Continuing with week 6 of Many Little Blessings and iHomeschoolNetwork.com “10 in 10” series we are talking about the top 10 questions people ask us. In all honesty, we really don’t get a lot of questions from people when they find out that we homeschool. I don’t know if it is because where we live homeschooling is widespread and pretty common or because folks just aren’t interested. But whatever the reason is we have not issues with getting the ‘third degree’ about our choice.
But, over the years, I have run into many folks who were interested in homeschooling their children and these are some of their questions and the answers I would give them.
Q1: Why did you decide to homeschool?
A: There were many deciding factors in our decision to homeschool including our desire to give our children a Bible-based education, one-on-one instruction, the freedom to learn outside the box subjects, and to avoid the drama (and possible danger and influences) that some public schools have within their walls. But the most important determining factor was that we felt that the Lord had called us to take this path with our children’s education.
Q2: How do you decide what curriculum to use?
A: I do a lot of research when selecting not only the subjects that we will be studying, but also what books we will be using. I visit lots of websites and book stores, read product reviews, examine samples of the curricula, and I ask questions of folks who have used particular items. Sometimes I write the publisher with specific questions. I try very hard to match the presentation style of the material with the way my children seem to learn the best. And, even after purchasing a product, if we find that it is not working for us, I go back and repeat the process to find something else that will do the trick.
Q3: Where do you get your materials you use?
A: After determining what we are going to use each year, it’s time to shop around. I usually use the internet to find what we need. I do my best to find free resources across the net but that is often not possible, so the first place I start shopping is on E-Bay. Lots of homeschooling families, like ours, list their used items there to earn the money to buy the next year’s books, so I feel like not only am I usually getting a good bargain but I am helping another family to meet their needs. My next stop is VegSource homeschool board, another place for used materials. If I can’t find the used materials I need, I scoot over to my favorite curriculum store, Rainbow Resource. I often compare pricing from there with Christian Book Distributors and Amazon, looking for the best price from the three. It usually takes me a few days before I actually make my purchases. When the packages start arriving it feels like Christmas as we pour over all the wonderful gifts of learning that are delivered to our door.
Q4: Do you follow the same schedules as the public schools do?
A: As far as scheduling school goes, we don’t follow the same timing as public schools do. When my children were in elementary school we would start every morning around 8:00 am and finish our days about 1:00 pm, but we were very flexible. Sometimes it took longer to finish the assignments for the day, but most days we finished earlier. When they got into middle school and high school, we began the day much later, sometimes starting around 10:00 or 11:00. I know a lot of people would gasp at starting so late in the day but drawing from my observations working in a private school teaching high school students, I found that that age group needs a lot more sleep and my children function a whole lot better when they sleep longer. It just means that we also finish later in the afternoon. We do not set an exact number of hours to ‘be in school’, but just stay at it until the day’s assignments are done. When averaged out it comes out to be about 5 hours a day.
We also usually do above the required 180 days of school, spending closer to 200 days or more in our studies. We sometimes lightly school throughout the summer months and quite often take different days off for breaks and vacations than the public school system. We usually start full time schooling the first week in August and end the middle of May.
Q5: How do you know what to teach and when?
A: Many educators have already done the hard part of determining what should be taught and when, so we have just followed the basic pattern that has been set forth by them. What I mean by that is that we have used their blueprint to help determine the basic path to study a specific topic. We do not stick to the standards that this is taught in first grade and that is taught in second grade and so forth. We do not move onto another concept just because of age but because the previous concept is mastered.
For example in math, after mastering addition and subtraction we moved onto multiplication and division. After mastering that, we proceeded to fractions and formulas, then onto simple algebraic studies, and then built upon that to the higher math. We have always studied history chronologically because it just made sense to do so. English started with learning to read and write, then moving onto learning how to interpret what was read and coherently and grammatically correctly expressing that in written form and so on. Age and grade level are not the determining factors in what we were learning; understanding and comprehension are.
Q6: How do you decide what you are going to teach?
A: As far as the subject matter, because of the learning structure we have established, we usually just build on what was previously learned and spend little time in redundant review of concepts already mastered. That’s not to say that we never review but we just don’t set aside specific times to do it. It just happens in the course of learning.
Quite often I discuss with my children what they would like to study and, after I have found some curricula that looks interesting, I ask their opinions on whether they think they will enjoy using it or not. I have always tried to make sure that learning is pleasurable and not painful because I want them to have a desire to learn and not hate it. That doesn’t mean I am always successful in achieving that goal but I sure do try.
Q7: How do you know how to grade your children’s schoolwork?
A: I have never been a huge fan of grades and especially of standardized testing (see Q8 for my thoughts on those), but unfortunately they are a necessary evil in our society. For me, this has been a difficult process. I can remember when I was in school putting a lot of work into a paper I thought was excellent only to have it returned to me with a grade that brought tears to my eyes (back then if I didn’t earn an A or at least a B I was devastated). There were lots of red marks but little explanation of why they were there. In those days you did not question the teacher about your grades, you just accepted them. With this in mind, when I grade my children’s work, I always make sure that there is an explanation as to what each mark is for. I require my children to achieve an 80% or better on tests before they are allowed to move on. If they score lower, we go over the mistakes, I have them correct them, and then I have them either redo the lesson(s) to be sure they understand or study for another day reviewing the material and then retake the test.
I would have loved to not test my children at all and just go with my observation that they know something, but I need an acceptable form of measure for the mandated record keeping, so mostly written tests have been a standard in our home since the beginning (though for the Speech course that we did last year I videotaped all the speeches they gave and have that in our records). For those curricula tests, scoring is pretty much based on right and wrong answers. I score essay answers and daily writing assignments subjectively and tend to be lenient on the context but not the structure and grammar. I also give partial credit on complicated math problems when I see that they did the problem correctly but made errors in computation. There are other standards that I base our grading process on, but that could fill a whole post in and of itself to explain completely.
For me grading is a complicated and sticky subject as we all have different standards that we use as a basis our assessment of our students’ work.
Q8: Do you take standardized tests every year?
A: Luckily for us, our state does not require standardized tests (you will need to check your state’s homeschooling requirements to determine if your students have to take them). I, personally, do not think that they give an accurate measure of a child’s education or their knowledge base. I also feel like they are comparing apples and oranges. No two children are alike so how can they be compared. I know a lot of children who do well on those tests but if you try to talk to them about a specific subject they can only spew the facts and have nothing more to add. They do not have an opinion or insight beyond what they have been told nor do they seem to care much to have one. This makes me sad. And then there are children who do very poorly on those tests because they think outside the box or panic under the pressure that they will not measure up and will be called dumb even though they might know the subject matter very well and can talk about it all day.
Every few years I have had my children take the released tests from the Texas Education Agency (TAKS) to help me determine where we might need to improve in our studies so that my children will be ready for the college entrance exams and the SAT/ACT tests. My son is one of those students who seems to draw a blank whenever he has to take a test, but can talk to you knowledgably about the given subject. The college he is going to in the fall did not require SAT/ACT test scores so we opted not to take them. He did have to take the college placement tests and did satisfactory on those. Again, I only used the standardized tests as a tool and not as a measuring rod.
Q9: How can you teach if you are not a certified teacher?
A: This is a biggie and often not verbalized in the same manner. You know the looks. The unspoken comment “What makes you think you are qualified? You didn’t go to college to be a teacher (or didn’t go to college at all for that matter). You’re cheating your kids out of a proper education by trained professionals.” You see that raised eyebrow that implies you haven’t got a clue what you are doing (and, frankly, sometimes I feel like I don’t). But that hasn’t stopped me from following what I believe the Lord wants for our family. There is a saying that the Lord doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. I steadfastly believe this. Throughout Scripture there are examples of folks who would have been deem ill equipped to carry out His work (like Moses and Paul), but nonetheless He gave them the tools and filled them with the Spirit to do His will. The only thing they had to do is show up, be there, and be willing to follow Him. That is exactly what makes us qualified to teach our children.
From the moment they were brought into our lives we are our children’s teachers. We not only taught them how to walk and talk, how to feed and dress themselves, how to do this, that, and the other thing, but we teach them about love, compassion, discipline, right and wrong and about their Spiritual natures. We have done all this with a whole lot of “on-the-job-training”. If we didn’t know how to do something we looked it up or asked someone for help. We do the same thing when teaching our kids academically.
Teaching academics is only a small portion of a good education. Whose desire is greater than ours for our children to be the best they can be? We are willing to put the time and effort above and beyond what any certified professional can to insure that we are instilling our values and beliefs into their hearts. We will strive to provide them with the best knowledge base they can get so that they can go into that great big world ready to face it head-on. I think that because we are motivated by our end game, which is to prepare them to do His work whatever they may be called to do, and rely on Him to equip us, that is certification enough.
Q10: I hear this all the time-I don’t think I could teach my children. It’s a battle just doing homework. How do you deal with it?
A: I would so love to say that it is always a breeze and that my kids never give me any trouble doing their school work, but that would be an utter fabrication. There have been days of screaming and yelling, lost tempers, and even tantrums on both sides. For the most part I do have cooperative and hard working children, but we have had times when stubbornness or frustration got the better of us. Many times the solution to these rough spots was actually to take a step back from what we were doing and do something else, sometimes even nothing else. We take a breather, grab a change of scenery, and get creative in our thinking. And there are lots of prayer; loads and loads of prayer. I don’t believe there is a perfect formula to dealing with the ups and downs of life. Just as each and every one of us is different, so is how we deal with the challenges that come our way. How we deal with teaching our children through the tough times is no different than how we deal with those every day challenges. We just keep our focus on the prize of a well rounded, educated, and happy person who will leave us to be on their own way sooner than we think and do the very best that we can. And did I mention, lots of prayer.
So what kinds of questions do you field from folks about homeschooling? How do you answer them?