Benign neglect

I was chatting with a fellow homeschooling mom the other day, one who regularly talks to newbies looking for support. Midway into one of those conversations, she realized the suggestions she was offering might seem — well, a little neglectful.

I laughed, knowing just what she meant. I sometimes find myself casually announcing that I did zilch to teach my kids to read, and that I don’t bother monitoring their writing. When I see the surprised looks, or hear the silence on the other end of the phone, I am reminded that the way I homeschool runs counter to the conventional wisdom about how to educate children.

That doesn’t change the fact that letting kids freely play, explore, question, and experience life works.

However loosey goosey this may sound, it is not hands-off parenting. Just the opposite. It entails close involvement with your kids, and keen and caring observation. We watch to see what our kids care about, what they’re curious about, and what they do. We help them find materials, make suggestions for activities we think would be a good fit, answer their questions, and talk to them about things we think are important.

When kids enter the teen years, the particulars may change, but the song remains the same. Kids transitioning toward adulthood still need freedom to learn and grow, and they still need our guidance.

We can give them the independence to find volunteer positions or jobs, choose community college courses (and get to them on their own), launch independent projects, attend cultural and social events, and research options for college and work. My husband and I trust our teenage daughters’ innate intelligence and abilities as much as ever, but we continue to guide them by offering choices, talking, negotiating, and acting as models.

So no, I’m not being neglectful when I say I haven’t seen anything my kids have written in a while, or mention that I’m not sure what they’re reading right now, or remark that I have no idea what they’ve been quietly working on all morning.

My eyes are on the big picture, not the small potatoes. I’m aiming for intangibles like critical thinking, love of learning, and involvement in the world rather than a folder full of schoolwork. I’m watching, with awe, fascination, and love, the miraculous process of my kids growing up.


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