Saturday, 14 July 2012

Homeschooling Hints Part One - Before You Start

Source for this image here.

Papa Bear and I have had many discussions about writing a series on the blog about homeschooling.  We've decided it might be helpful to share some of our experiences and knowledge here, but we were hesitant about doing so, which is why we've had quite a lot of talks about it before now!  Why?  Well, we aren't sure we are really qualified to be giving advice about something so important as homeschooling to just about anyone who may read it.  Your children's education is such an important issue, that we would not want to feel responsible for misleading anyone, or for giving out advice that someone then followed and found to be unhelpful.  What we shall be sharing here is just our personal experiences of homeschooling two very able and well behaved children.  These experiences are unique, because our children are unique.  What worked (and works now) for us, may not work for you or your children.  We feel it is very important to keep this in mind if you choose to read our posts about homeschooling.  Please know that this is just our very personal view, and that what you decide to do must be based on what is best for you and your family - and you alone, will know what that is.  For this reason, we are keeping our advice quite general, and will not be recommending any specific homeschooling materials or schemes, other than to share what we used, because for our particular needs, that was what worked best.  We will be looking at the whys, the whos, the whens and the hows, and hopefully giving some inspiration to other couples who have been convicted that they too wish to choose this route for their own children's education/.

People choose to homeschool their children for a variety of reasons.  Papa Bear and his brothers were homeschooled, however, my family were not.  In our culture it is much more common for children to be homeschooled than in the general British population.  Even where children do go to school, they tend to be taken out young and homeschooled for the latter years of education, or as I did, leave as soon as they have finished compulsory education. - by which time my case, I was already a married woman!  He he!  I wanted to leave earlier than that, but was not given permission.  My experience of school was not entirely positive - I enjoyed it, but did not learn much that was useful, and had to unlearn plenty that wasn't.  In fact, negative influences aside, many people leave school with only a basic education, which makes them struggle to find employment in the modern secular world.  We did not want this for our children, both Cubby and Little Bear.  We were certain that we wanted to homeschool them, but we were also certain that we wanted them to get a better standard and quality of education than we had done, with none of the undesirable influences and distractions that I had been exposed to as a schoolgirl.

Discussions and decisions about homeschooling should be made between a couple well before they have any children.  In fact, even before they begin courting!  It is such an important issue that it certainly needs to be one that a couple agree on, because there will be such a huge commitment and involvement demanded of both parents, but particularly so on the mother.  There needs to be full agreement and understanding about all the issues at hand, so that before any formal homeschooling is begun everyone knows exactly what all the issues are, and how they have been resolved.  Shared goals are essential when it comes to such a crucial matter.  Thankfully for us it was such a foregone conculsion, that we did not ever really feel the need to discuss it formally between ourselves.  We knew we would be homeschooling, so that our children recieved the influences of their parents and wider family, rather than those of unknown adults and peers, as they learned.  We wanted to be wholly responsible for our children's education - from a spiritual point of view but also socially.  Now that the cubs have finished being schooled by us, I can truly say that we did the right thing!

One thing we did discuss though was our goals for our children.  This was a discussion that we had quite early on, well before our children were at an age to be formally homeschooled.  We were certain that our aim for their education was threefold - that it would be to instruct them socially, practically and academcially.  For us, it would be about moulding young people who would be able to go out among other people who may not share their own values and beliefs, and yet be equipped to behave responsibly around them without being influenced negatively, and whilst still being witnesses for their faith - and for our way of living - as they did so.  And so far, we seem to have done this!  Overarching this all of course, is a sound foundation of faith, and inculcating this in our children has to start very early - pretty much from birth (2 Timothy 3: 16 - 17).  Children are learning from their earliest days - from the world around them, and the people in it, and therefore we must be conscious - and careful of this - from the very beginning.  Much of the way in which we taught our children in the very early years was not formal, but it was intentional.  We did not sit down and plan timetables of milestones for them, or have very detailled visions about how we wanted them to be as adults.  We had a main focus, but the smaller details took care of themselves, as our children learned mainly by example - our example.  It's important therefore, that as parents, before even having children, we have a sound faith of our own, and although of course we are always growing as Christians, never standing still or taking our knowledge of God and His Holy Word for granted, Papa Bear and I do feel it is important that this secure foundation is in place, before children start to arrive.  That's partly why we strongly support the concept of courting before marriage.  That way a young couple can be sure that their core values and beliefs will be compatible, and this will make the early years of child rearing much more straightforward.

We also needed to be sure that we would be using the right materials when we did come to educating our children.  Back when Cubby and Little Bear were wee, there was no internet - at least, we did not have access to it.  We didn't have a DVD player or a computer, or even a telephone.  So finding out about educational materials meant going to the library, and contacting local schools in the area for advice and suggestions also - even if this was just so that we could be sure of what we didn't want to teach, as much as what we did.  Of course, we also contacted other homeschoolers, but as I state above, the decisions about what and how to teach need to be personal ones, and we were very wary of being unduly influenced by the opinions of other people.  When Papa Bear was homeschooled, his mam did not use any kind of pre-printed materials or schemes.  She taught mainly from memory.  But we felt we needed something more structured and tangible than this.

It was also important for us to be sure we were aware of all the legal regulations regarding homeschooling.  These vary from country to country, and even between regions within one country.  In England the laws concerning homeschooling are actually quite flexible.  There is no requirement to follow any formal teaching plan, and not even any requirement for official testing.  But the local education authority does need to be informed when a family begins homeschooling, and they may at any time make a home inspection, to ensure that whatever is being taught is sufficient for the child, which, if it concludes that they are not being educated adquately, can result in a school attendance order being issued.  It is done on a child-by-child basis, and generic testing of the sort used in schools is not used.  This is one great reason for homeschooling - it is so much more flexible than school based education.  If a child is going to struggle with a particular area of their education - or indeed has a particular strength - this can be worked on in focus at home in a way that it can't be in a classroom environment.  In England there are no regulations concerning how many hours a child is homeschooled during each year, nor whether the child has to be schooled all year, or work in semesters as the schools do.  Again this makes for a great deal more flexibility.  Schooling can be worked into a timetable that suits the individual child, rather than a class full of 30 children.

Having some sort of structure, though, we felt was essential.  We wanted the nature of our schooling for our children to be quite formal, rather than a more free-form type of education as some parents prefer.  In hindsight I think this was probably because we were so concerned about ensuring that our children learned thoroughly.  Having been state educated I knew what was required and what sort of formal testing was involved.  Papa Bear on the other hand had experienced a very loose form of schooling (I think the term used nowadays would be "unschooling") and as a result, had some very rudimentary gaps in his education.  With these experiences in mind, we knew we wanted to stick to a very formal type of schooling, similar in structure to that which was offered in state schools.  We also chose to use a teaching scheme that is used in some English Schools, administered through McGraw Hill.  The scheme we chose is a workbox system consisting of multi-level student packs in different key areas that mean children of different ages and abilities can all work together from the same source materials.  In England at the time that we were beginning to homeschool, there were no specifically Christian-based teaching schemes that we knew of, so we chose a good, well established secular one, and supplemented this with our own Christian teaching.  I would state that if parents do decide to use a secular teaching scheme although they are very strongly of the view that they wish their children to have a faith based education,  it would be wise to study the teaching materials very thoroughly before unleashing this on your children!

Of course, you do also need to do quite a lot of "homework" yourself, to be an effective home educator.  Areas such as basic literacy, numeracy, handwriting, spelling and seat work skills need to be well established and understood.  If you don't have these basic skills already, then they are going to need to be refined before you begin teaching.  Otherwise your own knowledge gaps will be passed on to your children - and this is neglectful.  As Christian mothers it is our duty to educate our children, just as it is our duty to care for the home and for our husbands, and to be good witness to other young wives.  We need to ensure that our groundwork is done, and that we can be confident we will be giving our children a thorough and good quality education.  And this has to be done before there are any children!  If you do have some gaps in your own education, don't panic - but don't ignore this either.  It isn't fair to your children to learn alongside them, if you are their primary educator.  You need to know that what you are teaching them is solid, sound and incontrovertible.  I would advise finding out about online studies or evening classes if your own education is a little shaky.  And do test yourself even if you are sure it is OK.  I did and was horrified at how weak my numeracy skills were!  Papa Bear did not learn to read until our cubs were also learning.  This was a difficult task for him, and we know that it would have been far easier for him, and for them, if he had already had this skill.  I would heartily discourage anyone from going into homeschooling without being certain that what they are teaching their children they are already conversant with themselves.  If not, they are going to be getting a shoddy education, and that is not God's will for us as wives and mothers.

We were sure that we wanted our children to be educated in a way that equipped them to be able to get a college education - both children, not just Cubby Bear.  Our reason for this was simple - it would make any sons we had more employable, and any daughters we had better equipped to teach their own children!  So that was an important goal for us.  We found out what we could about the qualifications prospective students would require to gain college entry, and we used these as a guide when we were selecting educational materials.  In the main we stuck quite closely to the same type of curriculum that our children would have been taught in a state school - but with some differences.  Along with the core curriculum of Literacy, Numeracy and Science, we also had a curriculum for other subjects as well, including some that are not prioritised in schools, which we felt would enable our children to be more effective and responsible as adults.  Skills such as carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing, electronics, needlework, cookery, domestic science and animal husbandry were other areas we focussed on.  Not all at once of course!

In our next post in this series, we will look more closely on how we set up our school, and the teaching schedule we had.  We'll also be focussing on some of the problems - reluctant readers, short concentration spans, and ill health - and how these can be worked around when you are home educating.

We loved the experience of homeschooling our children - and so did they - and our efforts have never been more joyfully realised than now, as we see our beautiful grown children, confidently and responsibly coping with attending a secular college to gain higher qualifications.  We know we have done the right thing - and they agree!

"And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up". (Deuteronomy 6: 6 - 7).