It occurs to me that by explaining how I learned to let my kids pursue learning, I might be making it seem like my kids’ homeschooling years were spent in free exploration. But that’s not what happened.
For many years I “did school” with my kids on a regular schedule using formal curriculum. I did it that way because it was the only way I knew how to do school: the way I’d been taught. Of course I didn’t like the way I was taught (as a child, I deeply resented the daily boredom of school), but I tried to make it more fun for my kids than it had been for me. Also, until they reached their teen years, I tried to finish up before lunch so they could have their afternoons free to do what interested them. So I do think they had a better educational experience than I did.
One of the reasons I “did school” for so long was that my husband wanted to make sure the kids were at grade level. Not long after we began homeschooling, a homeschooling friend of ours passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly, and her husband had to put their kids in school. Since their mother had made sure they could do schoolwork at the appropriate grade level, they were able to assimilate academically at the school run by our church. Knowing this, my husband wanted to make sure our kids would be at grade level if anything happened to me. I agreed and made sure their studies were at grade level.
Of course what we soon discovered, after having our kids take achievement tests, was that they were usually a couple of grade levels (and in some areas, several grade levels) ahead of their age mates. So over time, I was able to relax when it came to requiring them to study certain subjects every day.
That said, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to include some basics in each homeschooling day. It’s kind of like eating vegetables; they’re good for you, so eating some every day is a wise move. Besides, you don’t have to spend hours on math or spelling; a little every day goes a long way.