Homeschooling is a big decision that takes much thought and prayer. For most of us, the move into homeschooling is a step into uncharted territory. We haven’t been brought up in this lifestyle and we aren’t quite sure just how to proceed. Hopefully, you will take my hand and we can walk together for awhile and I’ll tell you about the mistakes I’ve made and what has worked for me, in homeschooling my seven children over the past two decades.
Once you have made the leap, you will find many, many (too many!) materials to choose from. Over our years of homeschooling, I have tried much of what is on the market. If I haven’t used it personally with my children, I may have reviewed it for inclusion in our store inventory. My purpose in writing this handbook is to pass on my experience and hopefully save you from buying materials that are not useful to you.
Before you can choose what to use, you must decide just where you are going. What do you want your child to learn? What do you value, and in what order? When my oldest son Daniel was grown and left home, it became a time of deep introspection for me. I found myself considering the short span that we are given to guide and train these precious children. I looked at the long lists of what I wanted to teach Daniel and realized that, like most things in life, there must be priorities and there is definitely not time to do it all. When Daniel and I parted, I fussed over my mental checklist to determine if he had learned the most important things. I assessed his religious training and he had strong convictions (√ whew!) He had been obedient and respectful of authority (√ ). He could read very well (√ ). He was a good writer and speaker (√). He was socially at ease and had a positive influence on others (√). He knew how to find information that he didn’t know (√ ). He could mend his pants if needed (? not sure). He could accompany any hymn on the piano (NO!) . . ummm. . . and so it goes, on and on forever. Take a minute to jot down what you think is important. Actually, take a week to jot down what you think is important as it comes to mind. Of course, you will want to consider each child’s special interests and talents as they often are a clue to his “mission in life.” You will end up with an enormous list, I know. My list for my boys goes from having strong Christian beliefs to being able to build furniture! Mothers naturally wish the most and the best for their children. You will also want to consider what the world expects our children to know because they will live in a world that has been educated in public schools. When your grown child is ready to give the world the gift he was sent to give, it will matter what he has learned, how prepared he is, and what skills he has.
Most schools follow the same general curriculum which I have outlined (reading, writing, math, science, etc.) but if you feel concern, you can check with the school district to review their educational plan from kindergarten through college preparation courses. Starting about 9th grade, it helps to plan your studies with regard to the college entrance requirements. Most universities will accept students that have graduated from the 2 year program from a local college. Local colleges will generally accept students without high school diplomas. This may be a convenient way to avoid all the grade and credit hassle!
After your wish list is made, try to categorize each thing you want them to learn under a heading. You may find that they fit into the categories that I use for my children. Your priorities may be different, although being Christians means we probably value the same things. Our goals will include a desire to teach our children to love the Lord and to know Him as their personal Savior, their help in time of need and their model to grow to be like. We will want them to love the Constitution and their freedom more than their lives. We will feel a desire to teach them that they are on the earth with a gift to give to mankind and that it is their responsibility to discover that gift, their life’s mission, and to make it their life’s work to give it. We want them to know that they can be a far more useful instrument in the Lord’s hands if they are clear-thinking and articulate. We want them to learn to be self-sufficient and live providently.
#1 Testimony of Jesus Christ
#2 Character (self-discipline, integrity, punctuality, dependability, cheerfulness, etc.)
#3 Life Skills (being able to take care of one’s self: cooking, laundry skills, finances, etc.)
#4 Basic Academics (3 R’s):
Composition, Spelling, Vocabulary
#5 Other Academics:
American Government, History, Science
#6 Cultural Refinement:
Music, Art, Foreign Language
#7 Personal talents and interests
With everyday problems, it is very easy to just survive instead of living your plan. Setting educational goals will help you have a definite aim in mind. There are times, such as when a new baby arrives, that I have only been able to maintain the first few priorities in our homeschool. Having a plan has helped me get back on track as soon as possible. Once you’ve decided where you are headed, now it is time to ask how you are going to accomplish this great responsibility in the short 10-14 years before your child is launched into life out from under your tender tutoring.
Round up all the resources that you have that would be useful in any way. List your books, movies, projects, kits, equipment, CD’s, the Scout merit badge handbook, magazines, computer programs, and even names of people. We have met many wonderful people that willingly share some of their knowledge and skill to teach what we are interested in (such as ceramics, gardening, ham radio operation, survival skills, etc.) Now, step back and take a good look. Get rid of all the educational clutter that you thought you might use sometime––it just takes up shelf space and gets more dated by the year. All the stuff that I have dragged home from school district sales or clearance bins usually ends up going to the thrift store. (It looked good when I bought it, really!) The market is rapidly changing, and new technology is bringing us unbelievable resources. Even books from 5 years ago look outdated and often truly are. Since time is so limited, I personally want to use the best that I can afford to educate my children. The exception is very old history books and readers, which are often more accurate than modern books.
I use the library extensively, as well as the internet, but I also plan to spend money for home school materials, because I feel they make this important business of learning all the more exciting. It is easy to interest your children in studying electricity if you have a fun science kit and a book of gorgeous full colored photographs on the subject. Good resources take a lot of the teaching load off Mom and keep the students enthused about learning. Hopefully, you will be able to get ideas that you can use with things you already have, or discover a resource that would fill a gap in your program.
Once you’ve made your inventory, you can assess what you have and what you need. What you use is very important, as it will be the foundation of your child’s education. I have included a copy of my Educational Goals worksheet in the back of this book (Appendix B). You can photocopy 2 sheets per child and write in your goal and the resources you will use. I look at this weekly as I write up my children’s assignments in their planners. It helps me to stay focused on our goals.
Even the best materials and goals don’t work on a child who has not been trained in good habits. Your child must learn to obey, first and foremost, or you can never serve as his teacher. This is best done in toddler days, but if you are beginning homeschool with a son or daughter that has never been taught to obey you, then that is the first lesson or there can be no other lessons! Teaching your child to obey, to do his work and stick with it, to follow instructions, not to interrupt, and much more requires your diligent supervision and follow-through. That is the work of parenting, really. Until my children learned to listen to my directions and follow them, it really didn’t matter how fabulous my resources were! We have all witnessed a wonderfully prepared Sunday School teacher have his excellent lesson wasted because he couldn’t discipline an unruly class to listen and be involved! The same will happen in your own home until you teach your children the first and most important subject, good behavior born of self-discipline. I call it Character, the schools call it Good Citizenship and grade such characteristics as obedient, shows respect for authority, follows directions, is polite, works independently and is prompt.
Remember, as you choose books and other materials to teach your children, that every person learns differently. Public school methods are geared largely to a visual child, the child that absorbs information through the written word. Thus, assignments are given to read the chapter, take notes from the words written on the chalkboard and write out answers to questions. If you have a child that is an auditory learner, it could be very difficult for that child to learn if you only present the written word. Instead of analyzing my children and trying to figure out what type of learners or combination of learning styles they respond best to, I prefer presenting information using a multi-sensory approach. That way, you’ve covered every learning style. So, if you are studying birds: watch a video on birds (visual, auditory), read about birds (visual), listen to bird calls (auditory), gather bird feathers to classify (tactile), set up a bird feeder (tactile). It is exciting for everyone to learn if all the senses are involved!
As the year goes on, re-evaluate occasionally so you can be sure that the materials you have chosen are meeting your educational goals. Don’t lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish! I saw a need for one of my children to have some grammar skills reinforced. I began a program, thinking that I would just take him through the first 5 lessons for review. Life got busy, and as the weeks went by, it was easier to assign the next lesson than to evaluate what to do instead, even though it may not be working. It can be easy to just go with the flow once you have started on a program, and you can drift off track from your goals. Keep checking that you are on course!
What about unit studies? Unit studies work for science, history, literature and cultural refinement and can be exciting and fun for everyone. They do not work as well for math and most subjects of English language (phonics, spelling, handwriting, grammar, vocabulary) because children are on such varied levels. The way unit studies work best is to choose your topic and do some basic groundwork by reading in a reference book, encyclopedia or textbook. Then add projects such as viewing a movie, doing science experiments or working on a geography map with all ages together. Each child can glean whatever he is able at his level from the group activity. Most importantly, assign individual reading, writing, or research on that topic for each child to do independently so he can be challenged at his level and make progress, but without unnecessary frustration. If the whole family studies “volcanoes” at the same time with only your lesson as a foundation, you may find the older children restless and the younger children struggling to understand.
I highly recommend having a student planner for each child to put the whole matter of educational goals down on paper along with weekly assignments for your child. All his work also goes in this 3 ring binder. When you choose a planner, it helps to be able to look at your educational goals right next to your weekly assignments so you stay on course. I like to see the subjects in priority order so the most important things always get done. Keeping each year’s planner contents serves as an excellent record of work done in case any school official is interested to see that you are “really doing it.” As your children get into high school, their planner can help in creating a portfolio from which to receive high school credit.
Don’t forget that your plans need to be made with much prayer, because God has a plan for each of your children. They each have their own special mission in life, and have talents and interests that will lead them to prepare for it. If we get too busy achieving educational goals to keep that perspective, we may prepare them in everything except that special purpose. Look for their special gifts, which are a clue to their mission. Allow time and supply resources so that a child’s interests can be followed and developed. They must have basic skills, but beyond that, it doesn’t really matter whether they study botany or astronomy in science, for example. There is room for individual preferences.
“When you take the very first step on the road, you also take the last.” Take the time to make sure you are on the right road so when you’ve been retired from homeschooling, you can look back on your years with your children and feel confident that you’ve taught them the things that really matter and prepared them for life with your best effort.