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When it comes to homeschooling, the options seem countless AND it can feel overwhelming to decide what will be the best fit for our family. Honestly, if I were just starting out right now, and wasn’t already well over 2 decades and eight kids into this, I would be a nervous wreck! When I started, there weren’t nearly as many options and I think that actually made things simpler and certainly less overwhelming!
I am not advocating that this is the only way to homeschool. I am just sharing our story so that if it resonates with you, you will feel better equipped and encouraged to follow your instincts.
Homeschooling is a MARATHON, not a sprint, so pace yourself. If you start out doing too much too soon, you are likely to burn both yourself and your kids out long before this race is over. (Check out my book, The Unhurried Homeschooler on Amazon).
If you are thinking about homeschooling or just starting out, for your own sanity, KEEP THINGS SIMPLE (shhh…I have never lesson planned). Don’t overwhelm yourself with information. Pray diligently for God’s leading in schooling your kids. He knows them better than you do, and He will be faithful to show you what’s best for them. Ask God to BRING to you what HE wants for your family. Don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself to others. Your family is unique and has it’s own “culture”. The joy of home schooling is that we can customize our learning to fit our family’s lifestyle. That means we are NOT burdening ourselves with trying to replicate the public school classroom or someone else’s homeschooling.
It should be one of our top priorities to nurture our children’s love of learning and that means we follow their lead and interests as much as possible. Especially when they are young, it’s important not to push book work, reading, etc on them. Watch for their cues. Are they happy about learning to read? Do they show a genuine interest in learning their letters, learning to write, etc? Boys, especially, seem to need to wait longer to start any formal schooling (I wrote more about this in my post, Let Them Be Boys along with other posts on boys AND my podcast series on Homeschooling Boys) It’s a delicate line to walk of encouraging, but not pushing. We do this to foster their love of learning. What has happened at our house is, about age 12-14, instead of being burnt out on learning, they suddenly start to “own” their education. They realize how much they are capable of learning, how many things they are interested in and begin to pursue these things on their own. We have also taught our children to be resourceful: to know how to find out what it is they want to know. My thought has always been that if you nurture their love for learning and teach them to be resourceful, they will be able to do whatever they decide they want to do!
I had a need to be able to tangibly see some of our kids’ progress, so I did use workbooks when our kids were young, but kept them to a minimum. To learn reading, we started out with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This book teaches to read phonetically and is broken up into short, easy lessons. It is simple enough for your older, reading children to use in teaching the youngers, which is very helpful if you have several children. When the kids were reading somewhat well and able to write their letters and numbers (I used workbooks from Costco and Walmart to teach this), I would start them in an age appropriate math and language book. For kindergarten I simply used workbooks from Walmart or Costco. In first or second grade, I used either Abeka or Horizons for math and Abeka for language. Each morning I would have them do a couple pages in each book. They did this on their own as much as possible, with me close by to answer any questions. I tried to be consistent, but in the early years, with so many little ones, much of the time we were doing well to get 3 days a week done (afternoon quiet time was reading time). They worked alongside me, helping keep order in the home and meeting needs of younger children. They also had plenty of time to play and explore. I had to trust God with what I could NOT pull off when it came to formal schooling. He has been very faithful and I think the kids have been better off having been able to just “be kids”. I think He used the logistics of a big family to force me to relax in my homeschooling and I am convinced it is superior to “over schooling”.
I’ve always tried to be as consistent as is humanly possible. But life happens and I am not consistent if we have too much on our plate. We keep our school plan simple so that we have flexibility to let the kids follow some interests on their own. What that looks like for us through the elementary years is to try to make sure that we do the basics each day: math and language arts (including reading, writing, etc). Science and history (our kids loved and learned a lot about American History from the PBS series, Liberty’s Kids) are something our kids, at this age, explore on their own. I try to listen for the things they seem interested in and have good books around for them to read. We can waste a lot of time at the library trying to find appropriate books, so a good book list resource is important. One of my favorite book lists is, Read for the Heart: Whole Books for WholeHearted Families by Sarah Clarkson and The Read Aloud Family by Sarah MacKenzie. The books listed are not “twaddle”, but meaningful books, with good illustrations and listed by subject and age appropriateness.
I wish I had used this earlier, but another option I love is Five in a Row by Jane Lambert. You can cover several subjects at once with this one because it’s more of a unit study that you can use for several age levels at once. You read the suggested books (which were carefully chosen by Jane and can also be used as another great book list for those library visits) as a springboard. Jane does a beautiful job of explaining different activities and conversations for several subjects based on that book. You have the option of doing as little or as much as you want or need for that day.
Just a quick note: Our youngest has had some learning issues and, in his case, it was important to get an earlier start in things like reading, writing and basic math. Dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc. require early intervention, so if you are suspect that your child might have some learning issues, make sure you get a diagnosis sooner rather than later. These kids tend to love hands on type learning which is a pretty easy thing to pull off in the early years with some basic manipulatives and just involving them in everyday life: grocery shopping, yard work, dishes, laundry, etc.
Another wonderful resource for language arts for third or fourth grade and up is Learning Language Arts Through Literature (you can just buy the student/teacher books and check out the books at the library or purchase everything as a kit). I would highly recommend this program especially if you want to cover pretty much all your language arts in one place. I love that it is literature based. Our girls especially enjoyed it.
With our boys, I’ve had to keep it really simple in this area. They read for 30-45 minutes and then write about a half page summary of what they read that I check over each day. This covers grammar, writing, spelling, punctuation, etc. In the early years, K-2nd or 3rd grade, I would let them narrate orally back to me what they read, then slowly (starting with a sentence or two) build up to the half page summary.
If there was interest, we sporadically used The Story of the World (there are several volumes) which takes the kids through world history in chronological order. It’s written like a story book and you can get the cd’s to have the kids listen to. We often used this during rest time. There is an activity book available as well if you want to use that. The Mystery of History is also a great history curriculum with activities for all ages, so it can be used with everyone at once!
When our children are jr. high age, we start to be a little more intentional in adding some science and/or history to the basic mix. Sometimes it works well to combine two subjects. For instance, right now, two of our boys are choosing a time period that they study (with resources they find-library books, documentaries, internet, etc) and take notes on for 2 weeks. Then they write a report about what they learned and turn it in to me. By doing this, they cover history, reading, writing (sentence structure, spelling, punctuation, taking good notes, grammar) and meeting a deadline. (I have used this method for high schoolers as well).
In following our kids’ interests, we tried to listen to what they seemed to be talking about a lot. Sometimes we would just ask them what they would like to learn about. They always had ideas and we try to accommodate them. Often we would pray and ask God to provide what He thought they should have. Sometimes that meant buying kits, picking up things at yard sales(things to take apart and put back together), art supplies, etc. or giving them experiences. For instance: a child is interested in knives, so we take him to a factory where knives are made. We had one who LOVED the idea of being a pilot, so a friend of ours took him up for an airplane ride. Our oldest daughter loved animals and had many different kinds over the years: goats, sheep, a llama, etc. She would be responsible for all the care, research and record keeping (most of which she initiated on her own). Another was interested in being a police officer, so we had a friend over for dinner who was on the local police force. Our son asked him lots of questions which he happily answered. I have always thought of the elementary years as a time of “exposure”. Kids will often be interested in many different things, so we don’t invest too heavily until we know it’s an interest that is “sticking”. Sometimes kids will end up going back to something over and over again and that is a pretty good cue that this may be their area of passion.
Throughout all of the elementary and jr. high years I go over their work daily with them to be sure they are getting the concepts they have covered that day.
This is the time when we can expect our kids to really be stepping up to the plate. For ours, that has meant “owning” their education, doing their work without us having to hound them. These years are the last we have with our kids to finish preparing them for life. Good work ethic, relationship and communication skills, taking responsibility for their decisions, being able to trouble shoot and problem solve. These are learned through schoolwork, but also through experiences. During these years our kids have more of a need to be social. Ours have naturally expressed this desire and we try to be intentional about this while being wise about who they spend this time with. It is also a time when we pray for opportunities that would cause them to grow in skills and confidence that could also potentially lead to future opportunities for jobs, ministry, etc.
In high school, some of our kids have taken things like Algebra, science and history at a local parent partnership program. Some have done all the work at home using resources like these:
*Biology 101 by Wes Olson (Excellent creation based perspective)
*Chemistry 101 by Wes
*Abeka or Bob Jones University-History
*Saxon Math (with teaching dvds)
*Teaching Textbooks-(with teaching cds) math (especially great for kids who need a boost in math confidence)
*Learning Language Arts Through Literature-You have the option of buying the kit or just buying the workbook/teacher’s guide and then checking out the books at your local library. This is literature based and pretty much a complete language course.
*Consumer Math-(very practical and something every young person should know, but probably not something that would necessarily prepare them for state testing, unfortunately)
*Mystery of History-I was really happy when I found this series! It weaves both world and biblical history, which makes sense as they both directly affected each other!
By the time our kids are in high school, I do very little schoolwork with them. They have mostly been self motivated and I just check in periodically. We will graduate our 6th in June 2019.
The truth is that our kids will remember more from our example than from what we say. All the practicalities aside, what is our goal? We want to raise children who love the Lord and carry out His purposes for them. That’s why it’s important to remember that school revolves around home, not home around school. I believe the best way to do that is to live life with our kids. Be authentic, be intentional and most of all, be gospel centered, growing right alongside your children.
Please be sure to check out my podcast for more encouragement: Durenda Wilson @ Spotify, iTunes or Overcast
My simple, mercifully short book on homeschooling: The Unhurried Homeschooler available on Amazon
Here is an interview I did with our son who was 19 years old at the time and a senior in college. (He is now a successful software engineer.) Jake was homeschooled from the beginning. He shares his homeschool experience and encourages homeschool moms, especially those with boys: Interview with Jake
For more inspiration in whole hearted learning ideas, I would highly recommend Educating the Whole Hearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson It’s a big book and I would be overwhelmed even now trying to take it all in, so I used it more as a reference book.
(*Contains affiliate links. You will NOT pay extra for using them. I’m sharing these resources as an option or a place to start. If you already have something in place that is working for you, stick with it. If it’s not broken, don’t “fix” it!)