Any time the importance of electives and fine arts education are discussed, there arises the inevitable conflict between the time-consuming nature of these important lessons and the necessity of not neglecting the essentials. So how do we resolve that conflict?
Remembering Our Purpose
The first key to resolution returns us to the concept of obedience. Whatever our practical reasons for homeschooling, the bottom line is that we must educate our children according to God’s instruction. If, through prayerful evaluation, we have determined that God’s will is for us to homeschool our children, then we have a responsibility to accomplish that well.
We also have a responsibility to remember that homeschooling based on this obedience is still about education! Yes, that means academics. It may mean academics from a godly and biblical perspective, but it still means that we honor God by diligently teaching our children history, science, math, and language arts. As much as we may want to nourish our children’s interests and give them a well-rounded education, these things are the foundation for that diligence and cannot be crowded out by supplements.
Regaining Our Focus
In many situations in life, we find ourselves needing to get “back to the basics” or refocus on our purpose. Homeschooling is no different. The first step to contemplating how fine arts training, electives, and extracurricular activities fit into the big picture of our homeschool schedule is to regularly re-evaluate the foundation of purpose and obedience.
Often when we refocus, we find that the nonessential extras reveal themselves without difficulty, and we are able to trim and recenter. But, other times it is not so easy to practically evaluate our homeschool. Have we committed to nonessentials, or are we actually walking in obedience in the ways we have stretched beyond the essential subjects? Are we really over-scheduled, or do we have a time management issue? How can we simplify in such a way that we are honoring God with what we do while still enjoying the fullness of an education that stretches and grows us and our children?
These uncertainties require more in depth searching through answering questions like these:
1. What does my time balance look like?
How much time each week do you spend on the essential subjects? Obviously, for little ones this will be much less than for the average high school student who needs to invest anywhere from 120 to 180 hours per subject each school year (depending on state regulations and expectations) to earn a full high school credit. But, what is more important than a fixed number of hours per week is the amount of time you are free to consistently invest.
Can you regularly invest 15-20 hours per week ensuring that your child is getting a solid foundation in history, science, math, and language arts?
Now, compare this evaluation to how much time you spend on the “extras.” Yes, even though fine arts courses and activities provide an essential component to a solid education, these still should require much less time investment.
It is not unreasonable to expect a combined 30-40 minutes of instruction and work time on a language arts lesson. But, frequently a simple 15 minutes of daily instrument practice, combined with a 30-minute lesson once every week or two, can allow a student to confidently learn to play.
If you are barely able to squeeze in 10-12 hours per week of essentials but are spending 20-30 hours on music lessons or sports practices (including travel time!), your schedule is unbalanced.
The extracurricular needs to reduce and the essentials need more freedom to breathe.
2. How is my child progressing?
Despite the varying opinions of standardized tests and state-required annual evaluation, the concept behind those assessments is well-founded. Regardless our education methods, it is essential to regularly evaluate our children’s academic progress.
As we assess our children, we need to ask two questions:
- First, how are our children progressing in the essential subjects?
- Second, how are our children progressing in other areas to round out their interests and encourage their strengths?
Both areas are important. But, if our children are becoming phenomenal piano players or exceptional gymnasts yet cannot assess at grade level in reading and math, are we really producing well-rounded children?
3. How much flexibility do I have?
Flexibility is a tightrope walk for homeschoolers. On the one hand, outsiders often abuse our flexibility. They assume that, since we homeschool, we are free to do all sorts of things that we would not be able to do if our children were in “real” school or we had a “real” job. The opposite is true. We must be free to set boundaries and guard our routine and our schedule.
Even so, no flexibility whatsoever is a clear sign that we are over-committed. After fulfilling our commitment to the essentials and working in the fine arts, electives, and extracurriculars, do we have the flexibility for any interruptions?
Can we go on a field trip with another homeschool family? Can the grandparents drop in every three or four weeks without throwing life into a tizzy? Can we set the school books aside for a day when everyone is sick or we just need a break?
If there is balance between the essentials and the extras but the schedule is so tightly packed that there is no room for flexibility, there remains a need for more simplification – even if it means giving up something truly important.
Usually it is just for a season, and the simplification is well worth the sacrifice.
When we choose to obey by simplifying, we are not only ensuring that our children receive the foundational education they need, we are also teaching them how to grow into balanced adults. We exemplify success by showing them how to prioritize essentials over extras. We teach them how to set boundaries and keep margin in their lives to allow God to work through them. We help them see how to simplify their lives for the purpose of success.