Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There's no school like the home school

Maybe it's the fact that spring is around the corner, or maybe schools are beginning their annual Fall Enrollment push, but suddenly I am finding myself receiving numerous telephone calls and emails inquiring about home school. I love it!

We were very blessed to have several families help us with our decision to home school, so in an effort to "pay it forward," I'm going to share some of our answers to the most common home schooling questions.

Please note, however, that I am sharing my personal beliefs about the validity and effectiveness of home school. And that does involve comparing it to the other alternatives we have: mainstream school. And that these opinions are My opinions regarding My particular family, not Bob and his or Tina and her kids.

Is home school for everyone? Heck no! For a variety of reasons, it is not an option to some families, and that's perfectly okay! Education is important, and I believe that as long as you are a loving and dedicated and involved parent, you are serving your child well.

*When did you start home schooling?

When Hatfield began 3rd grade, and Atticus was still in pre-school (he was 5 and could have been kindy, but I don't believe in starting kids "early" in school.) Prior to home schooling, we had our children enrolled in: Montessori, Mary Linsmeier, public school, Catholic school, and Lutheran school. Some were great, one was okay and one was downright scary. So I feel comfortable (and qualified--we've been there, done that with it all) with comparing education philosophies.

* Why did you decide to home school?

When we decided to grow our family to 5 children, we realized that if we wanted to have a quality family life, we needed to reevaluate our school options. Did we really want to have children in 3 different schools someday (high school, middle school and elementary school), all in different parts of the city? That's a lot of chasing. Add in sports (we limit it to one at a time), music (a non-negotiable in our home), and church activities. Don't forget homework. When would there be any valuable family time? There wouldn't be. We'd be ships passing in the night, and for the Mister and I, this was unacceptable.

The more we researched home school (okay, I did the research and then took it to the Boss), the more I realized that THIS was the perfect answer to our school concerns. We love the fact that our children are home and are still family-led and not peer-led. We love that our children are able to converse with adults and people of all backgrounds. We can tailor each child's education to where they are. Nothing is rushed, and nothing is dragged out unnecessarily.

I will say this: it is a gift and privilege to teach your children. To watch their faces as they learn something knew, or struggle through a difficult concept, or make a connection for the first time. Just like first steps, the first time they say Mama, these are small wonders that you can never get back if you miss them.

*How did you decide what resources to use? There's so much out there!

The first year, we purchased a Sonlight curriculum. It's a full-curriculum, and you can tailor each child's math, reading and grammar to where they are skill-wise. This is so important to us because Hatfield can read on an 8th-9th grade level, with 7th grade comprehension. She would have been bored to tears with 3rd grade reading! But math wise, we needed to redo all of second grade math before we could get to 3rd. Atticus was not ready to begin reading, and I certainly was not going to push him to do so. But the kid "got" numbers and so we went to town there.

As we pushed through that first year, I continued my research of all the different types of home school curricula and programs out there. I soon swapped out the science and the math programs. I changed up History and added some stuff to it.

*Do you have your children "tested" with the public school kids?

No. And the reason why is that those tests have artificially low standards. And I don't want to "hold back" my kids by teaching to those low standards. I review the tests, am aware of what "skill levels" are appropriate per grade, and I have NO worries.

I believe that children are not an empty container. We cannot "dump" information into their brains with textbooks. The school systems are set up with a "Memorize/Test/Forget" learning system. Hatfield whizzed through 1st and 2nd grade math with 95+% averages. She would ace tests, and then she'd be in a puddle of tears a month later when the "Unit Review" came up because she knew nothing. NOTHING. So that's why we restarted math. I'd rather have her graduate with only Trig or Pre-Calc and not AP Calc as long as she has a SOLID foundation in the basics of math. Could we have continued on at "grade level?" Sure. But she would have a lifetime struggle with Math. Which leads to low self-esteem and a hatred of a fascinating subject matter. Not gonna do it.

Instead, we believe that children are sponges. Let them learn how to read, digest and assimilate information.

I learn so much from my own children. I didn't realize it until we began our home school journey, but as a nation, we really, really, truly dumb our kids down! They can comprehend SO MUCH MORE than we realize, if only given the chance! We impose these artificial ceilings by trying to get a classroom of kids on the same page, and then no one can take off and fly! So even if you do send your kids to school, read good books to them at home. Ask their opinions of things. Use big words around them and ask them if they know what it means. It's so easy to get lazy and just let it all slide, but please don't!

*What "style" home school are you?

We no longer use a "big box" program. They are wonderful, don't get me wrong. It just wasn't right for our particular family.

We operate under the Charlotte Mason school of thought. Charlotte Mason was an English educator in the 1800's. She believed education is a Discipline, an Atmosphere and a Life.

By “Atmosphere,” Charlotte meant the surroundings in which the child grows up. A child absorbs a lot from his home environment. Charlotte believed that atmosphere makes up one-third of a child’s education.

By “Discipline,” Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits — and specifically habits of character. Cultivating good habits in your child’s life make up another third of his education.

The other third of education, “Life,” applies to academics. Charlotte believed that we should give children living thoughts and ideas, not just dry facts. So all of her methods for teaching the various school subjects are built around that concept.

For example, Charlotte’s students used living books rather than dry textbooks. Living books are usually written in story form by one author who has a passion for the subject. A living book makes the subject “come alive.”

She taught spelling by using passages from great books that communicate great ideas rather than just a list of words.

She encouraged spending time outdoors, interacting with God’s creation firsthand and learning the living ways of nature.

To learn more, check out Amblesideonline.org or simplycharlottemason.com

*What does your day look like?

Our family operates on a schedule. I do best with one, and I firmly believe that children need structure to thrive. When they are secure in a stable environment, then they can spread their wings and really fly without having to worry about something shooting them out of the sky.

Here's our day:

7:15 am: Everyone up. Beds are made prior to coming downstairs.
7:30 am: Breakfast.
7:45 am: Hatfield showers.
8:00 am: The children dress and do Morning Chore Routine.
8:30-9:00 Piano practice for Hatfield
9:00 Morning Prayer, Bible Reading and Memory Verse (Paloma listens and participates.) The children must memorize 2 verses each week.

Between 9 and 11:30, we work on Copywork (this is handwriting, but taken from excerpts of wonderful literature showcasing wonderful ideas/thoughts.) Spelling (Hattie), Literature (Hattie), Reading (Atticus), Geography (both), History (both), Home Ec or Manners (both.) We may have an art lesson or play a game. When Atticus and I practice violin, Hattie plays with or reads to Paloma. We also have snack and do a read aloud. In nice weather we go outside at 11:30 to play until lunch at 12:15.

After lunch, Paloma rests. We then work on Math and Science.

We are usually done by 2. Then the rest of the day is for outside time and play.

Is it always this way? No! But the majority of the time, yes. It has become the natural rhythm of our daily life, and we're all comfortable with it.

We homeschool year round: 3 months on, 1 month off. The month off is for traveling. This May, we'll be driving out West to Seattle for 2 weeks. In September, we'll be driving down to Florida. I usually take half of December and half of January off, but that's for holidays (Cliff receives all the time between Christmas and NYD off, so it's nice to take advantage of that). In years ahead I'd like to rent a house on Guam every other year, and when the children are old enough, travel for missionary work.

*Do your kids fight? Do they drive you crazy?

Sure they do. But it's much less now that we home school. Because we are together so much, we "understand" each other a lot more. Sure, we get cranky and step on toes. But the Mister and I work very hard on promoting a "team" mentality.

Once I saw Maria Shriver on Oprah. O asked her about her closeknit family growing up. Maria, who has all brothers, said it was drilled in them: He is your brother (or she is your sister). You may not like each other at the moment, but you are to love one another. You are all you have, and someday Mom/Dad won't be here and you'll have each other. Love your brother! And she said that it was so effective and created a great bond.

So we take the same approach. I feel my kids are pretty respectful of one another. I don't tolerate name calling or physical pushing. But I let them sort out disagreements regarding sharing and play, because they need to learn to sort out those things for themselves.

My Mister is very respectful of me as the Home School Teacher. What I need, he will do, and do happily. He is always encouraging me to go out with friends. He doesn't freak out if I need time to myself.

We have an agreement not to make it a habit to come home from work and instantly demand "me" time. We're pretty in tune with each other and can sense when the other needs a break (and needs it now!) I've been known to line up a guys' dinner for the Mister or send him off to watch the fights if I think he's burning out. He'll call my mom to take me out for a margarita or send me to Jill's with a bottle of wine if he suspects my brain is turning to oatmeal. Neither of us want to get in the habit of coming in the door and needing to turn on the computer, the Atari, or the tv. We make an effort to "unite" as a married couple; I pour him a drink and set the table while he changes, and then we have dinner as a family (actually, just like my parents when I was growing up.) That way, the kids know how important the Mister and I are to one another, and how important, loved and respected they are by us.

Overall, I would say our family is very close. I like being with my husband. I like being with my kids. And they with me. Home school is such an incredible gift and privilege. We have been blessed immensely by this journey. I wish that more families would be open to it, because it is wonderful and precious (even on the bad days. And there are bad days!)

I believe that, while it is important for us to behave outside of our home, God judges greatly on how we act behind closed doors. Are your spouse and your children your top priority? Do you pay more attention to tv, the internet, or video games? Do you yell or belittle? When you become out of balance, do you work at reinstilling it in your home? Do your children and spouse feel loved? Do they feel respected? Those are things I constantly think about and try to improve on daily.

Let me make sure that I make myself perfectly clear here when I say that both the Mister and I feel that it has been THE BEST decision we have ever made as a married couple and a family. If you feel this is on your heart and in your mind, we strongly encourage you to consider it. It's a huge step outside one's comfort zone, but the rewards are incredible.


bbbunch said...

Good post Sarah. Though I never have thought about it for my family, I have never questioned your decision to do it. You are a wonderful mother/wife/teacher :)

Anonymous said...

I just had a thought....he was a public school/public college product, she was the result of private school and private college. Together, they produced homeschooled children! (Corny, I know, couldn't resist)

Good post and I have to add that, having observed you in action and substituting for a day once, you deserve a lot of kudos and credit. The kids are smart, disciplined, and helped me make sure I was the best substitute I could be by giving me direction, correcting my mistakes, and showing a lot of initiative in approaching their studies. You do a great job and the children are living proof.


greta said...

So, I have been a lurker on your blog for quite some time now, BUT I must speak up now!!! YAH! I am a HUGE Charlotte Mason fan!!! We actually have an Ambleside School right here in Ocala, FL. Can you believe it?!?! My oldest is going to Kindergarten this Fall and will be attending that school. I am reading several of CM's books and am so inspired!
Thank you for this wonderful post! OH and nice to meet you! :)
Email me if you want. I would love to know where in FL you are traveling to in September!!!

Jenn said...

Hmmm....Seattle in May? That's not all that far for Wil and I.

MattyP said...


Sarah & Crew said...

We're not only home school, but old school as well. Right down to Pit Fall.

Amy Baker said...

Great post..an inspitation for us newbies. My sons are 4.5 and 3. We have dappled in Before Five in a Row and Hands on Homeschooling. We will begin structured this fall. I have always known this is right for my family---God has graced me with the homeschool 'bug'. Hugs and blessings to you!

Sawatzky Kids said...

Thanks for such a great imformative post Sarah! We can hardly wait to get started in the fall :)
Lots of luv
Shelly and gang