Help for new and prospective homeschoolers

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When I was in upper elementary, I remember my mom teaching me that, in order to do a good job on a report about the Titanic, I should answer the following questions:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? She also told me that a writer should always consider whether or not “How?” would be an applicable question. I followed her advice and received an “A” on my outline and paper.

It’s kind of funny that the lessons I remember the best are the ones my mom taught me, even though I was not homeschooled. This seems to be the way it is with most people: they remember what their parents taught them.

Children, in fact, become accustomed to learning from their parents even before they are born. A baby becomes attuned to his mother’s voice in the womb and her voice will continue to get his attention even right after birth. The same can frequently be said of the father’s voice.

Homeschooling is a natural extension of the early parent-child relationship. And because children learn best from their parents, especially in the early years, and benefit immensely from the one-on-one tutoring that is characteristic of homeschooling, it is almost always a more successful endeavor than public or private education. There are exceptions to this, but statistics support that this is the rule.

If you are considering homeschooling, there are a few things you should do right away. First, join Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). It is cheap insurance and an invaluable resource. If you need help with the basics, a great starting point is How to Homeschool: A Practical Approach, by Gayle Graham. For help choosing books, the huge annual catalog that Rainbow Resource publishes has detailed reviews and can help you narrow your choices. Homeschooling is big business nowadays, so the problem currently is not finding curricula, it’s choosing it. You may be able to join a homeschool group in your area and ask for help. Perhaps someone has the book you’re interested in and they will let you look at it before you buy. In addition, almost everything is now available on Amazon, and sometimes you can get the book you want used, but in great condition, at a very low price.

A lot of parents wonder what to teach when they first start homeschooling. I always tell people to start with the basics. It’s easier to add then it is to get frustrated and have to cut something out. In our house, the basics for the younger years are Bible, reading, writing, and math.  An excellent resource for studying Scripture is The Children’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. This is not just for children. I have a friend who read it cover-to-cover as an adult. It is a great overview of the Bible. In fact, this book is a fantastic read-aloud resource for a group setting with multiple ages.

As far as reading is concerned, it is not difficult to find great works of literature, and it is especially helpful if the story ties in to what the child is studying in history. This way of thinking  — that children should read “twaddle-free” books (meaning books that have substance, are well-written, and withstand the test of time, i.e., literature) ties in to the educational philosophies of some well-regarded homeschool pioneers, such as Charlotte Mason, Susan Schaeffer Macauley, Ruth Beechick, and the founders of Greenleaf Press, to name a few. Furthermore, if your child is reading great historical fiction, then he is also learning something about history at the same time, even if you are not formally teaching it. This can be a help when you are first starting out.

Writing can be easily connected to what the child is reading. If he is old enough, he can write a book report. A young, new writer may write only a few sentences or a couple paragraphs. An older child may work on a longer report, and if he is artistic, he may enjoy making an illustrated cover. If you are starting to homeschool at the beginning of your child’s educational career, then it is top priority to work on pre-reading and reading skills. At this time, you should be reading to your child, and you can ask him to “narrate” the story (or a part of the story) back to you in order to test comprehension.  After my children learned to read, we switched from the phonics program to Learning Language Arts through Literature (LLATL). We use this curriculum all the way through high school (although there are only two books for high school, so you have to fill in the gap with something else). We’ve had great success with LLATL. It covers all aspects of language arts and is very easy for the parent to use. When there has been a need to study spelling and grammar, we have added Spelling Workout and Easy Grammar.

The majority of my homeschooling friends have used Saxon for math. We use this program starting in third or fourth grade and continue with it until high school. Starting in ninth grade, we switch to Chalk Dust, which includes DVD instruction along with textbooks and teaching manuals. Dana T. Mosely, the on-screen instructor, answers questions that are not already answered on their website within 24 hours either by e-mail or phone. He once called my daughter when he wasn’t sure whether or not she would understand an e-mail answer. We have been very satisfied with this program, and my three high school graduates have scored very well on the ACT and SAT, due in great part to Chalk Dust instruction.

For the early grades, we have used Cornerstone Curriculum’s Making Math Meaningful. This is an excellent, hands-on program that stresses mastery of concepts in such a way that abstract ideas are made concrete.  Students build a solid foundation which allows them to grasp more difficult challenges in the upcoming years. For mothers who are tired, a fine alternative is the Modern Curriculum Press series. Pictures replace objects, so there is less gathering of materials for weary teachers, but the instruction and concept mastery is still strong.

Whether you homeschool or not, frequent visits to your local library should be a top priority for all students. If you want your children to succeed academically, you must encourage and even insist that they read – a lot. I don’t know of anyone who has truly succeeded in high school and college who hasn’t made reading of critical importance. It is the foundation of any great education. And since children learn best by example, turn off all the electronics and show them how important it is to you by sitting down with a good book. Have them do the same.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent article, Nancy. Had I the extensive resources you’ve offered here when I first started homeschooling the path would have been much easier. I completely agree that reading is a cornerstone in developing a healthy academic approach but I also think in today’s climate a strong focus on computer skills is absolutely essential as well.

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