The S Word

Musings of a Retired Homeschool Mom

I currently work at a retail store as a cashier, where I try to be friendly and chit-chat with my customers. One day a woman came through my line buying items for her church, which I noticed was the same church a homeschooling friend of mine attended. I asked the customer if she knew my friend. She cheerfully affirmed that she did indeed know “Melinda,” and asked how I knew her. I told her we were in the same homeschool group together for several years.

Immediately the customer’s attitude changed. She proceeded to tell me how she came from a family of teachers, and how she thought that children who are homeschooled are being shortchanged by it. I told her I homeschooled all three of my children from the beginning all the way through high school. They all excelled academically, and I went into detail about how two had finished college and the third was going to chiropractic school. When that didn’t fit her image of homeschoolers, she told me that they may do well academically, but they are missing out on the socialization opportunities that they would get by attending school. Silently I thought, “Seriously? This is 2016. Are we really still throwing around the S word?”

The socialization question is one that I have heard over and over again over the years, and it doesn’t seem to go away. What is socialization anyway? gives two definitions: “1. a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position; and 2. the act or process of making socialistic: the socialization of industry.” The first is really the one that applies to everyone’s concerns about homeschoolers.

Going by the first definition, socialization can be achieved in the traditional school setting, but what kind of socialization is being accomplished? From firsthand experience as a public schooled student for 12 years, I experienced, and in some cases due to peer pressure, participated in much of the following: bullying; cliquishness; foul language; and exposure to smoking, drugs, sex, and alcohol. There was also sexual harassment of students by teachers, coaches, and administrators. The socialization that I received at this small rural school district is one of the main reasons I decided to homeschool my own children.

Living your everyday lives as a homeschooling family is the best possible form of socialization. You interact with others at church, at homeschool group meetings, at the grocery store, the post office, and any other normal day-to-day activity that you do.

Compare that to the traditional school situation. Children now start preschool at three to four years old, and are in school for 14 to15 years before even thinking about going to college. School days are starting earlier and dismissing later, and school years are getting longer as well. The vast majority of a child’s time is spent inside a brick building, sitting at a desk, interacting mostly with peers, rather than truly living in the real world and experiencing a wide variety of interactions through daily life.

Add to that the measures schools are taking to provide an environment safe from active shooter situations, terrorist attacks, and other real or imagined threats. The small school that I once attended cannot even be entered these days without pushing a button by the door so someone inside the office can approve your entry into the building. Another nearby school has installed iron fencing around the entrance — sort of like a prison, but without the razor wire.

So, don’t let anyone intimidate you with questions about the “S” word. The type of socialization they are worried that your child will miss out on is not socialization at all. It is institutionalization, which is something else altogether. (See definition 2 above.)

As the conversation ended with my customer, I told her I had homeschooled for 25 years and was spending my “retirement” working as a cashier. The eavesdropping customer next in line condescendingly said to me, “Well, some of us got an education so we wouldn’t have to do that.” Hmm, I wonder where she was socialized?

Yes! You Can!


Musings of a Retired Homeschool Mom

Over the 25 years our family homeschooled, the main comments that I heard over and over were these:

      1. Is that legal?
      2. I could NEVER do that!
      3. What about socialization?

While the question of the legality of homeschooling seemed to be asked less and less over the years — until I eventually never heard it at all — I continue to hear numbers 2 and 3 to this day.

My response to “I could NEVER do that!” was usually just smiling, nodding my head and changing the subject as soon as possible. If I let the conversation go on long enough, it would almost always go in one of two different directions. One would end up with me getting the distinct feeling that they perceived that we were “too good” for the local public school system, and they were offended. The second scenario was they felt guilty for not doing what they knew might be best for their children, and would begin listing all of the excuses for not being able to homeschool.

Occasionally, as a homeschool support group leader, I would counsel and advise mothers who were contemplating homeschooling, or who were struggling with trying to make it work for their family. My response to them was always, “If God has called you to homeschool your children, He will empower you to accomplish it.” So, how did I know that God called us to homeschool? I’m not really sure, but I’ve never once doubted that it was what God called us to do, although I more than once doubted my own abilities, and came up short at times.

Looking back at the times I felt most overwhelmed with homeschooling, it always seemed that during those times I had too many other things going on. Maybe it was too many responsibilities at church, trying to earn extra money with a work-at-home job or part-time job, taking care of extended family’s needs (elderly parents, an alcoholic brother, etc.) There were several times over the years that I had to step back, pause for a moment, start eliminating the unnecessary things in my life, and spend more time praying for strength and wisdom.

One thing that helped me a lot when my children were all at home is that I taught them from a very young age to be helpers around the house. The housework load was divided among all of us instead of all on my shoulders.

Another thing that can be overwhelming is to be trying to homeschool using curriculum or a method that doesn’t fit your family’s style or needs. Perhaps you are trying to be too structured and need to relax a bit, or maybe you are too relaxed and need a little more structure to function well. I know when I first began homeschooling, it took me two or three years to really find a homeschooling style and materials that felt comfortable and worked well for us.

And, last but not least, pray, pray, pray and depend on God for strength and guidance. Those first couple of years I did a lot of crying and praying at night before I went to bed. I sometimes wondered if I really could do this; and, without Him I couldn’t have. When the going gets tough, and you just don’t think you can continue on in your homeschooling journey, remember that with God’s help, “Yes, you can!”

Next time I’ll muse a little about number 3… The “S” Word.

Choosing Your Curriculum – Part Two

Curriculum developers are excellent in marketing, and homeschool parents are a wide open market for their wares. Wanting only the best for their children, homeschool parents are willing consumers of these goods. But, remembering that less is more and to keep it simple are concepts that are worth considering. A successful homeschool curriculum does not depend upon a plethora of textbooks and copy work. Instead, a few simple tools and a daily routine can go a long way in establishing a homeschool curriculum that is custom designed for each child in your family.

When shopping for your homeschool curriculum and resources keep in mind the counsel we’ve been given.

  • “During the first six or seven years of a child’s life, special attention should be given to physical training, rather than intellect… Up to this period children should be left, like little lambs, to roam around the house and in the yards, in the buoyancy of their spirits, skipping and jumping, free from care and trouble.” Child Guidance, p. 300
  • “For the first eight or ten years of a child’s life the field or garden is the best schoolroom, the mother the best teacher, nature the best lesson book.” Education, p. 208

In light of this, buying expensive homeschooling materials for your little ones really isn’t necessary. Does that mean that you’re not to teach them anything? Not at all! Let’s look at a few ways to cover the basic subjects in a relaxed, yet effective way.

  • Bible – Starting the day with family worship sets the tone for a successful day. Beginning a habit of daily devotions with your children will develop into their own devotions as they grow older. Study the Sabbath School lesson. Read through The Bible Story books. Listen to The Bible in Living Sound. Start a prayer, praise & thankfulness journal. Sing songs of praise. Read stories that will help develop good character traits in your children. Memorize Bible verses.
  • Reading – Start reading aloud to your children when they are very young and never stop. Children of all ages, even teens, enjoy listening to stories read aloud. It’s a wonderful opportunity for quality family time. Read Bible stories, nature stories, history books, biographies, human interest stories, poems and anything else your children find interesting. As children start to grow, show them sounds, words, letters, etc. as you read. Have them share/read words, then sentences and paragraphs during your reading times together. When they are mature enough, find a simple, low pressure reading program. The program doesn’t need to be complicated or costly. Just take it slow. Children will learn to read in their own time. Right now your goal is to develop a love for reading so they will want to do it on their own.
  • Nature & Science – We are told nature is God’s second book. Go for nature walks, and get fresh air and exercise daily. During your walks collect and identify wild flowers, plants, insects, trees, birds, etc. Record your discoveries in a nature notebook. Invest in some field guides. Read and learn about nature during your family reading time. Draw, paint and write about what you see in nature.
  • Math – Preschool and elementary math can be taught by matching socks, counting items, and sorting them into groups. Teach fractions in the kitchen by cutting apples, oranges, or pies, measuring ingredients. Learn measurement in Dad’s wood shop measuring, cutting and building. Use number lines to learn to add and subtract in a visual way. Toy cars can travel along the line for so many miles, then drive back so many more to find totals and differences. Use flash cards and addition and subtraction practice sheets to help them learn their math facts. Do short timed drills. As they mature and gain understanding add an occasional math workbook page if the children enjoy them. Middle school and high school math will require a textbook, but don’t eliminate drill and parental time. Give opportunity for drill and review; not going at too fast a pace. Learn for mastery.
  • History, Geography, Social Studies, Language Arts – These subjects can be implemented through the above activities and through the unit study method below. It’s so easy to incorporate them into unit studies and family reading time. Purchase a good English handbook to help guide you in introducing proper grammar, and correct punctuation and capitalization. Invest in a spelling program that grows with the student and will cover several grade levels. Find free spelling lists and games online. • Unit Studies – The easiest way to learn is by combining all the subject areas while learning one topic. This is called a unit study. Always have a unit study going as a part of the school day. For example, if a child is interested in airplanes read stories about flight (the Wright brothers, mission pilots, early air mail flights, WW II pilots; etc.). Research in books and online about types of planes. Go to the airport and identify planes. Draw planes and cross-section views of their mechanical parts. Analyze differences in the time it takes to drive or fly to the same destination and chart routes. Build model airplanes. Write or dictate a story about a plane and/or pilot. Take advantage of free airplane rides offered by many private pilot clubs. Take pictures of planes and make a scrapbook or write a story. Journal about planes. Buy magazines about planes and have child read aloud to siblings. See if a private pilot needs help maintaining a plane (washing, checking tires, etc.). Go to a flight museum or an air show. Get a book about making paper airplanes and try making different kinds. Compare and contrast their flights for speed, distance, and acrobatic skills. Develop a rating chart. Go with the flow and what your child shows an interest in. Do you get the idea? Every subject that interests your family can be studied in this manner!

Don’t forget two other important aspects of your custom designed homeschool curriculum.

  • Work – It’s important for children to learn that in a family we all have responsibilities that help the household run smoothly. Assign each child household chores that are appropriate for their age and ability. Teach them gently and thoroughly how to complete their tasks. Show the older children how to help the younger ones.
  • Service – Your children will benefit immensely from learning to put others first through service activities. Start first by looking for service opportunities in your own home. Find ways to serve one another, grandparents, and other family members. Then branch out to serving others in your neighborhood, church, and community.

As your children grow and mature you can add an appropriate textbook here and there where necessary. A well rounded combination of unit studies, a few carefully chosen textbooks, reading individually and aloud as a family, a computer and a good library for research, hobbies, nature study, and family worship will prove to be the very best curriculum available for your homeschooling family.

Choosing Your Curriculum – Part One

If you have ever been to a homeschool curriculum fair or browsed through a homeschool supply catalog you know how confusing it can be to make a decision on what curriculum you are going to buy. There are so many choices available. They all look so good, yet they are all so different. You may have asked homeschooling friends for their recommendations, only to discover what worked for them doesn’t appeal to you at all. You wonder how in the world you’re going to make the best choices for your family.

First you need to take a few things into consideration:

Your own personality and teaching style – Are you organized and creative? Are your children disciplined and motivated? If so, unit studies may be a perfect fit. If not, you may need the extra help of a more structured program at the beginning.

  • Your home situation – Are you a single parent? Is Dad going to stay home and teach while Mom becomes the breadwinner? Are you on a tight budget? Maybe your family is sailing around the world this year and you’re homeschooling on the go. Homeschooling families are a very diverse bunch. Whatever curriculum you choose needs to fit your lifestyle. Don’t settle for the most popular or cleverly packaged materials that you see. Ask yourself, “Will this realistically work in our situation?”
  • Your children’s learning styles – Hands-on, or kinesthetic learners need to experience learning by touching, feeling and doing. They need to manipulate objects with their hands. Unit studies can be ideal for these children. Auditory learners need to hear information. Reading and explaining things to them is helpful. Audio CD’s of math facts, history, states and capitals, the Bible and more can all be implemented. Visual learners need to see in order to grasp a concept. They love illustrations, charts, books, and flash cards. They can be easily distracted by the things they see around them. They love to read, write and draw pictures.
  • Your goals and philosophy of education – Where is God leading you? What is your reason for homeschooling? How long do you plan to homeschool? Are you just planning to homeschool for a year or two, or is homeschooling a lifestyle and long-term commitment for your family? The answers to these questions will help you decide which resources are right for you.

I know this is not what most new homeschoolers want to hear, but no one can tell you to go out and buy XYZ curriculum and use it. Each family is different and unique in their own ways. The resources that work for one family may not work at all for another. The books you used with one child may not be what’s best for the next. What you start out using in the beginning will more than likely not be what you’re using a few years down the line. As you gain experience and confidence you will settle in with the materials that work, throw out the ones that don’t, and replace them with ones that are a good fit for your family.

Don’t worry. Your children won’t suffer because you didn’t follow the same structured curriculum program, purchased from the same publisher for their entire homeschooling experience. They will learn much more over the years if you use resources that were hand picked to meet the unique needs of you and your family.

Prov. 3:5-6 tell us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Remember, the Holy Spirit will guide you in choosing the right homeschooling resources for your family. All you need to do is ask.

Homeschooling Methods and Styles

You will hear the term “true education” quite frequently in Adventist homeschool groups. What is true education? In a nutshell “True education is the preparation of the physical, mental and moral powers for the performance of every duty; it is the training of body, mind and soul for divine service. This will be the education that will endure unto eternal life.” Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 330.

Is true education different from homeschooling? Homeschooling is defined as educating children at home, rather than in the formal setting of a public or private school. True education includes academics, but covers a much broader spectrum than the simple definition of homeschooling. We are talking about more than just learning to read, write and do math. True education is about training our children to be spiritual, knowledgeable, physically fit people, with characters developed to meet the challenges of adulthood and prepared to follow God’s will for their lives. We want them to be true thinkers, not just reflectors of another person’s thoughts.

Below are a few brief descriptions of some of the most popular methods of homeschooling. The method you choose should not only be one that fits well with your family, but one that also facilitates and enhances the goal of true education.

  • Traditional textbook/workbook programs are what most of us use when we begin homeschooling. It’s familiar to us because it’s the way we were educated in the public or church school systems. Depending on the program you choose, much of the planning may already be done for you. However, following a technique designed to keep a large classroom full of students busy for up to an hour per subject isn’t necessarily the ideal for teaching and training our children at home. There are many of these programs available by various publishers.
  • Classical Education is a method based on what is called the Trivium. This theory is based on the belief that as a child learns, he or she goes through three phases. Grades K-6 are called the Grammar stage. The focus is on teaching the child to read, write and listen. The child is given only facts to memorize, and not presented with theoretical concepts, since it is thought the child is still unable to reason. Grades 7-8 are the Logic or Dialect stage. Students are taught logic and critical thinking. The child learns to be analytical and to comprehend abstract concepts. Grades 9-12 are the Rhetoric stage. At this stage classical education focuses on rhetoric, the art of speaking, communicating, and writing.
  • Unit Studies often combine several academic subjects into the study of a single book or topic. Unit studies can also include the study of character traits, music, art, and more. They are a great way to combine multiple age groups into a single program. This homeschooling method can require more planning and preparation by the parent to purchase and prepare materials. However, there are unit studies available for free online or that can be purchased from various homeschool suppliers. Even though unit studies can incorporate all subjects, some parents feel they need to supplement with a math or language arts curriculum.
  • Eclectic homeschoolers use different approaches and methods of homeschooling and form a unique homeschooling style. It’s not unusual for an eclectic homeschooler to use a combination of methods and curriculum sources to teach each different subject based on the needs and learning styles of their children.
  • Unschooling is one of the most misunderstood methods of homeschooling. It is sometimes described as interest driven or delight driven learning. Unschooling is trusting in a child’s natural curiosity to lead them to learn what they need to know. Unschooling doesn’t mean there is a lack of parenting or training, and it is not an excuse to do whatever you want. Families implement the unschooling method in a variety of different ways, so no one particular style defines unschooling.
  • There are many other homeschooling methods and styles such as Charlotte Mason, The Moore Formula, lapbooking, umbrella schools, and distance, online or computer based learning, just to name a few.

We encourage you to keep the goal of true education in mind as you prayerfully research and decide which homeschooling method will be the best fit for you and your family.