Friday, June 21, 2013

Beginning to Homeschool: Answering Your Questions!

After my post about the awesomeness of this year's home education convention, I received a short note of questions from a sweet reader and friend. Since her questions were so good, I asked her permission to turn the comment/answer into a separate post. Here goes!

Before I begin, I'd like to add one caveat, and it is this: I am still very much a beginning home educator. I haven't passed the three year learning curve yet. I haven't graduated any children, and I haven't even gotten one through elementary school at this point. I am a beginner, a neophyte, a newbie. Therefore, everything I say should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

That leads me to two points:

(1) More experienced home educators following this blog... please add your own comments to my answers!

And, most importantly...

(2) One of my biggest pieces of advice for new home educators is this: Find yourself some truly experienced mentors - that is, home educating mamas who are significantly further along the road than you and who can offer the wisdom and insight of those years. This is so important!

I have a number of mentor-moms in my life - some who are "graduated" home educators (all of their children have completed high school), and some who are just significantly further along the journey than I, and all of them have selflessly and lovingly offered hours (and emails and emails and more emails) of loving encouragement and reassurance. One in particular has spent most of her spare time over the past five years in scraping me off of various ceilings. ("Breathe. Keep going. Don't give up. It's going to be okay.")

I don't know where I'd be without them! (And though I'm sure you know some in your new locale, dear reader-who-asked, almost all of mine are mutual acquaintances of ours, and I'm sure they would love to add you to their mentee list!)

And now... to the questions! (Some I have slightly reworded so as to be able to tackle them individually.)

"My question for you is how do you process the fear that you might mess things up for your kiddos? I am absolutely confident that I am my children's best teacher, but I keep worrying that I am making the wrong decisions about curriculum. My worry has paralyzed my decision-making ability."
There are many experiences common to home educators, and one of them is TOTAL AND COMPLETE CURRICULUM OVERLOAD. In other words, you decide to home educate, you do a bit of research, and then BAM - your brain explodes as you find out just how many hundreds of choices are out there. It's bad.

I think that your panic is completely normal - I'm just starting to breathe again myself after experiencing the curriculum overload, and the fear that I am going to make irrevocably bad decisions that will screw up my kids. It seems to be a part of beginning the journey.

This won't be the least bit comforting, but I've found it to be true... Finding what works for your family takes time. I am just now starting to settle into what is right for our family - and I still haven't made decisions regarding history or science. It just takes time. It also takes a lot of prayer, and a lot of consulting your husband. Give it those three things (time, prayer, hubbie's advice), and that makes a big difference.

Secondly.... Just realize that you will make mistakes. You will occasionally pick curriculum that doesn't work out, and that's okay. The kids will live through it - truly.

I had one friend tell me that she had purchased an expensive curriculum that she didn't end up liking. Determined to avoid the same fate, I put in hours upon hours into researching our kindergarten curriculum. We spent nearly four hundred dollars on it. And.... it didn't work out. (Seriously? Yup.)

But that's okay! Because we learned a lot through the experience - it was one of the best ways to learn. The next year I knew much more about what I wanted, and I was able to spend a whole lot less money. It was just part of the process.

I've heard it recommended several times that beginners start with a "box curriculum," i.e. buying a whole packaged curriculum from one company. A popular choice for kindergarten is My Father's World. After buying a boxed curriculum (which is what we did), usually a mom will start finding out what works and doesn't work in that curriculum, and start replacing. "We like their language arts, but didn't like their math, so we switched to...."

My main points:

- Realize that you'll pick something that doesn't work, sooner or later - and that's okay.

- If and when you pick something that doesn't work, you can just switch. There is practically no homeschool family on the planet that does not change curricula at least occasionally. It's just part of the journey.

- Curriculum choices are highly individual... don't feel pressured to pick Curriculum X just because someone else picked it - it might be great for them and awful for you, and that's something that just comes with time.

- Great ways to start working into a comfort zone (learning the terms, getting familiar with curricula, etc.) - Finding local support groups, subscribing to a list of great homeschool blogs to read, and reading through any and every homeschooling book you can find or borrow from the library. Great Facebook groups are also great - out here we have Arizona Christian Homeschoolers, and it's a great source of information.

- Your children will be okay even if you switch multiple times before you find what works for your family! 

"[I am struggling especially with finding a reading curriculum] - this is such a fundamental skill that if it is lacking at a young age can have implications for the future!"
You are right - reading is one of the truly essential skills.

However, one important note: There is a big difference between home education and school education with regard to pacing. In a school environment, a child who does not learn as quickly as his class does will, by definition, fall behind his class and thus face all of the social and emotional ills that befall a "struggling learner" who feels all of the weight (and social ostracism) of not being able to keep up with classwork.

In home education, on the other hand, a child who learns more slowly, is simply... learning more slowly! That's all! It means that lessons need to be slowed down or halted for a time while you wait for readiness. None of the other evils that would accompany slow learning in a school environment need be present in a home environment. That's one of the great beauties of home education.

All that to say that you don't need to panic if your eldest doesn't learn quickly. He may learn quickly, and he probably will (from what you have said about him, I get the feeling that he is much more academically-minded than our eldest!). But you can go at his pace, whether that's slower or faster than grade level, without having to panic.

(Here is a great article about pacing with beginners.)

There are tons of great reading curricula out there! I've used "100 Easy Lessons" and "Rocket Phonics" and been pleased with both, but those are the only two I have any experience with. But there are lots of great ones out there, and that would be a great question to ask the email chain of a support group (at which point you will receive twenty-five different answers and your head will explode all over again with choice-overload).

"Our financial situation does not allow us to just try something out and shelve it if we don't like it."
It is completely possible to drop four to eight hundred dollars for a year's curriculum - like I did. On the other hand, our mutual acquaintance (the venerable Cindy B.) has told me repeatedly, "All you need for successful home education is a Bible, a math curriculum, and a library card." And it's quite true.

If you want to start out with just a reading curriculum and a math curriculum, plus lots of read-alouds and real-life experiences, that would be more than adequate for kindergarten! (Of course, if you want to go all the way with a boxed curriculum, that's great too - it's just that you don't need to feel pressured to buy huge, fancy curricula [and spend that kind of money] unless you really want to.)

Here is one awesome article that was so encouraging - it was written by a mama of nine children who does kindergarten with only reading lessons and "animal cracker math."

Here is another amazing article that I read periodically - it is such an encouragement: Schooling When the Oldest Was Only Five.

Additionally, buying used curriculum is a great option. I bought our Rocket Phonics (for $30) and my Galloping the Globe (for $8) from Homeschool Classifieds. Many times you don't need the complete kit, or even the teacher's manual, and that really helps.

You can also buy all of your curriculum together at Rainbow Resources - although there's a wee bit of middleman markup, you don't have to pay shipping on orders over $50.

You can also look on E-bay and Amazon.

Buying workbooks directly from the vendors in your convention's exhibit hall will save both middleman markup and shipping fees - that's what I did this year with our handwriting workbook.

Also, many larger homeschool support groups hold used curriculum sales at the end of the school year. These are an awesome source for used curricula, as well as lots of other great stuff (reading books, how-to books, toys, math games, etc.).

It is, of course, important to budget for home education... but it doesn't have to break the bank, especially in the early years!

As a note, here are what our expenses have been:

Year #1 - Broke the bank with our $400 kindergarten curriculum, plus about $15 for phonics.
Year #2 - About $25 for math, $15 for handwriting (cheaper by half if bought at the convention), $30 for phonics.
Year #3 - $50 for math, $15 for handwriting, $0 for phonics (continuing with the same program), $7 for map skills, $8 for history

Add to that: Fees to attend the yearly convention, membership fees (usually pretty low) for local support groups, field trip fees, and here-and-there purchases. There are people who spend both more and less than us, but we manage to keep our expenses fairly low - especially by making big use of the library and free local field trips.

"I am putting a whole lot of pressure on this first year of teaching since [our son] has such a strong desire to learn to read."
One word: Don't!

In other words... Give yourself grace. You are learning; he is learning. There will be difficult times, and you'll likely switch directions at least a couple of times. It's okay to make mistakes, to pick yourself up and try again. (I think I do this on a daily basis.)

Do your best. Keep praying. Keep trying. Find some mentor mamas who will scrape you off of the ceiling and encourage you to keep going. God is faithful, and He will hear your prayers. And especially in the early years... you have time!

 "My second question for you is how do you integrate Bible into your homeschool day? I don't want it to just be another subject in the day! I have some ideas but would love to hear what you do!"
Oh, dear. I am the wrong person for this question!

We actually don't have a Bible curriculum, though there are many-many-many out there. Part of this is laziness, and part of this is just that we have discovered that plain ol' Bible reading is serving us very well! But there are tons of great curricula out there, and that would be a great question for a good Christian homeschooling Facebook group or support group.

What we are currently doing right now for Bible is the following:

- I read a Bible passage and a Proverbs chapter every morning. We also do the Catechism for Young Children and memorize one Bible verse per week as well. In the evening, Daddy leads a devotion time as well that includes hymn singing, Bible reading, and part of a Bible study book.

I find that just reading the Bible aloud sparks many questions and discussions, both at the time and later (when the eldest will just spontaneously pop out a question about a passage read sometime earlier). It often branches out into religion, theology, history, science, culture - you name it!

And it works the other way too - science and history readings often give an opportunity to talk about God's story through history and through Creation. It's a very organic, interwoven way of talking about God because it is simply present in all areas, rather than sterilized of all mention of God like it often can be in school.

However, again - there are lots of great curricula out there, so please do ask those ladies who can head you in the right direction!


In re-reading this, I'm struck by a very odd fact - the fact that I sound like I know what I'm doing.

I don't. 

I am very much in the learning phase. I make mistakes daily. I clash personality-wise with my son all the time. As a matter of fact, today was a rotten parenting/educating day when I felt like almost everything went wrong. On several occasions, I spent serious time in prayer begging God to turn this day around and give me the wisdom I needed. It is only by the grace of God that we have made it this far, and only by God's grace will we finish this journey. It is not easy (though it's gotten easier - sometimes) - in fact, it is one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

But it's worth it - and I'm here to cheer you on when you need it!

Readers, please chime in!

And now... good night!

Goofing for the camera during yesterday's math lesson! 

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