Okay, so now you have convinced yourself that maybe, just maybe, this homeschooling undertaking that you’ve begun has a real chance of working out. You’ve got your mission statement in place, and you’ve purchased some materials to work with. A tentative schedule has been posted, and you’ve even called yourself a teacher to someone who asked you today at the gym what you do for a living. So, exactly how are you going to cover all the subjects with your multiple students and get it all done in the six hours your kids would normally be in school?
The answer: you don’t! Homeschooling is not “outside school” (as my son used to call it) and does not need to take its cue from what goes on in traditional classrooms. Students don’t have to sit in their seats and raise their hands to ask questions. Bathroom breaks can happen as needed. If it’s rainy and cold outside, pajamas, slippers, and robes are suitable uniforms. And (this is the part my kids always grumbled about) if one of your students is slightly “under the weather,” school can still take place — possibly in front of the TV watching science or history videos or reading in bed.
What about children in the family who are not in the same grade? How does a homeschooling parent find the hours in the day to teach different grade levels for math, science, history, language, etc.? The answer: you don’t! Smart veteran home educators tackle subjects like history and science by paying less attention to grade level and more attention to group opportunities to read aloud or listen to audio or VHS tapes. Surely your 14-year-old will grasp more than your eight-year-old. However, the ensuing discussion and the learning that comes from hearing others’ perspectives makes the subject one that benefits students of all ages. I can remember listening to history tapes in the car back and forth to our extra curricular activities when my two older children were 15 and eight years old. Just in case I had any concern that they weren’t understanding the subject matter, the discussion at the dinner table disabused me of that. My husband used to comment that we would “fight the war between the states” at the dinner table, as they each would give their case for who was right and who was wrong.
While we are on the subject of the dinner table, in my home/school — aside from when we all sit down for dinner as a family (maybe two to three times per week) — reading is allowed and even encouraged at the table. Not only does much good literature get devoured along with their breakfast and lunch, but I use that time to catch up on reading that allows me to be a better and well-informed teacher.
Also, I found early on that I could combine subjects that day schools often separate. For example, once my daughter learned her letters and needed to practice her cursive, instead of just practicing from a workbook, she had to copy the questions and answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Not only was she getting handwriting practice, but she would say the questions and answers aloud as she wrote them and was memorizing them in the process. When my husband was dismayed that our son’s handwriting was proving to be as bad as his own, he had him transcribe the book of Genesis, having him present his notebook daily to ensure that it was readable.
Then there is the flexibility to turn everyday or mundane tasks into learning experiences. For example, when our dog was scheduled to have her spaying surgery, I asked the veterinarian if we could come in and observe. Having prepared my two girls (seven years apart in age) for what we were going to witness, they each got a firsthand view (albeit with different levels of understanding) of what is involved in surgery.
The key to a successful homeschooling experience is NOT to fall in love with your schedule and plan to the point that you can’t change it or alter it to suit you and your student(s) better. Should you feel you need some outside verification that your children are learning, there are standardized tests that can be purchased or administered by outside groups. The most important areas of testing will be listening comprehension and reading comprehension since these are the ways people learn things. Should you find that the scores aren’t what you’d hoped for, take that as an indication that you need to find new ways to cultivate understanding, making sure that your student can explain what he is learning.
God has made us with the desire to know and understand the world around us. You saw that when your child(ren) first learned to speak and asked questions over and over again in order to know what something meant or how to do a certain task. Cultivated properly, this is not something that people grow out of. Rather, it is something that is often squelched and buried by making learning drudgery rather than an adventure. You will discover that you will know how much your students are learning, not by the answers they give, but by the questions they ask.