Bridging the Gap! Facing Your Fear

by: Heather Haupt

The mere thought of educational gaps has put many a homeschool parent into a panic at one point or another.  Of the hundreds of homeschool families that I’ve talked to over the years, this concern is brought up over and over again – most frequently as parents agonized over curriculum choices. And that was ‘back in the day’ when there wasn’t the dizzying array of curriculum options that we find now.

There is that nagging fear that our children will grow up and have some glaring hole in their education and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

I have news for you: there WILL be gaps in your child’s education.

No matter where your child attends school, what style of education you chose, whether you are a relaxed or a strict academic kind of homeschooler - your child will have gaps in their education.  We all do.  

Now take a deep breath!  This is ok.  Really.

It is impossible to know everything about everything.  But as homeschooling families, we have the unique opportunity to lay the foundation that will launch our children into a lifelong learning adventure.    

In preparing our children for adulthood and the continuing journey of learning, we need to keep a few things in mind:

Minimize Critical Gaps

First off, we need to recognize that while our children will all have holes in their education, some gaps are critical and need to be filled.    

Let’s start with the basics.  Our children need a strong foundation in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics.  

Without the ability to read, all future learning will be jeopardized.  Being able to communicate through writing what one knows is an important skill that deserves special focus during the ‘school years’.  Mathematics completes this trio of foundational skills.  Math skills build upon one another.  Holes of understanding at the beginning will compound.  

In our family, understanding and mastery were expected.  When a test indicated a gap in understanding, the material was reviewed.  We didn’t just hope to do better on the next test.  Mastery was required before moving on.  The result was that three very different daughters all ended up proficient in these areas.

In addition to these essentials, it is important for each family to determine what their personal ‘critical gaps’ are and develop a plan to fill them.  This will help determine what kind of curriculum you choose and how in-depth you will cover various topics.  The beauty of homeschooling is that it allows for specialization and the uniqueness of the individual or family.  

In our family, we all learned about Egypt.  In the process though, we were given leeway to focus on aspects that piqued our individual interest.  My sister, the artist, delved deep into the art and writing of the Egyptians, while I merely understood the basics of the cartouche.  The scientist in me was fascinated by the process of mummification. My sister only wanted to know enough and still manage to keep her lunch down.  While a general understanding of Egypt is important, detailed knowledge can be varied.

Knowing what is important for your family and each individual child will not only prepare them for their life calling, but also calm fears that they are missing out.  There are simply too many opportunities available.  Setting priorities will release you to focus on what you feel called to do.

Letting them in on the secret

Albert Einstein once said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”   We want to invest now in what our children will take with them beyond their time in our home and under our care.

We always knew there would be holes in our education because our parents let us in on that little secret.  They then demonstrated a lifelong pursuit of learning by expressing their joy in joining us as we learned.   Seeing my mom’s unveiled delight in learning sealed the deal in giving me a desire to homeschool my own children.  She loved {almost} every minute of it, and we knew it.  

Even though I received an education that far exceeded hers, I’m discovering the same satisfaction as I fill in my gaps (or at least broaden my understanding) while learning right alongside my children!  

As a girl, I simply learned the basics about the Native American community.  You can be an educated adult without knowing details about each and every tribe in North America.  My understanding expanded when the topic was revisited with my three little boys.  Their fascination with the topic led to making room in our schedule to explore farther than we had in our all-girl household growing up.  

Where to start

One of the most important things we can do for our children during these ‘school years’ is to cultivate their natural curiosity.  We are all born with this curiosity.  It is what prompts all of the why’s in the toddler years!  This kind of curiosity is the engine which keeps learning going!  By making our homes natural learning environments, we can model to our children that learning happens everyday, all the time.    

I grew up in a home that encouraged questions.  We thrived on questions.  Watching Apollo 13 during my teen years was not just a passive activity.  We discussed it, questioned the accuracy of different aspects and then fanned out to research and find answers to our questions and concerns.  The best part was coming back to excitedly share our findings.  This cycle of asking questions, seeking answers and sharing our discoveries helped stoke the fire of our natural curiosity that remains lit to this day.   

Even when our parents actually knew the answers, they still encouraged us to find the answers ourselves by showing us how to look.  We utilized the library, found ‘experts’ on the topic at hand, learned how to find primary sources (journal articles) and after the rise of the Internet, utilized this resource as well.  

Feeding curiosity by encouraging our questions, teaching us how to seek out the answers and then sharing our discoveries proved to be a powerful trifecta.  We learned the value and satisfaction in learning new things.

And this can keep them going, going, going…

In my mid-20s, I realized that I didn’t understand the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  The extent of my 20th century history education focused on the first half of the century.  Instead of getting upset at my parents for this ‘gap’ or shrugging my shoulders in resignation, I excitedly set to work filling that gap.  I read books and talked to my retired Army grandfather who had served in both wars.  Without even thinking about it, I found myself falling back into the habits built during my formative years.  

I was prepared for this because not only was I armed with the knowledge that there would be gaps in my education, but I knew how rewarding it would be to fill newly discovered gaps.    

Homeschooling provides the flexibility to specialize and allows our children to really dig deep into the topic at hand.  Cultivate their curiosity, equip them to satisfy it, and your children will go out confident into adulthood and just might come back to thank you later!

Heather Haupt delights in the adventure of learning alongside her husband and three boys!  Drawing on her unique perspectives in biology and as a homeschool graduate who is now in the trenches educating her three boys, she encourages parents to pursue a loving, holistic, and developmentally appropriate approach to education.  She currently blogs at:

This article originally appeared in the Arizona Home Education Journal, June 2011.
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