No, They Will Not Learn It When They Need it

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You watched in horror as your child slipped headfirst into the water. One moment your child was on the bridge. The next moment in the water. And then back on the bridge with you.

Cold. Wet. Terrified. Safe.

One of the most annoying myths in the homeschool world is that kids will learn it when they need it.

I’ve actually kept my rant to myself until I read Amy’s post at The Hmmm… Schooling Mom. I found myself nodding. You should read it. Amy makes good points about the myth that kids will learn it when they need it.

The whole problem with the myth that children will learn it when they need it is that when kids need knowledge, they need it now. Not next year, not next month. Not even tomorrow.

Seriously, do you want your child desperately trying to learn to swim when they fall off a bridge or dock?

According to the myth, kids will learn to swim when they need it. And they need it when they accidentally fall in the water. But do you want to bet your child’s life on whether or not they can learn to swim in a crisis?

I don’t.

You can argue that knowing math is probably not going to save your child’s life like swimming lessons.

But the same principle works.

When kids need to know math, they need the skill at that moment. Does a 17-year-old who’s just decided they want to go to college and become an engineer really want to take an extra 2 years just to learn the math skills necessary to start the engineering program?

Sometimes Kids Do Learn It When They Need It

Sometimes kids do learn a skill when they need it. They become fascinated by a topic or skill and are willing to practice it over and over again until they master it.

The college kids around here love swing dancing. They meet up every week to teach the skills and practice dancing.

And sometimes kids are willing to put in the time and effort to master the math skills they need to go into engineering. They are willing to put in the time to master writing.

But too often kids start. Hit a hard spot. And do just what everyone else does with New Year’s Resolutions.

Give up.

And as Amy pointed out, the argument that kids will learn it when they need it is never used with easy subjects like field trips to the museum or science experiments. Instead, it’s only used with hard subjects like writing and math.

Probably because those skills are harder to teach. Kids need practice, explanations, and consistency.

And have you ever noticed how often people skip learning when they realize they don’t have the basic skills needed?

That kid who realized he needs to master algebra, geometry, algebra 2, and precalculus before he can even think about starting his engineering program is likely to choose a different major.

And what about kids with learning disabilities?

As a mom of kids who have learning issues, I’ve realized learning reading, writing, and math is harder for them. And kids have no more will power than adults do when it comes to doing hard things.

They avoid it just as passionately as you avoid that tasteless diet.

Teaching my kids reading, writing, and math required me to be diligent. I had to homeschool consistently. And they eventually mastered reading, writing, and math. The older kids have gone on to excel and thrive at college.

Because my kids had the skills already in place when they needed them.

no kids will not learn it when they need it

Education is a gift you give to your children.

You teach them the hard subjects at a slow pace. A bite a day over many years. You gradually guide your children from counting to addition and subtraction, to fractions and decimals, and then onto algebra.

Do your children thank you? No. It’s what a parent is supposed to do. And children don’t see the work behind the gifts they’re given.

And it is hard. It’s hard to homeschool consistently. It’s hard to wrangle children to the table who just want to play Legos all day. And it’s hard to deal with the squirming and complaints.

But parenting is hard.

Waiting until kids fall off the dock is too late to teach a child how to swim. And English 101 is too late to teach your child how to write a sentence.

So be a parent. Educate your kids. And toss the myth kids will learn it when they need it where it belongs. In the trash can.

What is your opinion of the myth that children will learn it when they need it?

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Challenging the myth that kids will learn it when they need it. #homeschool #homeschooling #parenting

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  1. I believe the whole key to this is exposure. I have tried to expose my kids to a variety of things and when they were young, we could all see the paths they naturally took. The next step was to guide them to begin planning for the next steps they would want to take. In this way, they could learn what they individually needed to know, and they didn’t waste time pursuing things they hated and would never use. So far it has worked for us. My almost 30 year old now daughter is a pottery, my 22 year old is in pre-law and wants to be a politician. My 18 year old is I to electronics and my 15 year old is an actor. And, yes, he pursued singing and dancing on his own schedule.

  2. I don’t feel the swimming analogy is apt. I actually feel your stance is taken in defence of your beliefs, and I can appreciate that. I also feel there is no one true way of homeschooling and for those of whom ‘they will learn it when they need it’ works, they need not be shamed. It doesn’t have to apply across the board. It can apply to certain tasks, subjects etc. These parents are still educating their children. xx

    1. Yes, my stance is taken in defense of my beliefs. And you’re right. There are many ways to homeschool and many ways to educate your children.

      My argument is that ‘they will learn it when they need it’ doesn’t always work. I’ve seen preteens refuse to join book clubs, writing groups, or pool parties because they can’t read. They can’t write. They can’t swim. And they so embarrassed they refuse to allow anyone, including their parents, to teach them the skill.

      In the end, this post isn’t to convince you that you need to change your homeschooling style. It’s to assure parents who, like myself, are pressured and shamed because they don’t buy into the ‘they will learn it when they need it’ belief.

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