Learning What’s Important

by Wendy Priesnitz

Many parents who are new to the home-based learning experience ask, “How do I know that my child is learning what’s important?” "What's important" is a highly subjective phrase! It depends upon one’s world view, definition of education, ambitions (or lack of) for a child’s career, and much more.

Your family should decide on a set of learning objectives for your children, aside from any legal requirements of the jurisdiction in which you live. If you want your children to learn exactly what their schooled peers are learning, you can obtain an outline of the curriculum that’s followed in your local school.

My own personal goal for my children’s education was for them to retain their curiosity, love of learning, and self-esteem, and to develop their research, learning and communication skills. The skills and facts they picked up along the way were largely a function of their own interests, rounded out here and there with what my husband and I perceived to be missing pieces of their own personal knowledge puzzle. But the actual body of knowledge is ever growing and changing (for instance, we know now that Saturn has more rings than we did when I went to elementary school!), at an increasingly enhanced pace. So I felt they’d be better served by developing a questioning nature and sound research and literacy skills than memorizing the dates of the battles of the World Wars.

No matter what you feel your children should be learning, don’t worry about being able to tell if that learning is occurring. Because you’re intimately involved with each youngster on a day-to-day basis, you’ll be in the happy position of observing each burst of growth and sharing each new insight.

You might get concerned from time to time that your child’s development seems to have stalled. At those times, it’s important to remember that learning does not proceed in an orderly fashion. Remember how your children learned to walk and to talk? Learning is a chaotic, fits-and-starts, trial-and-error sort of experience. Brains need time to process new knowledge. Your learner will move from frenetic bursts of activity through slower periods of seeming hibernation, only to surprise you one day with a pronouncement that makes you marvel at what was going on in her brain while you thought she was vegging out!