Begin at the beginning , Back to the fundamentals
Every year, as a school teacher, I spent the first week just going over the basics - classroom rules, learning their names, handing out books, practicing the rules, and sharing my expectations of them. There were several expectations that seemed obvious, but if I didn't state them and have them posted in the classroom, the students would claim that they didn't know.
John Wooden, the basketball coach from UCLA, did the same thing, but to the extreme. At the beginning of the season, all the new players received a lesson for Coach Wooden of how to prep their socks - turn them inside out and remove all the balled up cotton that forms near the toes. These are college students, for goodness sake! And Wooden took the time to show them how to put on their socks. Why? Because he knew that if they didn't take the time to remove the balled fuzz from inside their socks, they would build up painful blisters during practice. Those blisters would slow them down and keep them from performing at their peak.
What are the basics in our house? As a homeschooling family, it would seem that once the basics are covered, I would never have to re-teach. But that, sadly, is not the case. With children always growing up and becoming capable of taking on more responsibility, the basics change. Where a five-year-old can help dry the dishes and fold and sort laundry, a six-year-old can add vacuuming and sweeping to the list. Each new responsibility takes time to teach, but once it is, that job is no longer mine. That freedom from the little jobs gives me more time for lesson planning, writing, exercise, and one-on-one time with the children. It's not all about me - I do know that. The satisfaction my children earn from being an active part of maintaining the household is all about them.
The Basics in school are reviewed often as well. What time we start school, where we should work, where we put our things when we are finished, how we show mom that we are actually working toward a goal - these are all the expectations of any student, but these basic ideas need to be reviewed and changed if necessary in order to make the goal of homeschooling work.
Prior to beginning to homeschool or, if you have already started, a good idea to revisit is the WHY? behind this adventure? Are you homeschooling to provide an excellent education? Is the public school a little too worldly for your tastes? Has your child been bullied in the past? Is the hope of bringing your child up as a faithful Christian the purpose behind this choice? Whatever your purpose, write it down and keep it in your heart. That purpose will level the mountains that are in your future and will fill the valleys that are certain to come.
Perhaps your questions are less purpose-driven: Are you getting into homeschooling not feeling entirely certain you can do this? Are your children less than receptive to the idea?
Believe it or not, you are not alone in these fears. Even that mom with those homeschooled kids who are so polite and can each play four different instruments and each speaks a different language - even that mom has these fears. That mom even has days that when the school bus drives by, she imagines herself running all her kids out there, loading them onboard and having a free day.
The fears will be there. Don't give them any power. The purpose will be forgotten. Give your purpose more power.
The Beginning of Education
Why You Need to Think About It and Why We Don't
The beginning of education is The Question. Children come by this naturally with the every present "Why?" It's the beginning of thinking about and exploring the world in our thoughts, but also with our hands and feet.
That question - Why? - is the foundation of all learning. It embraces humility; that we don't know the answer to something and are asking someone we admire to help us understand our world. As young children, we ask this question freely, to the point that it becomes known as an age - the 'Why?' age - synonymous with being three-years-old.
Asking Why? is more than just curiosity, it's hunger. We seek food to fill empty stomachs, or sometimes we just eat because it tastes good. Learning is the same. Questions indicate there is something lacking in our understanding or perhaps we simply enjoy a particular subject or mentor and seek more time with them.
Sadly, the questioning doesn't last. Most children stop asking questions in middle school. Why? :-) Peer pressure. It could be that they have been teased for asking a silly question or, as it was with me, teased that I didn't know the answer to my question. (I believe the exact wording was, "Oh my gosh! I can't believe you don't know that. What's wrong with you?") Maybe they should already know the answer and are just too shy to admit that they don't. Perhaps the teacher snapped at them for not paying attention and now every question in their mind dies before it reaches their lips.
The remedy to all of these is for the teacher/parent to create a safe environment. There is the common saying that there is no such thing as a stupid question. While that can sometimes be argued, it's basically true. Sometimes we have forgotten the answer to a question and just need a reminder. Perhaps the question has never even occurred to us and it takes us a while to put our answer into words. Maybe the entire experience is foreign and there are too many questions rushing to our minds confusing us with where to begin. No matter what the situation, it's important for the adult in charge to show respect to the students and answer the questions with grace.
A better solution is witnessed within the Classical Education world, where there are no wrong answers, just unsupported answers. To define Classical Education fully takes books and much time. It's been done by others who know much more than I. If you are interested, I recommend anything by Susan Wise Bauer, Oliver DeMille (The Thomas Jefferson Education), and Adam and Missy Andrews (The Center for Lit.). In its most basic terms, teaching a child classically isn't really teaching them at all. Instead, children practice the art of asking questions. Not to find the yes/no or right/wrong answer, but to determine if an idea is true or a fallacy. Learning how to think doesn't come to fruition on a multiple choice test, but in a discussion (or in writing an essay) about a topic.
Classical Education naturally lends itself to creating that safe environment where ideas are discussed and shared, weighed and found to be worthy of future study or not.
Why don't we think about learning? Probably for the same reason we don't focus on our next breath. We just know it will happen. What if, however, there was a limited supply of oxygen in the room. In that circumstance, our next breath would be of great concern. Learning, according to test scores and high school drop-out rates, is in limited supply. It's time to think about thinking and to learn about learning. As all three of the Classical Education resources I listed above suggest, if you were not trained in a classical environment, don't wait! Get started now! It's never too late to learn. This old dog can learn new tricks. Plus, it's fun. I am a product of a public school education and it served me well to become an employee and to think a certain way. I am, however, not a robot and have rejected that conveyer belt education (as Oliver DeMille coins the process of a public education). I am homeschooling myself, training myself - through excellent literature - to be a thinker and a life-long learner. What better example can I provide for my children?
So, Now What?
I'm going to guess at what you are thinking now...
I like the encouragement here, but this chick clearly doesn't know about my short-comings.
Sure I do. I might not know you personally, but I have short-comings, too. One of them is being, well, short. I don't have this all figured out and you don't need to either. Start with a plan. Have the dining room table cleared off every morning for school. Make a weekly trip to the library for fresh books. Read aloud a chapter a day to your children. That's enough of a plan to start homeschooling.
Every family comes to the idea of homeschooling with a different focus, need, and purpose. Know why you are homeschooling. Write that 'Why' on the bathroom mirror with a dry-erase marker or type it out and frame it. Read it every morning to keep the mission behind your daily actions fresh in your mind. If the first month of homeschooling is spend reading books and exploring nature, that's perfect! The time spent together, getting to know each other, learning new things about the world of literature and the natural world will never be forgotten.
Okay. I think I can do this. Do I jump right in?
As you start to feel comfortable with reading, look into a math program. We use Saxon Math and we love it. It begins with a mental warm-up and a page of math facts. Then the lesson is presented. I purchase the DVDs for this so I'm not spending my day teaching three different levels of math. That, and my older two are taking Geometry and Algebra. I just can't remember enough from high school to effectively teach that. Following the lesson, there are a handful of practice problems, but the core of the work is doing 25-30 math problems that are all different. The constant review assures that the lessons are truly learned.
After giving the addition of math into your daily schedule some time to settle, add science. We use the Apologia Curriculum. It reads aloud beautifully and everything is explained fully.
Before you add a new subject, take a day to celebrate what you've been doing. Go to a museum. Have a picnic. Watch a documentary.
You can add history. We don't use a history curriculum, but use actual books written on specific topics in history. At times we include these books in our read aloud times, but mostly the kids just read them as a part of their independent reading. Have a world map easily visible in the room to point out where events took place and make a time line notebook (www.rainbowresource.com has several to choose from) and keep an ongoing documentation of what you are learning. A good time line will last the entire K-12 education.
Other subjects to consider include and suggested programs:
Foreign language (Rosetta Stone, Mango)
Physical Education (a homeschool Co-op, a park, a membership to the YMCA)
English & Grammar (for fellow Catholics, I highly recommend Seton Homestudy English books. Sorry, that's all we use, so my recommendations here are few.)
Will there be difficult days?
Oh, yes. It's just the truth. The bad days will jump out at you unexpectedly. Sometimes you won't feel like doing school, sometimes it will be the kids. There will be days when it's beautiful outside and you'd rather play. Go play. What about that opportunity to visit a friend or a family member? Go! You will know when you need to stay home, but on the days you take those detours from schooling, plug into the school on wheels. Bring books on tape or a CD to listen to. Hand the children the map with the route highlighted and have them tell you where to go - and take the turns they suggest. There is no better teacher than a wrong turn.
Subjects and lessons can be difficult and frustrations will run high. When the tears threaten to surface (either in your eyes or your child's), take a break. Pray. God has your back and prayer will reveal the issue. Pick up a favorite book and read together. Go to the kitchen and make a new recipe. Go for a walk and see what's new in the neighborhood. A change of scenery will change the scene of the problem.
Speaking personally, the difficult days mostly rear up when I'm too focused on 'The Plan' and not listening to the needs of my children. And by 'not listening', I don't mean that I'm ignoring what they say, they sometimes aren't saying anything at all - which should scream a warning. I have to listen for bad attitudes and watch for signs that something is amiss.
If I do choose to homeschool, will my children be different?
Mine are and I love it. They listen to different music. They can talk to adults as easily as peers. While other students are dressing for school in the trend of the day, mine are having discussions about what book they are reading while sitting around the breakfast table in our pj's. My children will never need to take a Home Economics class because they have helped with breakfast, lunch and dinner for years. They can also do their own laundry and clean the house on their own. We are learning higher math skills, which includes budgeting money by buying with cash only and building a savings account.
Homeschooled children, typically, are not burdened by the pressures of school (clothing, dating, not liking the teacher) and are able to focus on learning within a safe and familiar environment.
Note: my children don't always 'like' their teacher, but they will always love me. The same goes for me: I don't always like my students, but I will always love them.
What about finances? How do you live on one income?
Very carefully and with giant servings of who-cares-about-the-Jones's? Apologies to all those out there named Jones! We are not striving to drive the latest cars or to have the Parade of Home house. I would like to have those things, but they are not essential to my greater purpose - the education and character formation of my children. See? That purpose comes back and rescues you!
We are very careful with our finances and we do pay cash for everything. I mean everything. Just this month we had to replace our truck. We knew our budget and paid cash for a used minivan. No payments, cheaper insurance, and the dents are already added to the van, so I don't have to worry about the 'antiquing' we will add.
I buy groceries in bulk and on sale. I make my meal plan around what is in season and on sale. I make my own yogurt (which is crazy easy!) and buy bread at the wholesale store. We all shop at consignment stores and love it. We do buy new socks and underwear - I do have limits on used items.
Larger items we would like to purchase are given an envelope in the family safe. As we save money, earn money, or are given gifts of money, we slip a little into that envelope until we have enough to buy it outright. The current envelope is almost empty because we used it to buy the minivan, but next is a full sized cello for our middle daughter, then a newer lawn mower.
Whatever your financial resources, we can always do with less despite the fact that we all want more. I don't intend on spending my days pinching pennies and shopping sales, but for now, we are still in the process of working toward a debt-free life. If, through example, I can instill valuable spending habits in my children, then I will do that.
Is That It? Is This All I Need To Know About Homeschooling?
Um, no. There is much more. But if you start with a purpose, make a plan, and find the right attitude and frame of mind, you can do this. If you still aren't sure, ask yourself: What will my children lose by going to a public or private school? What will they gain by being homeschooled?
If you still aren't sure, talk to the kids. Ask them their opinion. Make a charts of 'Pros' and 'Cons'. Pray together for wisdom and patience and a healthy dose of understanding.
When we first decided to start homeschooling, I committed to one year. I had a basic plan and an overall goal, but nothing more than that. At the end of the year, I sat down with my husband (who fully supports our homeschool, but doesn't teach any formal lessons) and we talked through the good, the bad, and the ugly. There was no finger pointing, no blame, just honest reflection over what went well and where our homeschool could improve.
We continue this pattern still. 2017 marks the thirteenth year of homeschooling and we are still taking it year-by-year.
Thoughts on Homeschooling
Battle of the Books, 2014
Delta Township Library
We won :-)
Everyone helped build the brooding box for the chickens. Construction, hand on, math and measurement...what more can teacher ask for?
Our backyard has several maple trees. With a few spiles, we tapped them in March and boiled it down into Maple Syrup. We learned just how difficult this would have been without modern day appliances.
A message to my son's future wife:
He knows how to wash dishes.
Learning an instrument builds confidence, instills the importance of practice, and makes a house sound like a beautiful home...okay, not at first, but eventually.
This project could be listed under 'Pinterest Fail', but my son loved it all. With the peanuts from a shipping box and a little homemade glue - we had a great afternoon. What did we learn? To always have Elmer's glue on hand!
Another vote for learning an instrument. Here is my daughter playing at an Honor's Recital in front of over 100 people. Talk about a confidence builder.
An example of turning a bad day into a perfectly fun and memorable day. Find a tree. Climb it. Problem solved.
Yep. Another picture of music. This time it shows TWO instruments. Impressive, huh?
On a whim, I bought a few canvas boards from Hobby Lobby. We went to the park and painted. There was no instruction involved. We each took a different object and painted. This masterpiece is one of my favorites in the house.
If I've learned anything from teaching, from parenting, from being human, it's this:
Kids need to be taught how to learn.
It's that simple.
If you are looking to increase your child's grades, up the class' overall test scores, or thinking about homeschooling, then READING truly is fundamental.
There are hundreds of articles on reading and how it influences academics. If you want to read those articles, Google: Reading and academia.
I can shorten it all to one simple idea: if a child can read, that child can learn. That's it.
(Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that the only way a child can learn is through reading. There are hundreds of successful adults who struggled with reading and now have wonderful lives and businesses. This article is focused on the need for stories in children's lives, particularly being read to, sharing stories, and then hopefully, writing their own.)
When I started homeschooling my own children, I didn't purchase a huge curriculum or a stack of workbooks. I frequented the library and used book sales. Using fiction and non-fiction books, I read to my children. Poetry, biographies, encyclopedias, stories, picture books, magazines, on-line articles, and the Bible. We read them all. I had books stacked on the end tables, in front of the fireplace, on shelves, under pillows and even on the steps.
We learned about the history of Europe, the story of Native Americans, met the tin soldier and Tom Thumb. We traveled in a Magic Tree House, visited Pooh's Corner, and we annually attend The Best Christmas Pagent Ever! We studied maps, learned a little Spanish, met St. Therese of Lisieux, Saint John Paul the Great, and the missionaries to Central America.
That was their education. We read, we wrote about what we read, and we did little activities to go along with it. I added some counting and patterning for math. We read about animals, stars, seasons, land formations, countries, and all things science. By the end of the first year, my voice was hoarse, but my children loved their schooling. (As I'm typing this, all four of my children are reading. Even my youngest, who isn't reading yet, is 'reading', making up the story from what he remembers it from the pictures.)
It is proof positive: When children are read to and when they read on their own, they are learning.
But now I see it differently: The trend in literature for children has shifted from Beverly Cleary-goodness to Vampires and Sorcery. I am often asked to provide an opinion on Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the Twilight series, and the like. I can't tell you what you should and shouldn't allow your child to read, but I can offer a way to help parents and their children make that choice on their own.
Back when my kids were younger and I was stupid (or at least not as practiced at mom-hood), I planned on reading every book before my children did. I failed miserably. Why? Because my kids read faster than I do and they out-number me four-to-one! To think that I could pre-read every book AND keep my kids interested in reading was ridiculous. And if I ask them to wait for me to read it first, they will lose interest in reading altogether. I needed a plan to protect them from what I don't believe is quality entertainment (or even good for thier souls) and give them a sense of responsibility. That is why we begin reading new books with a review of the book on Goodreads.com and on Amazon.com. Then, if I approve, they can read it.
But it doesn't end there. My children are then asked to give a review of the book based on the following:
1. What message do you think the author was trying to share through this story?
2. Were there any scenes in the story that you believe were inappropriate?
3. Would you recommend this book to a priest? (because if you can't recommend it to a priest without feeling guilty, no one should read it :)
I can guess your next question: Don't you think that if the story is inappropriate, they will still read it?
In short, No. Knowing what questions I will be asking about the book, my daughters have actually stopped reading a book if it feels too risky. I even found a book with a swear word (not a terrible swear word) blackened out with pencil. It wouldn't have phased me at all, but they took action and censored the word. Yep, I'm a proud mama ;)
Where should you start? Meet your librarian and ask for recommendations. Pinterest and Goodreads have lists of books. So off you go! Meet these authors and their characters. If you like one book, you'll probably like another by the same author. Explore the world through children's books - the only grouping of literature that is safe for all!
And don't forget to leave reviews! They are golden tickets to authors around the world.
Added December 23, 2014...
In preparation for my oldest daughter starting high school, I re-read all the books I had on Classical Education and discovered a new resource: Oliver DeMille. He and his wife, Rachel, homeschool their eight children in a classical approach, raising them to be great thinkers and statesmen/women. As I read his book, The Thomas Jeffereson Education, I realized how poor my own education was and is. Since reading his book last spring, I've tripled the amount of books I read as well as transitioning from popular literature (what is selling) to classical literature. I highly recommend DeMille's book, The Thomas Jefferson Education. With suggestions for applying a 'homeschool approach' in any household and lists of books that every human being should read, the effects of the book have been profound.
Added December 27, 2015
December is obviously a month that allows me time to reflect. I truly appreciate the break in our class schedule that provides me with extra time to re-read past entries, clean up the website and read more than usual. In keeping with the classical education cycle - my own classical education - I kept a journal of all the books I read in the last year. In the front of each book, I put my name and the date I started reading the book. In my journal, I didn't write the title of the book until I had a completion date. My goal was lofty - four books a month, which would have given me 48 books. I missed my goal and read 31. I started over 50 books, but some of them I decided were not beneficial to my goal (self-education). Others didn't meet my expectations, and others I set aside and still need to finish.
While I missed my goal, I don't see this as a failure. How could it be? I read 31 books and I tracked them. As I read through my journal this morning, I remembered different scenes from those books that I haven't thought of since I put the book down. That is a great benefit of the reading journal: Even though I didn't write everything down in my journal, I did remember more than I would have if I hadn't written as least something.
And because I did miss my goal, I'm going to try again. 4 books a month is still my goal. I made a list of the books I wanted to read last year, then I piled them on my bookshelf. When I finished one, I grabbed the next. When someone suggested a book or if I found one that seemed interesting, I slipped it into my stack. The 'Stack' became a suggested book list, but not a 'Must Read in this Order' list.
If you are like me and love lists, here is what I read last year:
The Robe, Lloyd C. Dougals
Magic of Thinking Big, David J. Schwartz Ph.D.
The Chosen, Chaim Potok
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
Wavemakers, Life Leadership Essential Series
Eat That Frog!, Brian Tracy
Mountain Man, Vardis Fisher
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham
Conflict Resolution, Tim Marks
Should I Fire My Doctor?
A Thomas Jefferson Education, Oliver DeMille
Leadership Education, Orson Scott Card
Peeled, Joan Bauer
Splash! Life Leadership Essential Series
Enchantment, Orson Scott Card
The Tripping Point in Leadership, Life Leadership Essential Series
Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
Gathering Blue, Lois Lowry
Messenger, Lois Lowry
The Financial Matrix, Orrin Woodward
Breath, I didn't write the author's name down...
When Character was King, Peggy Noonan
How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, Frank Bettger
The Education of Little Tree, Forrest Carter
Freedom Matters, Oliver DeMille
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident, Oliver DeMille
Becoming the Woman of his Dreams, Sharon Jaynes
St. Ignatius of Loyola
The Great Connection, Arnie Warren
When the Legends Die, Hal Borland
Caught Up In a Story, Sarah Clarkson
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey
Sometimes just sitting together and reading a book is enough. Other times, go for the gold and do an activity together that is based on the book. This is my son, smiling widely over a pancake he and I made after reading Eric Carle's Pancake Pancake. Warning - he wanted to make pancakes everytime we read that book :) Activities can be as simple as drawing a picture together or as elaborate as visiting a location mentioned in the book.
I no longer worry about having enough bookshelves because I never will. We stack books on the fireplace mantel, up the stairs, and lean picture books against the wall. It's the kind of clutter I don't mind. Everywhere a guest steps in our house, books are visible. That's my kind of decor!
Use learning journals as often as possible giving your children specific things to wrte about: What did you learn in science, what happened on the playground, write about a book you've read, make a list of your favorite dinners. Parents should keep a learning journal as well - we are always learning and the act of writing will model this for our children.