Being a homeschooling mom taught me a tremendous amount. Not only did I vastly expand my knowledge of academic subjects but the adventure encouraged me to think independently. Growing up as an extremely compliant student, I dutifully completed my lessons and studied hard. As an adult looking at textbooks and workbooks from a different vantage point, I was full of skepticism.
Raise your hand if you know to start a sentence with a capital letter when writing in English. How about if you know that people’s names should be capitalized? Now think back to when you learned those basic rules? If you grew up with English as your primary language it was probably quite early. Perhaps in 1st grade or even before that.
When I looked for homeschooling material, this fact made it hard for me to understand why English language and grammar workbooks aimed at second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth-graders opened with a basic lesson about capitalization complete with practice exercises. The simple rules aren’t so convoluted that they needs constant repetition. These same books didn’t, for example, continue showing pictures of a mop, broom and pail, asking students to underline the word that starts with an ‘m’ sound. The assumption was that once you learned the ‘m’ sound, you didn’t need to be retaught it every year.
By teaching multiple grades, either at the same time or over the course of homeschooling, I became aware of just how much needless and boring busy-work like this is included in our children’s education. Don’t we all get annoyed when, for example while trying to access help for an insurance claim, we are relayed from agent to agent and forced to endlessly repeat information? Unless they have been dulled into a stupor, intelligent children similarly object to wasting their time on repetitive nonsense.
The rule about starting a sentence with a capital letter doesn’t actually need a workbook at all. It is easy to point this pattern out after a session of cuddling on the couch while reading to a young child. When that same child begins to write, the rule can be emphasized and insisted upon in formal writing, such as thank you notes. In fact, the time saved from doing those needless workbook pages can go to dictating or writing actual letters that utilize capitalization while cementing relationships as well as instilling thoughtfulness, gratitude and manners. Those lessons, after all, are the ones that truly need repetition every year of our lives.