~ What should homeschooling look like? ~

February 19, 2010

Warning: I think this is likely to be a long post. I can feel the mania. Just a warning.

If I think back 17 years, back to when I (and most of my relatives) thought I was weird because I couldn’t see how I could possibly put my young son on a school bus and be away from him all day long for five out the seven days in a week. I instinctively knew that I could teach my son everything he needed to know in kindergarten and at least the elementary years. (I was not considering high school at this point. That was waaaay down the road.)

Seriously, how hard could it be to teach a 4-year-old child to read or write or count?

Little Nicky was raring to go at a young age: he had been reading at age three and asking his dad at age 4 while watching a football game on TV why the NFL coach had run a certain play in favor of another one Nicky thought would have made more sense. We were doing phonics and math books together for fun before I ever knew homeschooling existed.

Let me use that word again: I instinctively knew that I could teach my children. I reasoned that God did not give me a child so that I could turn around four years later and put him on a school bus so he could be around strangers for most of the rest of his 13 years of living at home.

Side note: there are 168 hours in a week, and if my child went to a school to learn how to read, write, and count, that would take up 45 of those precious hours. Sleep would take up about 70 hours for him,  leaving me with just 53 hours per week of waking time with my child. Not to mention the time I would spend undoing the damage that “socializing” with peers did to his innocent attitude and heart. This thought instinctively did not sit well with me!

If I could teach my young children everything they need to know in elementary school, WHY would I consider sending them away from me for all those precious hours? WHY? Because that’s what everyone else did? That was just not an acceptable reason.

True, I did have a college degree in elementary education. But let me tell you how much of that degree I have used in the past 20 years: none. For the most part, I was taught crowd control and how to write lesson plans. Truly, that is what I spent most of the time doing in my education classes. I have not written a lesson plan as a home schooling mom, and crowd control is  a non-issue. (Incidentally, it was my classroom teaching experience that led me to swear off having children. I am NOT kidding.)

So what helped me the most in my homeschooling endeavors over the years?

Instinct.

One does not need a degree in education to teach one’s children at home. What one does need is access to some good materials, a lot of prayer, and confidence to take each day as it comes knowing that the Lord will provide for TODAY. Parents need to trust their instincts in the training and educating of their children as well as seeking the Lord for His wisdom. Lots of His wisdom is provided to moms /dads via instinct.

We need to trust the Lord on a day-to-day basis. Yeah, I spent/wasted a lot of time worrying about how I would ever homeschool through high school when my kids were in elementary school. Then I had a 9th grader and saw that high school was no different than what we had been doing up to this point. It was even easier than teaching children the basics in kindergarten and 1st grade because you can just give your high schoolers their books and let ’em go! What could be easier, I ask you?

I joke about stacking up their last six years’ worth of the Saxon math books on my kids’ desks and saying, “There you go! Lemme know when you’re done!” That is pretty much what we do here because the kids PREFER it that way. But I digress…

Why We Homeschool

Tim and I only knew one other family who homeschooled when little Nicky was young, and it was the behavior of this family’s homeschooled children that convinced us that homeschooling was the answer for our family. Behavior.  I had spent way too much time in a classroom and as a houseparent observing the attitudes displayed by children who were raised by their peers.

To see the peaceful fruit of homeschooling in the lives of real homeschooled children gave me hope that raising children didn’t have to be a tug-of-war struggle.

Behavior. Attitudes. The attitudes and behavior of my children are equally as important to me –no, MORE important to me– as what knowledge they are acquiring in their schooling.

Teaching kids stuff is easy. Training their hearts is the hard part!

Once I saw the opportunity homeschooling afforded to truly train a child’s heart, I knew homeschooling was my heart’s desire for my kids.

Fast forward to today: “Little Nicky” (who will kill me if he sees this in print, but no worries because I am sure he does not read my blog) is now 20 and a junior in college. I have seven other children who range in age all the way down to 8.  We are a very tight family. Yes, we get along well. Are we ever grumpy and irritable? Uh, with five daughters, I can answer yes to that one. However, we have never had even a minor incidence of a teenager rebelling, and we’ve had as many as five teenagers at once.

To what do I attribute this unusual-by-the-world’s-standards results? Heart training before brain training. The grace of God. The wisdom to follow our instincts and the Bible (not necessarily in that order). And all because Tim and I have instinctively protected the hearts of our young children, bypassing the government’s system of education in favor of training in the home.

I am thankful each and every day for the privilege of home education.

What Should Homeschooling Look Like: Curriculum

Back to the title of this piece, which I am sure by now you are starting to doubt I will ever touch on: what should homeschooling look like? Over the past few years as my little book, “I’m the Mom; I Don’t Have to Know Calculus/The Self-Teaching Manual” (I just had to double check the title…I’m getting old) has sold more and more copies, I have gotten flooded with requests to share what curriculum I use with my children. I have been very reluctant to share this information simply because duplicating our curriculum will not automatically give the same results of high College Board test scores. It is NOT about curriculum.

What it IS about is heart training. It is all about attitudes. I probably have made that clear by now. Just checking.

I say this to release homeschooling parents from the MANIA that surrounds the quest for the perfect curriculum! No, it is not necessary to look at every math curriculum out there before choosing one for your kindergartener. There are only so many ways to teach your little one the basics of addition. One puppy plus one kitty equals two animals.  One doll plus one spinning top equals two toys. It can be done with pretty much any curriculum out there! So if you are thinking about homeschooling, or if you are new to homeschooling, please take it from me and RELAX about curriculum–especially in the early years.

I remember looking at a catalog 17 years ago, a CBD catalog, and just ordering what I saw in the catalog that looked colorful and interesting. How’s that for random? I had seen some ABeka stuff and it was colorful and interesting, and if I liked it, I figured that my child would as well. He did.

Nowadays you can spend three days at a huge homeschool conference and either leave it 1) more confused than you were before you went or 2) with more than enough material to educate all the kindergarteners in your county. Make it easy on yourself and trust your instincts when it comes to choosing curriculum. You will not be ruining your child no matter what choice you make. Less is more. Now deciding not to teach math at all…that I would frown upon.

Help! I’m Drowning!

Stress. Burnout. Worry. Exhaustion. There are more than a few things that sideline us even when we know where we are headed, and if you are at all human, you will go through a cycle of euphoria (at discovering what curriculum to use), followed by peace (for a few weeks as your children begin their school year in earnest), progressing to boredom (with the routine and overall burden of educating children), then turning to burnout (because your children feel your indifference and can’t motivate themselves to do their work if you are barely thriving as well.)

Once the burnout sets in, guilt is quick to follow. We think that our children are getting “behind,” when the truth is they are far ahead of their peers who are in regular school. We don’t realize that even on our BAD days, our children are learning and growing much more than those who don’t have the luxury of learning at home in their PJs.

Heck, I remember days when if all we got done was math and reading, I called it a school day. We’ve had a few of those kinds of days over the past 17 years. I did not stress because I knew they were getting everything they needed most days, and they were also way ahead of the game so taking a math/reading day was almost a reward for their usual hard work.

So don’t stress over toning down your school day, watering things down to the bare essentials in order to break the monotony of routine. Don’t do that every day!! But  feel free to change up your pitches from time to time.

Ultimately, your home school will NOT look like any other homeschool. It is silly to model your day after someone else’s school day unless it works well for you.

I remember when my husband and I both worked outside of our home. We staggered our work times so that one of us was home with the children. We had older children who were perfectly capable of running the home in our absence and did so on occasion when Tim’s and my schedules overlapped.

Often, our family would be up really late because that is when either dad’s or mom’s shift ended, and if we wanted to have any family time whatsoever, it was in the late nights and into the wee morning hours. How many times the older kids would say to the youngers, “We never got to stay up until 11:00 when WE were that age.” Sigh. They were missing the point, I think.

Anyhoo, my point is that our routine varied according to the needs of our schedules. That is a major PLUS of home education! We should exploit that little factor and not feel like we must be up at the crack of dawn just because our friend’s family does it that way. (Don’t you hate when morning people lord it over those who are not morning people as though they possess some great gift that the rest of us are sadly lacking? Okay, not all morning people are this way, but…)

I *do* get up early….early for me, anyways. And I enjoy my quiet time before waking the children about 9am. (Are you judging me?) That is how we roll, and I like it. Be comfortable with your routine. Your homeschooling day will look UNLIKE anyone else’s homeschooling day.

Some moms reeeeeeeally like to schedule things. I once ordered a book on how to manage my home by dividing my day and EVERYONE in my household’s day into 15-minute increments. I nearly had a nervous breakdown simply by paging through that book, and I popped it on eBay as quickly as I possibly could. This was not for me. Obviously, it must work for someone, but I knew better than to impose someone else’s system of time management on my household if just glancing at the schedule pages induced hyperventilation.

My instincts told me, “Don’t do it,” but my husband had to repeat to me over and over again, “You are not a failure because you can’t schedule your day into 15-minute increments like some people do.” I bet he uttered some version of that sentiment 20 times a day for the next four months. Yeah, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t live up to someone else’s standards of how to manage her home. I bet you tend to do the same thing. Why do we moms do that to ourselves?

Homeschooling will look different for EVERY family: from curriculum to scheduling to extracurriculars to cleaning to organizing to everything imaginable!

One final example: twice a week one of my kids goes to Nashville (a 75-minute drive one way) to play hockey. Not surprisingly, Franklin, age 16, is the ONLY kid his age out there on the ice. He is playing with college-age men and older because kids his age “should be in school.” Consequently, he is able to hone his skills to a much higher degree because he has adults to learn from. (Are college kids REALLY adults, I ask you?)

We also have two and a half hours of talk time in the car. (Okay, we listen to the radio and keep score as to how many times his fave group is played/Rascal Flatts, versus how many times Dierks Bentley is played, one of my faves.) But the fact is we have five hours a week JUST US. I enjoy our Nashville trips on many levels, but supporting him in his quest for hockey gold is the instinct we are currently following. Incidentally, Franklin is upstairs right now–7:25 pm, doing his school work for today. He doesn’t get to skip schooling; we just arrange schooling around real life. What a concept.

Homeschooling ROCKS!

I leave you with the hockey example to hopefully encourage you that your homeschool will look differently than anyone else’s homeschool. The Internet has given us tremendous resources from which to glean information, advice, support, and all of that really wonderful stuff.

Just remember to seek the Lord’s will for your family’s homeschooling profile, and trust your instincts….no matter what some crazy lady on a blog recommends.

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