Homeschooling in Real Life
So what does homeschooling look like in real life? I don't know what it looks like for everyone, because the cool thing is that it looks a little different for everyone. There is so much information out there with regards to philosophies, curriculum, the daily grind, and outside activities. I am here to break it all down and then give you a glimpse into what the bottom line is for us.
1. Philosophies and Curriculum
The issue of educational philosophies and curriculum can actually be overwhelming! Just type “homeschool curriculum” into a Google search and I'm sure you will be surprised with the amount of results that pop up. There are so many homeschooling methods: Classical, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Computer-based, textbook-based, and even something called “Unschooling.” And on top of the method, there are so many options for curriculum that go along with each one. When I first started homeschooling, I didn't know much about anything, and just assumed that what those around me were doing would work for us.
Our Bottom Line:
The reality is: one-size-does-not-fit-all. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can tailor your educational philosophy and curriculum to best fit the individual needs of your child. Over the past few years, I have adopted a mainly “Charlotte Mason” style, and therefore I am choosing curriculum that coincides with that approach, which I believe is what is best for my children and our situation. Basically, this approach encourages the reading of living books, as opposed to dry text books, narration, short lessons (which works well when you are dealing with little boys!), nature study, artist and picture study, music study, poetry, and forming good habits--something we are continually working on in this house!
I definitely put a strong emphasis on reading really good literature with my kids. And I am continually amazed at how much they really do understand and learn from books that I think are far above their heads. Charlotte Mason, who was a British educator, believed that a child's mind ought to be respected and treasured, and that children should have strong meat and nourishment for their minds. She also encouraged a lot of outdoor time, being in nature to be awed by God's creation, which is probably the best classroom of all!
2. The Daily Grind
This aspect can, once again, vary greatly among homeschoolers. Some choose to adopt a very scheduled, structured approach, and others implement a completely unstructured, entirely child-led learning approach. Some start their school day at 7:30am, and others are much more relaxed. Some have each half-hour increment scheduled for each family member, and others just go with the flow.
Our Bottom Line:
I am, by nature, severely lacking when it comes to organizational skills and being very scheduled. The first few years of homeschooling I really had no schedule at all...we just kind of got things done throughout the day. This year, with 5 kids and 2 with some actual school work to do, I am trying to implement a daily schedule. I started out with a very detailed one, and little by little it has gotten looser. But I find that it does help us accomplish more, and at least gives me something to attain to. I would be dishonest if I led you to believe that every day works as perfectly as it looks on paper. We have good days and bad days!
One of the best things about homeschooling, for me, is that our mornings are very laid-back. We usually eat breakfast at around 8:30. After breakfast, if all goes well, our day looks something like this:
- Chore time
- Circle time (Bible, Scripture memorization, poetry memorization, hymns and folk songs)
- Academic time (math, handwriting, phonics, foreign language, instrument practice)
- Free time
- Quiet time
- Read-alouds: History, literature, poetry
- Free time until dinner
I think one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is that learning can take place at any time during the day...not just during “school time.” This is why I think it has been important for me not to get too locked into the schedule. There have definitely been days, looking back, when I have been so obsessed with the schedule that I actually missed out on opportunities to help my kids learn. I am trying to find a balance between having a schedule, and also being spontaneous and relaxed, so we can delve a little deeper into an area in which a child is showing a particular interest.
3. Outside Activities:
There are so many activities outside the home that are available to homeschooled children today. It is probably one of the things I have been most surprised about since we started. There are gymnastics classes, ballet classes, gym classes, sports, academic and fine art co-ops. There are numerous field-trips, workshops, and even seasonal parties, organized by homeschooling moms. There are “Homeschool Days” at farms and educational centers. I just recently discovered educational classes at the Liberty Science Center for homeschooled kids. It is truly amazing the opportunities that are out there.
Our Bottom Line:
Quite honestly, we haven't gotten involved in too many outside activities. But the ones that we are involved in my children love. My 3 oldest children attend a Junior Naturalist workshop at a wildlife sanctuary which has been wonderful. They hike, picnic, and learn about the beautiful world God has made. They take a nature journal along and are usually eager to draw what they have seen or learned about when they get home.
Another activity we do is a weekly Art Class. I am so blessed because my twin sister also homeschools her 4 children. Each week, we get together and do two projects: an art lesson with the older kids, and a craft with the younger bunch. Sometimes the projects come out great, and sometimes, not so much! But art is a process, not a product, right?! We also incorporate artist and picture study during that time. And if it is a nice day, we sneak in a fun nature walk together.
I have also joined a few Yahoo Groups for homeschoolers in my area, and through that I receive emails detailing field-trips and activities that are available. Last week, my boys attended a felting class using the fur from alpacas, and this week we are headed to a maple sugaring demonstration. This gives them a lot of interaction with other kids and adults, and many interesting learning experiences.
Occupying Little Ones
This has been one of my biggest challenges, but also has been a norm for me from the beginning. We are currently in our 3rd year of homeschooling, and since we've begun I have always had an infant, 1, or 2 year old, or a combination of those. So often they want to “join in” at the table, and many times I do allow this. But other times, like when my 2 year old is climbing on top of table throwing crayons all over the floor, it can become a bit taxing.
I have tried to arrange our daily schedule to accommodate this issue. My 2 year old still takes a nap most afternoons, so I try to do our reading in the afternoon during that time. Some days, if I need some time with one child in particular in the morning, I will have another child do puzzles or build blocks with him. Other days, I will put on an educational TV program for him, or a sing-along video. I know this is probably homeschooling sacrilege, but quite honestly there are many great educational shows on TV for kids. As long as he isn't sitting in front of it all day, I am completely fine with it for a little while.
The most important thing for me, when it comes to dealing with my little ones, is my mindset. This is my little child, not a problem! There are days though when I can find myself thinking of them as a problem to be dealt with instead of a child to be trained and nurtured. I constantly need to be keeping myself in check with regards to how I see my children. I am also finding myself becoming more intentional about carving out little one-on-one moments with my kids during the day to make sure they know they are loved and special individually.
Dealing with Interruptions
Dealing with interruptions goes right along with occupying little ones, because many times the little ones are doing the interrupting! They can't help the timing of a dirty diaper, a thirsty mouth, or a bumped head. I am learning to hold onto the daily schedule loosely, because when you have little ones you can't predict what the day will entail and when they will need you.
The beauty of homeschooling is that, if something doesn't get done, we can work on it over the weekend, or catch up over the next week or two. There is so much flexibility that allows for these kinds of interruptions. I recently read a quote that said, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” I printed it out and hung it in our kitchen, where we do some of our school work, to remind myself that relationships are much more important than accomplishing things. I need this reminder on a daily basis.
When I first began homeschooling, I have to be honest and admit that I felt a little inadequate to teach my kids. After all, I don't have a degree in education and I don't really feel like I have the gift of teaching. However, my initial thoughts about what education is have shifted dramatically from that first year. And that shift is what has enabled me to realize that I am actually qualified to teach my children.
For most of my life, I viewed education as getting good grades in school, getting my degree, and going to college. I did very well in school; I was good at memorizing the facts I needed to know to get an A on a test. But that knowledge never really stuck. I was more interested in doing well in school than actual learning. When I initially started homeschooling, I still had that mindset.
The poet Robert Frost said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” Now my goal in educating my children has become to instill in them a love of learning. A child's mind ought to be treasured, and my desire is to foster an atmosphere of learning in our home, expose my kids to great literature every day, ignite creativity, and get them in touch with God's beautiful creation.
I loved this quote from Albert Einstein:
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.”
An Unlikely Homeschooler
You could say I am an unlikely homeschooler. As a matter of fact, if you had told me 20, 15, or 10 years ago that I would end up homeschooling my kids, I never would have believed it. I had some seriously negative stereotypes about homeschooling families from my growing up years. I remember some “different” families we knew who homeschooled, complete with an abnormal amount of kids and interesting names. I remember wondering what exactly they did all day, and how strange it was. My college years only reinforced my negative view of homeschooling. And since I had a very good public school experience, I always envisioned sending my own kids to public school one day.
But as our eldest child started to inch closer to school age, I started to become more intrigued with the idea of homeschooling. The kindergarten in our town is full day, and I couldn't imagine putting my just 5 year old on a bus at 8:15am and getting him home at 4pm. It made me sad to think that my time with him would be cut so short. During these early years, children are so impressionable, and I was bothered by the fact that for such a long period of time each day, outside influences would be competing with me for his heart. God was also working in my husband's heart at this time, and we decided to homeschool our first born. We are currently in our 3rd year, and I absolutely believe it was the right decision for our family. God has really changed our perspective on homeschooling, and I would love to be able to share some of my thoughts with you about what went into our decision.
As a side note: Choosing a schooling option for your children is a very complicated decision, and not one that should be taken lightly. There are no cut and dry answers, and I absolutely believe God leads us all down different paths: public school, private school, or homeschool. It is imperative that we go to Him and ask for wisdom from Him when it comes to this decision. Psalm 25:12 says, “Who, then, is the man who fears the Lord? He will instruct him the way chosen for him.” God is writing His unique story through each one of our lives and families, so please don't misconstrue our reasons for homeschooling as judgmental towards those who have chosen a different path. To say all Christians ought to homeschool would be putting God in a pretty small box. Only He knows the plans He has for each of our families.
Why We Homeschool
Several years ago I read a book that, looking back, greatly influenced my decision to homeschool. The book, Everyday Talk, by John Younts isn't a book about homeschooling, but I was challenged to take the instructions God gives to parents in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 seriously.
These commandments I give to you today shall be upon your hearts.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
In his book, Younts says, ‘The kind of talk God requires here is talk that happens in the normal routine of life, every day. God wants you to talk about His world. God wants you to talk about what He does and how people respond to Him. He wants you to do this when you are at home, when you are out and about, when you relax. He wants you to talk about Him with love and awe every day. He wants you to talk freely and naturally to your children about His commands and how to obey them day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.’
God was impressing on me that I needed time if I really wanted to do this. I knew once I sent my kids to school, my time with them would be greatly reduced. On top of school, there are outside activities, playdates, sports, etc. I didn't want to be so busy with life that at the end of the day I was trying to shove God down their throats to make up for the lack of Him during the day. I wanted to have time so that we could talk naturally and freely about God's greatness and His work in our lives.
What exactly is the goal of education? I think you need to define that for yourself in order to make an informed decision about educating your children. In his book When You Rise Up, R.C. Sproul Jr. says, ‘I am suggesting that the issue of education is always the heart. Changed hearts is the goal, the function, the very purpose of education.’ I believe the highest goal of education is godly character, not a 4.0 grade-point average. And while the issue of heart-change is fully the work of the Holy Spirit, there is no doubt that mothers can have a profound and lasting effect on the hearts of their children. I feel passionately that motherhood is a calling, a mission, and a ministry. For me, homeschooling has been an incredible opportunity to shepherd my children in their walk with Jesus. My work as a mother is primarily eternal work. At the end of the day, who cares if my son has a 4.0 GPA if he doesn't know Jesus? I am not suggesting that you have to homeschool in order to raise kids who know Jesus. But for us, it is the right decision.
Freedom to be themselves
For me, one of the most compelling reasons to choose homeschooling was to provide an atmosphere where my children could be free to be themselves: free to learn, free to succeed, free to fail. Within the walls of our home, my son has a safe place to be himself, which I believe is beneficial to him during such an impressionable time in life. Regardless of age, they are facing tremendous peer pressure to be ‘cool’ …even at 5, 6, and 7 years old, the pressure to be a certain way or act a certain way is huge. God has given each one of them unique gifts, talents, and abilities, and I want them to have the freedom to be themselves without outside influences telling them what is or isn’t cool. I want my children to find their identity in Christ.
Freedom to learn
Another benefit of homeschooling is that our children can learn at their own pace, and their education can be tailor-made to fit their style of learning. Who came up with the notion that all children learn at the same pace and should all be meeting the same milestones at the same time? When your children are taught at home, your children don't have to be boxed into a grade. Also, our children have different learning styles, and it can be especially difficult for little boys to fit into a traditional school system. Learning at home has enabled our children to learn at a pace and in a way that works best for them.
Time for Relationship
In what is probably my favorite book ever, For the Children's Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay writes, ‘What is truly important? The sacred career? Educational institutions make poor substitute mothers, fathers, and homes. There has never been a generation when children have so desperately needed their parents' time, thoughtful creativity, and friendship. The surrounding culture is deeply out of step with the Word of God. Other pressures threaten to take away sanity, stability, and simple humanity.’
What is more important than the relationships within a family?! For us, homeschooling has allowed for deeper relationships between parents and children, and between siblings. That's not to say that we never fight and our relationships are perfect...far from it! But once again, time is on our side. We don't have to deal with the mad morning rush, homework at the end of the day, or moving from one activity to the next. We have a lot more time to hang out, play together, and just enjoy each other.
Time to Play, Time for Talent
Play?! Yes...I believe free play is vitally important to a child's development. Our society has every minute of a child's day scheduled! There is hardly a moment for a kid to build a fort with the couch pillows and blankets or play freeze tag in the backyard. Kids need to play, by themselves, without the constant interference of well-meaning adults setting the rules. This encourages tons of creativity, and also some problem solving. Homeschooling enables this kind of play because once again, kids have a lot more time! That time also fosters an ability to pursue interests and talents on a deeper level.
One of the most common responses I get when I tell people I homeschool is ‘I could never do that! You must be a Supermom!’ I am here to assure you that I am most definitely NOT a Supermom! If anyone were to peek into my home unannounced you would see that I have piles of laundry, my bed probably isn't made, and we all might still be in our pajamas at 11am. As I write this, there is macaroni and cheese on my rug and there are about 50 baby wipes strewn all over the floor. Our family is far from perfect...we are all sinners, learning to live together, love together, and forgive each other, as Christ has forgiven us. Homeschooling has required a giving of myself:…especially of my time. But isn't that essentially the Gospel? Christ gave Himself for me. In a way, homeschooling has allowed me to live out the Gospel in real life. Nothing has brought to the light my short-comings more than homeschooling, requiring an even greater dependence upon God. I'm not sure how long we will continue to homeschool, but for now, I wouldn't have it any other way. I'd like to end with a quote from For the Children's Sake:
“There is no one method to achieve such a mature person.
There is no perfect or complete situation. We must pray for the individual, pray for wisdom, open our eyes, choose priorities.
We must not only talk. We have to serve, give, and be willing
to live with the children. We nurture with life.”
There is no perfect or complete situation. We must pray for the individual, pray for wisdom, open our eyes, choose priorities.
We must not only talk. We have to serve, give, and be willing
to live with the children. We nurture with life.”
A Mom's Perspective on Equipping the Next Generation
Recently, I was struck by how easily my kids are influenced. We were sitting at the breakfast table, and one of my sons started talking about “inner peace.” Initially, as embarrassing as this is to admit, I kind of smugly patted myself on the back for doing a good job of teaching him that peace comes from Jesus. But as I delved a little deeper and started asking him some questions, he started telling me all about the “inner peace” he learned about while watching Kung Fu Panda. Then he proceeded to get into a weird meditative pose! It was a lighthearted moment and we all laughed. But, as funny as this little scenario was, it also disturbed me a bit. It made me realize how “sponge-like” my kids are...daily, they are processing and absorbing the influences of our culture. It made me sit back and ask myself,
How am I, as a parent, influencing my kids with the truth of the Gospel?
God has given instructions to parents to be diligent about teaching His Word to our children. Oftentimes, we leave this job up to our wonderful and committed Sunday School teachers, Awana, and Youth Group leaders. But am I equipping my own children to know and love Jesus, and helping them to understand what He has to do with their everyday life? I know how busy life can get, and oftentimes, in our house, this can get pushed to the back burner.
Over the past few years, I have come across some great resources for teaching my kids about Jesus, God's Word, and the Gospel. I know that there are so many other great tools out there, but these are just a few things we have used personally and that I feel passionate about!
1. Bible Storybooks
The Jesus Storybook Bible,
by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Several years ago, I strolled into a bookstore and came across The Jesus Storybook Bible. I knew nothing about it, but I bought the book based on the subtitle alone: “Every Story Whispers His Name.” I cannot recommend this book more highly! I have learned so much myself, and have been brought to tears on numerous occasions reading this to my kids. The Gospel is the main thing here: it presents each story from Scripture as part of God's great redemption plan and teaches us how each story points directly to Jesus, as opposed to presenting the Bible as a book of rules and moralistic heroes. The illustrations are beautiful and unique, and we recently started listening to the audio version, which is absolutely phenomenal.
Long Story Short,
by Marty Machowski
This is a wonderful devotional for the family that, once again, keeps Jesus at the center. The focus is on the Old Testament, but always with an eye on the Gospel. The author does a great job of teaching children that the whole Old Testament points to Christ and His plan of salvation through grace. This devotional has influenced our family tremendously. My husband now has a game he plays with our kids, to see who can make the “Jesus connection” first. Of course, this sometimes ends in a fight as our children are highly competitive...which is always awesome when you are doing family devotions. But the point is, it has given us all a deeper understanding of the fact that the whole Bible is about Jesus, and it has been so cool to see our kids learning that from such a young age. Quite honestly, I didn't understand that until I was an adult. I loved this quote from the book description on Amazon: “Clever stories and good moral lessons may entertain and even help children, but the gospel will transform children.” And adults too!
Seeds Family Worship
Basically, these albums are word for word Scripture set to really cool music. I have been known to rock out to these albums in my car...by myself. Did I mention that even when there are no kids in my car, I still listen to them? We absolutely love these albums and have learned so many Bible verses together as a family singing these songs. Putting words to music is such a great and fun way to memorize Bible verses, and there is nothing cheesy or hokey about this music. You can learn more about Seeds Family Worship at www.seedsmusicstore.com.
4. Conversation and Real-Life Situations
Teaching our kids about God and His Word doesn't have to be a formal thing. Regular, every-day conversations, and the way I live my life in front of them, has a profound effect on my kids. It shows them what I am really all about. Kids are hypocrisy detectives...when the rubber meets the road, are the things I am teaching them, and the way I am actually living, jiving together? Here are some thoughts:
- What am I communicating to my kids about God when I'm disappointed? Am I teaching them that God is disappointed in them because they don't measure up? Or am I teaching them that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? Instead of teaching them to strive for approval, am I teaching them to rest in that truth? (Matthew 11:28-30)
- What am I communicating to my kids about God when things are going well? Am I teaching them that I, or they, don't need God? Who is being glorified? God, or myself? (1 Chronicles 16:8-9)
- What am I communicating when things go wrong? Am I living in such a way that shows them that we need to take matters into our own hands, or trust Him because we know He is in control? Am I teaching them to blame God when things go wrong, or am I teaching them that our world is broken as a result of sin, that God is in the process of reconciling all things to Himself, and that one day everything will be as it should be? (Colossians 1:20)
- What am I communicating to my kids about God when we have succeeded, or when we have failed? Am I teaching them that God accepts or rejects them based upon their performance? Or that Jesus is a friend of sinners, and that He died for us when we were dead in our trespasses and sins? (Romans 5:8)
- Paul Tripp exhorts parents to be an “instrument of seeing” in the lives of our children. Am I giving my kids a BIG view of who God is? Is God even in the picture? Or is He only meant for formal times of devotions, or bedtime, or Sunday? What I mean is, am I linking the ups and down of life, the good, the bad, the successes, the failures, and all of creation, to the Gospel?
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-4
The heavens are declaring the glory of God, but am I? Am I teaching them that God hates sin, but loves sinners with a “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” (From The Jesus Storybook Bible). That the law teaches us how life works best, but also is our tutor to lead us to Christ? I think, for me, the bottom line is that I need to be convinced of these things, and living them out in my own life, before I can ever give them to my kids. Honestly, God is convicting me as I write these words. So often I fail to represent God as He should be represented. It's all about LOVE:
Grasping the reality of God's love will provide every answer to every question we have about him and ourselves. It will tell us who we are, why we're here, and how we're supposed to do what we're supposed to be doing. Delighting in God's love will transform everything about us, including who we are, or our identity.
Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me
“The love of Christ compels us.” And it is that same love that will compel our children to walk with Him.
The Big Picture Story Bible, by David R. Helm
The Gospel Story Bible, by Marty Machowski
Leading Little Ones to God, by Marian M. Schoolland
Jesus Calling for Kids, by Sarah Young
Songs for Saplings: www.songsforsaplings.com
About the Author:
Susan Runnion is a wife and mother of 5, residing in northwestern New Jersey. She loves cooking, baking, and spontaneous dance parties with her kids.