(This is part one in a series. The series will cover all aspects of getting started in homeschooling.)
What should I do for my children’s education next year? Should I homeschool them? Where do I start?
This is the time of year when parents begin evaluating their educational choices for their children. Parents who are already homeschooling pull out their catalogs and pore over them, searching for the perfect curriculum. Parents who have not yet homeschooled, but have seriously considered it begin asking questions again about what is best for their children.
Years ago, when my husband and I began to contemplate homeschooling our firstborn, I quickly realized that this decision has many layers. Step one is to decide to homeschool. This decision required one level of research in our household which involved interviewing homeschool families, observing a day in their life, and reading certain books. This leap turned out to be relatively easy for our household. We were charmed by the bright, inquisitive children we met. More importantly, we knew we wanted to spend lots of time learning together as a family. We also knew that we desired to give them a solid ability to understand and defend their faith.
The second step, deciding on the right approach, was a different matter. Once we had decided to homeschool, I found myself confronted by a dazzling and bewildering array of choices. The curricula and methodologies available seemed endless. I needed to focus. On a friend’s advice, I picked up a copy of Mary Pride’s The Big Book of Home Learning which considers the spectrum of educational philosophies from unschooling to unit studies, literature-based and principle approach, Charlotte Mason, and classical. These same topics have been more recently considered in Cathy Duffy’s 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. This resource also includes surveys to help you understand you and your children’s learning styles. The first few chapters help you refine your philosophy and goals and then match these with your learning styles and curriculum.
Drawn to both Charlotte Mason and classical, I began to investigate further. I read a couple of volumes of Charlotte Mason’s original treatise on home education. Then, a friend loaned me a copy of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. Even though our child was an infant, I read right through the high school years, intrigued by the lesson plans for rigorous academics at home. I shared the ideas with my husband and we were sold.
Our next stop was our state’s homeschool convention. This is a dangerous place for a book lover like me. On the advice of a very wise and experienced friend, I did not take my checkbook or my wallet the first day. Instead, I attended workshops on different educational paths to solidify and refine my own choices. Although the presenters were entertaining and enlightening, I still could not wait to pull out the checkbook and start shopping.
Over the last seven years, I have learned some very valuable lessons about curriculum and the dazzling array of choices available to us.
- KEEP IT SIMPLE. For generations, Americans in one-room schoolhouses and in homes learned to read with very simple phonics readers and the Bible. I have trained all of my children to read with home-made alphabet flashcards and children’s books. Flashy curricula or software is not necessary for teaching the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead, children need lots of repetition with letters and their sounds and lots of practice reading aloud to you. The same is true for spelling. What children need is a well-organized spelling list of fifteen to twenty words to practice each week. They should identify the rule for the group of words, copy the words each day, and then spell the words to you at the end of the week. If Abe Lincoln learned to write by scratching words on a dirty shovel, our children should do just fine with pencil and paper.
- KEEP IT INEXPENSIVE. A high price tag does not always equal good results. It is more important for you to choose materials that are easy for you and your children to use. If it is expensive and comes with lots of games, incentives like prizes or treasure chests, or requires a lot of preparation time, the odds are very high that you will not continue to use it daily.
- KEEP IT THE SAME. Children thrive on routines. As adults, we are more likely to get bored or frustrated and want to change the book. The truth is that establishing a daily routine helps your child to become an increasingly independent learner because they quickly understand exactly what is expected of them in each subject. The second truth is that the curriculum is secondary to the instructor. Your persistence, patience, and joy will set the tone.
Finally, establish a written list of goals for your homeschool. Each summer, my husband and I establish goals for our children in these categories: spiritual goals, responsibility goals (new chores, and so on), and academic goals. This written list keeps us on track throughout the year. Having a clearly established plan also helps us sift through the curriculum choices and the advice from well-meaning friends. We can keep our eye on what works best for our children.
Here are some resources to help you get started:
Bauer, Susan Wise. The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.
Bortins, Leigh A. The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Duffy, Cathy. 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum and Approach for Your Child’s Learning Style. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005.
Pride, Mary. The Big Book of Home Learning: Getting Started. Alpha & Omega Publishers, 2000.
Whelchel, Lisa. So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling: 15 Families Show How You Can Do It. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2003.