I frequent several places online where homeschoolers discuss homeschooling... have their questions answered, to share experiences, and perhaps let off a little frustration. In one of these forums, often new or relatively new homeschoolers tend to frequently post questions. I am always amazed at what these new homeschoolers think is an appropriate amount of work for a 6 or 7 year old child.
Now I've homeschooled my fair share of 6 and 7 year olds over the past 15 years, so I'm sure you will not be shocked when I say I have some to some fairly strong opinions about this. First, 6 and 7 year olds are still pretty little people... they tire easily, their brains are not yet wired for academics, and need to have a lot of large muscle movement. It is not a recipe that lends itself to a lot of sitting and writing and reading. In fact, I believe that trying to fit these little people into that mold is what contributes to the new homeschooler's frustrations.
I know the push in public schools is for more and longer days of academics, but just because this is what the schools are doing, doesn't mean that it makes any sense. It also doesn't mean that homeschoolers need to even try to bother copying it. Now get ready, because I'm going to horrify some people here. Until my children reach junior high or so, they only spend between 20 and 30 minutes a day doing straight book work, and if they are in an early elementary grade, I'm guessing it's 10 minutes or less. It just doesn't take that long to do some math work and some phonics work. This is what I did with M. when we first began and it is what I continue to do. To try to force more than that out of my children would just lead to frustration and anger... for everyone. And given the fact that all of my older children can do math and read quite well (and often), I don't think I have harmed them in the least.
In fact, in the long run, it has probably been beneficial. Since we don't spend overly long on book work, it frees us up to learn in other ways. We read stories, we create things, we listen to music, we watch documentaries, we go places, we play games, and my children have time to spend doing what they are interested in. Learning happens in all of these activities. Learning is so much more than filling out a worksheet or moving on to the next lesson in a book.
Many new homeschoolers are afraid that they are going to miss teaching their children something. And you know what? That's probably true. But it is also true that any educational system is going to miss teaching children something. No one system is perfect and no one system is going to teach a child every single thing that child needs to learn. I have read in many places, that it is much more beneficial to a person to learn about one or two things deeply and really understand them, than it is to learn a very superficial amount of a great many things. There is something about really knowing and understanding something that prepares a person to repeat that effort learning about something different. And how are children going to know what interests them deeply, so that they are going to want to learn as much as they can, if they do not have the time to explore a great many things?
While workbooks and textbooks can be useful, they can also too easily become a crutch and turn into busywork; doing the next page or the next lesson solely because it is there. And there is often so many exercises or problems to do that it takes forever to complete one! And why? If a child can do the work, then why is doing more of the same going to help? And if a child cannot do the work, then there is a misunderstanding somewhere that needs to be addressed. Doing more of the same will not address it.
Really what I want to say to new homeschoolers is, "Relax!" You know what your child knows and doesn't know. You know this because you live with that child and watch them work and figure things out. You don't need tests or worksheets or grades to tell you this. Start with what your child knows and go from there. And remember, learning happens all the time in many different ways. And that learning 'counts' even if it didn't come from a worksheet.
I've linked to the Homeschool Village's homeschool link-up. Go here to see lots of other homeschooling posts.