Dinner Topics f0r Tuesday
Her class room, the world
by Stacy Long
American Family Association Journal
You’ve made the big decision – you want to homeschool. But looking ahead, across the alarmingly short span of months until the new school year begins in August, there are still questions. What will it be like to have school in your home? How do you even begin to prepare?
The first step is to discover the legal requirements for homeschooling in your state. While homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, each state has different laws. The Home School Legal Defense Association (hslda.com) groups states in four categories based on the stringency of their homeschooling laws. (See map below.)
“Some states have deadlines for when to comply with a law, such as filing paperwork near the beginning of the school year,” cautioned Darren Jones, HSLDA attorney and homeschool dad. “For legal challenges or questions about laws, HSLDA can provide answers and assistance.”
Once legalities are determined, consider education methods. Many families are accustomed to the formal approach they have been raised in or have seen in culture around them. Often, homeschoolers begin by trying to drag that approach out of the classroom and into their living rooms.
Diana Waring (dianawaring.com) told AFA Journal how she and her school teacher husband, Bill, tried to do just that when they began homeschooling in the 1980s.
“People have a model in their heads where you sit down, you’re quiet, you open the book, the teacher lectures, and you take a test,” she said. “But the formal approach with a desk and a flag and an apple belongs in a classroom of 30 kids who are strangers.”
After struggling for the first few years, the Warings began to realize opportunities in homeschooling that do not exist when teaching many children in a classroom at one time.
“We left the desk, the one size fits all model, behind,” she explained. “We looked at how each of our kids was wired to learn, and approached education in a way that invited each one, that excited a love of learning.”
An initially rocky experience like that of the Warings is not uncommon, as Jones pointed out.
“Especially if you’ve had children in school and withdraw them, things are going to change,” he told AFAJ. “To some extent homeschooling is going to include a bit of trial and error. As your family homeschools, find out what’s best for your family.”
Once a philosophy of education has been formulated, it will guide the selection of curriculum and instructional materials. Other considerations also come into play. Where is the student in skill level, interests, and learning style? What goals need to be set for the student? It may take time and experience to fully answer those questions but much can be evaluated at the onset with placement tests available from local schools, homeschool groups, curriculum providers, or online. Also, parents can determine much simply from close interaction with and knowledge of their child.
“Look at your children and see what engages them,” Waring said. “Some students love to sit down and fill out a textbook or workbook. Other kids hate that. The answer is not to say, ‘I don’t care, do it anyway,’ but to say, ‘What is it that you don’t like?’”
The model Waring recommends incorporates theories on learning styles and multiple intelligences with teaching strategies that capitalize on the strengths of each student. She shares this approach in writing and publishing homeschool curriculum such as her History Revealed series sold by Answers in Genesis. In this curriculum, every chapter cycles through four learning styles based on the Myers-Briggs model, an assessment questionnaire that helps identify a child’s most effective learning methods.
“My curriculum focuses on ways to engage every child, so children can relate in the way they are actually designed to learn,” she explained. “Maybe they need to go outside, maybe they learn through music, maybe they need to manipulate with their hands, maybe they need to read. Understanding that children learn in different ways will help when you run into a problem.”
Another issue for Christian parents is building a biblical foundation into academics so that their child is equipped to address any issue in any field from the perspective of a solid Christian worldview. While a traditional approach to education views much of the academic realm as outside the reach of religious influence, Waring pointed out the Bible teaches that all the earth is under God’s dominion.
“When we consider the works of the Lord, we’re not just talking about church history or redemption, but almost everything studied academically, whether it’s biology, astronomy, literature, history,” she said.
Put into practice
Once legal requirements have been met, educational needs and approaches decided, and curriculum selected, the stage is set to start cracking open the books. This can be the most uncertain stage for the first-time homeschool parent. However, Waring suggested that parents will find teaching their children is not at all a new or foreign experience.
“Pretty soon you’ll discover that teaching your children history or math or science is just an extension of everything else you’ve been teaching your kids,” she said. “You taught your kids to use a fork, to tie their shoes, and teaching them math is going to feel much the same.”
This is not to say that difficulties, confusion, and setbacks will not occur. But homeschooling parents may find the role of home educator is not far removed from the role of parent.
“Parenting and passing on the faith, as described in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, is to happen not just in formal situations, but is to happen in real life, in real time,” Waring added. “In traveling around the world speaking to homeschoolers, I’ve discovered that moms and dads who are invested in their children will work really hard to find answers.”
As in other matters of home education, the actual experience of homeschooling may look different for every family, and even every student. Some students may gain confidence or discipline from being assigned a designated study area, others may benefit from the relational environment of working together around the kitchen table, the diversity of pursuing many extracurricular activities with other families, or the structure of enrolling in courses at a local school, college, or homeschool co-op group. Without the limitations of space, time, and schedule that belong to a formal classroom, homeschool students have the ability to pursue the learning experience that has the greatest value for them.
“Learning is not a dead thing,” Waring reiterated. “It’s not a static thing, a fact lying on a page to be memorized. It’s vibrant. There’s a lot of creativity, a lot of questions, a lot of possibility.”
Homeschool families enjoy wealth of resources
Wading into the abundant pool of homeschool materials, it may not take long to get mired down in curriculum confusion. It is true that the wrong curricula can leave home education stuck in the mud, but good choices give it wings to soar.
A little advance planning can reduce personal headaches and blows to the budget. The first step is to review options. Countless free or inexpensive resources can direct the decision process.
Longtime homeschooling pioneer Cathy Duffy has compiled extensive reviews in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. Many of those reviews are also published online at cathyduffyreviews.com. Custom-homeschool-curriculum.com and thecurriculumchoice.com are similar review sites.
Packaged or custom
A prepackaged book set covering all major academic fields provides a complete curriculum or a solid core for handpicked supplements. Sonlight curriculum is highly praised, and time-tested publications include Abeka and BJU Press Homeschool.
Picking books individually for each subject builds a curriculum customized for a student. Several options stand out as favorites among homeschoolers.
Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Explode the Code curriculum, and Bob Books are popular for teaching phonics and beginning reading. In addition, The Three R’s, by Ruth Beechick, is a great teacher’s resource on reading, writing, and arithmetic for young students.
For language arts, Five in a Row has engaging literature-based studies for elementary students. Learning Language Arts through Literature is a similar program for middle and high school grades. While those unit studies include writing assignments, Easy Grammar and Editor in Chief reinforce grammar concepts.
Unit studies bring a comprehensive and relevant approach to history. Top choices, applicable for all but the youngest, include series such as Diana Waring’s History Revealed, Greenleaf Guide to Famous Men, and Mystery of History.
For mathematics, Miquon Math publishes elementary exercise books, grouped according to mathematic function, with books teaching fundamental principles such as addition and subtraction designed for younger learners than those on multiplication or geometry. The Key to sets are also grouped by function, rather than grade or age, and are perfect for students struggling with a particular area of math. Saxon Math offers a concrete and thorough, if somewhat repetitive, textbook for each grade.
For Creation-based science, Considering God’s Creation is an interactive introduction for elementary students. For middle school students, God’s Design for Science is an excellent series from Answers in Genesis. Apologia textbooks progress subject-by-subject through elementary and high school.
Once materials are selected, whether following recommendations or personally researching products, the final step is deciding where to shop. While books may be quickly and conveniently found at a local homeschool supply store or homeschool curriculum fair, online shopping often stretches dollars further and provides a greater array of choices.
Christianbook.com and Rainbow Resource Center (rainbowresource.com) typically have the lowest prices and may offer free shipping with a minimal purchase amount. In addition, Rainbow Resource continually adds helpful product reviews. Unique items from Christian publishers can be found at answersingenesis.org/store or afastore.net.
▶ Beyond Survival by Diana Waring
▶ You Can Teach Your Child Successfully, by Ruth Beechick
▶ Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling by Mary Pride