As a veteran homeschooler, I remember being in your shoes, reading books, blogs, going to homeschool events, talking to homeschoolers and attending conferences. There was so much to learn and so much to take in, I spent a lot of time trying different things and trying to figure out how to make homeschooling work for my then 3 little kids. Plus it was all this big experiment. Homeschooling looked like a good option for my family, it looked like it was working and had worked for a good number of people, but what approach should I take and what curriculum should I use? And would it work?
Happily with my oldest off to BYUI as a freshman and doing fantastic there and her siblings doing well here, I can say that homeschooling was a great choice for us. I have loved it for the most part, it has taken some trial and error and many adjustments, but we have a pretty good system now. The kids know what to expect, they know their older siblings did it and seem fine, so they are confident that they will also have the skills necessary to go to college and to be successful adults in life doing whatever it is they choose. They know we will help find the resources to get them where they need to go. And it is so, so rewarding and relieving to watch my kids really thrive and become nice, confident, happy, good people– the experiment worked!!
Was it all easy? NO!!!! Was it a lot of work? YES!!!!! Did it all go as planned? NO!! Did we have to adjust and change? YES!! Was it worth it? YES!!!
A Brief History of Our Homeschool Experience
Now you should know that we did not homeschool everybody every year. We lived in a neighborhood in Utah for a lot of years and my kids were super curious about public school, so much so that it was affecting my oldest’s confidence in her preparedness and wondering how she fit in in the wider world. So we sent the 3 older kids to public school for 8th, 6th and 4th grades for the second semester of the year, because they all wanted to go. They did great and all had really good experiences. The following year, the 2 junior high girls- 7th and 9th grades- went to junior high for band, choir, seminary and art and did the other subjects at home, the younger kids all homeschooled and then my 4th son was really curious so he went to public school for 3 months for 3rd grade right before we moved to New Hampshire.
For the second half of that year we were in NH. Then the 7th and 9th graders did some online classes through an awesome NH online charter school, and everybody else homeschooled full time. Then the next year, the oldest attended high school for volleyball and choir, everybody else homeschooled. And then the next year, the 11th and 9th grader went to high school for a half day instead of doing the online charter school which they both regret now- because the online school was way way better than the high school, they participated in high school sports and band, and the 7th grader joined the junior high soccer team. Everything else was full time high school – with plenty of other classes and activities and field trips mixed in.
Then last year was the only year I had not homeschooled someone in 13 yrs or more if you count preschool- the oldest was a senior and turned 18. We had moved to France and we wanted the kids to learn French and experience the French culture. It was a good experience for them all. It was a nice break for me, although I did miss a lot of things about homeschooling. And it turns out that coordinating the schedules of 8 children and 3 schools is close to the same amount of work and effort that homeschooling is. Everybody is homeschooling full time this year, except obviously the one at college. And after a full year of French school, they are all pretty happy about it and appreciate homeschooling a lot more than they did before. Although it was a good experience overall, especially for the elementary kids.
It turns out that combining homeschooling and going to public school every once in awhile gives a pretty good balance. You kind of have to determine it all year by year and be willing to adjust.
So all that explanation so that you know where I am coming from and why you should care what I have to say – sorry! 🙂 Anyway- my experience still may not apply to yours, but at least you can use my experience to your benefit as you figure out what is going to work well for your family.
So Here it is! What Has Worked for Us!:
Character comes first. Not much academics or anything else good can happen with an impatient, angry, ill-mannered child. If they don’t know how to act and behave, then that becomes our first priority in the homeschool. That being said, a lot of character traits of patience, diligence and perseverance are or can be developed through academic study and focus. If the kid is really cranky– realize that they just might be hungry. Food does solve a lot of crankiness especially in growing kids. And don’t expect too much– they are little. Savor their cuteness even though they are so needy and require your constant attention. It doesn’t last very long- it goes quickly!!
Compliment them a lot- no matter how small their accomplishment is. “You shared so nice.” “Good job getting that shoe on.” “Thank you so much for getting me this diaper. That is so helpful.” “Wow! You remembered to rinse your bowl after you ate!! Thank you- that is so good!” And give them lots of hugs!! Kids love to please, they love to hear how well they do something, and the more positive reinforcement they get, the more good things they will strive to do.
Apologize when you are in the wrong. Read good books and talk about why they were so good and how the characters could have done better or worse depending on the story. Spend time getting to know your kids and just talking and being together and laughing. Teach them about the things that are most important to you. The greatest part of homeschooling I think is that you have time to do these important things with your kids fairly easily.
Teach your kids to take care of themselves as much as possible. They should able to dress themselves, rinse their dishes, brush their teeth, and do simple chores by the official school age of 6. They can do more and more as they grow- it gives them confidence and a sense of accomplishment. And definitely grows their character. Pets are really good to teach responsibility too, especially if they don’t have any younger siblings. Kids also need plenty of time to just be and to play. Outside is best. If you don’t have a yard, plan on daily walks or outings. Being outside and in nature is good for parents too!
God and Religion
Teach your children about God and what you believe about the purpose of life, your philosophy, and your religion. Teach them about God’s love and compassion. Love is so much more powerful than fear. Help them feel His love and learn of Him. Teach them to pray to talk to God and to know that God is always there for them. Read religious stories together if you are religious. Share those things that are important and basic to life.
These are the most important things– they have always come first for us in our homeschool, and I think it has paid off.
2- Foundational Skills
Learn how to read phonetically- spelling will follow- any phonics program will work for this. Expect to spend a lot of time sitting with your child while they learn to sound out words and stories. It is both exhilarating to watch their progress and painful to sit through it day after day.
I like Leap Frog’s Letter Factory 30 min. DVD for learning the letters and their sounds
I like The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise Bauer
I like Bob Books and McGuffey readers for extra reading practice
I like Little Bear and Amelia Bedelia for the first fun books to read by themselves- I will read some, then they will read some. And then we graduate to the Treehouse series where I read a page, then they read a page, until they are finally happy to read on their own. None of my kids have gotten to that point before age 7. My twins are almost 8 and still aren’t there- but that is mostly because they learned how to read French last year at school and we had to put the English aside for a time– they are very close though!!
Here is a little more info and links to everything mentioned above: http://educationalpursuits.org/teach-reading/
Singapore Math has worked well for all my kids. I have a math mind though and I think math is super fun, so I like explaining the problems in my own way, and it is easy for me to teach. I usually have them finish the workbook, then we go through it and make sure they got all the right answers and know why they missed whatever they missed. Then I have them take the placement test as their exit test. If they pass it the first time, which only happens through about 2A, then they get to move on to the next book, if they don’t pass, they have to do a bunch of the problems in the textbook and then try to pass the test again. They have to get at least 80% on the placement test in order to pass. It is hard for them, but they learn and have done well with math.
We use McDougal Little for Pre- algebra, Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2 and Trigonometry. That is as much as they need to know to do very well on the ACT or SAT. My daughter who is a music major will not need to take any math classes in college. Unless your child wants to be an engineer or a scientist of some sort, they don’t need to take Calculus. I loved Calculus, but perhaps my time could have been better spent since I did not become an engineer or physicist.
Here is more on math and updated curriculum links: http://educationalpursuits.org/math-curriculum-choices/
They just need to learn how to write. I have bought lots of writing practice books over the years and I have printed off lots of my own worksheets printed in grey for the kids to trace. I usually watch as they trace until they know which way it should all go. There are lots of benefits of learning cursive first- the biggest being that they don’t write things backwards and it’s easy to tell the difference between b, d, p and q.
When they are learning to write, I have them draw a picture and then tell me what they want to write. I write it for them and they either trace it or copy it depending on their ability. Once they know how to read and write, I have them write in their journals everyday. I don’t read them, just make sure they write in them. I also have them make up a story once a week and either tell it to me or write it down for me to read. Sometimes I will have them read their story to everyone.
I also have them write at least one history report and one story each week. The non- writers just tell me what they learned- Charlotte Mason narration style. The older kids write a half page to a page.
I also have the kids write summaries of the required reading book as they finish them. We have done these in notebooks, but I am looking forward to using the little journals I have made up. The notebooks are hard to keep track of and it is hard to make sure the kids actually do it. The journals I think will be more like keeping track of workbooks- we won’t have pages falling out or kids deciding to write stuff on some random page in the back that has nothing to do with the assignment. The journals will also give a structure so the kids can organize their thoughts easier which in turn makes writing easier.
The more we write the easier it gets. I found the approach of writing about what we have read, learned about, traveled to or done to be quite effective in helping the kids retain the information as well. Writing I definitely a very important foundational skill.
Here are some of the journals and planners I created for this: http://educationalpursuits.org/products/
Conclusion and Answer
These are the foundational skills. If your child or anybody, really, has these basic math skills and knows how to read and write, the world really is at their doorstep. You will be able to learn and do whatever you need to with those basic skills. Much of the elementary years should be focused here. There are lots of other interesting and fun things to learn about, but if those basics don’t get covered, it is going to be a very difficult life for the child who doesn’t know how to read or do fractions or behave properly. So certainly do lots of different things, just don’t neglect the basics.
And the answer to the what is the best curriculum for homeschooling is :
the curriculum that works for you in teaching the skills and knowledge your child needs.
Coming Up …
This is part 1 of a 3 part series. Next we will take about basic knowledge which includes grammar, science and history, and finally we will talk about what to learn to really expand horizons- not necessarily what anything that will help you survive in the world directly, but truly enhance your quality of life- culture, art, music, traveling and languages.