I get emails frequently from people who are just beginning to homeschool and are looking for some advice, some nuggets of wisdom chrystalized for them that they can take away and apply to their own situations. These are some of the things that come up frequently.
1) Where do you put all those desks?
This is not a school and nor do we need to recreate a school like environment in our home. In my house we have no schooroom, no chalk board, no bells that ring to tell us we are done discussing a topic and must move on to the next thing.
People in the homeschool community like to label each other. Are you an unschooler? Use a box curriculum? Interest led-learning? Eclectic? Charlotte Mason approach? Trivium approach? Literature based? Classical?
Where do I fit in? That is a good question and it would depend on who you ask. And which of my children you are talking about.
3) Pick whatever curriculum you are going to use wisely and then follow through and use it.
Do NOT switch around because you have heard about the next best thing.
4) Know when to bail when something isn’t working for you.
These two bits of advice might sound contradictory, but they are not.
Way back when we first started homeschooling I bought Saxon Math for my oldest son. We used it very successfully for a school year. But it was a bit dry and repetitive, which is always a criticism of the Saxon Math program. Rather than continuing woth something which was working and I could have tweaked for him (doing every other problem, or every other lesson). I decided to move on to a completely different program. I had heard people raving about Miquon. Oh, cuisenaire rods! How hands-on and fun! Making math come alive in your hands!
Miquon was a disaster for my oldest son. He is not a hands on type of learner. And while I thought the approach was fabulous and how I remember first learning math, and being quite successful at it, using it with him was like beating my head against a brick wall. I tried to get him to push through and love it as much as I do. He never did.
I could call it a wasted school year, math-wise, but really it was a learning experience. I learned that if something isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. And he learned that there are different approaches to the same problem. If one isn’t working, try another.
5) Is he/she reading yet?
I equate this question in the homeschooling world, with “Is he sleeping through the night?” in the parenting world. It is somehow a benchmark and parents everywhere are convinced that their method is the best one. The one you should try immediately. The one that helped their child learn to read novels at the age of four.
There is no prize for learning to read early. It is not an indication of future intelligence and giftedness. I had one child teach himself to read and consume novels at the age of five. I have another who did not arrive at that same place until 8 years old. And now years later, you could not tell who began reading first.
My own tried and true method, if you are twisting my arm, is the Explode the Code workbook series. I tried the 100 Easy lessons… I thought it was weird (uses the distar method) and it didn’t work for us. Sing, Spell, Read, Write… well, I have expressed my utter loathing at board games before. This method would make me want to gauge my eyeballs out.
The only teaching to read advice that I do give freely is teach phonics. Studies have shown that the whole word approach is the least effective way for children to learn to read. (I know your child is different and is a voracious reader and straight A college student having learned to read with the whole word method. But study after study has shown it to be less effective.)
6) What are you going to do when they are in high school?
When people ask me this I usually reply that I am taking it one year at a time. Which is mostly true.
If I don’t know more than my children do at the sixth grade level then I have bigger things to worry about than how I am going to teach them. But what about the higher grades? This question I have a tough time with. First of all, because I think it is my job as a home educator to give my children the tools that they need to be able to teach themselves things.
Secondly, because I can not imagine them wanting to learn something that I could not teach them, with the help of a text book, of course. I have taken Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, Latin, Logic etc But I hesitate to say that because I do not think those things are a prerequisite for teaching your children at home. Do all home educating parents need to have formal college education or have had a prestigious private school education? I don’t think so. I just happen to have those things.
7) What are your goals in educating your child?
I think it is important to examine this before you begin homeshooling and to revisit it periodically. And assess whether or not you are working toward those long term goals, or to see if your long term goals have changed.
I homeschool my children primarily because I think I can do a better, more well rounded job than our local public school. The school is perfectly adequate and is a safe environment. But I feel that eight hours of my child’s day can be put to better use and make them a better and happier person in the long run.
What are my long term goals, educationally speaking? I want to make sure that my children have the tools necessary to educated themselves in whatever they desire. To be well rounded and well spoken. To have a cultural literacy and a sense of history on a global scale. To be able to discuss the classics in literature, to understand basic scientific theories, to be able to do higher math. And above all else, to be able to take all their knowledge and be able to think for themselves.
Are you homeschooling with an eye on your child attending a private high school? Find out what the requirements are and work toward those goals. The same goes for college. You don’t want to arrive at that point and have your child be found lacking something fundamental.
I have mapped out a loose plan of what I think my children should accomplish.
How do you know what to teach?
This depends on the requirements in you state. Some states are highly restrictive, some are extremly lax.
This year my oldest son would be entering 6th grade were he in public school. That is the last year of elementary school here. For me it also marks a transition period in his education. A time when I think education should become more rigorous, and when there are things that he needs to learn that I might not be able to make fun. But I hope that I have instilled enough love of learning and respect for me that he will go along willingly realizing that there is a higher goal.
This year we will also be practicing critical thinking skills, formal logic, and beginning to study the Latin and greek word roots of English words, all of which help with tests like the SAT. And also are just good thing to have floating around in your head should you ever have the opportunity to go on Jeopardy.
I think tests and test taking is a complete waste of time and only tells you how well someone takes a test not how much knowledge they have gained on the topic at hand. Unfortunately, test taking is a way of life and a skill which must be taught and honed like all others.
9) People will take your decision to homeschool your own children personally..
Be prepared for this. Practice your nodding and smiling, while you bite your tongue.
They will tell you stories about how wonderful their school is, which it may very well be. To which I usually respond, “How nice for you!”
They will tell you stories of how their firend knows someone who knows someone who homeschooled their child and the child was a social misfit, never mind that the fact the parents may have chosen to homeschool their child because they have a “hidden” disability which makes it appear as though the child is socially maladjusted.
They will quiz your children and even worse try to stump them with trick questions.
They will point out the latest child thast was found abused or murdered who was supposedly being homeschooled as a way of validating their argument that there should be restrictions placed on homeschooling. To which I point out the exponentially higher number of children who are abused and murdered, while attending public schools.
They will say that your children should be tested every year and if they do not keep up they should be forced to attend school. To which I point out that we do these tests in public schools and yet when half the kids fail them we don’t make them go home. No, in fact yet again we blame the parents and throw more of our tax dollars to a system that isn’t working for many children.
Did I just go off on a rant there?
10) You know your children best
This applies to all advice in life, doesn’t it?