August 2011

I’m So Overwhelmed - Where to Start

When my oldest son was preschool age, we were considering homeschooling. At the time, we felt overwhelmed about where to start. I like to break overwhelming tasks into smaller chunks, so I decided to break the homeschooling starting process down into steps.

Step 1: Research the homeschool law

I decided some research would be a good place to start. The first thing I decided I needed was the law. I was familiar with what homeschooling looked like having been homeschooled myself. Since I grew up in Wisconsin and now lived in Minnesota, I didn’t know if it was legal to homeschool in Minnesota. Well it turns out it is legal, not only in Minnesota, but also in all 50 states. However, there are different legal requirements for each state. So I familiarized myself with the Minnesota homeschool law. My favorite resource for this is Home School Legal Defense Association or HSLDA for short.

Step 2: Research homeschooling in general

I was homeschooled myself for 12 years, but unfortunately that doesn’t make me an expert at homeschooling my children. There are many homeschoolers out there that are older and wiser than me and there is a lot that they have to offer. I prefer to learn from other people’s mistakes when I can, rather than making my own. So, I went to the homeschool section at the library and checked out piles of homeschooling books. One of the books that I found was most encouraging is “So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling: Fifteen families show how you can do it!” by Lisa Whelchel.

Step 3: Connect with other homeschoolers

I needed encouragement and support from fellow homeschoolers, as well as people that I could ask questions and glean ideas from. We became part of our local homeschool group, Home Educated Youth (HEY), and am fortunate enough to have developed a close friendship with another homeschooling family from our church. We also became members of Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators or MACHE and attended their conference.

Step 4: Determine my teaching goals

The reasons why my husband and I homeschool our children, influence our teaching goals. Sometimes I think of teaching as mentoring or discipling. I like this perspective because it helps me keep my focus on the end game of raising a well-rounded, Godly adult, which requires more than just academics. This helps me prioritize and determine my shorter term goals for the year. Some of the things we wanted our son to learn in kindergarten were the 10 commandments, how to count to 30, and the phonetic alphabet. Two of the books I found most helpful in determining my goals for the year were “Home Learning Year by Year” by Rebecca Rupp and “What Your Kindergartener needs to Know” by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., and John Holdren (Core Knowledge Series).

Step 5: Choose my curriculum

This is one of the steps that I found most overwhelming. There are so many good choices out there and so many different styles. During the preschool years for my son I used workbooks that we picked up at local stores (including the dollar store). I decided to continue with these books for his kindergarten year and build upon that with my own homemade “Letter a Week” curriculum. Then after he finished my own curriculum, I freaked out a little thinking that maybe I hadn’t done enough and we needed a formal curriculum. I chose to go through the A Beka K5 curriculum with him. He breezed through it very quickly to end his kindergarten year. The next year, when my eldest son was in 1st grade, we chose to go with A Beka’s 1st grade child kit because making my own curriculum had been a lot of work and I was still overwhelmed with the choices. By my eldest son’s 2nd grade year, I had done more research into curriculum choices and picked and chose different curriculums for the different subjects. I have since discovered the book “100 Top Picks for Homeschool” by Cathy Duffy. This would have been a helpful resource starting out. I also feel that going with a traditional child curriculum kit, such as A Beka or Bob Jones, for the first year of homeschooling, is an easy way to alleviate some of the overwhelming feeling. I recommend this choice.

Step 6: Design a schedule

I started by determining when I wanted to start and finish the school year and how much time I wanted off for things like Thanksgiving and Christmas vacation. In future years I also had to consider such things as the birth of another child. Then I calculated how many school days I would have. From there I looked at each subject and determined how many pages of a book or assignments in a subject to do how often. For example in 1st grade for math we did 2 pages of the workbook per day, 1 test per week, 1 speed drill per week, and flash cards at least once a week. For other subjects, like social studies, I broke them down differently and did 1 section 2 times a week only during the fall quarter and then did a different subjects during the winter and spring quarters. I gave my self a little leeway for sick days or if we got too busy. This was too much for me to remember so I then made a daily schedule for each quarter of the year.

Step 7: Start teaching

We decided to start slow. Rather than start everything on the first day, I chose to start only handwriting and phonics. The next week I added the rest of the subjects I wanted to teach.

Step 8: Keep Records

Keeping records is not only a legal requirement, but I also see it as a benefit to me. I like to be able to look back on the year and determine what worked well and what didn’t. This helps me when I choose my curriculum for the following year for the same child and also in future years for my other children. I also like to keep notes when I see something I might like to use in the future. This helps make each year a little bit easier than the year before.

How did you get started? Add a comment and help others out.

Taking a Break for School

I was out cleaning the yard recently with my two oldest sons when one of them discovered a GIANT green caterpillar. Since I love to turn everything into a learning experience, not only for them but also for myself, we set off to learn. First we captured the caterpillar. Then we finished cleaning the yard. It would have been fun to run and discover about the caterpillar right away, but I feel it’s important to teach character, such as focus and patience, in addition to academics. So we waited until after our chores were done before we got to discover about the caterpillar. All three of my sons (the youngest having just turned 2) ran to the encyclopedias and started looking, each under a different letter. B for butterfly. C for caterpillar. E for... well, not sure what that one was for, E Eating maybe? They also looked at an insect book we have. And I looked on the Internet for them.

We discovered that the GIANT green caterpillar was a polyphemus moth - one of the largest in North America, thus explaining why it was so ‘giant’. We learned what it eats or actually doesn’t once it becomes an adult moth. We discussed scientific classification since we had just learned about that the week before. We looked at lots of pictures of the moth, the favorite part of this process for my two-year-old. We learned how to care for it. And best of all, it spun a cocoon that night! What incredible timing! Now we get to learn more patience while we wait for it to hatch.

Some of the questions I like to ask myself with any learning experience are:

What can I learn from this?
Ex: What kind of moth.

What is special about this?
Ex: One of the largest moths in North America.

How can we learn more about God through this experience?
Ex: He created all living things. (Genesis 1)

How can I teach good character through this experience?
Ex: Finish chores before play.

Are there any life skills that can be taught through this?
Ex: Caring for another living thing.

Can I teach any life lessons from this?
Ex: We must care for the caterpillar or it will die.

What have we learned recently that we can tie into this?
Ex: Scientific classification.

I find the possibilities for teaching with any learning opportunity can be endless, and that I am most often limited by time and not opportunities.

Why We Homeschool

People have many different reasons for homeschooling their children. We believe in the majority of situations, homeschooling is the best option for most families where the parents are actively and intentionally raising up their children. Here are some of our main reasons for choosing to homeschool our children.

  • We believe that God gave our children to us for a reason. One of those reasons being that we can raise our children better than anyone else. Not that we can raise all children better than anyone else, but that we can raise our children better than anyone else. We choose to accept this responsibility and not try to pass it off on someone else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a teacher or a pastor, we will account one day for how we raised our children.
  • Children spend a lot of time at school under the influence of others. This makes it a lot more difficult to instill our beliefs and values in them. We want our children to grow up to be strong men and women of God. We don’t believe that a school, even a Christian one, can do this as well as we can.
  • We want the best academic education for our children. We don’t believe that the government run public schools, with their high illiteracy rates, or even private schools, can possibly offer a better education for our children than we can. We can give them one on one personal attention; The schools cannot. We know our children better than any teacher ever could. We can adapt their education to fit their personal styles, interests and level of academic readiness.
  • We want our children to learn more than just academics. The schools only teach academics (unless you count all of the social brainwashing in schools today). We want our children to learn how to be Godly husbands and wives, and good citizens in our society. The school will not teach our sons or daughter how to run a household, or manage their finances, or care for their neighbor.
  • Socialization-the process of inheriting norms, customs and ideologies. We do not want our children to be like every other kid out there. We don’t want them to come home from kindergarten swearing, disrespecting others, or obsessing over the latest video game. The teachers don’t teach this, but they aren’t the only ones teaching our children at school. Children learn from their peers and many of the things they learn we’d rather they didn’t.
  • We do not want someone else teaching our children sex education. We believe the Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage and homosexuality are wrong. We will absolutely address sexual intimacy. Anyone who fails to do so has failed their child. However, we will do so in a way that communicates God’s plan for sex.
  • We don’t want our children to learn the theory of evolution as fact. God created the world. Darwin created a theory.
  • Children at home can do more in 2 hours than children at school can do all day. There is a lot of non-instructional time and busy work at schools. Some examples include going from room to room, waiting in line, etc. We believe it’s better to let our children do something constructive with that time or at the very least have that time to play.

So these are the main reasons that we homeschool our children. There are lots of other reasons as well, but these are the biggies for us. What are your reasons? Are they valid? Our primary goal in homeschooling is not to shelter our children, but to give the best education and the best result for our children. Anyone who thinks homeschooling can shelter their children will have a big surprise when they are turned loose on the world as adults.

My Homeschool Background

I grew up in Wisconsin with one brother and one sister. I was homeschooled every year except 4th grade when I attended a small private school. My parents used a variety of homeschool methods including a satellite school for my last two years of high school because it was thought there could be issue with college enrollment otherwise.

After high school, I moved to Minnesota and attended St. Cloud State University for four years where I earned a bachelors of science degree in biomedical sciences. I graduated debt free in 2001 even though I didn’t receive any substantial grants or scholarships and did not have significant assistance from my family. In August of that same year, my wonderful public-schooled husband and I were married. We now have three sons and one daughter. I stay at home full-time and homeschool our two oldest sons. My husband works as an IT manager for a large non-profit.

Even before I was married I had assumed that I would probably homeschool my children if my husband agreed. When my oldest son was four, we took him to a kindergarten open house. He was already reading simple words at that point. They told us that since he is a boy and has a summer birthday, they recommend not enrolling him in kindergarten until he reached age 6. Their recommendation solidified our decision to homeschool him. By the time he would have entered kindergarten under their recommendations, he was starting second grade coursework.

I don’t know what the future holds for my children, but I love being able to teach them at their level and not having to wait for an arbitrary age that may or may not have anything to do with their mental capacity.

This is how I became a homeschooled mom with second generation homeschooled kids.