The Music Gap That Filled Itself

We worry so much about gaps in our kids' homeschool educations, but the truth is, sometimes a gap is just a pause. Love this example of how a kid filled a learning gap on his own initiative. #homeschool

Sometimes I see articles by homeschoolers referring to “gaps” in a child’s education. That is, can we teach them everything? Can we cover all the subjects? The usual consensus is that no, we can’t possibly teach our kids everything, and we really shouldn’t worry about gaps. After all, kids going to public school have gaps in their education, and, learning does not end after twelve years of formal education.

I always thought that music would be a gap in my kid’s education. Neither my husband nor I play an instrument or read music. When my kids were younger, paying for music lessons seemed a bit pricey when they didn’t seem interested in it. Although I knew we would listen to music, and I could introduce them to the basics with a book or two, I resigned myself that further education in music would be one of our “gaps.”

But then my son expressed an interest in taking piano lessons. I should note that occasionally he’d seen people play piano live, and my husband enjoys listening to all kinds of music, so it’s not like he didn’t have any exposure to music. We also had a small, cheap digital keyboard that the boys liked to play with. But before this time, he always said no when we asked him if he’d like piano lessons. Then he changed his mind. This came at a time when we seriously wondered if we could afford it.

Ultimately, we decided that if he really wanted to try the piano, we wanted to support that, so I asked on a local homeschool list if anyone could recommend a teacher near us. Not only did we find someone who lives just ten minutes away, she gives affordable lessons. We told ourselves that if our son kept taking lessons for one year, we’d be happy because, of course, music is part of a well-rounded education. I was thrilled that he was getting some instruction in music that I couldn’t offer him at home.

Now he’s been taking lessons for nine months, and to our surprise, he is proving to have talent and a passion for it. He’s moving ahead quickly through his lesson books, practicing diligently, and he says he wants to stick with it. I don’t know what he’ll ultimately do with this, but we’re so glad we didn’t say no when he expressed an interest. We are going to have to make quite a few sacrifices to give him the tools and instruction he needs to keep moving forward, but that will be worth it to us. As a pianist recently told us, many parents say they aren’t going to make those sacrifices until their child gets “good” at the piano, but because the child doesn’t have the tools he needs to get better, he gets frustrated and loses interest.

Playing the piano has only been one aspect of this endeavor. My son has taken a keen interest in classical music, and now he will sit and watch YouTube videos of symphonies, piano concertos, and sonatas. He’s learning who’s who in the music world. He’s also learning about the classical composers, and we’ve taken him to some free classical concerts at nearby universities. Best of all, my younger son is benefiting from all the listening he’s doing, and I’m learning more than I had ever hoped to learn about music too.

All this makes me think that if parents are doing their best to educate their children, introducing them to all sorts of things and giving them a variety of experiences, the “gaps” are going to naturally fill up – at least the ones that are supposed to.

I don’t know if we are embarking on a lifetime project, a project that will last for a few years, or one that will end next season – but I wouldn’t trade the last few months for anything. Being able to dig deep into any subject over a long period of time is a perk of homeschooling: we have the time, if we have the inclination.

Do Unschoolers Have Gaps in Their Education?

Do unschoolers have gaps in their education?

By its very definition unschooling is something individual and flexible, something that will look different to each child and in each family. With the cultural idea that people need to Get An Education, as if it’s something that can be pre-packaged for mass consumption, comes the idea that there is one single education to get: a set collection of facts and formulae that will lead to a well-rounded, competent, and productive adult.

I think there are several things wrong with that idea.

Curriculum varies by geographic location, individual schools, available electives, and teachers.

Even the most ardent attempts at standardization can only affect so large a region. There might be Common Core standards in the USA right now, but what you’ll find being taught in Arizona will not be the same as what’s found in a school in Massachusetts. Similarly, my home province of Quebec has different curriculum than British Columbia. And that’s just talking about North America! While the model of industrialized schooling (along with the accompanying ideas about what education means) has been exported to most regions of the globe, the content taught varies widely.

Add to that the difference between what individual teachers focus on or choose to include, whether someone is in a “gifted” program or not, whether a teenager takes shop class or theater or music…

On the spectrum of home education, few families seek to create an exact replica of school in the home, as most want to create something more personalized or rigorous or otherwise different from what a child would be taught in school. No family and no child will receive the exact same body of knowledge and skills as every other child, no matter where they spend the majority of their days. People and standardization just don’t go that well together, no matter what many bureaucrats and politicians might hope.

This means that, since there isn’t one “education,” either everyone has gaps in their education or the idea of there being such a thing as “gaps in education” doesn’t really make sense. I’m going with the latter.

Embracing diversity in education.

One of the first things you realize when you start unschooling is that not everyone will learn the same things, and that that might actually be a good thing.

What’s important in the life of one person won’t be in the life of another. Someones’ family and place of residence, their cultural background, friends, interests and aptitudes are all going to have a strong influence on what they actually learn and remember, regardless of what anyone attempts to teach them. As unschoolers, you really just choose to embrace that diversity!

There is so much in the world that can be explored, studied, and experienced. Each of us will only ever learn a fraction of what there is to know. What a narrowing of possibilities to attempt to teach every child the exact same things.

Learning “important” things.

Despite the appeals of personalized learning, most people still feel that there are some universally important things that everyone should learn. I could say that my important isn’t your important, which is true, but I can’t really disagree that understanding history helps us understand current events, or that an understanding of mathematics is important for everything from budgeting to pursuing scientific careers.

But what history is important will depend on where you live, what you care about, and what’s currently going on in the world. How much and what type of math you need will vary depending on whether you plan to pursue a STEM career or just need to know the basics for your everyday life.

And, as unschoolers quickly learn, the important things crop up in life all by themselves: you learn what you need to learn by living, by encountering the challenges life presents, by pursuing your interests, and by striving to meet your goals. It’s the job of parents and mentors to help young people figure out what they need to learn to get where they want to be, and that works best when the young people themselves are driving things. After all, the best motivation is always internal motivation.

I don’t know what you know, but that’s okay.

In my teens I used to worry that I had “gaps” when compared to schooled peers, but the older I got the more apparent it became just how different everyone’s skills were. I realized that I was better at some things than some people, and other people were better at other things. I knew more about some subjects, and less about others, just like all of my friends, whether schooled, homeschooled, or unschooled.

Who I am and what I’m good at depended on a lot of factors. All unschooling did was give me the space to grow and learn in a more flexible, organic way.

We all have “gaps,” but I feel good about the knowledge and skills I have, and most importantly, I feel like I can continue learning and growing as I meet new challenges and explore exciting new topics!