The fact that I was homeschooled growing up doesn’t automatically make me an expert at teaching my own children. Actually, after my first child turned five, I sent him to a local kindergarten. He attended a Montessori/traditional blend charter school until he finished 3rd grade, while my second child, by that time, had finished 1st. I simply lacked the confidence to take on that enormous responsibility. It was daunting. What if I ruined my kids?
I had always known that I wanted to homeschool my own children at some point–but when? I considered pulling them out of school when they got to junior high (when kids’ hormones are starting to rave, and class becomes more about managing behavior than learning academics, I’ve heard…did I hear right?) But, wait, would that really work? I mulled the issue over and over in my mind, but I didn’t know what path to take.
Finally, I asked my husband what he thought we should do (not to say that we hadn’t talked about it before, but we hadn’t talked about it in a long while). He looked up some websites that listed the pros and cons of home education, was convinced by the pros, and we made the decision to do it. Just like that. Well, to tell you the whole truth, there was a little more to it than that; I had sensed that God was prompting us to do it, based on some strangely coincidental events, which I will tell you about later, in another post.
When we told the teachers at my kids’ school that they weren’t going to be there the next year because we were going to homeschool them (and I tried to be as polite as I could about it), one teacher responded, “See you back here in a couple of years.” How’s that for positive thinking? Well, I am happy to announce that that was back in 2013, so it’s been three years, and he was wrong. Not that I want to brag, though, because it has been a bumpy, tough journey at times. Here are nine things I’m learning about homeschooling (and often the hard way).
- Less is more.
When I first started out, I had a huge schedule of all the subjects we were going to cover in one day. We usually didn’t even get around to half of it. How do the schools do it? Well, they don’t. They almost never finish all their books in a year, and they don’t always get to do the things that were planned for the day’s class time. Oftentimes, whatever is left over gets sent home as homework. But all that homework leaves little room for play, chores, rest, or the reading that we know is so important. Also, consider how much (or how little) a child is going to be able to absorb jumping around from subject to subject every fifteen minutes.
I realized that many subjects can be combined together, such as history, geography, social studies, science, and literature. In fact, right now, we’re reading the kids’ version of Ben Carson’s biography. It’s the history of a real person and of modern medical advances. It includes scientific tidbits, and also exposes us to medical terminology (a chance to see how Greek word parts work together to form larger words). As I read the book out loud to my children, they are also learning how the English language is structured and flows.
Now, think about this: if I have my kids sit down and copy a section of the book for writing practice, now they’re learning correct grammar, sentence and paragraph structure, and handwriting. I’m not doing this right now with this particular book, but I often do it with other books.
There’s so much in one book! Why spread ourselves thin trying to get so much done, and yet doing so little? It’s easier and more effective to focus on a few main things, carefully chosen for quality and richness. Having said that, yes, I do love to read, so we read a lot of books, out loud or quietly to ourselves.
2. Reading books is doing school.
It isn’t wasting time to sit around and read books. We moms often feel that we need to be checking off chapters of a textbook or pages in a workbook for our kids to be advancing in knowledge. Not true. Books are where the knowledge is at, so why not invest our time reading books that are not only informational, but also fun and enjoyable?
My kids can sprawl out in the living room busy with various occupations (puzzles, blocks, coloring books, cars), and be learning. While I read a book out loud to them, they’re allowed to do something with their hands, as long as they’re quiet, and do it individually, not playing with each other. I suspect that this method may actually improve learning ability, since I’ve read that some kids need to be moving their bodies for them to focus and retain information. And while I’m at it, I sometimes have them fold the clothes, since they’re just sitting there anyway. Two things in one. Yes!
3. Doing chores involves learning.
Don’t think that doing household chores is robbing your children of valuable time spent learning the “real” stuff. I’m finding that there is so much skill involved, for example, in my four-year-old being able to put away the silverware: she has to sort out the different object shapes (shape sorting), and then she has to carefully place them where they belong (organization and motor skills). I could go on and on with this, but the point is clear. When kids do chores, they not only help keep the house clean (teaching them responsibility), but they develop many other necessary skills, as well.
4. Bible always comes first.
One of the main reasons we decided to homeschool was so that we could impart to our children the truths of God’s word without interference. The primary goal of learning to read should be so that our children can read the Bible for themselves.
Now, I’m going to do something unexpected; I’m going to quote from a textbook.
The break with Rome was now complete. At Wartburg Castle, Luther began his first great task: to give the German people a substitute for papal authority–the Word of God in their own language…At last, the German people had a Bible that they could read for themselves.
…Of course, a German Bible was of little value if the people could not read. After Luther left Wartburg in April 1522 to return to Wittenburg, he worked diligently to promote popular education (the education of all people rather than just a privileged few).
With the Reformation, popular education became a major concern for the first time in world history…
(From History of the World in Christian Perspective, pages 212 and 213, published by A Beka Book, original emphasis)
The whole point of public education wasn’t originally so that people could get a non-religious state-sponsored education; it was so that all people, even poor people, could learn to read the Bible on their own. That is the loftiest goal of education.
What good does it do to teach our kids so much stuff, if we neglect to instruct them in what’s most important, and what actually lasts forever: the Word of God. Even if I don’t make all my educational goals for the day, if my children have been fed the Word of our Creator, they’ve been nourished in what will turn them into truly healthy, rightly-educated young people.
The Bible is a great teaching resource, being much more involved than one might think. It can be used as a text for learning how to read better. There is such a rich vocabulary in the Bible. There are also different genres of literature: poetry, history, personal letters, apocalyptic, etc. There is so much history (much of which has been archeologically confirmed). There is so much science (just yesterday we read about dragons in the book of Job–not a myth, but factual nature science).
So, we read the Bible first thing right after breakfast, while we’re all still seated at the table. After the kids take their dishes to the sink, they come back to their spots with a coloring book (again, this keeps their hands occupied, and helps with pre-reading motor development; and, I’ve heard that coloring is soothing for both children and adults). After our Bible reading, I usually read another book to them, before they begin kitchen cleanup. Some days, like when I have to give extra attention to the baby, or I’m pregnant and feeling horrible, that’s all we do. Later, when I’m feeling better, we gradually add to the work load.
5. Add more on, one subject at a time.
I usually start out with the things that are more of a priority. So, our daily Bible reading comes first. Then, after that, I read from an inspiring book. This could be a biography, a history, something related to social studies and current affairs, a character study, etc.
Next, the children do their morning chores: kitchen and bathroom cleanup. I cannot concentrate in a messy house. I need (and I think they also need) to have an orderly atmosphere for us to be able to order our thoughts. I’m not saying everything needs to be perfect (I wish), but that it at least needs to be decent.
Then, I usually have them do handwriting, which involves copying Bible verses. I love that they get spelling, grammar (correct sentence structure), and Bible all in one. If we’re busy, this might be it for our day’s work. If we have more time (which is always my goal), we will work on the next most important thing: math. I usually expect them to do two pages every day.
By that time, it’s usually lunch.
After the lunch dishes are cleaned up, then I read something else to them, before they go to their rooms to have “quiet time.”
During quiet time, they read on their own.
We have lots of science books for them to read from, so I’m not officially doing a science program right now. However, I intend for us to focus on science experiements and art this summer. No way is there enough time for us to do focused work on those things the whole year, with all the other things we do. So, I plan on saving them for a sort of “unit study.” In the meantime, I take advantage of random moments to emphasize certain points about science and art.
I don’t expect myself to do it all. If I’m feeling overloaded, I shave our schedule back to the basics, and gradually add things on as we’re becoming more accustomed to our routine. I’ve also learned that the kids can do more on their own than I thought.
6. Let the kids grade their own work.
This is new to me. I used to grade everything myself. Now, I’m discovering that they (the older children) can do it just fine on their own, and it saves me a ton of time and stress. It probably helps them to learn some valuable skills, too. Like attention to detail, responsibility for overseeing their own progress, and honesty.
7. Don’t feel that you have to copy everyone else; find what works for you and your family.
This is another biggie for me. I love to read about what other people are doing, but it can really get me down, sometimes! Some moms seem to get so much done, and I feel like a failure by comparison. However, I’ve noticed that every family has their own style.
Some families focus more on music. Some, on math. Some are really great about keeping up with their workbooks. Others, do a lot of hands-on activities. Some are into McGuffy Readers, while others, like myself, mostly depend upon reading all sorts of “real” children’s literature. There is such a variety of ways you can “do school” with your kids; the options are endless. What counts is to find out what works for you. That’s the main thing that matters. My personal saying has become, “This is our family, and our journey. Not anybody else’s. We’re going to make this our own.”
8. Combine the kids’ lessons together, or at least do subjects together (even though different lessons).
We all do the same Bible lesson together. If we can do anything else together, that makes things so much easier. However, there are subjects where my kids are at different levels (math and language); for those subjects, even though we may not all be doing the same lesson, we at least do our work at the same time. So, all the kids work on math at the same time, though they’re working individually on their own lessons from their own workbooks.
I think this gives us a feeling of working as a team, and sets the mood for that particular area of study. When the kids see their siblings tackling the same topic as they are, they can focus better. Also, my brain is better able to handle helping the kids with only one subject at a time, instead of making it do mental gymnastics while bouncing from one subject to another.
9. Ask God for wisdom.
This should probably be #1 on my list. So often, I feel like a failure. I feel like I don’t know anything about how to teach kids. I’ve found that when I ask for wisdom, God answers. He works things out so seamlessly. Subjects just mesh together perfectly. I love it.
I could probably keep adding to the list, but I’d better stop here before it gets so long you folks fall asleep. Those are the nine main things I’ve learned so far, but I realize there’s so much more to learn. But it doesn’t daunt me anymore; instead, it fuels the vigor to keep going. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner. Homeschooling is awesome.