I read this article recently about a family who tried homeschooling for a year and then decided to send the kids back to school. In reading about their trial year, I couldn't help but think that much of the strife and challenge they encountered was a result of their effort to replicate school at home.
Children, indeed all of us, learn best when we are given freedom, choice, time and space. We naturally tend to reject, or at the very least dislike, coercion. By essentially following the same top-down curriculum approach as school, only altering its location, it's not surprising that the family did not experience the joy and freedom and positive results that a true home-based, self-directed learning approach may have offered.
Homeschooling allows the flexibility to pick and choose pieces of curriculum, to tailor learning to each individual child. But by relying too heavily on a curriculum-based approach to learning that re-creates school at home, we can, often inadvertently, hinder a child's natural desire to discover his world.
As an example, my almost 7-year-old recently decided she wanted to learn cursive writing. I have no idea where she saw cursive but it must have been somewhere out in the world among our daily living and learning. We found a book that showed cursive lettering and she got to work. She decided to start with the letter L. Why not? She brought her cursive notebook with her everywhere: to the playground, to the soccer field, on our bike rides. One night she couldn't get to sleep and asked if she could stay up to do cursive. Again, why not? Did any of us have this level of enthusiasm for learning cursive? I certainly did not.
This is a good example of how self-directed learning, following a child's own interests and needs, can be incredibly productive and rewarding for both parent and child. We parents take notice and provide resources and opportunity, and the children do all the rest. Will my four-year-old have the same passion for cursive writing at age six that my daughter has? I don't know. Does it really matter? I don't believe so. Maybe he'll be passionate about cursive writing at age 10. Or maybe he'll never be passionate about it and be focused on some other important skill or interest. This is the gift of home-based, self-directed learning: allowing our children's true talents to take root and grow when given freedom, choice, time and space.
Children can learn beautifully without school. We just need to let them.