The habits that you help your child to develop contribute another third to his personal education. The ideas that other people in your community share contribute to it. The time spent outside in God’s creation contributes to it.
Chances are you haven’t documented all of those contributions all year, but they matter greatly. Don’t get stuck looking only at what you have written down in your planner. Your student has grown in many ways—physically, intellectually, morally, spiritually, in his relation with himself, with the universe around him, with others, and with God. If you want to know if you’ve had a good year, lift your eyes and look at the bigger picture.
“We must bear in mind that growth . . . is the sole end of education.” Look for the growth—celebrate growth—and you’ll see that it was, indeed, a good year.
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SCM always helps me have the proper perspective on education. My initial response would have been that we didn’t have a much progress as planned. However when considering the whole person, we made great strides.
This was such wonderful encouragement and wise perspective, thank you!
What an encouraging reminder to not just look at how many lessons we completed, but to look at the child!
This was an encouraging truth. Thank you!