Sunday, January 30, 2011

Some Homeschool thoughts

Now, I must preface this post by saying a few things:
1. I do not know everything there is to know about homeschooling. I am one voice amongst several thousand out there.
2. I am not a pro at this as I have so many doubts about my abilities to do this everyday.
3. My children are not smarter than yours, or better in my opinion because I homeschool them.
4. The methods I have tried and now use are not THE only way to do this.

Okay, I think I have added enough disclaimers to the beginning just to further say, I don't know it all and I am not saying any of this to be prideful.

I just wanted to share some thoughts for those of you with younger children who are beginning to wonder what you are going to do about your children's education. First of all, you need to know how you want your child to be educated and what world view you want him/her to emerge with at the end of their education. That will guide everything you decide from here on out. We want our boys to have a Christian Worldview and view their culture and everything they come in contact with through a Biblical filter. We found that the public education system profoundly teaches an atheistic, humanistic and socialist world view. Before you argue with me, take a closer look. We do not have the resources to send our children to a private Christian school, so we decided early on we would homeschool. If you had told me I would be doing this 10-11 years ago, I would have told you you were nuts. I am not a teacher, I wasn't trained to be a teacher, and I can tell you I am still not a trained teacher. But I love my children, I am concerned about what they learn, and I love to learn too, so we embarked on this journey.

Now what have we learned in this 4 year + journey? Well, I have learned a lot about myself that isn't too pretty. I am selfish, stingy with my time, preoccupied with my creative outlets, not wholeheartedly giving my attention and my time to my children who need it, and am just as whiny and complaining as they are about school. Okay, see, I am not perfect. Far from it. This has been a learning process all the way, and I am dealing with issues in my heart as I teach and deal with the same issues in my children's hearts. Ugh! But God is gracious and can redeem my sins as well as theirs through Christ alone, so we plug on. Oh and we have ordered too much curriculum stuff that has gone unused, so I have also not been a good steward of our money and resources. I write this because I am going to hopefully help you not make some of the same mistakes. That is my purpose here. God wants us to share experiences to bring wisdom to those that can use it. Not that I am sooo wise, mind you, but in this homeschool game, we all benefit from sharing the not so pretty and perfect side of things.

There are lots of philosophies out there about how to teach your children at home. Classical, textbook based, literature based, notebooking, eclectic, relaxed homeschooling, etc. Are you confused already? Don't fret, it will get simpler in just a minute. Throw all those methods out. Again, your reasons for homeschooling should drive everything you purchase and use to homeschool your children. You should never ever become a slave to a certain curriculum or curriculum purveyor. No one has the best thing to teach your child, as your child is unique. You know what will be best to teach your child what you want him/her to learn. So use your knowledge of your own children to guide what you purchase, cause there are a lot of cool and nifty things out there that quite frankly look like they will do the trick, but your child will not be interested in it at all because it doesn't fit his/her learning style. For example, my youngest son does not like artistic stuff like coloring pages, craft projects, and things like that. He doesn't like to sit still and do handwriting and those types of things. So my purchases need to take that into consideration. Now he has to write, and he's getting better at it but he doesn't like it much. If he could learn all he needed to know by sword fighting, telling others what to do, getting someone else to write down his answers and sentences, and running around, then he would be loving all there is to do at school. My oldest loves to draw, look through picture books, and study his maps. If he could get all he needed to do done with those venues, we would have less whining too. But he is learning to write stories to go with his drawings, read the text along with the pictures in his books, and express himself verbally, when he'd rather draw and retreat. So although we use some of the same materials for core subjects, I have to tailor them to suit their personalities and learning styles. It can be done.

Also use your reason for homeschooling and what you know about your children to create the pace you will use to homeschool too. Many curriculums out there pack a lot of stuff in a day for you to do. Don't feel like you have to do it all. You can't really and keep your sanity. Especially with young young children. Again, if you spend more than 1 1/2 hours a day doing school with kindergarten and first grade you are trying to do too much. Slow down, relax and have some fun with them instead. Play games and get outside. Don't make them sit at a desk or chair for longer than that. Also you don't have to do every subject every day. Bible, math and reading should happen everyday but history, english, science and some of the other subjects can happen 2-3 days a week and you'll be fine. Again, you know your goals and your children. Don't become a slave to that curriculum schedule that your might purchase. Make it work for you, not be master over you.

Also, I must add that you don't want to compare what you are doing in your homeschool work with that of the public schools. Also, don't compare what you are doing to what someone else is doing or using . If you wanted your child to get a public school education, you would send them there. If you want to teach the same things they are teaching, then by all means worry about what they use and when. Your goal is different so your materials, ages of introducing things and the amount of time you spend schooling are going to be DIFFERENT. Also your homeschooling peers are different. Their children and home life is most likely different at least a little bit. So while we all offer advice, we don't want to guilt you into being like us. Be yourself. Your family is different than mine. You are different so you will teach differently. Don't loose precious time and energy on comparing. It's a futile effort and doesn't help you in your job.

Okay, so let's get back to teaching. We spend maybe 3-4 hours a day on school. That is all. Kindergarten should take you no longer than 1 1/2 hours tops. Spend 30 min. reading to your child some good literature for children, which will teach them to sit for an extended period of time as well. Spend 1/2 hour drawing/writing letters and working on letter sounds and finding objects that start with that sound. Spend 1/2 hour acting out math problems with toys. For example you have three dolls at a tea party and two more want to join in, how many do we have at the party now? kind of thing. Or we have three cars in our parking lot and one drives away, how many cars are left? kind of thing. Work with cheerios or a handful of small snacks counting and taking away. Then spend a few minutes practicing writing numbers. Most kindergarten children don't have all their fine motor skills down pat to master writing their letters and numbers well so don't expect perfection here. Practice drawing straight lines, circles, curves, and slanted lines to prepare them for that. Read Bible verses over and over to memorize them or listen to a good Bible memory verse music CD. I'll post the name of the one we have when I can find it and get it out. Go to and join their site for $20 a year and get access to thousands of printable worksheets on everything from phonics and alphabet worksheets to math, to history, to science. They have some fabulous resources to print on your printer that are a bargain for just $20 a year. Use your library for books. I will say though that Veritas Press and Sonlight have great suggestions for books to read with your young ones for kindergarten and first grade that are great. I use their catalogs as guides for what to buy or check out from the library for my boys to read or to read to them. Read, read, read to your children. At the early ages like 4-7 you will read more to your child for their learning than they will read on their own. I love Sonlight's I Can Read It! program for teaching your child very easily how to read. They systematically put your phonics training to work in a natural way where they start out with pretty simple sentences and before you know it, they are reading great stuff. My boys excelled with that and learned to read in less than a year. It was pretty natural. You can teach spelling and vocabulary with those books too. They are great.

For history at Kindergarten and First grade, read them tales and fables from around the world. Read them missionary stories ( I love the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series by Geoff and Janet Benge), or other biography style books. Again, good resources for read aloud books are Sonlight and Veritas Press. I prefer the non-textbook approach to history and we love reading so many exciting and moving books in our history time periods. We do have a few textbook like books we read, but I think they get so much more from the historical fiction and biographies we read. I like the Heroes of History books by Geoff and Janet Benge and Jean Fritz has some super cool books for children too. Veritas Press has great flashcards on big events in all the major history categories/time periods that are good for getting a time line and pertinent facts down. They also incorporate church and Biblical history in those cards too. :) Those resources are reusable for all ages and a good investment.

I have tried 3 different Math resources and well, I kind of like Rod and Staff for Math, but Saxon is good for grade 6 and up. Math U See manipulatives are a neat concept and you can make your own math block strips with a ruler and some different colored construction paper for visual learners. Math is not glitzy or glamorous so avoid all the hype that a lot of companies use. Use flashcards, drill it, use, and also have good math drills that are fun. Rod and Staff is no frills math from a Mennonite company. They have Bible verse references in their word problems and on their pages. It's good.

Rod and Staff have good Spelling and English books too. I just ordered them for the boys, and Shirley Grammer is good too. But alas, Grammer and English can be learned through just having your children make up stories and then write them down. You can teach good sentence structures and english skills through having your child copy good sentences from the books they read. Ruth Beechick's the Three R's book is a good one to learn about that too. It's a good book for all kinds of early learning skills. For building vocabulary skills, I think that Wordly Wise is a good choice. They teach age appropriate vocabulary through definitions, stories, and word games.

For science, you don't have to worry about that right away. I would start science in 2nd or 3rd grade unless you have a child that just loves nature and scientific stuff, like my oldest does. Apologia science is good as well as God's Design for Life series. They both have lots of hands on stuff and explain things according to a Biblical/God created all things world view. Apologia is good for studying animals and plants in depth, and God's Design for Life is good for chemistry stuff and brief over views of animals.

So again, if you start out at Kindergarten, your journey begins very easily. It's not hard and each year adds some added detail for the children, but it happens slowly and still, you spend less than half your day doing it. Make a schedule, set time limits (be generous with the young ones), teach good study and working habits, make all of life a learning experience, and have fun. It is fun, when your heart is in the right place and you guard your focus and attention. I have learned so much, and I enjoy seeing my boys get excited about something, or mention something we have read about in their play. Then I know they are soaking in what we are studying and it's impacting them. I love it when I see them look at things in history through a Biblical view, and can see how God's word is truth through the actions of men and women in the past. I love it when they watch something in a video and they can discern more about its message because of what we are learning. Many days though I wonder if they are getting anything and these little glimpses of results help me to keep going on and trusting God with their hearts and minds. He calls us to teach our children and show them the way they should go, but it's God who changes hearts and minds and guides. I just have to trust him and do what I can to plant the seeds. He makes the soil fertile and makes what is planted grow. If I sow His Word first and foremost, then it'll grow into something good. :)

One last thing, don't do this alone. Make sure your husband is on board with you, and is willing to help with time, attention and prayer. He needs to be supportive and help you set goals, view materials, be a sounding board, and encourage you all along the way. He needs to ask the children questions, read to them and with them, and take a part in the teaching as well. Dads need to be involved. Dads need to support Mom in teaching by giving her some down time too.

It's hard to be a mom, wife, and teacher and be on the job all day. But it is soo worth it and there is no higher calling and anything we could do out in the workplace to bring in a paycheck that will really make a bigger impact on the world. I am learning to embrace this role and give it my all. After 4 years I would say that my heart is more in this journey and aligning with what God wants for me to be and give than the year before. We learn more about what to do and how as we go. So jump in and give it a try. You will not regret it and your children will someday thank you for it (not that that is the goal).

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