By Nancy Paul
I am a homeschooling mom to six children ages 3-11. We are finishing up our fifth year of home education and will continue into the foreseeable future. I am no expert, but I do have some practical advice I can share based on my own experience.
My first piece of advice is that your decision be unanimous. Your spouse may not be sharing the responsibilities of home education directly by teaching, but it is important that you are both equally committed. My husband’s unselfish financial provision as well as his roles as moral support and sounding board are absolutely essential to my success. If you are a single parent considering home education, I strongly suggest you make sure you have these supports in place, whether from your family, friends, or church. There will be many days when the grace given to you by your cheerleaders will be what God uses to sustain you in an exhausting and rewarding role.
It is important to know why you are homeschooling. For our family, we wanted to be able to give our kids a strong foundation in faith, shelter them from some real dangers in our culture, and spend time with them. It was a calling we had even before we had children – we had seen homeschooling done well and some of the most grounded, outspoken, stable, intelligent kids we knew were home schooled in strong, close-knit families.
It is also important that we are able to verbalize this decision in a way that will not be offensive to those we are in community with. For instance, degrading our public schools (for which have legitimate concerns) only offends our friends and neighbors. Although a viable, growing schooling alternative, home education is still often misunderstood and misrepresented. Just think ahead about what your responses will be to the concerns strangers, neighbors, friends, and even family will raise. “Don’t they need more socialization? What will you do when they become smarter than you? Won’t they miss out on sports, prom, and learning about the real world?”
The legal requirements for homeschooling vary greatly from state to state. I recommend going online to Weblink Education to find out what your specific obligations and opportunities are. In my state of Indiana, home education regulations are minimal. We need to have 180 days of instruction and keep attendance records. That’s it. No mandatory curriculum, testing, accountability, or reporting to the state. There are safeguards I’ve taken to make sure we are rightly represented should there be a concern of educational neglect from the school system or other citizens. We are asked to register with our local school system that our kids are being taught at home. I keep track of their work and progress with a portfolio of sorts and records of any testing we do. Many families also join the Home School Legal Defense Association
When I began researching home education curriculum, I quickly got overwhelmed. The more I read, the more questions I had. I wrote them down and asked experienced moms what they used as well as what they dumped and why. Over and over they gave me not only the pros and cons of various options, but also a common theme of “You’ll figure out what works for your family.” This aggravated me at the time. I wanted a step-by-step process to rely on. Now I echo their statements to other parents who are embarking on this journey with their family. God really will guide your homeschooling, just as He guides any ministry we do in collaboration with Him.
With that said, we found going to a homeschool convention to be very helpful because we were able to put our hands on the books and see the software we were considering. Go online to find a convention near you and either take advantage of the discounts they offer or search online for deals once you have the ISBNs and names of curricula.
For the first three years we worked in our kitchen and we’ve always gone wherever the lessons led us. I use a lot of hands-on experiences and try to engage their interests in creative ways. When reading about Christopher Columbus, for instance, I piled all the kids into the bathtub and they pretended to be on an epic adventure across the uncharted seas. When learning about doubles facts in math, I have them double a recipe. When learning about symmetry, we go into the garden with our pastels and examine flowers. We frequent museums and parks and libraries. My children take an active part in learning for themselves because learning at home has given them permission to move out of their textbooks and workbooks into the real world full of creativity, beauty, and possibilities.
Two years ago we made a decision that changed our home education experience phenomenally. We found a way to have a place set apart in our home for schooling. We moved from the kitchen table to a classroom of our own by renovating our two-car garage. Having a separate place to go has helped me leave the distractions behind. I don’t answer the phone, check facebook, or do a quick load of laundry during school time. The kids utilize the space independently – they go out to draw, sew, make puppets, read, or do puzzles. Having a separate learning zone has been incredibly beneficial for all of us.
The other area we have been creative in is how we do it all on a single income budget. I get a lot of school supplies and reward items at Dollar Tree. I go to the teacher resource store with my paper and pen in hand. When I find books I like, I write down their ISBNs and bring the list home to my hubby who finds the books at great prices online (it’s a hunter/gatherer thing). I go to used bookstores and garage sales, search Craigslist and Freecycle. Many people put their used curriculum online for sale, or you can find outdated texts for less (for instance, our handwriting books are not the latest edition – how outdated can handwriting be?). My kids use many free learning websites for things like keyboarding and math practice. I go to sites like enchantedlearning.com or superteacherworksheets.com to print off reinforcements to our lessons. There are endless free online resources.
An additional way we’ve set ourselves up for success has been to join a learning co-op. There are a variety of options available for this type of home education community. Some focus on rigorous academics, while others resemble a playgroup. Some hire teachers while others are completely parent-led. Find a listing online, ask around in churches or forums, and then schedule a visit. If you don’t find what you want, you may even consider starting your own with a group of friends. Ultimately, that is hopefully what your co-op will become – a support network for both you and your kids.
Everything is in place for a successful home education. Pencils sharpened, children eagerly awaiting the first day of school, teacher (you) as ready as can be. My final advice is to be flexible – it is one of the benefits of home education. I am not tied to anyone’s schedule but my own. If a child is sick, we adjust. If the birthday girl wants to take the day off school, we adjust. If Daddy gets an unexpected day off and wants to take us on an adventure, we adjust. And doesn’t everyone want well-adjusted kids?
Just remember, the truth is, “You will figure out what’s best for your family.” I speak freedom and blessing over you as you do.
B.L.O.G. Magazine Contributor
Nancy Paul is a homeschooling mother of 6 children ages 3-11 and wife of 14 years. She survived a childhood of neglect and chaos as the oldest daughter of addicts. She began to follow Jesus at the age of 18 and went to Bible college to study theology and counseling. She is passionate about being in community with marginalized and forgotten folks in inner city Indianapolis. She has been on a journey of profound healing over the past few years which has led her to ask the hard questions to God and take an honest inventory of her heart and life. Jesus has been giving her more and more freedom and intimacy with Him and she is finding joy.