Ready...Set...Homeschool!

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It’s that time of year again. Parents are worrying and debating, “Should we let the children return to public school for just one more year?” Parents are refiguring budgets and wondering, “Could we drive the old car another year and put the kids in private school?” Parents are reevaluating long-range financial goals to determine which might be put on the back burner until later; so as to homeschool children who are growing up quickly now. Many parents arrive at the decision to homeschool, but then fail to act upon their decision, fearful of taking ‘The Giant Step,’ as we called it in our home. Do not be fearful. Act. Your children will be all the better for it, and you will never regret your decision.

Too often parents have believed the official state slogan, “You need to be a certified teacher in order to teach.” That is nonsense, and one need only look at the failure of the public school system to see how ‘well’ those thousands of certified, degreed, experienced administrators and teachers have failed America. That system of ‘educated professionals’ has hurt the American people so severely that millions of individuals, and our nation, may never recover. America now ranks alongside countries long noted for having unskilled workers, low literacy rates, and the destructive effects of illiteracy: poverty; crime; welfare; gangs; illegitimacy; large prison populations; industry and manufacturing moving to countries where literate workers can read orders, blueprints, and manuals for operating high-tech production machinery. Mexican workers have a 90% literacy rate; American workers have about a 70% literacy rate. Eventually, Mexico may have to close its borders against Americans sneaking in to find work.

Certainly loving, committed parents can educate their children better than the State is doing. Children being homeschooled by parents who are focused; who willingly sit and learn with their children; who mediate experiences and information; are far better off than the children in most public schools in America. However, children who are being kept home from school by parents who lack plans, goals, and a commitment to truly educate their children, are better off in school where, hopefully, they will have a few good teachers and come away with something.

Parents do not need to “know everything” in order to homeschool. I have a master’s degree and I certainly could not begin to teach my son everything that he needs, and I want for him, to know. Luckily the world is full of books, videos, and websites on every topic. Help is available for those who honestly seek it. Bring your children home, but do it with forethought, planning, and a commitment to provide the best education possible. Homeschooling is hard work, but it is most rewarding.

There are some things that you do need to know as you begin homeschooling: Know Your State Homeschooling Laws; Know Yourself; Know Your Child; Know What you Want Your Child to Learn; Know Your Timeframe; Know That the First Two Years Will Be the Roughest; Know that Reading must be the Number One focus; Know That It Is OK To Be Flexible.

Know the homeschooling laws in your state, and learn as much as possible about homeschooling. As a first step, visit the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website and learn the laws for your state. If you must file paperwork with the state, call the homeschooling office at your state department of education, and ask to be sent a homeschooling packet. Read it carefully for some states, like Michigan, require that you check a certain box stating that you sincerely believe that your children do not need certified teachers. Otherwise, the state expects that a certified teacher be involved in your homeschooling. Also, do not forget to tap into resources within your circle of family and friends. Maybe a relative is a retired certified teacher and would enjoy teaching some French lessons; a neighbor might be willing to act as consultant and advise on materials and lesson plans. Be innovative in finding help and support. Check for a homeschooling group in your area to join. Some of those groups are so large that they have orchestras and offer courses for the more difficult high school classes.

While at HSLDA, read a variety of articles so you can better understand the rights, and the responsibilities, of homeschooling. When you decide to homeschool, consider joining that association. The knowledge that you have immediate access to lawyers and advice is invaluable and especially reassuring to families as they begin this new venture. As protection against a day when the state might decide to interfere with our homeschooling, we keep every paper; every workbook that David completes. At the end of each school year, I bundle everything into a brown expanding file, label with grade level and year, and store. If I am ever questioned about whether I ‘really’ provide him with schooling, I can rent a hand truck and wheel the tall stack out for all to see.

Know yourself and your spouse. Communicate with your spouse to assess the commitment, skills and goals of your team. If the mother is strong in language and reading, but feels shaky with the math and science, plan educational schedules so that both parents can participate. No bus will pick your child up at 7:30 AM, and you don’t have to run your homeschool as a typical public school day. You may choose to, as an aid to developing structure and accomplishment of goals, but you do not have to ‘be in session’ from 8:00—3:30. We homeschool four long days, then David has Friday off because he and his father have jobs in the meat department of a small town general store. Sometimes we have English classes on the weekends when I am more available to work with writing assignments. Flexibility is important, even in choosing or discarding materials. If you chose something that simply is not working, chuck it and find something that does; change the schedule; cut or increase the workload. YOU are the teacher, the principal, the superintendent and the school board. You make the decisions. Be flexible as you meet the needs of your children, yourselves and your household.

Know your child, and understand that you know your child better than any other educator. For example, if you know that your child hates early mornings, you adapt for that, plan schooling around it, and maintain an environment conducive to learning. David gets up just about the time that the bus he used to ride passes the house. With book in hand, he eats a leisurely breakfast while reading his literature assignment. After a relaxed beginning to his day, he feels more ready for pencil and paper assignments. You can be flexible and still complete the lessons plans that you wish to accomplish.

Know what you want your child to learn. For those beginning with elementary children, I would encourage you to look at the What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know series by E.D. Hirsch. There is a book for each grade, K—6th, and your library probably has them. Go through the books to see what you should be sure that your child knows at the end of those grades, and then begin searching for materials that will achieve those goals. Explore the books available at your public library before investing money in your own supply. Look at the books published by Eyewitness, Usbourne, Kingfisher, and the Readers’ Digest series about ‘how science works.’ Visit the Rainbow Resources website and request a catalog, which is an unbelievable wealth of information, just in itself. Visit the Saxon Math website and print off the free placement tests. Test your children to see which skills they have or lack, then choose appropriate books to meet their needs and challenge their minds.

If you hope to eventually offer your child a more classical education, including the study of languages, philosophy and more, check out The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, and The Trivium by Sister Miriam Joseph. The Wise book contains some very good lists of books to support each subject, organizes learning so that subjects, people, historical occurrences, and all are coordinated within their chronological placement, and structures learning for the three stages of the mind’s development. We use it as our overall guide, but do not follow it ‘to the letter’ for the workload that it suggests is often heavy and was proving to be counterproductive and frustrating to everyone in our family. We learned to be flexible and accomplish the same learning goals through other materials and methods of instruction. Both books help the reader understand the mental development and learning needs of students. But remember to be flexible.

Know your timeframe. For instance, if you decide to complete your academic goals within a 36-week school year, divide your science materials into 36 parts so that you can see how many pages need to be studied, learned, completed, each week. Do that with every subject. If you do not do this, you will find happening to you what happens in public school — the teaching lags and drags, and when June comes around you realize that you are only halfway through the materials. I know a school district where many of the math teachers never teach more than 45% of the material in each book prior to the end of the school year. The students leave for the summer, never having learned the other 55% of the math concepts. In the fall the students are placed into the next math class, which then only completes the first 45% of that book, and so on through the years. With such poor planning, and such a lackadaisical attitude toward passing important information on to children, it is no wonder that American education is backsliding. This is one point upon which I am never flexible. We do every lesson in every math book, and leave the flexibility to other academic areas. (This also serves as a good way to encourage children who want to dawdle — “Summer vacation begins when the last math lesson is completed.”)

Buy a plan book at an office supply store, and arrange your 1/36, or 1/30, or whatever amount of work, in each subject, into the days of one week. You may want to work on spelling a few minutes every day; have thinking skills twice a week; science as four days of book reading and discussing with parent followed by one day for a hands-on lab experience. Work with the spaces in order to accomplish what you wish, in the number of weeks that you want to have school in session. The decisions are yours to make.

Know that Reading is the all-important beginning, and if your children do not learn to read, then attempting to teach them much of anything else, especially from books, is futile. Readers learn 70%—80% of their vocabulary from reading; vocabulary that they then use for thinking and processing new knowledge. Nonreaders are at an extreme disadvantage for their minds are losing, rather than gaining, from the moment they leave 1st grade without learning to read. Stop that draining of intellectual capacity. Find curriculum with which you can teach your child to read. Research the reading programs developed by Phyllis Schlafly, Regna Lee Wood, Romalda Spaldng, and any others that are firmly based on methodical, systematic phonetic instruction. Reading is the foundation upon which an education can develop, then rise to unbelievable heights.

Know that the first two years will be the roughest. You will learn that your child, while attending public school, developed far more bad habits, and moved farther from your family’s value system, than you ever expected, so you will have that to undo. You will find that you like a certain book and workbook, but when you go to buy a new workbook for the second child, the company has revised everything and you can’t get the book you need. (The next time you will know to buy for all of your children with your original purchase so that you don’t get caught like that, again.) Your child will miss some of the things about school — friends, recess — and you will need to arrange scheduling to allow for romps in the yard, and gatherings of friends. You will find that your child knows everything that the two of you read and discuss, but is fearful of paper tests and does poorly on them, so you learn to give oral tests and score those. You will get tired and crabby about having to let your housekeeping go, then realize that children grow quickly and housework is never ever really finished, anyway. Hang in there. By the third year, you will feel like a pro, and everything will seem to fall into place with little effort on your part.

No, you don’t need to be a certified teacher in order to homeschool. However, you do need to value learning and to model for your children an eagerness to read and discover new and interesting things about the world. If you are intellectually curious, you will find hundreds of sources for ideas for your homeschool, and that will serve as a model for your children. When you have a question about homeschooling, you will learn to turn to books; when your children have questions about life, they will learn to turn to books. Give them the gifts of literacy and intellectual curiosity and they will become scholars.

Ready? Set? Go Homeschool!

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.

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