A Mom named Becky posed a really great question in response to an earlier post:
I have 2 children who thrive with a structured, classical approach and 2 children who would thrive in an unschooled, relaxed atmosphere if I could let go of my personal expectations. It is so hard to wrap my head around what is left of homeschooling if you take “school”out of it. I feel like a fish out of water as I try discover what relaxed homeschooling looks like in our home. I so want them to recover the joys of learning and discovery.

Becky, this is such an honest and wonderful question. And I’d encourage you to really explore this with your family. As an aside, ALL families should explore this idea–whether you homeschool or not.

Let’s first define what school is and isn’t. School is a means to an end. School is just one tool, among many, that we use to give our kids the knowledge and skills necessary to be responsible, productive adults.

Think about each of your children. What are your child’s natural gifts, talents and passions? What does he love doing? Who is he drawn to helping (animals, seniors, young children)? Does he have very specific interests or passions? Are there some things that your child will never, ever be interested in (i.e. if you know he’s never going to be a scientist, then why focus too much on that)?

Make a list of the specific skills and attributes each child needs to succeed. What is most important to you and your family? What specific knowledge and set of skills does your child need?

Now we can choose which tools we need in order to provide these specific skills. Some kids need structured, classical, rigorous academic instruction. They need extra classes to study Latin, advanced mathematics and more. So the primary tool they need is schooling.

But many of our kids need LIFE EXPERIENCES more than traditional SCHOOLING as a primary tool to learn the knowledge and skills necessary for their success. Part of the reason Casey travels with me is that he is very much wired to be an entrepreneur. I am giving him a lot of experience learning how to run a business–he visits my accountant with me, participates in conference calls with vendors, is responsible for managing and selling CDs. I want him to learn how to communicate, speak publicly, influence people. That is a huge part of his education. We have always placed great emphasis on the ability to write effectively–it is a skill every person needs as an adult. Few kids today excel in this area so Casey stands out. But he’s never going to be a scientist, geographer or veterinarian. So we haven’t emphasized that as much.

Some of your kids are very independent learner who learn best by doing rather than studying from a book. So give them experiences with adults who can mentor them. Get them involved in internships, help them start a business, create opportunities for them to get different life experiences. Throughout his life, Casey has been an intern for a videographer (learned he didn’t like it, which is half the battle!); he was a stickboy for a minor league hockey team (teaches lots of responsibility, following directions, serving others); he has officiated hockey games (teaches leadership, poise under pressure, decision-making skills, plus you have to study for annual tests); he ran a business from home taking care of animals in the neighborhood.

Once you begin to see your child’s education from a larger view, you can then decide exactly what role schooling plays. Final note: it takes a great deal of courage as a parent to pursue a different path. People will question you and your motives. YOU will question yourself repeatedly. It will feel odd and even wrong at times as you compare your child to others. But as long as you know your child’s specific needs and the skills he needs most, you can stay on the right path. History is on your side, by the way. This is exactly the way most of our Founding Fathers were trained. They were amazing thinkers and incredibly curious. Witness the inventions of Jefferson, Franklin and Washington…in addition to being architects, farmers, leaders and more.

Let me know if this makes sense. I’ll be glad to help any way I can.