Is there a “right way” to homeschool?

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!

Proofreading and Grading the Essay

Evaluating the First Draft

When inexperienced students are starting out, go through the process with them, assisting in each step of writing their essay. Once they understand the process, only give assistance as needed, but let them know that certain points will be taken away if they don’t follow guidelines.

If there is a word count required, check to see if it is within the range expected.  One online resource for this is:  If their count is insufficient, give general suggestions to help them expound on their points. Suggestions for improvement may be written in the margin of the first draft or between the lines. Papers should be typed using double-spacing for this reason.

It is important that grammar and spelling issues not be scrutinized until the second draft. The first focus must be on the flow of ideas.

Give 10 points each for the following (suggested)

1. Did they follow the assignment?
2. Is the thesis/topic clearly stated?
3. Are the points presented in the introductory paragraph addressed in the body of the paper?
4. Is there evidence (2 or 3 items) for each main point?
5. Is the evidence (or set of facts) from a reliable source?
6. Does their writing make sense and do the ideas connect?
7. Does the conclusion “fit” the evidence/facts given?
8. Does the conclusion restate the thesis/topic sentence, in some way?
9. Are quotes cited?
10. Is there a bibliography of references used, on a separate page?

Second Draft

Unless the first draft is nearly perfect, they will do an intermediary draft which you will be editing for spelling, grammar and punctuation, as well as wordiness and word choice. This revision does not need to be graded. The second paper is a working copy – in preparation for the final, published copy.  It is helpful to have your children read the second draft aloud to you so both of you can “hear” errors in their pronunciation, punctuation, verb tense, or subject/verb agreement. Have them print two copies so that while they are reading it, you can circle any mistakes that need to be corrected in their next draft. You may also correct punctuation at this time.  Ask them to explain any complicated terms to you – making sure they understand the research. Finally, give them back their second draft (with your comments and editing marks) for them to create their final copy.

The Final Copy – Third Draft , Written and Presented

After the final copy is printed, have them practice reading it again to make sure they are reading expressively and articulately. Encourage them to pause for effect and use eye contact (keeping their place on the paper with their hand so they can easily return to their spot). There is nothing that works as well as practice for public speaking. Often they will be called on to present their paper in front of a group, so even if this isn’t required in class, practicing reading aloud each time will build this skill in your own children. Have them present before a family member or friend of the family to become more secure speaking in front of others. Be sure to give plenty of encouragement for things they do well, and keep criticism about their presentation style at a minimum, initially. A good rule is to pad each “helpful suggestion” with two encouraging comments.

It may be helpful to have them watch other famous speakers. They may notice what works well and self-correct.  If they are doing a persuasive paper, let them watch a speech by Martin Luther King Jr, or Ronald Reagan. If a narrative,  let them watch someone who tells stories. There are many types of narratives, so pick one that fits well. If the speech is  an objective report – look for a news-story being presented and note anything that stands out in the differences of approach.

Some ideas for rewarding a job well done are:
Publishing their completed work on a family webpage or blog – and posting it for others to see, submitting some works to magazines or local newspapers or gathering their papers to create a “book” of their own. This could also include poetry and works of art they have done during the year. If you have several children, you could make a family anthology, in print, for each to keep. These can be copied and bound for you at a local office supply store, or you could use page protectors in a notebook and slide them in, having copies for each contributor. By the time they have completed their work (if all edits have been attended to) their grade should be no less than an A  (see rubric mentioned below).  Working in stages like this creates understanding of the process, and pride in their own achievement. When they see their work “published,” or shared with others who appreciate it, this brings meaning to their efforts, as well.


If your child has only one week to work on an essay, have them do brainstorming the first day for an idea, research on the second day, the rough draft on the third day, the second draft on day four, and the final draft on day five of that week. Parents should check over the final draft on the computer before it is printed, and point out any last minute changes before the final version is printed.  Make sure the guidelines given for formatting are followed and your son or daughter’s name is on the paper. It can be printed out and placed in their notebook one day in advance, so there is no last minute rush to do so.

Suggested Grading Rubric for Final Copy

70% of the grade is for their written work:
* 10 points for the Introductory Paragraph with their thesis, definitions and introduction to their three supporting arguments.
* 10 points for the first paragraph in the body – with supportive evidence/arguments for their first point. Supportive evidence may include informative details, statistics, anecdotes, authoritative quotes, and reasoning.
* 10 points for the next paragraph in the body of the essay, with transition and supporting material.
* 10 points for the last paragraph of the body of the essay, with transition and supporting material.
* 10 points for the conclusion. This must tie all the facts together neatly and reflect the thesis/topic sentence in the last sentence.
* 10 points for Title Page (or header that includes name/date/class)
* 10 points for the Bibliography page
And the final 30% for their presentation of the paper, orally. Grade based on skills you have already taught, and expect more as more instruction is given. Let them know ahead of time what you will be looking for.

Some presenting skills include eye contact, not fidgeting, speaking clearly (pronunciation and enunciation), volume appropriateness for audience and size of room, use of gestures,  correct posture, appearance, voice modulation in volume and pace,  appropriate movement (not still like a statue, but engaging and natural) and use of visuals.   Don’t teach all of these at once. For younger children, start with one and add another expectation as they are able to perform the first.

Encouragement usually works better than criticism, so when they have trouble with a new concept in presenting, you could say, “That was pretty good! Now let’s try that once more with …  ”  and fill in the skill that needs practice. If they still can’t quite get it, that’s fine. It is best not to have them fixate on a problem. In the next day or so, watch a professional speaker and let them comment on what they observe about them. You can ask questions to draw their attention to specific things. You could also try play acting and taking turns, delivering a speech and your child can critique your presentation as well.  First, give them some instruction concerning positive criticism vs. derogatory remarks. Only allow helpful or positive commentary for yourself and for them. If, when they critique your speech, you take this graciously, you will be showing them how to respond.

Ephesians 4:29 in the New International Version of the Bible says,
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

And that is what we are really hoping to do for our children; build them up!

Part Two: Help Your Child Write an Essay

The 5 Part Essay Structure is not the only method for writing an essay but it is a good tool for developing logical structure and cohesion in an expositional piece, whether short or long.  Longer essays will have sub paragraphs under the main ones. These sub-paragraphs will contain topics that support the main one, in each section. Have your child sort the ideas into general topics before becoming more specific.

An illustration of this kind of sorting: If you sorted clothes in a closet, you may have winter and summer weight divided. Within these divisions you may separate the pants from the shirts, then sort them by color within that category.  The same skill would be used in essay writing, with sentences.

A short essay will be 1  1/2 pages to 2 pages long.  A long essay may be ten pages. Page count or word count does not include the title page or a bibliography.

Pattern of the 5 Part Essay  (Informative or Persuasive)

Introduction:  Present the thesis/topic sentence and an attention getting device, or “hook” which may be a question, a quote, or a fact most people don’t know.  This paragraph should also include general or background information and any definitions needed for understanding. Introduce 3 supporting premises or sub topics that will be covered and transition into the first paragraph of the “body.”   More detail on this process will be discussed, later.

The Body:  Premise 1 or Fact 1 is given with supporting evidence, facts and/or arguments. These may be statistics, anecdotes or quotes from an authority on the subject, and reasoning.

Premise 2 or Fact 2 is asserted with supporting information.  (Same as above.)

Premise 3 or Fact 3 is asserted with supporting information. (Same as above.)

Transitions:  To create transitions between paragraphs, you may bring out a connection or a difference  between the two categories  or ask a question that leads into the next paragraph.  The three facts must be tied together in some fashion  (not arbitrary and independent) to make a cohesive essay.   Example: “While comic artists have the potential to make a fair living at their craft, their art can also move the hearts of society and influence culture.”  – Jane Clark.  This transition can be placed at the end of the paragraph about their income or at the beginning of the article about their influence (but not in both places in the same paper).  If you introduce your paragraph with a transition from the previous one, continue that pattern. If you end your paragraph with a transition, also do that in the next one, if it applies. But do not force a transition where there isn’t one.

The Conclusion:   Show how the evidence ties together to support the thesis/topic.  Summarize and evaluate the information (without using personal pronouns such as “I”),  leading the reader toward your viewpoint on the topic. Restate your original thesis/topic or reference it as a way to wrap up the paper, neatly.

Negative and Positive Numbers

Negative numbers may seem an obscure concept, until you bring in examples from life. The best one I know of is the example of debt vs. savings.

Use the following method using both a number line and a balance sheet (such as a checkbook log).

It works this way. Explain that if I have no money at all, and owe nothing, I am at zero in my bank account.

If I owe you ten dollars, but have no money in my pocket, the scale would read –  negative 10. It may help to write the negative numbers in red ink, showing that you are “in the red” by so much.  If I have $10, and owe $10,  on a number line would move forward ten, then back ten, showing a total of zero at the end.   Use different values to practice addition and subtraction on the number line.

A negative/positive number exercise  that is  quite effective, uses real money. Having your child physically add or subtract the amount from their own “bank” by earning or spending (keeping their own funds in a shoebox that says “bank account”) and paying you dollar by dollar for purchases, makes quite an impression.  Not only will they understand the concept of positive and negative numbers (and balances), but it may motivate them to become more frugal!

Another way to emphasize this concept is to have them work off a debt (of a reasonable amount) after buying them a small item (on credit). They didn’t have the money to pay for it themselves so they owe it and have a negative balance. After paying it off fully, they may expect to have money in their pocket, but will realize that they have only gotten back to zero, and need to work more without spending it, to have a positive balance!

This is a hard math lesson. Not because the numbers are difficult to compute, but because reality is hard!

Mastering Simple Math Through Games, Part 1

Very young children may recognize and name digits on paper without understanding the concept of number. Or, they may be able to count aloud but have not associated the spoken number with a written one. You may find a child counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… while looking at three items. This is to be expected as really understanding a number is a process.

A preschool child will associate a quantity with its corresponding numeral. A first grader will begin learning “fact families” to add the numbers or items of things, together. One way to solidify this skill and help a child to internalize the number, understanding it fully, is to play a guessing game with items in a fact family. I put together an easy game when my own children were small, called “Math Beans.” (It works well with M&M’s too.)

Let’s say you want to teach a combination of facts for the number 7. Take 7 beans (or M&M’s or another item of interest to your child that you can easily hide in your hand). Ask them first, to count the beans.

Once counted, put the beans behind your back and take some of them out of one hand, putting them in the other hand. Bring out both hands and show them what is in one, leaving the other hand closed. Ask them to figure out how many “beans” are in the closed hand. This is a fun game, and after playing with the 7 beans, using several combinations – they should begin to answer more quickly or know immediately. Once they have mastered all the facts of 7, show them what these facts look like on paper.

7 + 0 = 7
6 + 1 = 7
5 + 2 = 7
4 + 3 = 7
3 + 4 = 7
2 + 5 = 7
1 + 6 = 7
and 0 + 7 = 7.

This would also be a good time to explain the Commutative Law for Addition (though you don’t need to name it yet). It doesn’t matter what order you add the numbers.
2 + 5 will give you the same number of beans as 5 + 2.

By playing interactive math games with your children, they will not only master the material but enjoy doing it. Learning that is enjoyed is remembered.