It’s the dawn of the new school year, so kids are still (mostly) eager to crawl out of bed, get out the door at a decent time, and get homework done by a reasonable hour.  The paper is still on the pointed crayons, and there’s not too much doodling on the folders… yet.

Kids are getting to know their teachers, learn the ropes of a new classroom, and are hopefully making some friends.  Feelings about a whole new school year are still mostly positive, in other words.

This is a great time to ask yourself, as a parent, what your goals are in your children’s academics. Is it to do well in school?  Or is it to get an education?

There’s a fine line that separates those two objectives, in my opinion.

Our family’s current story

I’m no expert in this area, mind you — my oldest is just now in  kindergarten.  But I’ve been reading a few books and forming my  philosophy on just what is an education for several years now, and I’m eager to see how this evolves as my children grow.

Last year my daughter, Tatum, and I used Five in a Row to do pre-k homeschooling several times a week.  Since we lived abroad, and there were no decent, affordable schools in English anywhere near us, our default education choice was homeschooling.

I was excited about it, I was learning all I could about curriculum, methods, and philosophies, and I was even warming my daughter up to the idea.  Together, we were going to embark on a kindergarten adventure together, with me as the teacher; her as the student.

But then we suddenly moved back to the U.S. for her first year of school, and our options changed.  I won’t go into details, but with all the work my husband and I were going to have to deal with this next year during our year back in the States, the thought of homeschooling suddenly seemed much more daunting.

I wanted to homeschool.  I was drawn to it.  But God opened unexpected doors, and we needed to go through them.  This was best for our family in this particular season.

My daughter, left, on her first day of school.

In short, we found an ideal school for my daughter to attend during our year here.  It embodies everything I hold dear to my philosophy about education, and it uses Charlotte Mason methods to teach its students.

Kyle and I talked and prayed, we sought out wisdom from others, and we looked at our schedules and timelines.  Yes, it seemed our daughter needed to attend this school.  And so far, we’ve been tremendously happy.

You, the parent, are responsible

Here’s why I think it’s so terribly important to concretely decide your children’s academic goals — no matter where your child goes to school, you are still responsible for their education.

I was incredibly impressed that Tate’s school had us sign a paper, stating that we understood that we were responsible for her education, not them.  They were the administrators and the teachers, yes, but ultimately, it is our job, not theirs, to education our children.

Photo by [ J ]

We are simply outsourcing the teaching of certain aspects of life — writing in cursive, basic addition, who was Henri Matisse and Johan Sebastian Bach — to our daughter’s kindergarten teacher.  But we are still, and always will be, her most influential teacher.

Our society has drastically altered its view in the past few hundred years on what truly is an education. It’s only been since the Industrial Revolution that we even have a schooling system like we do today, with children grouped with fellow kids their age, required to sit in desks and take standardized tests.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with those things… to some degree.  But they’re not the definition of an education.

I encourage you to be mindful of the subtle difference between schooling and education.  Simple Homeschool‘s tagline comes from a quote by Mark Twain:  “I have never let my schooling interrupt my education.”

According to the dictionary, schooling means, “the process of being taught in a school.” Education means, “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

Scribble down some goals for your child’s education, and make sure that no matter the academic environment you’ve chosen, his or her schooling doesn’t interrupt them.

Finding your goals

Photo by Josh Pesavento

What sort of educational path do you want your child to walk?  What is the best way, based on his or personality and on your family’s season of life, to achieve that education? What are your goals for your child’s growth this year?

Here is our one main educational goal for each of our kids, hopefully for each school year:

To lay down a solid foundation for a spirit of lifelong learning.

That’s it.  It’s short, but it packs a punch, and it’s easy to remember.  It helps me remember that these “school” years are just the foundation for the rest of our kids’ lives, and that these are the formidable years where their spirit of curiosity can be broken by the system, or they can be given wings to soar and explore and learn about themselves.

My kiddo, exploring the rocky shores at Glacier National Park this summer.

This one specific objective can translate into different things each academic year. For example, a few goals we have for our daughter this year are to:

• Start independently reading chapter books by the spring (sounds daunting, but it’s not for her)
• Tell time on an analog clock
• Learn about three historically important artists, musicians, and writers
• Learn the basics of cursive
• Memorize a chapter of the Bible
• Learn the basics of a sport of other physical activity
• Understand the concepts of addition and subtraction

And within these fields of academia, we have some desires for her personal, spiritual, and emotional maturity:

• Understand better how to show respect for authority
• Learn to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry
• Delight in being a little girl, and to not grow up too quickly, according to the culture’s standards
• Act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with God

These specific goals aren’t really the point — they’re just examples from our family.  The point is that we, the parents, are ultimately responsible for our children’s education, not the school system. We may use them as our resources to help us teach our kids, but at the end of the day, part of our calling to raise up the next generation involves giving our children a solid education.

Take a moment to think through each of your children’s academic needs, and make a plan to help him or her achieve them, in whatever school environment you see fit.

For more information, I encourage you to pick up a copy of John Holt’s classic, How Children Learn

, and to read these posts from Simple Homeschool, even if you’re not a homeschooler (they’ve got great encouragement there about education in general):

What are some of your goals for your kids’ academics this year?  What role do you think the parent has in a child’s education?