By Marji Meyer, Founder, School of Abraham
I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.
~~ Helen Keller ~~
The answer to the question “How do you homeschool?” varies. Perhaps the person asking this question has six children, and her son is captain of the local high school football team, and her daughter was just chosen as the new yearbook editor. What would you tell her? Or perhaps the person asking the question “How do you homeschool?” has just been informed that her fifth grade son is flunking math and earning marginal grades in English and science. What would you tell her? Or maybe your neighbor, who has three children under the age of five, comes over one day while you and your children are conducting an exotic (and expensive) science experiment in your kitchen. What would you tell her?
Sometimes the answer to the question “How do you homeschool?” doesn’t come at all. The inquiring person just receives an enigmatic smile from you, as you hasten on to another aisle in the supermarket. But rest assured, “the question” will come, and sometimes in ways which you least expect it to come. Remember that really the only person who needs to hear your true answer is yourself. You do not need to justify or explain your motives or your methods to anyone else.
Recently, I have been in conversation with a number of people who were feeling very pressured about their homeschooling adventure. (Yes, I use that word advisedly–homeschooling should be an adventure!) These folks may be trying to do “school at home,” or like a wanna-be famous baseball player, are trying “too hard” to touch all the bases and create from scratch special “home run lesson plans” every day. Perhaps they have an overly-inquisitive mother in law, or a non-supportive spouse when it comes to homeschool issues. I have some standard advice that I offer to fellow struggling homeschooling moms.
“The finest of friends must sometimes be stern sentinels, who will insist that we become what we have the power to become.”
(Neal A. Maxwell, Insights from My Life, 191).
First of all, I award these moms with a “Homeschool Hero” plaque. Because, let’s face it, homeschooling isn’t a piece of cake, and it isn’t for the faint of heart, either. There is a lot of responsibility and a significantly increased workload that one accepts as par for the course when making the pivotal decision to homeschool. That said, there are some things that we can do to make it easier on ourselves and perhaps on our children, too.
Number one. Take one day at a time. Realize that you will never get to the end of your “to do” list. Keep making one, anyway. Just don’t sweat about it. If you did one really important task today, rejoice! If your children made progress today, whether it was intellectual, social, emotional, or motivational progress, rejoice! Keep track of the things you are doing well (and that your kids are accomplishing), and you may surprise yourself. Don’t try to fit into any one else’s pattern; be content to be who you are, offering the skills that you have to offer. Expect the universe to treat you gently, and be comfortable with your uniqueness.
Number two. Stay in touch with your children’s interests, expressed and unexpressed. If you can hone in on what makes them tick, you won’t have to wind the clock so often. OK, so that’s stretching the metaphor a bit, but what I am trying ever so subtly to convey is that if you meet them on their turf, your job is already half done. Find, understand, and accept their interests, and try to cultivate their needed academic studies around their individual interests and motivations. Think of ways that you can incorporate learning experiences when they aren’t even looking.
Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn recommend that parents incorporate “ten things before the age of ten.” You can read more about this at their website. Their recommendations include a very reasonable and practical list of skills — so let yourself off the hook:
Reading and Writing, Intensive Phonics
Hearing and Listening
Arts and Crafts
Field Trips and Library
Work and Service
Play and Exploration
Idea number three builds on idea number two. The ultimate lesson that I would like my kids to learn from their homeschooling years is how to search out and apply information. This ability will bless them throughout their lives, and properly and wisely applied in their youth will make homeschooling infinitely more do-able for poor ol’ mom.
Idea number three is: Teach your children to be autodidacts. Autodidact \aw-toh-DY-dakt\, noun: one who is self-taught. According to Word of the Day, autodidact is from Greek autodidaktos, “self-taught,” from auto-, “self” + didaktos, “taught,” from didaskein, “to teach”. Yes, your little darlings really can start to take some responsibility for their own intellectual development and education—and, yes, it does require a heavy dose of personal responsibility. Let’s face it, if your home is anything like mine, you don’t have time enough in a day to individually teach your numerous children the multiple branches of knowledge required for basic literacy in today’s world. Let them teach themselves! Provide quality reading material, a library card, access to a computer, encourage writing and verbal communication (sometimes called narration), and work with them on topics or subjects they find difficult, or locate a mentor or tutor for them. You may even be able to catch your breath!
Idea number four: Encourage accountability, exactness, and honor. Accountability is really the “break point” for autodidactic learning. Does little Sammy need to “take a test” to show he studied Roman history, or can he tell you and little Audrey about it instead? How about letting your seven year old, Paul, teach subtraction to his little brother Randall? If he can teach it, he certainly understands it. Anytime we teach a concept we learn it better ourselves; you probably have found that to be true in your own life. Let that principle work for you in your homeschool! Let the littles teach the littles, and sometimes they will be found also teaching the “bigs” (even you). Out of the mouths of babes, as it is said…. Accountability can take many forms, tests being the least representative and least important. Tests are really a hold-over from mass educational experiments. (Disclaimer: we will save the concept of test-taking as a learning strategy, particularly as regards college entrance exams for another column). Encourage exactness; teach your children to do a job well. Being exact is a dying skill in our world. And honor is perhaps the most integral lesson of all. The deepest, most fundamental lessons that your children need to learn have to do with their moral character. They won’t learn it in a book.
Idea number five. Enjoy the journey. You can’t fill their cups if your bucket is empty. You need time (alone!–aha, the “A” word!) to rejuvenate and think, ponder and pray about the awesome responsibility that the Lord has given you when he asked you to bear and rear your children–your children who are filled with such infinite potential and goodness and talent, and who have such a great need to be channeled, honed, developed and prepared for their future responsibilities. This is serious stuff. You can’t take it on lightly, but there is One who knows them and you intimately and personally. May we pray that His will be done. You will find help for the journey from on high, and strength for each day as you seek for it. Be sure to let your children know that you love them, that you enjoy spending time with them, and that they are a joy to you. Thus begun, you have gone far to cultivate the proper learning environment. Remember, “You cannot expect to do it alone. You need heaven’s help in rearing heaven’s child—your child.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)
You don’t need to create “learning centers” as much as you need to develop your own “learning heart”. Your own inquisitiveness and your desire to excel and learn new things will have a profound effect on the hearts and minds of your young learners. Carpe diem. Seize (yes, I use that word advisedly) the opportunity to grasp new concepts, enlarge your understanding, and develop your mind. Expect a deep satisfaction to result. The love of learning is all too important to leave to chance. Little eyes are watching. As you fill your bucket, you will fill their little cups.
Well, dear readers, I’ve given you enough to think about today. May your holidays be happy and your science projects be successful, may your laundry mountain turn into a molehill, and may your children be utterly well-behaved, eager learners who-already-made-their-beds-today. I leave you with this “homeschooling” thought:
“The affection and thoughtfulness required in the home are no abstract exercises in love, no mere rhetoric concerning some distant human cause. Family life is an encounter with raw selfishness, with the need for civility, of taking turns, of being hurt, and yet forgiving, and of being at the mercy of others’ moods.”
(Neal A. Maxwell)
Perhaps the next time that someone asks you “How do you homeschool?”, you can simply reply: “How can I NOT homeschool?”