How to avoid some common homeschool mistakes!
Many, if not most, new homeschooling parents look immediately for a curriculum. Although they are confused by the vast array of choices and have scant knowledge to bring to bear in making the selection, they feel that they must have a curriculum immediately. Sadly, this is probably the worst mistake they could make. Whether you are starting with a kindergarten child or taking a student out of high school, the best way to insure the success of your homeschool is to spend a generous amount of time learning about the journey. Lewis and Clark did not set out to explore the Louisiana Purchase in the latest model schooner. They chose boats that were best suited for the trip. If you choose the wrong vehicle (curriculum), you might run aground before you get around the first bend.
The first thing that many veteran homeschoolers will tell you is, “Take time to deschool.” If you have a young child just beginning formal education, this means you need to deschool yourself. The only model of “learning” you know is school and your child will be homeschooled. In order for your child to reap the maximum benefit from home education, you need to learn the difference between school and learning. Take some time to explore the possibilities. Visit some homeschool groups, go to a convention, read about different homeschool styles and talk to as many different homeschool families as you can.
A little known and understood fact is of supreme importance: our modern schools were not designed to nurture the intellect. Quite the contrary, they were designed to feed the factories of the late 19th and 20th centuries with compliant workers who had been trained to do boring, repetitive tasks for hours at a time. The founders of our “education” system were quite clear about their intentions and goals. Thus, our schools actively discourage creativity, inquiry and divergent thinking (one of the hallmarks of genius)- rhetoric notwithstanding. I’m pretty sure you want better for your child.
The one-room schools attended by our ancestors had an entirely different philosophy of education. Since children of all ages and levels of learning were together in one room, children had the opportunity to move at their own pace. Instead of being assigned to a grade by age, children were placed in the reading or math book that suited their level of understanding or competence. Many children began school between the age of 8 and 12 and graduated or left school between 14 and 16. The 8th grade graduates of 150 years ago were more competent in English, Math, History and Geography than the vast majority of college graduates today.
How could this be? How did these backwoods schools produce such well-educated students without all the fancy trappings, colorful books and technology we have today? The answer lies in the difference between schooling and education. The old one-room schoolhouse was mainly focused on learning the skills needed to succeed in an independent livelihood. Once you have those skills, basically the three R’s, there isn’t anything you cannot learn or teach yourself. Those skills don’t take much time to learn when the student is ready. Benjamin Franklin had less than three years of school. Abraham Lincoln had less than one year. Let that sink in. Our current schools were designed to waste time – lots of it!
I was privileged to attend an old fashioned two-room school for first and second grade. There were about 20 students in my room from 1st to 5th grade. The 6th– 8th graders were in the other room taught by the principal. Since my teacher had five grades to attend to, we had to be quite independent. We also had the opportunity to hear what all the other grades were learning. When we finished our assignments, we could choose an activity that was available like playing in the little playhouse that was provided in our classroom or drawing a picture. We could work ahead in our workbooks but we weren’t allowed to take them home because the teacher hoped we wouldn’t finish them early. Much to the teacher’s dismay, I finished 2nd grade by March. She gave me a 3rd grade math book but told me she didn’t have time to teach me anything new. I went ahead and did what I could. I was an eager learner and was so happy to be able to learn so much.
Moving to the city in 3rd grade was a big shock. Suddenly, I was in a class with nothing but 3rd graders. I was reprimanded for writing in cursive because our teacher “hadn’t taught it yet.” In my country school, cursive was all that was taught, although I could write manuscript. It became clear that there would be no independent learning in the factory model school. While I had played happily with 1st through 8th graders in my country school, in the city we weren’t even allowed to talk through the fence to 4th graders! Everything was highly regimented.
This factory school model is the background and mindset of most homeschool parents. We tend to equate schools as we know them with learning, but there is a vast difference. Take some time to learn something new with your child, whatever his age. This will open your eyes and expand your horizons. I know you are worried that he will “get behind” if you don’t hit the books immediately. If you are looking at the average curriculum package, it will contain at least twice as much (busy) work as any child needs to learn the concept. Not only that, there is a very good chance that it does not fit your child’s learning style and/or developmental stage and thus will be more frustrating than helpful. Try to erase the “behind” word from your vocabulary. Children are learning machines and will eagerly sop up whatever they are exposed to as long as it is not force-fed. So your curriculum, whether it is a grade level package or library books plus games and field trips must be chosen with much care.
For parents of primary age children, I highly recommend that you read Dr. Ruth Beechick’s little book, The Three R’s. Don’t buy anything other than a ball and a jump rope until you have read this book. If you still think you have to buy a curriculum, go to www.gamecurriculum.com and see what your child can learn with games. Dr. Beechick explains clearly why it is better to use games and stay away from a workbook curriculum at this age.
For parents of children age eight and above, having your child complete a Learning Style Profile can help you make curriculum choices that fit your child’s unique learning style. You can purchase the book, Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Hodson or you can do the Learning Style Assessment online by clicking that link at www.excellenceineducationhomeschooling.com. Once you have the information about your child’s learning style and experiences from a few weeks (months is better) of exploration, it will be much easier for you to choose a curriculum style and materials that suit your child most effectively. Even then, tread lightly. Try to get one subject or a trial period. Things that look and sound good online or in a catalog can turn out to be quite different when put into practice.
Above all, do not panic! There is so much misinformation floating around the internet! You have plenty of time to make a reasoned decision, even if your child is in high school. Certain states have more rigid requirements and you may have to report a certain curriculum by a certain date in a few states. Check with your state homeschool association or Home School Legal Defense for accurate information. In general, however, you can flex the way you do things to accommodate a decent amount of time to research and explore.
As to getting into college, don’t fall for all the scaremongering about documentation, accreditation, testing, etc. Much of it is nonsense. There is a big difference between asking for these things and requiring them. Many colleges are actively recruiting homeschooled students whether they had a formal curriculum or not. All colleges are different and public colleges tend to be the most rigid, so check with the admissions offices of the ones that interest your student. It is a little known fact that a high school diploma is NOT a requirement for entrance to most colleges. In fact, we have known a number of students who skipped high school altogether and went straight to college. Your main concern should be less about earning “credits” and more about making sure your student is prepared to succeed when he leaves home whether it be to college, trade school, entrepreneurial endeavor or the workforce.