We chose home education to provide what was needed and not available through traditional means. For our family, the choice was also a conviction that this was God’s will for us. But finding the key to being what our children needed was daunting. Like my husband and I, most homeschooling parents are untrained in the field of education.
The choices of method and curricula lay before us – each crying that their brand had the method that would save our children from failure and hopefully, vindicate us as good parents in our choice. But which to use? Especially for a mom who struggled through school, herself?
From having desks and chalkboard in the basement to sitting around the dining room table, to each person in their own room (in whatever position made them comfortable) and a mix of these, we tried it all. We threw out or gave away whatever wasn’t working (not including the kids)!
Teaching one child is very different from teaching a group. I’ve done both. But over the years, the curriculum choices, the media used, the time spent in advance preparation seemed less important than keeping wonder alive and finding a way to learn with my kids. Even letting them teach me things as they discovered them was helpful!
Here are some things I’ve discovered over the years that make homeschooling less daunting and more of a joy.
1. Learning how to learn trumps stocking up on facts. If you need a fact quickly, you can easily “Google” it. There are exceptions to this. Basic reading, writing, and calculating skills as well as life skills used daily, are examples of those that must become ingrained. What you decide to focus your study on will depend on your and your children’s goals and interests.
2. Habits will affect their whole life. So will attitudes about learning. Cultivate the wonder and love of finding out new things together. Build good study and note-taking habits and model this for them.
3. Not all things need to be done as a group or with the parent’s oversight. Kids who are old enough to read and write will need to have some time to work through problems alone. Let them wrestle down the answers! What they can achieve without our help gives them pride in their own work and motivation for the next.
4. Let them show you their completed work and take the time to show them their own progress with positive comments as well as helpful suggestions for next time.
5. Work on one new skill while checking on those you have already covered. Try not to have too many new concepts at once. Let the good habits take root.
6. Review things they must really know, regularly. May I add, if you decide to take the summer of “school”, do include some kind of learning. They really do lose what they don’t use. But it’s good to take breaks from one kind of work to try something new for a season.
7. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box or outside the house for your methods. Your family is unique. Celebrate that.
8. Don’t move ahead in subjects that build on each other (like math or reading) until they understand the pieces of the puzzle.
9. Teach them the technology, but also let them learn from a book. Both are good and needed.
10. “Teach the child, not the curriculum.” If something isn’t working, let it go. It doesn’t mean you have failed, it means the text is not a good fit. Let the subject matter (other than the “three R’s” and passing on life skills and faith) be according to your child’s talents and interests along with “tastes” of new things that they may wish to explore.
11. Try the free stuff before investing in a curriculum. How many hundreds or thousands of dollars we have spent and thrown away, I can’t begin to calculate. There is so much instruction available that is free or inexpensive (for a subscription) now! Unless you are doing a correspondence course, you can save quite a bit on subjects of your choice.
12. Read together often, for the love of a good story!
13. Encourage your kids to journal for themselves, not for a grade.
14. Love your children, love to learn. Participate with them until they get the hang of it. It is very likely that they will want to take the initiative themselves and ask to work alone. As they get familiar with the process over-guidance may actually slow them down! When they reach this stage, encourage them to teach you what they find out. You can discuss it over dinner.
Dinner times are a great opportunity for the family to share what has been discovered through the day and model lifelong learning. It’s a place for debate about issues that come up in the news, sharing difficulties and praying together about those. Learning is a life-long task and a lifelong pleasure. Keep the spark and the wonder. Never lose it!