It is thought that electives give bonus academic points to a learner, and should be collected for that reason. Your homeschooler is unlikely to be tested on elective subjects before high school age. So they are a bonus in this respect.
But before exam-age, electives should be considered close to the heart of our homeschool project. Electives build learning habits, invite a love of learning, and encourage purposes that span disciplines.
To borrow a Charlotte Mason-ism, electives “lay the feast.” Although some electives will give you more bang for your buck when it comes to bonus points for an academic resume, first consider how well they lay this feast for your children.
Ask whether an elective presents an area of study that leads to meaningful work. Before filling an academic need for your child, does it help your child fill a need in the world? Does it work in your specific context?
When they are rooted in these priorities, electives are much better suited to complementing the academics of your homeschool.
Choose Homeschool Electives that Are Purposeful
1. Will this elective provide a service to the world?
2. Will this elective honor God?
All Sonlight electives could be used to serve and to honor, but is this your specific purpose for considering it? It is difficult, having chosen something out of a sense of compulsion, to to make it honor God later on.
Look through the electives with a vision in mind of your child’s place in the world. If you cannot cast the vision for French studies blessing others in the future, that’s okay. Now may not be the time to start French. Maybe you can more successfully explain why piano will bring joy. Don’t be afraid to start with the electives you have a personal connection with.
If you see an elective as a tool for helping with academic commitments, and you see these commitments as honoring God, consider how closely your child follows this line of thinking. She may not be able to take your word for it.
Especially in the earliest years, be sensitive to a child’s barometer for arbitrary learning drills. In later years, the work you do to connect their academic work to God’s global glory, will pay tenfold in dividends.
Choose Homeschool Electives that Are Personal
3. Can we reasonably make time for this elective?
4. Do we enjoy this elective pursuit?
As hard as it is for a conscientious parent to imagine, it may be that you are already doing enough. Your school work may be fruitful and your work/play may be balanced. Electives are not right at the moment. In a few months, when one of your subjects peters out, reconsider electives.
Or it could be that an elective ticks all the right boxes, but your child simply doesn’t enjoy it. It takes Spartan discipline to master a hated subject. As courageous as this sounds, let’s start where the river runs more freely.
If you still can’t decide, it’s time to give up on the perfect elective. Try one and change it along the way if necessary. Remember Helen Keller’s observation about her educator:
"She realized that a child’s mind is like a shallow brook which ripples and dances merrily over the stony course of its education and reflects here a flower, there a bush, yonder a fleecy cloud."
It’s Okay to Give up on Homeschool Electives
The fact that the brook might only fleetingly reflect the French language does not mean that choosing French was a mistake. We’re not looking for a stagnant pool of learning points. The aim is not to be able to show your friends how impressive your family is to have made progress in French.
The aim is to guide the brook through many merry, rippling dances until it broadens out into a deep river.
The value of the merry dances may not be obvious to those around you. But you know you're making a happy flowing river. The fact that the business of accruing points is not the foundational value is good news. It means that if you’re gasping for a break, you can cut electives for a while without fear. It also means that any children who particularly struggle with their learning points are not in danger or considering themselves worthless.
The challenge in this is that the educator has a greater responsibility than the subject does. It is less about finding the right elective than it is about how the educator guides the way once the elective arrives.
Don’t fret too much about the right elective. Choose an elective that seems useful and try your best.
Your guidance through this merry flow will allow them to see, not just, “here a flower, there a bush…” but to see the light that illuminates both flower and bush. Choose electives in which you can see that light, and the learner will start reflecting it with clarity.
Sonlight has carefully curated electives that families love. See the options here.