I am always amused by the mythological proportions homeschooling families have taken on within the culture through the years!
When we first began homeschooling 28 years ago, there was only one other family we knew of in our entire county who homeschooled….and within a few months, they moved away! The clerks at the local Hy-Vee grocery store would ask us really interesting questions…..”is that legal?” assuming, I suppose, that an armed police officer would arrive at any moment and snatch my children away while we browsed through the cornflakes aisle!
There were the well-meaning moms at church who asked us about “socialization” while their own teenagers stared at me blankly and mumbled incoherently!
There was my husband’s boss who was quite concerned because he had seen a special on Nightline about para-military families in the backwoods who were forgoing academics and instead were training their children to use weapons and start a militia in their homeschool support group.
And then there was the neighbor who wanted to know how much the government was paying me to homeschool my own kids. I got a kick out of that one…if she only could grasp that there wasn’t enough money in the world to convince a mom to do such a thing, it had to be done by conviction alone!
I imagine that over the years, and now decades, we have heard just about every single myth that comes along with the choice to teach our children at home. Those outside of our homeschooling circles have funny ideas about us, especially as moms. One older woman I know swears I am Wonder Woman, twirling and snapping my way through the day, that I am a pillar of patience, and that I am producing genius children. Obviously she has never seen my laundry pile that looks like a unit study project on Mount Olympus gone bad!
Today I thought we should talk about some myths that are common and are sometimes even being perpetuated from within the homeschooling community, not from the outside.
Getting through the whole book or the entire curriculum means your child will be educated, brilliant and headed for greatness, that they will be successful.
If I listen between the lines to first time homeschoolers or those who are thinking of homeschooling their children as they make their plans, one of the first things I hear are these questions: “What curriculum are you using?” or “What curriculum should I use?” After they are convinced they have chosen the perfect materials, moms start looking through the teacher’s guides and begin to fill out detailed lesson plans. They divide the number of pages of each textbook by the required number of school days that their local school system or state requires, and they figure out just how much material needs to be covered to complete each book. It is the curriculum drives the typical homeschooling teacher and child.
This whole approach was really confirmed to me a while back when I chatted with a mother of pre-schoolers who was intent on purchasing a curriculum package for her very lively little boys. As I asked her about their interests and about the type of learners they were and as I was encouraging her to not push an intense reading program on boys at too early of an age, it became obvious to me that her agenda was to purchase and proceed through a curriculum rather than to assess each of her children individually for what would be best for each of them. I smiled and nodded, but any suggestions of reading a book by the Moores were rebuffed and I was told “Oh, I have heard of the Moores and we would NEVER be interested in what they have to say. We believe in early childhood education so we need to buy textbooks for them!
This is exactly why I think following a tight curriculum schedule can often be counterproductive. We assume that learning and education are somehow equated with formal school and seatwork and doing everything in and from a textbook. And you will always find someone who will promote doing public school in your home, assuming that all children learn in the same manner and that it must come from textbooks and worksheets. There is the assumption that if a book is completed during the school year, learning and education have occurred. This is the reason both moms and children, especially boys, often burn out in the early years.
Instead, the goal should be to raise a life-long learner who knows how to find information and apply it in a variety of contexts and this usually happens along the rabbit trails you take each day!
As you work your way through a textbook, I can guarantee there will be an abundance of questions and thoughts your children will have about various topics. Textbooks by their very nature take an enormous amount of material and condense it down into bite size and simple parts. Your job as a teacher is to expand that material back out and if you are wise, to follow the lead of your children as they want to know more about particular material.
One way I have done, for example, is this is to take a particular history book and rather than use it for one year for one student, I have worked through it in 3 or 4 years with several children, adding in field trips, documentaries, detailed studies of all sorts of related topics, and particularly adding in biographies because children love real stories of real people and that is, after all, what history is! If you listen to what your children want to learn you will soon see them learning everything you think they need to know and then some! (On a side note: this brings up the myth of “grade level” but we will save that for another day!)
One of the common concerns often expressed to us over the years about homeschooling is whether or not we could possibly teach our children everything. My answer is always “no” followed by the correct observation that there is no teacher or institution or family who could possibly teach everything. And that shouldn’t even be a goal! The vast amount of information, especially technological information, that is generated increases exponentially each year.
Rather than worrying about knowing it all, our goal as homeschoolers ought to be to raise and to become, ourselves, lifelong learners. This is accomplished first by providing an environment rich in life experiences and then giving our children an introduction to ideas and concepts outside of those experiences. By teaching and training in research skills and not simply uploading them with information and allowing them plenty of space to study things they are curious about and that delight them, we have given them the tools to be successful no matter where the Lord takes them!
Let me encourage you to consider using real books from the library, a tub of art supplies, read stories rich in vocabulary, provide a variety of good music, the daily discussion of God’s Word and how it relates to the world around him, and give your kids the attention of a loving parent who includes him in all the activities of real life…these are the secrets to a great learning experience for children. Winston Churchill once lamented, “My education was interrupted only by my schooling” and how very true that can be, even for homeschooled children, especially if we think completing curriculum packages is the secret to success!
Old ways are best, old ways are worst.
One of my most vivid memories of the early days of homeschooling our children was how excited I was to have my children home with me and the picture I had in my mind of what I wanted that to look like! I can remember picturing myself being Ma Ingalls, children around the table learning, or playing outside and exploring as though we had our own Plum Creek, soup bubbling on the store, fresh baked bread in the oven, and that is really actually how most of our days looked as my children grew up. It was in the midst of this that someone gave me a stack of textbooks that had belonged to my grandpa who had been born in 1890 and had attended a little one room schoolhouse in a small country community. I remember being amazed at the material he was expected to know in order to graduate from 8th grade and as I looked through the McGuffy readers and the Civics books, it suddenly occurred to me that, though he had a great education for his day and it even exceeded in some ways what most young people learn today at that age, if we were to follow his path, our children would be miserably prepared for the future, for the year 2040 and beyond! There is often a tendency to take the admonition from Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls” and then somehow apply it to how we educate our children today, often eschewing newer ways or contemporary as wrong.
Instead, the goal is to educate children for the future, not for the past and not for the present!
We must realize that in order for our children to be prepared believers who can teach and live a Biblical worldview far into the 21st century, they will need to be able to interact with and understand our current culture and how Scripture applies to it in all areas of life. I once had some homeschooled children in a co-op class I taught who were not learning any keyboard skills because their parents just didn’t see a need for it and somehow saw it as trendy or associated with things they didn’t like about the teen culture today like texting. We need to encourage our children to not only know how to use technology but also how to excel at using it and even consider how to creatively improve on it.
On the other hand, with all the amazing opportunities we have today to use this same technology via apps and online courses etc., we must also not fall for the myth that everything new is always best. Listening to music via our ipods is great but going to live concerts should also be an experience our kids have. Enjoying and understanding the worldviews taught in contemporary music and film is important but so is reading the timeless truths taught in great works of literature and drama. Finding the balance means that we cannot declare one generation or their ways better than another’s!
All methods of teaching and learning are equal.
A number of years ago, Clay and I were invited to spend an evening with some homeschooling couples for dinner and fellowship. Each of us were asked to bring along our favorite curriculum and to tell why we liked it and what method we would be using to teach it. We had a great time and were amazed by the incredible differences we saw around the table among the 20 or so people who shared that night. There were no duplicate books or materials and interestingly, each family had chosen materials that reflected things that were important to them as they began their homeschooling journey. The nurse and her husband, the science teacher, brought their favorite biology-related materials, evern showing us a science-based phonics program! The musicians and artists brought along biographies of famous composers, while the socially aware families brought worldview documentaries and magazines!
I enjoy listening to moms talk about their favorite teachings styles and methods of learning for their kids and often I am amazed at how willing moms are to lump all their kids together when it comes to choosing how they will teach and how their kids will learn. While this is not unusual, I think we need to be careful not to expect all of our children to learn in the same ways or to be interested in the same things that interest us.
Instead, the goal is to find the learning method that inspires, incites, and delights each child you are teaching and still get your laundry done! And we have to recognize that all methods of teaching and learning are not equal for all children.
Though we will not be able to prevent having some bias and our personal interests will obviously shine through in what we teach, we need to be aware that not only will the subjects of interest vary with our kids but so will the ways they learn those subjects.
Some of your children will never enjoy the intensity of reading the Great Books. Some will never like mathematics the way other children in your home may like it. Others will be drawn to anything artistic and others will find art projects something to barely endure. Some will be inclined to take apart every single mechanical item in your home and others will prefer to spend their days reading about the inventors of those mechanical objects! One of your roles as a homeschooling mom is to identify what your children love and then use it to teach all the other things they need to know!
I know some of you are thinking “well, how in the world do I accommodate the differences in my household?” and I think the secret to this is to not teach all subjects in all the same way but to vary them from year to year and even from course to course, even offering options for each child in to how they will approach the material. Here is one example: Together, read aloud the chapter on Westward Expansion in your textbook. Assign your researcher child a paper on the Oregon Trail and give your artist child the assignment of reading about Frederic Remington and painting a mural in his style. When both are finished, have an oral presentation from both of them for the whole family. If your personal love is current events, share with your children how what happened during that time affects us today. By finding what interests everyone and which methods are best for each of you, school time will be both more enjoyable and profitable!
Love, peace, and family harmony are the natural by-product of a homeschooling paradigm.
One of the greatest joys for me is to meet and listen to young homeschooling moms. It is so fun to hear them talk with such enthusiasm about their children, about the thrill they have at watching the light bulbs come on as they teach something to their little ones for the first time! I love hearing them tell me about their husbands and how the Lord is using homeschooling to draw them close together and is giving them a tremendous life purpose as a couple.
But one thing that saddens me is to hear so many of them tell me how they attended a homeschooling workshop or conference where certain lifestyles or paradigms are promoted as being “the godly way” to raise children or that there are “the normative, non-optional roles” for all men and all women. These moms are discouraged…they have been guaranteed perfect, harmonious families where brothers and sisters don’t fight, in spite of the fact that Proverbs 17:17 tells us that a brother is born for adversity! Or they have been told that there is no higher calling than to have many babies and yet they became parents through adoption. Or they have been told that girls should only be trained to be some conference speaker’s definition of a keeper at home and yet they have daughters who are academically gifted and believe the Lord is calling them to missions or medicine. And, incredulously, some of them are even being told that they are not obeying Scripture by not going to certain churches! They are asking if these are things they should practice in their own homes and should teach to their children. After all, they heard these ideas at a homeschooling conference! And why are these paradigms so illusive to me? What am I doing wrong? Am I sinning because I don’t fit into these lifestyles? Some are even second generation homeschoolers whose families don’t approve of the “way” they are homeschooling and they wonder how they can restore relationships that have been so damaged by these lifestyle teachings. They want to know if their commitment to their children and homeschooling must include these things. You see, they are being beaten down by legalistic lifestyle messages and are looking for hope and a genuine relationship with Christ for themselves and for their children!
We all know what being committed to our children looks like. In caring for them physically, we make sure they have well-balanced meals, see the dentist and doctor regularly, wear weather-appropriate clothing, and always buckle-up in the car. Spiritually, we teach them from their earliest days to love God completely, confess their sins, and trust Christ alone for their salvation. Emotionally, we let them know how much we love them and we hug them every day. Mentally, we challenge them with good books and creative activities.
All of these things express our commitment to our children, however, I think that too often, some homeschooling parents are committed to a paradigm, rather than to their children as unique individuals, young men and women who are image-bearers of the living God. They tend to catch a vision that a particular homeschooling guru has for homeschooling families and adopt it as their own, not taking into consideration their own unique calling as a family and as individuals within that family. They establish goals and objectives that don’t even fit their own children. They become frustrated when a child questions what he is being taught or cannot or does not want to comply with it. Then they have no choice but to renounce their sons and daughters as “rebellious,” sometimes just for asking questions. In some cases, parents completely cut off a relationship with a grown child who makes choices that aren’t what the paradigm requires, even though those choices aren’t necessarily unbiblical.
Not long ago, a wonderful godly young man who was homeschooled and is now the father of 5 amazing kids shared this with me: He said “It is difficult to be the skeptical child” and I winced when I heard him say it. You see, once you climb inside the paradigm, you are bound to embrace all of it and you begin to believe that anything that falls outside the paradigm is sinful and that is the message sent to our children!
When we first began homeschooling, we fell into this very trap. We had attended several homeschooling conferences and heard a number of men talk about their families and watched, as they listed on an overhead projector (we are old, there were no laptops back then!), the “principles” for having a perfect homeschooling family. If we were only to follow steps one through seven, we, too, would have a family that looked like the (fill in the blank) family. And then the (fill in the blank) family would come on stage and be all dressed alike and would sing in perfect harmony. (We were not family singers but I felt perhaps we should be.) And the mother would address the women and the father would address the men and we would all go home with notebooks full of formulas for success.
But, do you know what I learned? There was no room for individuality in those notebooks. There was no place for an artistic child. There was no place for a special needs child. In fact, there was no place for ordinary, average children. There was only room for a programmed child. These people told us that every normal problem that came along, problems that are the result of living in a fallen world, were really the result of some unconfessed sin or spiritual warfare that was upon us because of some root problem we hadn’t looked at! I spent too much time trying to figure out what sin I needed to confess so all my light bulbs didn’t burn out at the same time or what scriptural principle I had violated that caused my six year old to have trouble reading. I scurried around the house getting rid of things like Cabbage Patch dolls because I was told that they could open the door to demons in my home and thus attack my children. (You may think this is too weird, but, believe me, it is true!) I spent no time delighting in the goodness of God, in the wonder of childhood, in the tremendous unique gifts that were given to me in the form of creative children! I had to repent of my commitment to the paradigm rather than the commitment to my children.
I am so thankful that the Lord, in his mercy and grace, taught us a better way. He allowed us to see that paradigms are idols, calling us to worship at their feet, replacing faith and hope in God with a sure fire formula for success. He taught us that He has a plan for our family that doesn’t look exactly like His plan for another family. He taught us to really look at what is passed off as “Biblical truth” and to examine it with the spirit of the Bereans. He taught us that legalism is alive and well and often comes from the hands of those who have a scary agendas.
Instead, the goal is to build solid relationships in your own families through practicing the one anothers of Scripture…love one another, serve one another, submit to one another, forgive one another, exhort one another, etc, by God’s grace and not by following any manmade paradigm. Our children are precious treasures from the Lord. Let’s value them as such and trust that God will bless us as we commit our ways of raising them to Him alone.”
Scheduling lots of activities provides lots of opportunities for learning.Filling days and nights with activities outside the home is now equated with a “well-rounded” homeschooling experience.
How often I have heard homeschooling moms lament how busy their weeks are and how much time they spend in the car rather than at home. One mom told me how their family gives one day each week to her co-op and that it takes her several days prior to their class day to help her children prepare and this on top of other subjects she hopes to cover. Other moms have 4 or 5 children to taxi to various lessons and practices each week and when added to church activities, family meal time and free time to just live in the world around them are often compromised.
Having older children who desire fellowship and friendship can be a good reason to get involved in occasional outside events and classes where particular skills can be honed is often a great idea. But the subtle pressure to provide “enrichment” for our children can often turn into an endless list of outside pursuits that steal away the hours of family living.
Instead, the goal is to say “yes” to those activities that will help you meet your overall goals and “no” to everything else!
Any time spent away from home should be measured by the benefits. Does it leave time to explore and learn new things on our own? Does it inspire creativity and further study? Does it promote a healthy lifestyle or does time outside the home mean that McDonalds and Burger King provide frequent meals for your family? Does it mean that younger children spend endless hours strapped into car seats while older children are taken to one event after another? Do you find yourself looking for ways to offer your children all the amenities of the public school system or are your children having time to serve others? Do your children spend most of their time with people who are a variety of ages or mostly with peers? Are you the one providing most of their Bible instruction and discipleship or is it done by your church? Do your children know that you always have time to listen to them and pray with them every single day? Here are some great questions to ask yourself as you decide how to schedule your time!
What are the areas of your life as a homeschooling family that are the most important to you? Brainstorm, making a list and narrowing it down to your top five priorities. Consider how the curriculum, programs, activities, and learning methods you now enjoy either enhance or detract from these goals.
Begin to eliminate those things that are not beneficial or that take time away from accomplishing these five goals. Ask yourself if those goals can be better met at home rather than outside the home and be honest. Remember that life is short and life with our children at home is even shorter. Imagine yourself, 25 years from now, talking with your adult children who are raising your grandchildren. How can you spend your time today that will best prepare them for that task?
Say “no” to new things that come along that also won’t help you accomplish your goals for your family. There is a plethora of opportunity for homeschooling families but ask yourself which options are the best choices for yours. Don’t succumb to the latest curriculum fad just because it is popular and appealing. Don’t jump on any homeschooling lifestyle bandwagon without evaluating it according to your goals. Don’t sign up for a single thing that will not help you accomplish one or more of your five goals.
Make time for those things that are important. Never allow yourself to say “I don’t have time” if it is something that will help you attain your goal. For example, if you want to develop a new family habit, wrap that activity around something you do every single day. For years we began the day as a family with Bible reading and prayer but found it difficult to keep as a routine because of Clay’s work schedule. So we decided to include it as part of something we do together every single day by incorporating it into our evening meal. We have had tremendous success!
Throw yourself into accomplishing those five goals. Read, study, and learn everything you possibly can about things related to those five goals and see how it changes your life!
Remember that the eternal always trumps the temporal. This will be a continual battle as long as we live in this world but purposing to live each day with this agenda at the core of your life will be worth it all.
I hope looking at 5 of the myths we find within the homeschooling culture has given you many things to think about and has been an encouragement to you as you anticipate your homeschool year!