This year marked 20 years of homeschooling for our family. In that time, our two oldest have graduated, gone on to college and on with their adult lives. We have since been blessed with a son-in-law and three beautiful grandbabies. God is definitely good!
We still have a senior, 7th grader and a 3rd grader at home, which means I still have plenty to learn and at least nine more years to learn it. –lol– . That being said, we are NOT experts or the final authority on homeschooling. I certainly have some ideas and experience I am willing to share, but each homeschool is as unique as each homeschooling family. The only yardstick to measure yourself against is the one the Lord puts on your heart for your family. Don’t let anyone tell you there is a right or wrong way to do it.
This post, with some editing, is actually an excerpt of an article that I wrote a few years back, when we were still operating our homeschool curriculum business. I promise new content in this category in the very near future, but in the meantime, I hope you will be able to glean some helpful information about how to begin your homeschooling journey.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5
If you have already reached the conclusion that God is leading you to homeschool your children, then you have obviously begun to lay the questions and decisions at His feet. That IS the first step in any homeschooling plan. It is so easy to get caught up in the curriculum buying, and the lesson planning, and the “fixing up” the perfect school room, and suddenly find yourself, (and your checkbook), knee-deep in books, manipulatives, and various other school paraphernalia, without any real clue what to do next.
Before you can educate your children, you need to let God educate you. Take the time, now, to pray and seek His guidance for ALL areas of your homeschool, and the rewards you reap, later, will be immeasurable. Ask Him to guide, and instruct you, through the people He puts in your path. Read books, talk to other homeschoolers, contact a support group, or maybe, attend your state’s annual homeschool convention. (For a listing of state homeschool organizations visit HSLDA) As you study and research, pray that God will help you to sift all the information you receive, see His plan for your own unique homeschool and family, and discard the rest. Then, trust Him to do it!
HSLDA is also the place to go for up-to-date information on the homeschool laws in your state and who to contact there, to get started. Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but the laws governing it are different in every state and you need to have the current information for your own.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6
Deciding On a Teaching Method or Style
As you begin to gather information and resources you should visit with other homeschoolers, contact your state homeschool association for information on homeschooling in your state, perhaps join your local homeschool support group, contact the HSLDA for information and, if you can afford it, membership. Use the library, or borrow from other homeschoolers, to begin sifting through all the wonderful books and guides on homeschooling, that are available. If you have the chance, attend your state’s annual homeschool convention, and take several seminars that interest you. These are the BEGINNING steps in building your homeschool. Buying curriculum and setting up your schoolroom are definitely important, but they come later in your planning. Remember, everything has a season and a purpose! Gather your information, first, and then you can use what you learn to make a blueprint for the homeschool that best suits your family. You will need time, to study and sift all that you learn. You will find that the information contains many varied viewpoints and ideas, and your job will be to take out what is useful to you, and know when to disregard those things that are not. As no two families are identical, neither will any two homeschools be exactly the same .
When you begin to sort the information you have collected, you will soon see that homeschool styles seem to fall into four basic categories. Those could be labeled: Textbook, School-at-Home Style; Unit Study Style; Un-Schooling Style; and what I will categorize as a Combination/Eclectic Style. All methods are valid and within the individual families who implement them, can be successful. The one you choose will depend on your family’s favorite ways of learning and teaching, organizing and working.
The Textbook, School-at-Home Style seems to best fit the family who enjoys clearly-defined structure. It most closely models the public school classroom we are all familiar with. Mom or Dad become the “teacher”, mixing brief periods of lecture with textbook reading and workbook activities. If your family will best benefit from a clearly defined class schedule, prepared lessons, and the smooth flow of one book for each subject, you will enjoy this type of program. It seems to also be favored by parents who may have to work outside the home part of the day, and need very specific, clear-cut plans for their children to follow, in their absence. This method works well for students who prefer to be self-directed or self-taught, too.
The Unit Study Style of homeschooling involves building your own curriculum around literature, projects, and activities in one general theme. As many academic subjects as possible are covered within that theme, and although textbooks are occasionally utilized as resources, they are not viewed as the main source of learning. Several different themes will be covered in any given school year. Themes can involve the study of a country, a character trait, a period in history, or a type of invention. The possibilities are limitless. This method can be fun and exciting, with lots of opportunity for hands-on and activity. Students learn to analyze many different resources and weigh them against their own beliefs, to seek the truth. They learn to think. They learn not only by reading, but by doing. It is also more labor-intensive for the parent. Many experienced homeschoolers are writing Unit Study guides, now, that can provide the outline plan for your unit study; so you are saved the time of writing your own. However, you will still need to allot time for trips to the library for books, and for finding the other resources and materials necessary to complete the unit. This is not stated as a draw-back, but simply as a fact. There WILL be a larger commitment of planning time on your part. If you have all the resources in place, and your plan clearly laid out, this method, too, can work for the self-teaching student. But, you MUST do the necessary preparation.
The Un-Schooling Style tends to leave the student to explore the world naturally. Un-schoolers fill their homes with resources and books, that are available to their children at all times. They play with them and allow them to play and “learn” as they interact with their environment. When a child is curious about a subject or asks a question, he is then provided with information and resources to help him find the answer. This method is child-directed, not parent-directed, so you must be willing to step back and let your child show YOU what they are willing and ready to learn. It takes advantage of those wonderful “teachable moments”, when a child’s curiosity is piqued and he is hungry to find the answers. People who use this method can be very happy and successful in their homeschooling. You just have to be certain it fits your family and your style of interaction and discipline.
The Combination/Eclectic Style is the preferred method in many homeschools. It is your own family’s unique blend of the text-book and unit-study methods. You can balance the need for structure with the creative unit study approach as the dynamics of your family changes from year to year. And believe me, it WILL change. You may move, have a new baby, start a new job, whatever the upheaval might be. At any point, what worked previously, may not be as good a fit as before. This style allows you the flexibility to adjust to a more textbook, pre-planned schedule to accomodate different demands on your time. At any time you can work a unit study back into your schedule or move back to that more hands-on method in total, as your circumstances permit. Start with a concrete plan and then allow yourself the flexibility to work within it, using resources and texts you already own.
As an example of the way an eclectic style of homeschooling can work, we moved from an almost exclusively unit-study approach to a full-textbook approach for our high school students in 2001. The younger two that were in school at that time, used a mix of textbook and unit study. With the impending arrival of our fifth baby, the time-consuming demands of teaching beginning phonics along with reading and math concepts while keeping up with middle and high school subjects and the demands of a growing business; our needs, and thus the format of our lessons, needed to change.
In the Combination/Eclectic Style, many skills are acquired through daily chores, responsibilities and activities. It is not uncommon for a math lesson on fractions to be more effective in the kitchen, than in the textbook. Younger students can learn the early concepts of classification, sorting and sequencing while drying dishes or sorting laundry. High school students can read a textbook about child-rearing, marriage and dating, or some other character quality; or you can teach them what the Bible instructs about these matters, give them hands-on experience with their younger siblings, and model kindness and service for them when you help them to scoop snow from an elderly neighbor’s walk. They can listen to great tapes on courtship or conduct interviews with several couples about what they believe are the most important qualities in a strong, Christian marriage. The model of you and your husband will be a great teacher, as well.
How about a family garden? Mathematics, science and spelling, writing, literature and art can all be easily incorporated. Use your imagination. The possibilities for hands-on, real-life learning are limitless; and your students deserve academic credit when academics are being utilized in their daily activities. It is possible to follow the progression of a good textbook and supplement your unit study method in those areas where your student demonstrates a strong curiosity. For instance, they can certainly read all about weather from a science textbook, but how much deeper would their understanding be if they graphed and charted data collected from their own backyard weather-station; made a poster of cloud types; read biographies about Galileo who invented the first thermometer in the 1500’s or Ben Franklin whose experiment with lightning is legendary; or learned the difference between Toricelli’s barometer invented in the 1600’s and Vidie’s aneroid barometer, which was not developed until 1843? What impact would a tour of a television station’s meteorology department have?
Textbooks can even be used as a resource or reference tool, rather than a one-stop information purveyor. Students can also write a report or keep a journal of all the information they collect and learn. In that way, they will also have the opportunity to use spelling, grammar, and composition skills. Which subjects are restrained to textbook learning
and which ones become full-blown units with research, projects, and activities will most likely be determined by the interest level of your students, the resources available to you, and the amount of time you are able to invest. This blending and balancing of two or more styles can often afford parents and students the opportunity to work around their family’s schedule, varied grade-level teaching, and unexpected interruptions. While the unit studies provide an opportunity for “delight-directed”, hands-on exploration and learning, the structure of an occasional textbook assignment affords parents the chance to work away from the student, and the student an opportunity to use self-discipline and review or reinforce concepts. Those using this method of homeschooling, tend to work within a basic time-frame, but have the flexibility to lengthen or shorten specific class-periods, as needed. A BALANCE of what works best from each method, is the foundation of this Combination/Eclectic Style.
Designing Your Blueprint: What to Teach When
Once you’ve decided what style of teaching will best suit your family, you’re ready to put more definitive plans on paper. For each grade level you are teaching, you will want to teach certain subjects, and within those subjects, specific skills or concepts. Your blueprint will actually be an outline that lists each of those subjects and skills. If you are using the Textbook, School-at-Home Method, this work will already be done for you. If you are curious as to how your curriculum company has blueprinted your courses, you should write or call them and ask for a Scope and Sequence. That is the outline they have devised.
If you are using the Unit Study or Combination/Eclectic Methods, you are going to need to set aside a little time to develop your own outline, (or Scope and Sequence). If you aren’t sure what skills are typical at each grade level, I would recommend browsing through the Typical Courses of Study at World Book, to get some ideas. I have always chosen to submit this information to our state each year, rather than designating specific textbooks that I may end up changing or supplementing later. Use this Course of Study as a basic framework and edit it to add or omit those skills or topics that you decide are in the best interest of your own family. Please, remember that anyone else’s Course of Study or Scope and Sequence is simply a model for you to follow and use as reference. They are not set in stone and it is expected that you will make modifications to meet your individual homeschooling needs and goals. Also, take note of how many of the same skills and concepts are taught at each and every grade level, just increasing their reading level and depth of information as students advance. Knowing this, it is not always practical to have a separate textbook for each subject at each grade level (especially in elementary grades). My personal recommendation is to find one or two outstanding textbooks, reference guides, or unit study guides for each subject, that you can use for ALL students, and adapt the material and assignments to the appropriate age/grade levels, as you present it. This works particularly well for history, geography, health and science in the elementary school years.
Once you have completed your outline for any given subject, make a list of the books and resources you already have, that you can use to teach these skills and concepts. Then make another list of books you can find at your local library or from other sources at no cost, and finally a third list, containing books and resources you still need to buy. You will be amazed, with careful planning, how inexpensively you can build an exceptional homeschool program for several grade levels at once. Again, you are going to have to invest some time, but the benefits will be huge.
Choosing Books and Curriculum
A few wise purchases as you begin homeschooling, can save a lot of money in the future. Look for resources and reference material for you, the teacher, that will cover many grade-levels at once, (and most importantly for our family), that are non-consumable. We are willing to pay a higher price for a hard-cover textbook that can be passed down from student to student, instead of purchasing consumable workbooks for every student in every grade. Also, the more good literature you put in front of your children, the better readers, writers, researchers, and analytical thinkers they will become. From our personal experience and point of view, the best investment of your money will not be new formal textbooks every year of your child’s elementary school education, but outstanding literature and reference material that can be used over and over again, throughout all your students’ academic careers. Even if you move to the textbook style in high school, you will find that these earlier reference and resource materials will be invaluable for your older students’ review and research.
The main thing to remember in selecting curriculum is the style that you originally determined best fits your family. Purchase only the resources, textbooks or unit studies you need to meet your goals within that teaching method. Just because something looks interesting or exciting to you in the moment, or someone you know has used it and “just loved it!” doesn’t mean you will have the interest or time to implement it yourself, if it doesn’t fit the way you like to teach and/or the way that your students like to learn. Stick to your chosen method and you will be less likely to be disappointed and purchase items that end up sitting on the shelf.
I don’t recommend the purchase of any formal “curriculum packages” for children before the second grade. While you may find that you need a phonics program or a beginning reader, and some math flashcards, etc., I urge you to evaluate the “packages” that load you and your student down with workbooks, workbooks, workbooks. There is no better way to stifle a natural curiosity and love of learning than tying a 4-, 5- , 6-, or 7-year-old to an endless barrage of workbook pages that have little or no relevance to the world as they relate to it. We often receive requests for and questions about “pre-school ” and it usually surprises the caller to find that we are opposed to its use. This is again, a personal view, and not a set-in-stone standard. Other very successful homeschoolers most certainly would disagree, but I would implore you to get lots of information and views on the subject before making any decision to spend money on pre-packaged, formal curriculum, at this age. A book I can personally recommend is “Home-Grown Kids” by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. This can, often times, be found in local libraries.
One of the main arguments of the parents of pre-schoolers, that have contacted us, has been that their students are “extremely advanced”. Who among us hasn’t felt exactly the same way at times? Just remember that your child was able to achieve this “advanced” status without benefit of formal curriculum and with a large measure of your love and time. Children’s attitudes toward school and learning are established at young ages. Be certain that the tools you are using in the “pre-school” years are ones that inspire curiosity and a love of learning. Our personal experience is that sitting for hours filling out workbook pages will not achieve that in the same way as spending time with you, the parent, and a “putting their hands in it” style of learning for your youngest learners.
During those earlier years, your children will benefit much more from your own personal attention. So much of what you do in your day-to-day living will teach them the skills they need. My strongest recommendation is to read, read, read–to and with them! You could certainly purchase an organized phonics curriculum, many do. I personally have never found one I like. I have tried Alpha-Phonics, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Christian Liberty Press, ABeka and many others. I have always gone back to teaching them on my own.
Now, after having spent plenty of time on that particular soap-box, I need to make a confession. The Lord saw fit to humble me in my unswerving self-sufficiency when it comes to the area of phonics when we reached 2001 and I was teaching our middle-child to read. The simple method I used with our older two daughters was quite frankly, completely unsuccessful with her. By spending a few weeks working through “The Reading Lesson”, she picked up enough phonics to be able to begin pouring over the American Girl books that she loved. She has shared with me, now that she is older, that she often read the books multiple times, each time understanding and learning words she
had missed before. She is a strong reader, now, and not because of any great skills of mine. This is further evidence of God’s awesome and infinite wisdom in creating each uniquely individual child. We, as parents, never “arrive” and know it all. He provides us the same opportunities for growth and learning as we learn to nurture each of our children along a path uniquely designed to fit their own needs and learning patterns. That is very difficult to accomplish in an institutional school setting.
So, I use this addendum to qualify the next few sentences. I honestly know it can work very successfully for some students; experience has shown me that it won’t necessarily be so simple for all students. So please keep your individual child and family in mind and in your prayers as you plan a phonics and reading program. If you can read and you understand phonetic sounds, you CAN do this without incurring so much expense. You simply have to discipline yourself to spend a little time each day with your child, reading and reviewing sounds. The more you read to them, the more they will learn to love reading. Here are some fun, interesting and inexpensive ideas for reinforcing and even building reading and math skills for elementary-age students. These don’t require textbooks or formal curriculum, either.
- Have your student(s) retell a story back to you or help them make a puppet show or play about a favorite story. This will confirm their comprehension.
- Have them dictate stories to you, before they are able to write. You will be able to talk about sequencing and order of events, descriptive words, and basic grammar and sentence structure. After, they can write, encourage them to write stories, poems, letters to friends and grandparents, keep a journal, etc. All of these will help in penmanship, grammar and composition skills.
- When your kids are with you in the kitchen there are unlimited opportunities to work on Math concepts. How many more plates do I need to put on the table to have enough for the whole family? If I need ½ c. of butter for one batch of cookies, how many will I need for a double batch or a half batch? How many spoons high is this cabinet door?
- Classification, grouping, and sorting skills are simply taught while doing dishes or laundry. Lets put all the bowls together, all the pans together and all the plates together. Now, what’s another way to classify them (sort them)? How about, glass, metal, and plastic; or dishes, pans, and utensils. Sort laundry as whites, darks, and colors; or socks, shirts, and pants, etc.
- Give your children a weekly snack budget to be responsible for, when you are grocery shopping. They can learn to recognize different coins, count change, add and subtract, get the best value for their money.
These are just a few examples of many, many ideas for using everyday activity to teach early skills. A little creativity on your part, an occasional book from the library, some internet resources, etc. and you will be able to compile a list that is too long to ever achieve, without spending a penny on formal curriculum. And remember, children will more readily retain information and skills that they see have practical application to their daily lives. Once again, the investment of your time, will be a savings financially and a more effective means of teaching in the long-run, in these early years.
Regardless of the method you use or the grade-levels you must teach, the most important thing I can share with you is to pray and plan before you purchase. Recognize the “season” in your homeschooling – are you in the buying season or still in the preparations season? Make the preparations and curriculum selections that will fit your needs and goals., but remember that you can’t do that if you haven’t given lots of thought and prayer to exactly what your needs and goals are. You may opt to spend more time and less money in preparing your curriculum, or maybe trading off higher expense for the extra convenience of pre-planned curriculum will suit you better. You simply can’t know that without some time to research and reflect on your family’s learning styles, time constraints and finances. No one way is correct, but there IS a way that is perfect for your own family.
I hope you find something here to serve, inspire, and excite you for your own homeschooling journey. God has chosen you specifically from all the available people, to be your child(ren)’s parent. He recognizes traits and skills in you that are critical to their development and for yours. No other is better equipped or prepared to make these decisions. You are perfect for this job. God never makes mistakes. Trust Him to guide you in your choices as you “train up a child in the way he should go…” You will be an awesome success! If I can ever be of service or answer other questions, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me.
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