When we closed the doors of our physical space in December 2016, I knew there was one thing I would really miss afterwards – being able to encourage homeschoolers, both new and burnt-out veterans. So here’s hoping a blog will at least suffice for now.
After more than three decades in the role of “Veteran Homeschooler,” there were a number of concerns that came up again and again as I filled the roll of counsellor.
I answered some of the basic questions on the page, Information for New Homeschoolers. That’s where I cover things like “is it legal,” how to get started, record keeping, etc. This blog will cover the types of questions I typically get from folks who have gotten past those early concerns, but are still overwhelmed. Here are a few of my favorite questions (with answers primarily excerpted from my homeschooling book, Organized Ramblings).
Since my preferred method to teach, both at home and in my classes, has been to stay as far away from textbooks as possible, that often shows up in my recommendations to homeschoolers. Does that mean I’m completely against the use of textbooks? Not entirely, but certainly close. I found through decades of teaching that topical studies were much more effective, generally cheaper, and more easily adaptable to multiple students. (More details on topical studies in the next post.)
What about Gaps in their Learning?
Yes, those will exist, but they will exist regardless of the method of education employed.
Our goals should include, teaching our children to:
- Read and enjoy reading
- Be excited about learning
- Understand research options
- Depending on our faith – to Love God
The specific details contained in their “curriculum package” are not really the issue. Are we setting the foundation? If we accomplish these things – what difference will the gaps make? If a gap exists in an area that is really important, it will show up, and then it can be dealt with. If it wasn’t important for that student, why does it matter? And remember, a student who “covers” an entire “gap-free” textbook in one year has seldom learned much of it anyway!
My Husband only approves of Textbooks. Now what?
This is one of the most serious questions to deal with if you’re trying to approach homeschooling from another direction and it needs to be resolved in a win/win way – not a compromise, so much as a new approach. What about using the textbooks – but using them a little differently than the “right” way? For instance, use one history textbook for two students who are close together in age, instead of two different books. And what about supplementing the textbook with other materials, and not trying to cover the entire book in one year? Those two changes may help relax the home school pressures, and are often enough to relieve Dad’s concerns.
How important are Learning Styles?
Learning styles are important to a point, particularly if a student is struggling with a subject. If a student is struggling to learn to read for instance, we may want to consider how that student learns best. Is he an auditory learner, a visual learner, or a hands-on learner? If we focus more on the students’ “style,” we may help them overcome some obstacles.
But beyond a “problem area,” we shouldn’t focus too much on learning styles. It’s better for students to get used to learning with various styles, than it is to focus on a particular one. Visual, auditory, and hands-on methods can all reinforce each other, rather than one being chosen at the exclusion of the others.
What about Tests?
Tests are another concern for some people when they consider using a more relaxed method of schooling. “What about tests?” they often ask. “What about them?” I usually answer. Tests are not really necessary in most home school situations. They help classroom teachers figure out what 20 – 30 students are comprehending on any number of subjects. Test if you want to, but it’s not a great loss if you don’t. (How many of us remember cramming for tests in high school and college – how much of that do you remember?) Beyond math, what purpose do most tests serve in a home school situation, anyway?
But, if you really want or need tests (for your cover school, for your sanity, for the grandparents), why do you have to be the one to write them? Another way to accomplish testing in a non-textbook situation is to have the student(s) write the tests. That’s not cheating – it’s being practical. And in writing a test someone has to examine the material that’s being learned and determine what’s the most important part of it. Especially with older students, that’s as important a skill as being able to take the test!
How do we do it all?
We don’t…Maybe I should have started with this one, since it is a question that I am often asked. Repeat after me, “We don’t do it all! We can’t do it all! We shouldn’t do it all.” There are only 24-hours in each day, and we really need to slow down and enjoy some of them.
When I was homeschooling, I personally did a very limited amount of housework – my children washed the dishes, did most of the laundry, swept, vacuumed, and…I guess you get the picture. I generally washed laundry about once a week, for my husband and me. That’s all the laundry I personally take care of. (And there have been times when I have even delegated that…catch that important word, please – DELEGATION. A very important word in any home schooling mom’s vocabulary.) When I was really organized, I even had my kids cook most of the meals. These are all-important skills for our kids to learn. My older kids have all been shocked as they’ve left home and been around peers who didn’t know how to do these basic things because they never did them at home. Mine left home confident that they could take care of themselves in all these mundane areas.
Work should be an integral part of our children’s life (even before they appreciate that fact). Life is about balance, and sometimes we moms feel very much out of balance. But maybe that’s because we need to give more of it up to God. We can’t do it all, and we need to stop trying so hard!
What about College?
Many factors go into the college admissions process – grades, standardized test scores, recommendations, essays, and much more. These days colleges seldom discriminate against homeschoolers, with many even going out of their way to recruit them. So home-educated students are typically not at a disadvantage for getting into college. If for some reason, they don’t get into the four-year college of their choice initially, junior colleges are a good way for them to “prove themselves” in the college world.
While I was homeschooling I wanted my children to be academically, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to go to college, if that was the direction God was leading them. But college is not necessarily right for each of them, and oftentimes “delayed college” is the right answer. Like the other major (and minor) decisions in their lives, this is one that should only be approached prayerfully and carefully.
By the time my youngest had graduated from high school, most of my children had started college (some while in high school, some straight out of high school and some with delays for other life experience), many had finished college, and some were somewhere along the path. As of the beginning of 2017 I have only 1 child who has never taken any college classes, 2 that have taken 1 or more semesters, 2 that have completed their associates, 2 that are currently working on their bachelors, 2 who have their bachelors, 2 that have their masters, and 1 who has a law degree.
And with the exception of the first two who each used a correspondence school for their high school years, all of my children have primarily been homeschooled in the less “school at home” manner I’ve described above. As they got into high school they all took some classes with other teachers besides myself, most of which were more traditional, text-book based experiences. And a few of them dual enrolled in some college classes while they were in high school (though we only went that route occasionally).
I homeschooled my children for 35 years. Along the way I certainly made lots of mistakes, as all parents, homeschooling or not, are going to do. But my children not only survived the situation, they thrived in it, and at least the last time I checked, none of them regret having been homeschooled.
Primarily, they remember the things we did – the “field trips” we took to Washington, D.C. or to follow the Lewis and Clark trail, the endless battlefields and museums we visited. In a few cases, generally when it relates to the jobs they are doing, they even remember a thing or two they learned in a class – maybe from a textbook, maybe not.
Are there things they didn’t learn along the way? Most definitely. But all their traditionally educated peers can say the same thing. One of the big advantages with my children is that they know how to learn what they don’t know or where to go for help.
For all that, I don’t claim to have all the answers; in fact, many times, I think the best answer to a question is another question. But maybe some of these questions and answers will help you get started or keep going.
Cathy, Mom of 12
Author of Organized Ramblings