Bite Sized Nuggets of Wisdom

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.

2)Shun labels

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.

8) 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?

30 Responses to “Bite Sized Nuggets of Wisdom”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Oh #9 is SO true, especially if you have family teaching in the public schools. Or neighbors, or people in the grocery store. I kind of mutter “We homeschool.” really quietly when people ask why my daughter isn’t in school.
    I loved your post today - this is good advice all around.

  2. Alison Says:

    Great post, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I was homeschooled from the time I began sixth grade until I graduated (a year early). I’ve already begun teaching my 3-year-old and am looking forward to the many years of homeschooling ahead.

  3. Novaks8 Says:

    I think homeschooling is wonderful.
    Not for everyone, but wonderful still.

    More power to you!

  4. Stephanie Says:

    . (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.)

    Hehehe. You knew that someone was going to do it right? Might as well be me. :o)

    Phonics is more effective only if it works for your kid (which, granted may be a majority of kids). Phonics was a disaster for my right-brained/visual spatial kid (and for a lot of v-s kids because they are “whole to part” learners). I still do not quite know how he learns new words, but I do know that phonics is not it LOL!

    But that is the beauty of homeschooling…no one way is right for all kids and we have the option to change if it is not working. :o)

  5. Sheryl Says:

    thanks, that’s helpful.

  6. Gwen Says:

    I’ve thought about homeschooling my kids too. I don’t know what kind of message that will send to my recently-graduated-with-a-degree-in-education husband! But the vote’s still out. Thanks for the tips! Good luck with your “misfits”!

  7. Lisa Says:

    Hi, I know that you really don’t know me…ok. I’ll be honest, you don’t know me at all. But, have I told you lately that I love you? *croons in really bad Rod Stewart impersonation* :)
    I’ve lurked here for a little bit, and I guess I must have commented at some time because my info was already filled out in the little comment boxes…either that or my computer knows me….that’s a scary thought.
    ANYWAY, I am a homeschooling mom, and I love your blog and I love this entry! Especially the reading part because you made SUCH a good analogy about reading being the “sleeping through the night” for homeschoolers!

  8. jeans5kids Says:

    Wonderful! I couldn’t have said it better and I think I am going to have to print this out so I can remember it!
    the thing about homeschoolers lableing each other is soooo true, I really hate that like “your one of THOSE”
    and stick with what works ;0) so wise really

  9. Kim in MI Says:

    Good post, Chris.

  10. Brenda Says:

    As someone who is basically completely clueless (my baby is 5 months old Not anywhere near schooling, though I hear jk starts at age 3, what the heck is that about?)

    About when I was 12 (I was babysitting) the school system here started something called “finger phonics”, and it didn’t work AT ALL. It taught kids that each letter only made one sound, which does not work for english at all. So far as I know they still teach this wacky method up here. I just wanted to say that “phonics” is not always phonics.

  11. JTS Says:

    To which, Chris, I must add, I completely agree.

    Our local P.S. system is wonderful. There are some things that they cannot teach- such as values (as in: You do NOT NEED to be popular) and practicality, forgiveness and love.

    If mothers don’t teach these things, who will?

  12. KimC Says:

    As a 2nd generation homeschooling mom of 8, all I can say is: Preach it, sister!
    Great post.

  13. JTS Says:

    One more thing: do you have a logic recommendation for 4th grade? I’m in the market for one, and lost my notes from the H.S. conference. I have a standby, but I know there are some really good ones out there. If you have time, email me???

  14. Mother Says:

    God. The high school question is so annoying.

    I don’t have a HS diploma. I have a grad degree. I was a college professor.

    I was homeschooled.

    And I’m just fine.

  15. Christina Says:

    I thought the best point was your last one, we know what is best for our kids, just because I pick to do “A” doesn’t mean that I believe everyone should do “A”. Bravo!

  16. Colleen Says:

    Wow. #9. I met a man who threw damn near every one of those at me. This same man had complimented me 5 minutes before about how nice it was to see a kid reading for change as my son sat at the tire shop reading while we waited on my car. As soon as it came out that he was homeschooled, that all changed it suddenly became and issue of my qualifications. It was insane and I didn’t know how to take it. I’m still learning that one.

    I related that story to a veteran homeschool mom I’ve attached myself to, and she told me about a woman who looked down on her and boasted how her daughter was in line to be Valedictorian at her public school. This homeschool veteran simply said, “Don’t you think she can do better?” I imagine I’ll learn those comebacks someday.

  17. Lucie Says:

    You know your child best-Amen Chris Amen

  18. rachel Says:

    very, very, very well said.

    thanks again for writing so wonderfully!

    and it drives me nuts when people take our decision personally. pffft.

  19. Alison Says:

    You forgot to add that sometimes your children will tell their peers that they are homeschooled, and that said peer will say “Oh,” and spin on their heel and walk away without another word!

    Not that that ever happened to me.

    I was homeschooled through high school using the Indiana University Distance Learning courses. I wouldn’t reccomend that specifically because it is extremely slow and graduating on time is very hard, but the basic idea–textbook, ‘learning guide’(sort of a written-down lecture’ and homework assignments worked for me. My parents stayed mostly out of it, unless I needed help. I was responsible for sending my lessons in and studying for exams. I like that because it taught me the importance of being responsible and organized.

  20. Alison Says:

    I spelled recommend wrong, and I apologize.

  21. Debbie Says:

    Explode the code. OKey dokey. I bought the 100 lessons and it looks OK. Was worried about the distar thing too. Just seemed cheaper buying ONE book though ;-)

  22. Angie Says:

    I agree with Stephanie. My oldest daughter learned to read by herself, and had a very hard time with Dr. Seuss for a long time. She is tactile, spatial, whatever, and that phonics thing made no sense to her. I don’t study all the different types of reading instruction, so I’m not really sure what whole language means, but I have been frustrated with the approach that means the child can only read words with the sounds they have learned thus far. There is no inclination to figure out anything new. I have had the best success with just making a child read a real book–a wink or swim type fashion. They eventually work it out; kind of like learning to talk or walk, or play an instrument, for that matter.

  23. Heather Says:

    Hi Chris,

    I am SO happy I found this post today.I have been in tears regarding my very recent decision to homeschool my child. I put a post on my blog about it, and got a huge amount of homeschooling protestors who filled my inbox with some pretty nasty email. This post was very uplifting and I am so happy I found it.

    I LOVE reading your blogs, both of them. I really hope you continue to shed light on this subject, because what you talk about is so helpful.

  24. Beth Says:

    On #9 - I have no problem with people homeschooling their kids. What I do have a problem with is homeschoolers who judge those of us who send our kids to school. (FTR, I’ve never heard you do this.) I decided that sending my son to school is the right thing for him, so this year he started kindergarten at a nearby school. Recently I read a blog that mentioned people who “farm their kids out” to schools. I find this attitude offensive. Seems to me we could all just trust each other to make the right decisions for our own kids, without judging either way.

  25. InterstellarLass Says:

    My district uses a combination of phonics and whole reading and I HATE IT. I have to teach my child how to break down words into smaller words that she knows, how to look for clues into what the word is and how to sound out a word from start to finish. My sister was taught whole reading, and she has no clue how to sound out a word. If she comes on a word she doesn’t know, she has to ask someone!

  26. BusyHSmom Says:

    PLEASE may I just make copies of this into a brochure and hand it out to all those who ask me these questions?? You articulated it ALL perfectly!

    By the way, 4 of mine have made it to the high school years and they ARE basically teaching themselves with my assistance. I DOES work!

    Also, I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons followed by Explode the Code and it worked quite well! ;-D

  27. Lori Says:

    I had a “friend” send me a copy of the New Yorker article about the homeschooled boy who committed suicide. Thanks, pal!

    We’ve made a choice that is radically different from most of our friends and family. It’s human nature for them to respond with “You think what we’ve done is wrong! You think you’re better than us! You’re criticizing us!” Human nature. But still annoying.

  28. Rae Says:

    Chris! Thanks for this post. I am one of those moms who is right at the beginning and I feel like I am staring around at shelves full of materials and have no idea where to start my research. Your advice helped me, simply because it is advice from someone whose kids are learning, it’s working.

  29. Shiloah Baker Says:

    Beautifully said! I really enjoyed reading your comments!

  30. babette Says:

    The longer I homeschool (my eldest is 26) the more I agree with every point you make, Chris. Unfortunately, this old schoolmarm had to learn many things the hard way!