Saturday, August 11, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week

August 11, 2007

We're not really back to school this week--in fact I protest starting in early August !--but on our support group's yahoogroup we've been playing along with the "Back to Homeschool" blogs that are circulating in the 'sphere this week. I've enjoyed reading thoughts from members in various stages of homeschooling, and I've posted along each day.

Day 1: What led to your decision to homeschool?
Why do you do what you do? What brought you to homeschooling? What factors played a part in your decision?

We are entering our 8th year of homeschooling. The kids are now in 9th , 5th and 1st grades. We always had homeschooling tucked away in the back of our mind after having met (and been impressed with) a few homeschooling families in our early years of marriage and parenting. However, we ended up sending our oldest to PS kindergarten. We lived in Iowa at the time, and the situation was ideal. He attended a neighborhood school a couple of blocks away. Iowa is one of the smart states that still has 1/2 kindergarten. (Incidentally, they are ranked always in the top 5 of best education systems in the US.) Jesse went to school for 2.5 hours in the afternoon, and it was just like I remembered kindergarten: a time largely devoted to exploring and playing. His teacher said, "If they learn to write their names at the end of kindergarten, that's great. If not, they'll learn it in 1st grade. There's no hurry." I loved her.

The next year we moved to Knoxville, and our son attended public school there. The whole experience was completely different, and we knew within two months that we'd start homeschooling. We went from having an incredible relaxed, flexible family life to being ruled by the school system. We were even told that we should not go on vacation during the school year, as this disrupted the class. When we volunteered (and we weren't asked to volunteer, we just volunteered to volunteer), most of the time we had to sit outside the classroom and cut things out. My son never had less than 30 minutes of homework, which was sheer torture in its busy work. And I was horrified that they actually spent a portion of their day practicing how to fill out bubbles in preparation for the 2nd grade TCAPs. Anyway, those are just a few of the MANY things that knocked some sense into us, and we began homeschooling when we moved to Maryville at the end of his 1st grade year.

But in the years since, I've quickly learned--and learn anew each year--that homeschooling is so much more than a disappointment or a disgust with the public schools. It is a lifestyle choice. Yes, our experience with public schools played a part in our decision, certainly, but the root of our decision was a desire to keep our family intact and to enjoy our life. Below are a few more reasons:

Family: Probably the most profound reason why we homeschool is our desire to truly appreciate and celebrate the daily sanctity of family. No one besides our Lord can know our children better than we do. Why give away their best hours to someone else? We feel so strongly that our family is a gift to nurture and enjoy. We don’t have to conform to the standards of an individual or an organization whose values we don’t support. We want a more relaxed, less hectic lifestyle. We want to watch ants carry a dead wasp or watch birds on a sunny afternoon or read for hours on end. Our children are able to bond more with each other and with us as they spend time together playing, working, and helping each other. Our time with our family is so short and so precious.

Learning. As far as learning goes, our values about learning were quite different from those of the local school system. We want to teach our children creatively. We want them to love learning—not look at learning as a chore that must be completed, day after day, year after year. We wanted to be able to spend weeks on a certain subject if we were enthralled by it, or to spend only a day on a topic or a process that we found unnecessary. For instance, in PS, a child might spend weeks learning a math process that we spend one hour learning. Homeschooling allows us to teach very specifically to our own children without having to teach to the middle—or to the lowest—end of the class. If you haven't read John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down, I highly recommend it.

Time. Too much of the precious time allotted to childhood is wasted in school buildings! How much time is spent engaged in meaningful learning in a typical day at a typical school? How much time is spent with discipline issues, waiting in various lines, waiting for the teacher, waiting for the next activity, waiting until everyone else is done…. Also, I think about how much learning my kids do OUTSIDE during the day.

Identity: I want my kids to have a clear sense of who they are. Not who they are as defined by their teachers or their peers, but who they really are. It is so much easier to be a confident, secure adult of you can bypass all the junk that goes on in school.

Socialization. My children are socializing with the real world—with people of all ages, in all walks of life. They are not stuck with a group of 20-30 of the same kids every day—kids their own age. Their friends are our friends' kids. We have family friendships. We look out for each other and for each other's kids. That is pure joy.

Shelter. One of the remarks I hear occasionally during discussions about homeschooling is whether or not I’m concerned about the fact that our children are sheltered too much from reality. I explain that "shelter" has developed a negative connotation. To be sheltered is one of our basic needs. Think about how God promises us shelter--how he shelters us in the cleft of a rock or under a wing. Providing shelter is a good thing! Yes, I am very concerned about sheltering my children from the reality defined by the culture of school.

Faith Heritage. Finally, we homeschool for our faith heritage. We want our children to learn to serve others and to engrave the Word of God on their hearts by acting it out daily. We want them to grow to be servant-leaders who will make a difference in the Kingdom of God.


Day 2 ---How do you homeschool?
Scheduling, classical education, unschooling, getting the kids to help with chores, how to be "mom" and "teacher" at the same time, special needs, teaching an advanced child, how to teach the tough subjects, teaching high school, teaching with babies and preschoolers in the house, budgeting for homeschool supplies, notebooking, etc., etc., etc...

Homeschooling is different every year. We tweak a little here and there, add a few things, drop a few things. Often I forget things we used to do until one of my friends reminds me (Mystery Folders** is a good example of that). Occasionally I forget subjects altogether until someone reminds me (spelling would be a good example of that). Also, we start off with a bang and eventually fizzle out, so that by May we are pretty much just finishing our Sonlight read-alouds. (I'm really not kidding very much about that.)

* As far as scheduling, I can probably only say truthfully that 90% of the time, we start our day with Bible reading. After that, it all depends Moods. I make weekly assignments for my older kids (5th and 9th grades). They each have a spiral notebook, and on Sunday night of each week, I make out their weekly schedules. They have the whole week to do their assignments. If they finish everything before Friday, lucky them! (That rarely happens.) If they don't finish, this gets tacked on to the next week's schedule. (That rarely happens.) They LOVE having their own list of things to do, and it makes life so much easier for all of us. That way, if I am working with one of them, the other doesn't stand around and say, "What should I do next?" There are several things I have to help them with, of course, especially my 5th grader. (My 9th grader pretty much works all on his own.) But, when I'm not available to help her, she has plenty of things she can do independently. My first grader needs a lot more one-on-one from me, and when the other kids need me, he takes a break. Also, since we do Sonlight, we do a huge amount of reading aloud together. I try to keep outside lessons (sports, music, classes, etc.) after 3 p.m. so that we can do our at-home stuff from 9:30-2:30. Or something like that. (And that time includes lunch break and outside time, etc.)

* Teaching an advanced child: That's one of the reasons we homeschool. I saw a school career filled with much boredom coming up for our oldest. Homeschooling allows us to teach based on their skill level, not their age level.

* How to teach tough subjects: Learning along with the kids is one of the fringe benefits of homeschooling. And for those tougher high school courses, BHEA's enrichment classes are awesome.

* Budgeting for supplies: Dave Ramsey is king.

* Notebooking: Each child has a 3-ring binder with sheet protectors in which we keep a sampling of their work. We also have an art notebook, a nature study notebook and a geography notebook. All work is dated on the back, and the binders keep going until they are filled up.

* I don't have babies and preschoolers anymore, but here are things I used to do.

Day 3---Getting out there...
Extra-curricular activities, community involvement, volunteering, sports teams, music lessons, co-ops, making sure your kids have opportunities to be social, etc., etc., etc...

We are blessed in our area to have ample opportunities to get kids involved in as much or as little as you want. This is one of those issues that becomes an intensely personal choice, and we've probably all seen fellow homeschoolers be defensive on one side or another. There are some folks who prefer to stay home and keep activities to a minimum, while others like to go full-force. And this is definitely a "whatever suits your family" kind of thing!

I don't know why we do stuff like this, but I have, on more than one occasion, heard from moms who are torn because another homeschooling mom told them that "they do too much." Likewise, I know many families who bask in being home as much as possible and rarely take part in outside activities but have been criticized by others because they don't do field trips or classes or what-have-you.

That said, we like to do stuff. We also like to stay at home. My balance is to 1) limit outside activities to after 2:30 p.m. preferably; 2) limit evenings away; and 3) not sign up for every single field trip. One thing I love is that many of our regular activities meet only twice a month (Boy Scouts, American Heritage Girls, Cub Scouts, horseback riding lessons, piano lessons), so this frees up the calendar quite a bit. My kids love enrichment classes (especially the younger ones; as they get to high school, classes become more work!) and look forward to Mondays tremendously. Sports are weekly but seasonal (except year-round swimming) and some other lessons are weekly, but it's all just part of life. For us, those outside activities are all considered part of the learning process.

Day 4---Curriculum
What curriculum do you use? Where do you buy it? Have you found a "gem" that you must share with others? Was something in particular a complete failure for you and your kids?

We discovered Sonlight before I even started homeschooling. My plan was to create our own literature-based, chronological curriculum, and then someone directed me to Sonlight. Why reinvent the wheel? We are going into our 8th year with Sonlight. I modify a lot, and I learned early on that one doesn't have to do everything listed in the instructor's guide. But it suits our family exceedingly well.

I have 3 children in 3 very different places: high school, late elementary, and early elementary. I have always taught to the oldest and let the younger ones absorb when it comes to Sonlight read-alouds. This year the oldest will be working totally on his own, and I'll be focusing on the younger ones.

Here is our agenda for the year.

Saturday, August 11 ---If I had only known...
What have you learned on your homeschooling journey? What would you/did you change? This is an opportunity to encourage others who are just starting out or who are struggling with issues that seem unsolvable. It is also a perfect opportunity to tell us about one of those days made you want to throw in the towel. A funny story? Perfect!

I will steal Dr. H's motto for this one: Hike Your Own Hike. "Hike Your Own Hike (or "HYOH") comes from Appalachian Trail thru-hiker-ese and means simply, follow your own path, in your own way, at your own pace." Do what works best for your family.

And some other things I"ve learned:
* Talk to people. We have 200 families in our support group.. I've never met a homeschooler who doesn't LOVE to talk about homeschooling. Ask questions, ask to see curriculum, ask how they do it all.....

*.... But don't get stressed out by what someone else is doing and you're not. The X family might spend 7 hours/day doing school and you only spend 3.5. Someone's 5-year-old is reading at a 10th grade level and yours can't read at all. You might love a textbook approach and everyone else seems to be doing unit studies. Hike your own hike. Know your own kids.

* Be flexible. You don't have to do every problem in a math book. You don't have to do 3rd grade work in the 3rd grade. It's OK to do 2nd grade math and 8th grade reading if that's where your child is. You don't have to stick with a curriculum that just isn't working. You don't have to do school from 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Do evening school if that works better for your family. Be flexible but....

* Have a plan. It's frustrating for everyone if you don't know where you're going ultimately. Hikers have a goal. Very few ramble along a trail without any definite ending. That doesn't mean you have to have a mission/vision statement--although I know many families do--but you should have a general plan for the year, the week, the day--and even 12 years down the line. But be flexible.

I have to say with all honesty, and I know that some of you will want to throw tomatoes at me, but I have never had a day when I wanted to throw in the towel. That doesn't mean that I haven't had bad days when I've thrown towels or pretended to smack mosquitoes off my kids' heads ;-), but I've never wanted to pack them off to school. I think that's largely because my oldest was in public school for a couple of years, and no one is interested in returning to that life. We like our life. I feel tremendously blessed, each and every day, to be able to homeschool.


  1. I hope you get email notification because this is an old post. I had a question about Sonlight. Do you use their full language and science programs also? If not, what do you use.

  2. My apologies....I was signed up under Dan, my husband. This should straighten it all out. Same question, only from Kathy at


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