Homeschooling Intrigues Me - Where Do I Start?
by GREG and MOIRA BELL
You are not alone. Nowadays, it is rare to meet an American parent who hasn’t at least heard of home schooling. Those looking at homeschooling from the outside routinely express two chief concerns - 1) “How can homeschooling parents tolerate being with their kids 24 hours a day?” and 2) “What about socialization?”
Allow me to move these two mental boulders out of the way, then you’ll be better able to see more of the treasures which lie ahead down the homeschool path.
AT HOME WITH MY KIDS ALL DAY?!!
I’ve often been told by homeschool skeptics that children need to be with a room full of age mates all day to learn to “face reality” and toughen up. My observation is that a room of age-same students immediately contrive to define themselves by their differences. (“I have nicer clothes than she”, “He has more friends than I do”, “I’ll never be as good at math as she is”, etc.) This isn’t a criticism of kids - it’s just something I’ve observed over and over. Homeschoolers operate within an age-blended environment which more accurately reflects the “real world” where people of all ages and skills are mixed together. The beauty here is that the differences are real - different ages, different skill levels, different strengths, different likes, different privileges. Everyone’s place is defined, respected, and non-competitive. I believe “reality” is an age-blended environment where people are free to learn and better themselves at their own pace in an atmosphere of mutual respect. (a.k.a. “homeschooling”)
SO WHAT IS HOMESCHOOLING REALLY?
You’ll no doubt start homeschooling thinking about “academics” and “subjects”, but as you progress in it, you’ll discover that the essence of successful homeschooling is less in the “schooling” aspect and far more in the concept of “home”. You come to experience the reality that families are the building blocks of human life. And healthy families are the seed beds where balanced, loving, capable humans are grown. You tend those little seeds, supply ample water, fertilizer and sunlight, control the weeds and get a healthy root system in place which will enable those little sprouts to one day become mighty, healthy, fruit-bearing trees. You see that each child is constituted differently right from the beginning and their style of “leaf”, nurture and feeding needs, and long-term purpose are unique.
IT’S NOT JUST FOR THE KIDS
As homeschooling parents, we are also realizing that our children know and like each other and us as their parents much more than we did our siblings/parents growing up. This is largely because our kids are together, sharing many more joint memories and learning from one another rather than growing up with groups of peers in separate classes in what our kids call “away school.”
CRITICISM YOU MAY FACE
MORE GOOD NEWS
Consider attending a homeschool conference in your area. While these can be overwhelming, they also unveil the vast and rich network of ideas and resources available to you as a homeschooler. You’ll be impressed by the caliber of families and children you meet. Visit the vendor hall and collect homeschooling catalogs. Attend a support group meeting or park day. Inquire about your state’s homeschooling requirements (see resources below).
It is common, at this point, to feel vulnerable and tempted to over buy because “it all looks so good!” We suggest, if you can, hang around with homeschooling families who have a home life you respect and have produced children who are well-rounded in the ways you’d like yours to be. Homeschooling is not a simple linear process. (Take A, add B and you’re guaranteed to get C). Rather, there are multiple dynamics at work in healthy homes and wisdom in these matters often soaks into us with time and exposure.
HOMESCHOOLING APPROACHES FROM WHICH TO CHOOSE
Charlotte Mason Method - Emphasizing “Living Books” (rich, first-person literature of all genres) and real-life experiences. This approach encourages abundant opportunity to observe and interact with original sources in art, music, literature, and the natural world. Typically children learn to document their discoveries through journaling and drawing. Parents usually read-aloud from great books with the overarching goal that their children will love to learn.
Classical or Trivium Approach. This view emphasizes excellent thinking and communication skills honed by the intake of fundamental factual knowledge (referred to as the “grammar of a subject); the understanding of the reasoning and relationships behind knowledge (known as the “logic” of that subject); and the ability to organize and assimilate this understanding so as to generate new discoveries and convey this knowledge persuasively to others (called the “rhetoric”).
Principle Approach - Using the four “R’s” of research, reason, relate, and record this approach is popular among certain Christian homeschoolers who believe America was founded as a Christian nation with a Christian form of government. In order to return America to these first moorings, Principle approach adherents seek to raise young people who are well-grounded in Biblical principles and can thus govern themselves and participate in representative government wisely.
Unit-study Approach - This method takes one topic at a time and uses it as a launch pad to integrate the related knowledge from all disciplines. Rather than studying fragmented “subjects” (math, grammar, history, etc.) unit studiers discover inter-related knowledge in a growing web around one central hub. (For example - using baseball as the topic they would study the history of the sport, it’s key figures, the math of baseball stats, the physics of pitching, etc. - all as part of an integrated whole)
Workbooks/Textbooks/School in a Box - Innumerable publishers furnish complete curricula using textbooks, workbooks, interactive CDs or on-line learning. Many of these look and feel more like “school” as most of us remember it. When children first leave an institutional school setting these programs often are a good first transitional step because they mimic school to your children and comfort new homeschooling parents that “learning” is taking place.
Unschooling - Probably one of the least understood terms within homeschooling, unschooling differentiates “teaching” from “learning” and believes that children are born curious and eager to learn. The role of parents is to deeply nurture their children, provide a wonderfully learning-rich environment and let the child’s innate desire to understand and manipulate their world lead them to discover and skillfully use all they need to have productive happy lives. Critics imagine these families just let their kids run amok. More thoughtful observers recognize that unschoolers are trying to tend the internal spark and love of learning which many of us had snuffed out by years of compulsory schooling in things which held no meaning or value to us.
A WORD ABOUT MOTIVATION
We began homeschooling primarily because we were so impressed by the kids in homeschooling families we knew and felt it was a parent’s job to educate their children, not the government’s. When people ask us now why we homeschool (after being on this course for 12 years) we can honestly say we love being with our kids and wouldn’t want to miss a day of their joyful lives. We say that we could never ask even the best classroom teacher to invest in our children the way we can because our kids are precious to us and we would lay our lives down to see them succeed. We tell people that having our kids with us has helped us to grow up, learn to communicate better, and become better people. Obviously, we didn’t know at the outset that our motivations would undergo such a transformation.
TAKE THE PLUNGE
Plan to ease your family into new routines. The decision to homeschool won’t magically transform your family overnight but it will in time soften and reshape your family in healthy ways.
Allow for a season of detox. It may rock your child’s world to find out that school is no longer about getting grades and passing classes, but rather about mastering important skills and learning to love the process.
Figure out what refuels your own engines and schedule it! Stephen Covey says the key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. Taking good care of yourself in your newly-expanded role as a homeschooling parent is, without question, a top priority. You may need a regular Moms night out, time at home alone, a creative outlet, a daily afternoon nap - whatever keeps you on an even keel - make it a priority and do it!
Steadily improve the learning value in your home - Great read-aloud books, reference resources, educational toys, art supplies, science supplies, healthy food, regular exercise, minimized clutter, a place for everything and everything in its place -- you get the idea. When you are home 24 hours a day, home needs to be as calm, pleasant, usefully organized, and resource-filled as possible.
Relax - No matter where you start or how faltering your first steps may feel, your kids will not be ruined by your loving investment in homeschooling them. You will find yourself changing, perhaps even more than your children, as you learn to truly know each of them, respect their uniqueness, and be committed to their long-term success. As humans, we find it easy to follow those whom we perceive love us deeply. Let love be the foundation, the power, and the aroma in the air of your homeschooling adventure.
Greg and Moira are living, loving, and learning with their not-so-little “plants” in Virginia. Besides reading aloud by the hour to their kids, they enjoy crossword puzzles, homemade music, and sleep (a rare commodity). ■
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