Building a Child’s Education

teamwork-606818_1280When I plan my homeschool, I think of it as constructing a lovely building. You must first start with a firm, sturdy base, especially if you are building a lofty edifice!  These are the basics of being a fine person: character, virtues and goodness. Training children in the way they should go is an on-going job, but if it goes lacking, not much else matters. We don’t want to create “educated devils”.

Next comes a solid foundation of educational skills, such as reading, writing, math, history and life skills (know-how) that builds year after year. Building  a firm foundation of skills and knowledge prepares for the next level of the structure, which is that learning that will help you to specialize and follow your interests. This prepares your for your life work!

Now, imagine:  A child who has been trained to be honest and good, from the time of his babyhood.  Taught to master basic education and skills, as he grows.  Led to develop his talents in the special path of his interest. He is ready for life! He is ready to give the world his gift!  This is the goal of education.

This can be visualized in the chart below:


May I recommend:

Home is the School

Begin with the End in Mind

Curriculum Kits

Would you like to share this?

Begin with the End in Mind

lovetosave1Ever feel like you are bumbling around amidst a three-ring circus in your attempts to homeschool? There is nothing like a new baby to restore a teacher/mother’s humility in the face of her own inadequacies! For our homeschool, this chaos repeats itself every few years with the advent of a precious new “student.” I have homeschooled in my robe nursing my baby while I have tried to teach math, correct papers and read stories:
“Mom, can’t you hold the book still? I can’t see the pictures.”
“Sorry, honey, the baby needs to be rocked.”

Guilt inevitably settles in as I imagine the public school superintendent dropping by for a surprise visit: “This is school?!”
Any of this sound familiar?

However, there is something about persevering with the matter of learning every day that convinces me that homeschooling is the right choice, even when it is far from perfection. Maybe it is not so far from perfection as we perceive it to be. What could be the perfect Unit Study if it is not watching your own mother morning-sick, uncomfortable, growing, waiting, and preparing, and seeing your own father helping, praying constantly for the well-being of the mother and child, serving tirelessly, taking on Mother’s workload—all in the anticipation of a new family member’s arrival after a tenuous 9-month journey? Our older children were able to see their baby brother’s delivery, and what awestruck expressions they had on their faces! Even though they were only present for the last few moments of his birth, they got a taste of the sacrifice required, the pain involved and also the joyous miracle of a new life! Then came the meals, letters, flowers, gifts, calls of concern, help of friends and neighbors: what an outpouring of love, and what an impression it made upon my children! “Lots of people care about us!” they said. It caused us all to recommit to helping people when they need us because it made such a wonderful difference to our family.

The time I spent recovering laying in bed listening to my children was quite a revelation! What a time to assess how well I have taught my children to be self-sufficient: to cook a meal, do the laundry, care for the little ones, be patient, etc. Here’s the real report card! If they can’t take care of day-to-day living, it really doesn’t matter very much if they know how to divide fractions, now does it? First things first.

grandbaby_Oct2010Oh, the sweet vulnerability of babies! How dependent these little children are upon us, their parents, to teach them things of importance as they grow to the age of accountability. Seeing my little babe’s helplessness instills a great desire in my heart to carefully consider how I invest my children’s learning hours. Every homeschooler knows the frustration of “there is so much I want to teach them!” and time seems so limited. School year seems to flow into school year, and when I stop and consider what we’ve done, it doesn’t all seem as vital as I hoped it would.

So, with this new baby, I am taking the opportunity to see with new eyes what is really of value and how I can best teach it. I am setting some goals for what I want them to know when they leave my tutelage and just how we will arrive at that envied destination. The motto “Begin with the end in mind” is crucial to homeschool. With every-day crises, it is very easy to just survive instead of living your plan. Yet the years keep on circling around, and the moment is lost if we are not vigilant in aligning our activities with our goals.

Here are the goals that I have prayerfully arrived at:

  • Teach my children to love the Lord and to know Him as their personal Savior, their help in time of need and their model of what to grow to be like.
  • Teach them to love the Constitution and their freedom more than their lives.
  • Teach them that each has a gift to give to mankind and that it is their responsibility to discover their gift, their life’s mission, and to make it their life’s work to give it to the world.
  • Teach them that they can be a far more useful instrument in the Lord’s hands if they are clear-thinking and articulate.
  • Teach them to be self-sufficient and live providently.

It is amazing how little this has to do with square roots and diagramming sentences, although those are necessary and have their proper priority.

After mapping my goals, I search for the best books and teaching tools and try to commit myself to what I will use with each child that year and to exactly what we hope to accomplish. Of course, this is subject to change, as are all the best of plans, but at least it points us in the right direction. Reviewing my goals regularly keeps me on track (and also helps me see how easy it is to get waylaid!).

I know one mother who is going to begin homeschooling “as soon as she gets organized and prepared.” She has been “preparing” for 6 years now! Preparation is really a spiritual matter. You are prepared enough if you can answer “yes” to these questions:

  1. Do I want to do the will of the Lord in educating my children, whatever it may be?
  2. Do I have my child’s best interest at heart?
  3. Am I teachable—willing to be learn, accept, flex, be inspired?
  4. Am I dedicated?

trail-352284_1280It takes time and effort to homeschool. Those hours must come from somewhere, which means less time for Mom to do what she wants.

“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!


May I recommend:

Simplify Your Homeschool

Study Schedule

Wisdom and the Millers

Would you like to share this?

The Trouble With Homeschool


Louisa is enthused about the potter’s wheel!

The trouble with homeschool is that there is no start and no finish, no report cards, no deadlines, no “have to.” Of course, that is one of the advantages, but a time of reckoning is a necessary part of any endeavor, including home education. In the working world, employees are given “quarterly reviews” to assess their progress. How are we assuring progress is made in our children’s learning? Maybe we need to do some measuring.

Do you start new ideas for school with a bang and then fizzle out before the project is really done? In my zeal to be flexible, I have been guilty of no follow-through. Perhaps that is because many of our best learning experiences have come about when we got sidetracked. Recently, for my son’s writing assignment, I helped him choose an area of interest on which to do a research paper. The topic he chose was the history and production of magnetic tape (audio tape and video tape). After checking the library and finding nothing, we decided he could probably get information by contacting Memorex company and other tape manufac­turers. He wrote a lot of correspondences and while he was waiting and waiting for replies, the whole project just sort of fizzled out. None of them ever responded and we lost our steam for the research paper, even though it was a great idea and was approached with a lot of enthusiasm.

The cure for losing momentum is setting goals and deadlines with consequences. We have a natural deadline for every day’s work, and that is lunchtime. My children have plenty of time and lots of help from me if they feel stumped or do not understand their work, but they need to be finished before lunchtime, or they have to work after lunch while their brothers and sisters are free. A short check of my child’s assignment page at the end of school time is a good way to help him be accountable and report how he’s doing.

It gives a person a great feeling of accomplishment to return and report. Although I don’t want to make my children dependent on praise, it sure feels good to me to have others notice when I have put out effort to do something well. (Have you ever made a special meal and received no notice of it?) I also talk over whether or not he’s enjoying his school work and what needs changing. A schedule can be a big help. Half of the battle is settling into knowing what to expect. When my children know that every single day they have to write in their school journals, for example, they don’t fight it like they do when I am sporadic in what I require.

Ammon bakes bread!

Ammon bakes bread!

Self-motivation is great in studying an area of interest, but some basics must be done whether you are enthused or not. As a homemaker, if you love flowers and gardening, your own high interest level is sufficient to motivate you to weed, cultivate, plant, water, etc. However, whether you like it or not, at some point you will have to take out the garbage and wash dishes even if you don’t fully enjoy it. For one of my boys, reading is the self-motivated “flower gardening” and math is the annoying “garbage chore”. We approach it this way: you don’t have to love or pursue math, you just have to learn it so that you can function well. Then you will be free to spend as much time as you want reading.

A little planning before the school year begins goes a long way to guarantee success. I like to sit down with each child individually and look over all the possible resources that could be used for this child’s age and interests. For example, for the subject of American Government, my 10th grader and explore together the possibilities—different textbooks, a DVD series, online courses—and set a specific goal. We do this for each subject.

My priority list for my children’s education is:

  • developing a witness of Jesus Christ, and living as good Christians
  • competency in daily life skills (such as cooking a meal, doing laundry, fix-it skills, etc.)
  • reading, writing, and math (the 3 Rs)
  • history, science, music, art, etc.
  • seeking out the talents and skills that will help them make a contribution in life (their career)
  • becoming patriots that are literate in the Constitution and other freedom documents to preserve our freedoms as Americans

After we have chosen the resources we will use in each area, we set goals for the school year. Then as I write up their week’s assignments I can refer back to the year’s goals to make sure we are accomplishing them. From this point, I only have to offer help and check on their work daily. My children mostly steer themselves once the course direction is set.

If you are guilty, as I often am, of no follow-through, homeschool can become quite nebulous. Take the time to set up some expectations and then check that what you and your child agree on is actually done. It makes school a lot more productive and more enjoyable for both of you!


May I recommend:

Teaching Kids to Appreciate Art

Study Schedule

Curriculum Kits

Would you like to share this?

The Baby IS the Lesson

One morning on my daily walk, I was fretting and stewing over what I could possibly do with my one-year-old during school time. I was feeling some despair with a new baby on its way. I couldn’t see any end to the disruption of babies in my home school for many years to come. I was praying and scheming at the same time: I could wait until the baby’s nap to teach school, I could rotate the children with baby-sitting chore away from our schoolroom, I could get a playpen . . . all solutions that didn’t feel right—babies needs their moms!

As I walked and pondered, suddenly the Lord introduced one sentence to my mind and revolutionized my mindset entirely! “The baby IS the lesson!” I thought I was trying to teach Math, but in reality I had been teaching, day by day, how an adult values the precious gift of children. My children, by watching how I deal with the frustration of a crying baby or keep a toddler happy and busy with some of his “own” pieces while we play a math game, are soaking up “the lesson”. Unfortunately, I had occasionally been teaching that the baby interrupts our lesson.

How to be a Christlike person is the most valuable lesson a child could ever learn! The lesson is learned moment by moment; watching a parent being patient, handling frustration with kindness, pressing on for the goal in spite of numerous interruptions, valuing each child’s needs regardless of inconvenience. That valuable insight–how Mother handles the baby is the real lesson–has dramatically changed how I view my home school. I am teaching foremost my values: godly character, kindness, respect for others, individuality, sacrifice and a host of other Christlike attributes. Teaching them reading, writing, math, etc. is very important to me but my perspective has been altered. “Mimic me, follow me and I will show you the way a Christlike person acts and what he values”. That is the message every parent relays to their children whether they are aware of it or not. Children try to copy everything anyway (our mannerisms, our daily activities, etc.). We must be certain that we are providing a correct pattern for them to copy, not only in our daily activities but in our attitude, our tone of voice, and our facial expression. We need to conduct our lives so that we can say “follow me”. If our children are to “buy” our values, what a tremendous responsibility we have to make sure we are living our best so the lesson is clear and well learned! What more could you ask for from your homeschool than to produce Christlike people?!

Teaching your children basically means getting your own personal life in order and striving daily to be the leader for them to follow. Of course, we fall short and they must look to Christ for the perfect being but they need to see daily how one acts, speaks, lives, solves problems. We are acting as a proxy, in a sense, for Christ. Since they can’t have his daily role model, then he has given his children parents to be an example, to point the way. Along with lesson preparations, we need to prepare ourselves by asking: is the pattern I live the way Christ would act? Can I say today that I have marked the path for my children to follow? Children learn from seeing their parent’s role model. Watching an adult make a simple mistake (such as being too punitive with a child) and go through the process of repenting is 100 times more effective than your devotional lesson on repentance. This means children must be intimately involved with you in your daily life. A few hours a day after school won’t do it.

dough-13726_640Children should be involved in the adult’s life rather than daily life rotating solely around the children. Research has shown that children who have grown up to be productive well-adjusted adults are those who have been drawn into the parent’s world; their daily activities, work, and interests; rather than having parents who centered their world on the child. When I began home schooling, I never could find the time to do the things I felt were important for my life; such as writing in my journal, corresponding with relatives, studying my scriptures, and more. Somehow, in my busy-ness of trying to teach the kids how to write in their journals, I was neglecting my own journal writing. Thankfully, we now have journal writing time in school daily, and we write letters to relatives together as a family on Sunday. Homeschool life should help parents do the daily necessities, rather than usurp the time needed for them. Home maintenance, chores, food preparation, gardening, food preservation, budgeting, clothing care (mending and sewing), planning family social relationships, caring for small children, record keeping, quilting, raising animals, etc. are all wonderful life skills that can be done together that enhance a child’s education!

The parent’s joyful task is to lead and guide the child into the real world–not set up a contrived pseudo-world to teach skills that the children would easily learn if they spent their time around adults who were striving to live good lives. What constitutes an adult trying to live a “good life”? Being a productive adult would constitute a full-time curriculum! Plant a garden, read good literature, serve the needy, be politically aware, keep a journal, vote for honest men, develop your talents, etc. The exciting part about leading a child into the real world is that they are self-motivated. The moment I sit down to play the piano, all my children want to play and want me to teach them to play something. No sooner than I begin typing on the computer, I have the whole family “needing” to type. My efforts at writing have, humorous to me, stimulated the production of “books” from my youngest children. Modeling is so much more effective than lecturing.

book-691489_1280Studies show that the biggest determining factor for a child’s success in reading in school is if they have seen a parent reading in the home on a regular basis. This is especially true for boys if the parent who reads is their father, rather than their mother. Somehow, the example says far more about the value of reading than endless hours in school reading groups.

In every area it takes instruction to teach skills to little people. Children need to master the basic academic skills (reading, writing, arithmetic), social manners, music competence, and a host of other abilities and that do take focused concentration and time from mother/teacher to accomplish. It isn’t realized just by living in a family. But shared family life practices and contributes to those skills. Having taught my little girl the numbers and the plus, minus and equal signs and how they worked, she jumped right into figuring out how many plates she needed to set the table using her new skills: (“We have 9 and the boys are gone to college so that is minus 3, so we need six”).

When we think of homeschool, sometimes we get tunnel vision, and think “academics”, “keeping up to speed” and other worrisome concerns that don’t really tell the whole story. Homeschool is the growing and nurturing of fine, upright people.

So, how we treat and value the baby really is the lesson.

Class never dismissed.

May I recommend:

Homeschool With a Baby

Demanding Toddler

Oball Rattle/Teether

Would you like to share this?

A Moment for Memorization

louisapiesMy little Julianna, at the age of 9, came home from Sunday School excited about the fact that they were going to be expected to memorize lots of Bible verses that year and that the teacher had a reward in store for whoever could do it. She also expressed disbelief that, except for another homeschooled girl in her class, the other children were mortified at the prospect of having to memorize so much. “I guess homeschoolers just like to memorize things,” she surmised.

Many homeschool families make memorization a daily affair and reap great benefits from doing so. I recently met a homeschool mother of 11 outstanding children, and I was amazed at how much memory work her children did. From the time they can sputter out a few words, this incredible mother has them learning and reciting little poems and scriptures.

I was pretty impressed, so I attempted to teach my children to memorize things also. Every week in my homeschool, we work on a memory verse taken from our assigned scripture reading. I search out the best verse, hopefully one that describes an eternal law and its accompanying blessing. I dictate this passage of scripture to them, and they write it and then correct their work as an English lesson. They keep this in a section of their notebooks where they can refer to it for memorization. I also write this verse on an index card and stick it to the bathroom mirror where it is seen often. My children work daily on memorizing it, with the goal of passing off their verse by Friday. As you can imagine, children can accumulate quite a bundle of Bible verses in their memories, which I know will make them better people.

I love to hear children recite excellent poetry. I think it exercises their brains and gives them worthy things to think about. One of my favorite poems is “I Love You, Mother,” and I have only to start the first few lines when we are having a problem getting chores done and everyone knows exactly how I am feeling and can finish the poem themselves. It gives us a common bond of emotion and experience.

swing-407428_1280I Love You, Mother

“I love you, Mother,” said little John.
Then forgetting his work, his cap went on
And he was off to the garden swing,
Leaving her the water and wood to bring.

“I love you, Mother”, said rosy Nell,
“I love you more than tongue can tell.”
Then she teased and pouted full half the day,
’Til her mother rejoiced when she went to play.

“I love you, Mother”, said little Fan.
“Today I’ll help you all I can.
How glad I am that school doesn’t keep.”
So she rocked the baby ’til it fell asleep.

Then stepping softly, she fetched the broom
And swept the floor and tidied the room.
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and happy as a child could be.

“I love you, Mother,” again they said,
Three little children going to bed.
How do you think that mother guessed
Which of them really loved her best?

An excellent way to get your children to learn a lengthy poem without much effort on your part is to make a recording. You can read the poem into the recorder or you can have a child do this. Then listen while you run an errand, and the children will learn it easily with enough repetition. Some of my favorite poems that would be good for this purpose are:
“The Spider and the Fly” (a great lesson on temptation and vanity!)
“Paul Revere’s Ride”
“Hiawatha” (parts of it)
There are so many others that I love. These are just a few common ones to get you started.

Another good way to get make memorization easy is to use recordings that have educational songs. My children learned their multiplication facts this way, as well as the capitals of the United States. It is tough to forget anything set to song. I still can’t flip through the New Testament, looking for a verse, without singing to myself, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John . . .” taught to me 30 years ago at church!

Memorizing freedom documents and quotes is a way to understand the Constitution and our country’s principles of liberty. Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”  is an inspiring, short work perfect for memorizing. I also have my children memorize the preamble to the Constitution and quotes of the patriots.

A friend of mine hosts a Poetry Festival each year, inviting grandparents, relatives and church teachers to a performance where their children recite poetry from memory. The children dress up to act the part and enjoy a chance to be in the spotlight. This is a great idea and gives the children a good reason to learn something challenging.

One leader recommended the use of hymns to dispel bad thoughts and temptations. He advised people to memorize the words to a hymn so it could be sung when there was a need for help. That is what is so useful about memorization: many a time the words to a song or poem have come into my mind when I needed some wisdom in making a decision or needed an enlightened perspective. Consider the truth so beautifully portrayed in this poem:

robins-nest-494009_1280Not In Vain

by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Try memorization in your home school. It is amazing how capable children are of remembering things with a little practice. It gives them a wonderful feeling of achievement and satisfaction. They are going to memorize things anyway (such as jingles, TV commercials, lyrics to songs, etc.), so take the opportunity to instill your values into their receptive minds through memorization of inspiring Bible verses, poetry, etc. They’ll reap the benefits for years to come!


May I recommend:

October 1696
Memorizing Magic

Wisdom from Jefferson

Poems for Memorization

Would you like to share this?

Home is the School

ammon_louisa_kitchenHomeschooling. Just the word conjures up images of books and desks and computer programs and work, work, work for Mom, doesn’t it, though?

But it has come to my awareness lately that “mothering” and “homeschooling” are synonyms. From the moment that tiny babe is laid in your arms, you have become the “responsible party.” And that responsibility is grave. You have the job, the creative work, the task of raising this child into an upright person before the Lord. You suddenly start a new thought process: worrying for/and about your child. You want them to be happy, healthy, cared for, loved, treated well, comfortable, intelligent . . . and the concerns go on.

Exactly at what point does this mothering/worrying thing cease? Could it possibly stop when your child turns 5 in time for the state deadline date for Kindergarten? Could you possibly put your precious child on the school bus and say, “All done! Whew!”

The truth is that every parent homeschools. Until kindergarten at least. Isn’t it true? Every mother works with, encourages, helps along, and guides their little ones, training them in how to deal with their world with the least amount of bumps and scrapes both physically and emotionally. Everyday is a training session, and the lessons and modeling and hands-on training continue hour after hour, day after day, and year after year. Home is the school. Family life becomes training for life. In it, children are taught how to live by the most attentive teacher God could assign—their own parents, flesh of their flesh.

Just the other day, my 16 year old daughter came into the bathroom while I was showering, to discuss with me some issues of interpersonal relationships. How to get along with friends. How to apologize if you offend. How to make things right. How to make others feel good about themselves. How to help others who need credit to get noticed, rather than yourself. These are essential, high priority training lessons, and it doesn’t seem to stop at age 5. And they aren’t just math lessons, obviously. The lessons just advance and deepen as the years go on. If you have been the teacher, and have turned to the scriptures and prayer for answers, you teach a pattern that your child takes with them when they leave your happy homeschooling. It is very gratifying for me to see my grown sons grapple with problems by turning to their faith.

So, the question isn’t, “Do you homeschool?” The question is, “At what age did you stop homeschooling? When did you put the responsibility for your child’s molding and training into the hands of someone else?” Because whether we like it or not, we are still the responsible party, and we will be held accountable for our children’s training. And we will rejoice or suffer for the remainder of our lives, depending on how well these precious children turn out.

chartlouisalargeI am far from perfect, and that is a scary thought when I see myself as the responsible party. But I have one great advantage that another teacher does not have. My title of “Mother” came with an incredible love for my child—a love that makes me go to great lengths to insure my child’s well being. With the advantage of intense motherly love, and with the power to access through prayer that greatest parent and most intelligent being, it is hard to fail. If I am imperfect, I can point them to their real Father above, who does not make mistakes.

Mothers, take time to teach your children. You are your children’s best teacher. Don’t shift this precious responsibility. A mother’s love and prayerful concern for her children are her most important ingredients in teaching her own.

Homeschooling has made my family best friends. There is no friend I’d rather be with than my children. A group of old girlfriends called the other day and invited me to a girlfriend reunion. I was reluctant. I dragged my feet. I wanted to be with them and attend, but the truth was, I didn’t want to be away from my children for that long. I have friends, and I enjoy friends, but the ones I really delight in being with are the parents of my children’s friends. Then I am happy socializing. I know my children are happy playing, and I can feel relaxed and at peace. Leaving my children home while I went with my friends for a few days didn’t appeal to me. I enjoy my children! That friendship with my children has developed over years of being together, working together, playing together, teaching them what I like and how to act in a way that I can enjoy their company. It has bound us together, knit us together in love. It has made us lasting friends.

In a very practical sense, home is the school. Name any subject, and you will find that home is the best foundational school. Manners. Cooking. Social relations. Laundry. Health, Nutrition. How to access God’s help. Reading. Personal hygiene. Learning to forgive. All the basic information that a person needs to live happily in this world are taught most effectively in the home, by watching parents, by copying parents, by working side by side with parents (and also with older siblings who have been taught well). This is not to say that there isn’t a place for advanced training classes. I don’t pretend to be able to teach the Mechanical Engineering courses that my grown son takes at the university. But the basics of living, he was taught at home: basics that will get him through those classes to his degree, and beyond into a happy, productive life. Not just academic basics, but happy, good living.

Obviously, homeschooling a child isn’t just about academics. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52). Just like this scripture verse suggests, a person has four dimensions to his being: mental (wisdom), physical (stature), spiritual (favor with God) and social (favor with man). If we focus just on the academic or the “wisdom” dimension, we will be raising an out-of-balance person. We must give focus to each area of growth, nurturing our child along and providing opportunities to develop. The homeschool gives the perfect environment to give balance to these areas of development.

What does this mean? This means that a mother plans out her child’s education, giving time for mental growth through academics. She plans social gatherings and time for playing with wholesome friends to nurture her child’s social well being. She considers how to improve her child’s health (stature) through better nutrition, sleep, and exercise opportunities. The plan puts first a relationship with God and spiritual nourishment through learning to pray, reading the scriptures, memorizing verses, attending church and hearing parents testify to the truth of the gospel.

Sometimes we reduce homeschooling to an academic task, but the work of raising a child uprightly before the Lord is much, much more. A parent’s task, whether they homeschool or not, is molding a child in the image of God, spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. It will take the best effort we have to give. Home can be the best possible school, with a teacher that loves you best!


May I recommend:

Everyone Homeschools

A Plea to Homeschoolers: Do it!

Teaching Self-Government Books

Would you like to share this?

Creating a Home School Library

homeschooling_0034_ammonemily98I’m a book-a-holic and live in a regular-sized house, so books get tucked here, there and everywhere. Naturally, when one of my children asked a question about the bottom of the ocean, I wanted to show them that wonderful book with the great picture of the ocean floor . . . but where is that book? By the time I’ve dug through this shelf and the cabinet and this drawer, they’ve lost interest.

After hearing a wonderful church leader’s talk about having a library in his childhood home, I started looking at my homeschooling area with an eye for building a library. There is seldom any extra space, but I started looking at our rooms with the hope for a way to fit in some shelves that could serve as our library. I finally settled on an area and with some rearranging and ingenuity, we created a “sort of” book shelf. Actually, I was so over-eager that we stacked honey buckets from our food storage with old boards laid across until they were high enough to be dangerous. Although it could only accommodate a portion of our books, it gave me a taste of a homeschool library, and now I was hopeful for the real thing. Time to build a family library!

We began shopping for shelving units. I found that a finished oak shelf unit, 6 feet high and 4 feet wide cost anywhere from $180 to $300! That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Besides, that space was way too small to accommodate my dream. After more shopping and comparing, we finally settled on buying 8 foot by 1 foot boards from a lumber store. These boards were composition board on the inside, but were coated with a white plastic laminate surface, and the edge of them was rounded smoothly. The cost for lumber for a built-in shelf unit that measured 8 feet long and was floor to ceiling was under $60. Most lumber stores will even make the cuts for you, reducing the labor even further. Generally the first few cuts are free, and any other cuts are 50¢ each. It may be worth it to save the time if you aren’t a handyman-type.

The unit wasn’t too hard to put together. Because the boards were already finished and did not require sanding, painting, etc.; the work was cut to a minimum. My husband Rick chose screws rather than nails, thinking it would make the unit sturdier. He also screwed it into the wall to make it safe.

Once you get your bookshelf area set up, have a “treasure hunt” with the kids by gathering all the books in the house. I weeded out as many books as I could (be ruthless). I could barely wait for it to be finished! I dragged boxes of books from every place I had stashed them for years and covered the floor with them. I pulled them from cupboards and cabinets and closets and desktops. Just when I had an enormous book heap on the family room floor, my in-laws arrived from out of state . . . So much for making a good impression of homeschooling!stackofbooks2

I decided to arrange my books in subject order. I took a length of masking tape and applied it to the shelf edge, writing the subject neatly in permanent marker on the tape. I ended up with: World History, American History, Geography, Science, Health, Math, English, Life Skills, Children’s storybooks, Readers, Art, Music and Educational Magazines.

thumbnailOur “History” section begins with Ancient History books: nonfiction, textbooks, documents, literature and good fiction reading that is set in the time period of ancient history. Putting the good reading books in their historical setting makes them very handy to read along with history studies. My “History” shelves continue through Middle Ages, Modern Times, US Constitution and Government, and Freedom Documents along with wonderful children’s fiction set in the time period.

imageThen come the “Science” shelves, divided into the 4 fields of science: Biology (including Human Body and anatomy books), Physical Science, Chemistry and Earth Science. Nature magazines and DVDs go here too.

The “English” section begins with reference books, and includes books on how to write poetry as well as books of poems, spelling books, grammar books, my favorite Vocabulary Cartoons books, as well as collections of literature that cover many time periods (and thus cannot be put in the “History” section). I also have a section for great reading books not set in any historical period. Art books have a place, as do foreign language, and other subjects.

Keep a bottom shelf open for your library books. When the library books have a place that they “live” at your house, it is much easier to keep track of them. (Beats hunting for them under the couch.)

What is so marvelous about organizing your home library is that everything is so available and easy to find! I love it! Now when one of my children talks about volcanoes, it is a cinch to just cruise over to the “Science” section and see all the pertinent books just at my fingertips: easy-to-find and use!  And the children can easily access what they need as well. An unexpected result of organizing our family library, is that it helped me see at a glance which areas of our educational resources were lacking. I can see that I probably don’t need one more Art book, but we are seriously in need of Science books!

I began to wonder why I hadn’t organized in this way several years ago. Moving, and never having enough shelf space had hindered progress, but it makes such an enormous difference that it is well worth any effort to create your library! It also meant that I now had a “place” for every type of book to be put away. Educational magazines now belonged somewhere, rather than just on an end table or in a magazine rack.

Naturally, in the process of putting all those books on our library shelves, I encountered numerous books that I hadn’t been able to part with, but hadn’t really found all that delightful either. Setting them right up there next to their kin of the same subject made it easy to see that they were no longer useful. You only need a few USA geography books to do the trick. Any more just takes space and creates educational clutter. Choose the best one or two and sort the rest out. It takes discerning eye to glean out the extra stuff, but it gives your library punch. Only the best. Donate the rest.

homecI do save some old quaint books just because they are so old that they come from another era. One example is a Home Economics textbook I have from the 1940’s. It actually has chapters on what to do when a baby cries, how to iron a shirt, and how to make a bed! I also had to save those “Run, Dick, run!” readers that marked the ruination of phonics in America. I have used them to explain to mothers why their children can’t learn to read easily in the public school system. These old treasures don’t go on my shelves according to subject. They are really kept just because of their antiquity, in a spot of their own.

Once I got my library organized, I found that I didn’t need to make so many trips to the library. I also didn’t buy quite as many books. It made homeschooling so much easier. When we were doing an art project, it was so simple to just go to the shelf and look through a few art books to come up with lots of ideas.

You are probably way more organized than I am. But, if your books are stored helter-skelter here and there, maybe a library is just what you need.  Best success!


May I recommend:

Simplify Your Homeschool

A Delicious Read, Indeed

Pathway Readers

Would you like to share this?

Educational Goals Worksheet

Here’s a simple worksheet you can print off and use to identify your educational goals, and the resources you can use to plan your homeschool!

educational goals


May I recommend:

Study Schedule

An Educational Approach

The 21 Rules of This House

Would you like to share this?

Please subscribe and I will email you a copy of my ebook: The Only School Chart that Survived 25 Years of Homeschooling!

  • Facebook
  • Google+">
  • Twitter
  • YouTube