I was asked recently what advice I would give to someone just starting out in home education. I made some comments off the top of my head but I thought I’d delve into this a bit more fully. I’ve linked to other posts I’ve written or related articles that I thought would be helpful.
Philosophy – I once read this statement by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.” I thought how well this fits with the idea of having our philosophy of education established before we start teaching our children. Not that we have everything all worked out, but that we know our direction, because ideas lead us along a set course; they do have consequences.
Not long after my first child was born, I read an article that summarised the main homeschooling philosophies with their pros and cons. I was interested in Charlotte Mason’s ideas after reading ‘For the Children’s Sake’ by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and this article stated that a Charlotte Mason education was child-centred. This bothered me because I don’t believe education should be child-centred. A careful reading of Charlotte Mason’s own words showed that while we respect the personhood of a child, the child isn’t meant to be the centre of the universe. Moral of story: find out for yourself. Go to the source if you can. Get on the right train.
Preparation – this goes hand-in-hand with Philosophy. If you have the foundation provided by a philosophy it enables you to prepare. What books, resources and ideas can I use as building materials? The preparation may have to come before the philosophy, depending on your circumstances. I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, and had prepared my mind over a number of years, so my search was to find a philosophy that fitted with my beliefs and ideas.
What does Gods Word say? – about children, about mothers and fathers, about responsibilities, teaching, and roles. Does my philosophy line up with what God’s Word says about these things? Have I imbibed my ideas from the culture around me or have I thought them through in the light of God’s Word? When I became a Christian at age nineteen, I was pretty shocked when I realised how much my view of life was unintentionally shaped by the culture I was steeped in, but even if you’ve been a Christian all your life doesn’t mean you are exempt from absorbing the current cultural norms.
Learning from the Body – for different reasons there is sometimes a tendency for home educators to form a sub-culture, but if you’re a Christian, the Body of Christ, the Church, is your culture. We all need people around us who ‘get’ what we are doing and who support us, but we also need those other members of the Body to provide a balance and who can speak into our blind spots.
‘Anything works if the teacher works.’ – so said Marva Collins, the educator and activist who started her own school and welcomed the ‘unteachable’ students who had been rejected by other schools.
I often think of this comment in the context of curriculum. If we’re having a hard time teaching maths or our child isn’t doing well with writing, it’s common to blame the curriculum. And sometimes what we’re using is not a good fit and we may need to change to something else, but often we just need to persevere and find a way to make it work. Between the abundance of advertising and someone’s praise of the curriculum they’ve just found, it’s tempting to believe that a change will solve all our problems. It probably won’t. I appreciate Collins’ words because we didn’t have a lot of choice when we first started out, but our children received a great education anyway, and we spent our money on quality literature instead.
Less is more – there are so many activities homeschoolers can get involved with now that weren’t available in the early days of homeschooling in Australia. I always advise not committing to too much if you have young children, or lots of them. There’s time enough later and it’s hard to form habits and routines if you’re always out. If I needed some time out, I tried to make it in the evenings or a Saturday morning when my husband could be home with the kids so I wasn’t dragging everyone out.
Outdoor Life – being outside gives you a certain disposition of mind and a different perspective. If you can’t do anything else, take a blanket outside, lie down for awhile with a book, and let the kids loose. I had a couple of nearby parks I’d venture out to when I thought my boys needed to burn up some energy and where I could keep an eye on everyone without too much trouble.
Mother Culture – growing your soul, strengthening your mind, educating yourself, are areas we need to work on. This becomes more necessary as our children get older but it’s also important to start early so it becomes a habit in your life. Our children need to see that we’re not stagnant; that we are growing and honing our skills, and not just requiring it of them.
It’s the little foxes that steal the grapes – we’ve had a few dramas or crises over the years that definitely impacted our homeschooling but it was mostly the little things, day in, day out, that sucked away at our peace. I heard this the other week: ‘If you focus on the negative you empower it.’
Depending on the type of person you are, it’s possible to find the negative on a regular basis. It’s common sense to acknowledge that, ‘Yes, there is some work to be done here,’ but whether it be habit training, a disagreeable character trait, or whatever, finding a way to deal with the problem without giving it more power takes some creative wisdom.
‘If any of you lack wisdom…’ James 1:5
* We do all this calling on the Grace of God
* He gives wisdom to those who ask
* He gently leads those that have young (Isaiah 40:11)
* Seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6:33)
* To the faithful He shows himself faithful (2 Samuel 22:6)