What a gift homeschooling is. Over my years as a educational consultant, I have had the privilege of seeing many students who struggle. I have also had the privilege of seeing many homeschool parents who are grateful for the opportunity to homeschool and willing to do what it takes to help their children. Gifted children, challenged children, perfectionists, and those who are disabled—all can find success with homeschooling.
The heart of their parents has been inspirational. They will read, learn, listen, discuss, and pray for wisdom. Often the world's counsel has been discouraging, so they often come with a hope, but not much in the way of tangible encouragement. My pleasure is to help them customize their homeschooling program to meet their child's particular needs. That is one of the wonders of homeschooling. There is no limit to the innovation and adaptation that can take place, fitting curricula to needs, teachers to students, schedules to stamina, interests to motivation.
While all children need a program that fits them particularly, there are those children who desperately need this chance for success. Ruth Beechick has often reminded us not to be afraid to blaze your own trail and make the most of what works. Don't worry about what your homeschooling friends do or use. Remember, you are God's perfect provision for your child. Don't be apologetic, be proactive. Don't hold back, go forward in confidence. Your calling to homeschool your precious children will carry you.
My plans were set. My son was five and my daughter was two. I had stayed home since his birth, but now he was school age, and it was time to go back to work. I enjoyed teaching, and my husband (also a teacher) and I never doubted our callings. God made us teachers and it was time for me to get on with my life's work and second income. Our neighbor homeschooled, and though I thought it had great educational merit, I never really considered it for us until I started imagining our active first-born in a classroom. He loved to learn and I realized we would lose the inquisitive, tenderhearted little boy. As doubt about my plan crept in, I wondered—could this be God's leading?During a quiet moment, I shared my growing concern with my husband. He listened closely and we talked a bit more. After a few days of prayer, he spoke words that changed our lives: "I believe we are supposed to homeschool." It didn't take long for me to discover that homeschooling was my true calling and that God's plan was perfect for us.
Seen any good movies lately?
Our family enjoys movies. We chose new releases that we wanted to see together, looking forward to the experience. The exchange of opinions and understandings after the film gave everyone a chance to share and hear the reactions of others. Since my children grew up listening to a daily read-aloud, there was a natural transition to movies from the group sharing of an ongoing story. My husband's dramatic reading of The Chronicles of Narnia was always a favorite of our children, plus it built an active approach to listening. You never knew when Daddy might change the story to see who was paying attention! Watching the movie later also gave them a real appreciation for the richness of literature and the impossibility of truly conveying the depths of a great story in a couple of hours.
Not only were movies a source of enjoyment, they were also a great part of school. We read the wonderful classic Swiss Family Robinson aloud, then had Swiss Family Robinson Night where we watched the movie and ate an island dinner of finger food on the floor in the living room. Our meal was complete with candles and coconut! This experience remained a favorite of our family for many years. Connecting literature to this multi-sensory experience made it memorable—and fun!
We continued to incorporate movies into our literary instruction as our children got older. During high school there was not enough time to read all the great books so often we would watch a film to get a taste of a book we didn't have time to read. As with all tools, make movies your servant. Teach your children to select and watch with discernment, following your example. If your family chooses to watch movies, make use of this rich source of ideas for discussion and evaluation, building comprehension as you go. When you do, you may shed a tear, give a shout of victory, become inspired, or travel the world, all from the comfort of your living room. Sounds like homeschooling, doesn't it?
My children's high school years of homeschooling were truly a delight. I was grateful to be such an involved part of their lives, and honored to be considered such good friend material! We charted a path, with Ruth Beechick's help, that allowed us to stay the course of using the unit study approach that had always been so successful for us. We integrated language arts into everything, decreasing the time spent working on isolated subjects, and became skilled observers and recorders of all that we did.While many around us felt they had no recourse but to use textbooks, or prepared courses, we took steps that were truly bold for us. We used the course outlines from our state's educational website, which we kept in a notebook. I would mark off objectives as they were covered, writing the date next to the goal. I kept a folder for each course we claimed credit for, which included lists of materials used, reports, projects, and perhaps photos of field trips or related activities and a summary of what was completed.
Once the course objectives were broken down like this, we were free to use the library or other resources we already had, and to deal with the topics from our family's viewpoint. People became valuable resources as we learned from those who had expertise or experience in the topic area, equipping the children with the ability to come up with a plan to learn just about anything. It also allowed us to customize to fit their particular bends.
When young people become confident learners, where they learn won't matter. They will be successful. Don't be too quick to send your children to learn from others, even in the high school years. There will be plenty of time for that. Cherish the relationships and blessings that come from your time together.
Let your curriculum choices flow from your own relationship with your children and with God. There is a wealth of information on the Internet or at your local curriculum fair that helps you figure out what’s available. Here are some practical ideas that we hope will help.
Use your own sense of what is best and don’t rely too much on the advice of others. I know moms who relied on others and later regretted it. I have done this too. For guidance on general expectations, you can use information in Dr. Ruth Beechick’s books for a “spine,” as some people like to call it. But do not follow this, or any spine, slavishly. Choose what you think is best, and make changes when they seem needed. God will guide you.
Good curriculum offers flexibility, so you can use it the way that best fits your children. Keep it as your servant, not your master. If the curriculum demands total adherence for success, you can ignore that demand. Or even choose another curriculum if that seems easier.
A curriculum may come to you highly recommended¸ but you must have God’s peace in using it. If you feel stressed when you use a curriculum, it is easy to transfer the stress to your children. God has a perfect plan for your family. Seek that plan rather than just follow the path of those around you. When you strive too hard to keep up with schoolwork, or constantly pressure children to finish their work, you may want to rethink your choices.
You want both good fruit and peace when using curriculum. So begin by choosing the best you can, but remember that you can make changes at any time.
Are you organized?
This is one of those questions that can bring an otherwise confident homeschool parent to their knees. I must start this article with a confession. I have never been as organized as I wanted to be. (You can read it aloud and consider it your confession as well!) I have also never been as organized as the people who write or speak about organization. Some of their ideas have helped me, but it was difficult to put into practice those helpful nuggets if I was busy trying to revamp my life and the personality that God gave me into someone more organized! Then there was also trying to bypass the guilt that inevitably followed a conversation with an organized person...
Here's the good news. My children grew up anyway. They finished high school, received scholarships, and got jobs. My lack of organization did not permanently impair them, largely due, I believe, to the mercy of God, which I must gratefully point out is new every morning. So, from that lengthy disclaimer, let me tell you what I think is my best organizational tip—do whatever works for you!
Here's one thing that helped us. The children each had a crate where they kept all their school stuff. About once a month, or every other month if life was crazy, we would clean out the crates, putting finished papers we wanted to keep in an accordian file with a slot for each month. This helped us when we ended our school year, and provided a dandy review of learning. I knew enough about myself to know that I needed their help to do this organizing, so we included these days as part of our schoolwork, rather than it being a mom-only activity.
Find what works for you. Don't come under the idea that you have to become someone else to organize successfully. Find ways for the children to help you. Tell them what you need and then ask them how they would do it. Take school time to accomplish this task, letting your children know that everyone can help do what is needed. You may be pleasantly surprised. There just may be a budding engineer or event coordinator in the house, who can't wait to help you organize! That may just be part of His mercy to you as well.
Homeschoolers are a hard-working group. You get up early, stay up late, read, reread, pray and think, all to find the best curriculum, co-op or class for our children. Nothing can keep you from the pursuit of giving your best effort to train and educate your children. Sometimes the intense focus on these tasks can change your perspective, often without even realizing it.
Scripture is clear. Children are blessings from God. While you may know that in your heads, sometimes the responsibilities you feel to do your job well can turn your blessings into your educational burdens - your problems to solve, your children to fix, your people to make adequate, or even superior. Looking at your child as a task rather than a person with a plan from God can cause you to miss the blessings intended for you through your relationship.
It's an easy mistake to make, and just as easy a mistake to fix. Like hitting a reset button, determine to see things in a new way. Remember:
1) Children are a gift from the Lord. Don't become so focused on the responsibilities of homeschooling that you forget to receive the gift God has given you in your child. Make sure you are enjoying your time together (and it will be fleeting!) and that you are building that life-long friendship as well as functioning as a diligent parent.
2) God has a plan for your child's life. It is not your job to come up with a plan for your child. It is your job to get in synch with the plan already in place, made by your child's loving Creator. Spend time seeking to know the gifts and talents placed in your child and considering how to encourage those gifts.
3) Don't make conformity with the world your goal. More and more I am concerned that we as homeschoolers have made worldly success our driving concern. More important than what your neighbors do or think is following what is best for your child - how they learn best, building their character and building an enjoyment of learning that is lifelong.
God did not call you to homeschool just so you could impress the world. He has a much bigger plan than that. Encourage your children to follow God's plan for their lives, no matter where it takes them. Model that truth for them now by putting your trust in God's plan, not in your ability to create the most impressive credentials possible.
Rest assured that God will faithfully guide you as you lead your children. When He calls you to do something, He also promises to bring that thing to pass Himself (I Thess. 5:24). Rest in the calling God has given you to homeschool. He is the author of all wisdom and knowledge and He knows where your children are going and how to get them there. Meanwhile, enjoy the blessings He has given you.
Christian homeschool families center their lives on the Bible. They make home the center of learning, fellowship and fun. Once they set these purposes, it is easier to make other decisions. Just ask, Does this activity meet our purpose? Does that include eveyone? Unity and focus are the keys. Homeschoolers use the keys for curriculum, too.
Many of us have accepted a classroom-based model for teaching that breaks subjects up into separate pieces. In our homeschool settings, we are free to choose a more effective and efficient way, especially in the teaching of language skills. Would a day of school be complete without reading, writing, or vocabulary? Most would say no. However, if you are learning about history and science, you already have an avenue for teaching language skills in a way that is natural, effective and efficient. Let's look at how you can do that.
Reading Comprehension: This really means understanding what you read. Your children can build this skill as they read textbooks or our favorites, biographies and literature that relate to history or science study. Use tools such as narrating, or retelling what has happened, predicting what will happen next and telling the story from a certain character's point of view to find out if your children understood what they read. If you didn't read the story, scan the story and ask questions about the names of characters and places you notice. Prewritten comprehension questions can be helpful, but are not the only or most natural way to measure comprehension. Discussion is an effective and enjoyable way to determine comprehension. In the classroom, teachers often require written answers to determine comprehension because of the sheer numbers of students, not because it is necessarily more effective.
Building Vocabulary: This refers to learning the meaning of new words, their context and how to use them. The usual approach to this is to just look a word up in the dictionary. A more effective way to learn new vocabulary is much simpler, and for us, more fun. Keep a stack of index cards handy. When you or your children encounter an unknown word during reading, write the word on the card. Ask the children what they think it might means and write it lightly in pencil on the card. My children would quickly search the surrounding text for clues to meaning. (This is what is known as using context clues.) At some point, you or your children (we took turns) can look the word up in the dictionary or glossary. Then report to the group what the actual meaning was, and how close your definition was. As you compare the actual meaning to what the children thought, the discussion makes the new word more memorable. This may add a step to the traditional process, but that additional step included important thinking skills. It is very encouraging for children to see that they often had a beginning in their mind to understand new words. We also played a game in our home where we all tried to use one of the new words in normal conversation sometime that day. The hoots and howls that would go up when someone worked the new word into conversation!
When children read and discuss, they also learn a lot of words that you might not notice as new words. They would learn about 3000 words per year even if you had no vocabulary lessons.
Writing: The main purpose of writing should be to help your child solidify and express understanding and meaning and it should be used in response to activity, discussion and most importantly, thinking. The key to making writing more effective and less painful then, is to change your view of writing's purpose. Initially, it is to benefit your child's ability to organize and express thoughts, not for presentation purposes. With these goals in mind, there are many natural ways to incorporate writing into your curriculum. Dialogue journals (a question is asked and both you and your children write a response, share it with each other and then write what you think of their thoughts,) are a great start. Also, ask children to briefly write, [comma added] telling what happened in a story or lesson. Words on paper is usually the hardest task, so the more the child feels knowledgeable about the topic, the more words you are likely to get. Also, they can share what they have learned by preparing charts, graphs, advertisements or brochures. The formal structures of writing (expository, persuasive, etc.) can be easily learned when students are older if they have had plenty of practice using writing to reflect their thinking and understanding.
These are just a few ways to could use a unified approach when teaching your children. Tying learning together helps increase interest and interaction as well as decrease busywork. You might want to be careful, however. On more than one occasion, this approach led my children to ask to learn more...
Author, speaker, and educator Debbie Strayer is a co-author of the Learning Language Arts Through Literature Series, co-founder of Homeschooling TodayMagazine, co-author of the Trail Guide to Learning Series and a longtime consultant to homeschool families. She has been married to husband Greg for over 30 years, homeschooled for 16 years and is mother to two homeschool graduates. Debbie encourages homeschoolers internationally and in the US, passing along the common sense approach to education that she learned from her mentor, Dr. Ruth Beechick. To read more from Debbie, go to debbiestrayer.com.