Focus on the Family

Effective Home Schooling

by Janice Southerland

We started home schooling with the perception that it would be "school at home." Gradually, over the last several years, we have learned that "school" is not confined to a room and a time. It is a vital, growing aspect of family life.

True education is learning how to learn; learning about yourself, your family, the world around you; and, most importantly, getting to know God and His awesome plans for you in His world.

I began home schooling with the idea that I would teach our girls the things I had been taught at their age. God continues to teach me that true education is not merely facts, formulas, dates, and field trips (although those are necessary building blocks). True education is seeing that these things are parts of God's world, created to help us begin to know Him. True education is a lifelong journey, available to anyone willing to learn.

Here are some of the trail markers of effective home schooling we are discovering along the home school journey.

Trust God in All Things

When we began our home school journey, we were easily overwhelmed by all kinds of advice, curriculum choices, methods, learning styles . . . in fact, the more we read about schooling, the less competent I felt about teaching.

Fortunately, as we began, I heard a speaker explain that parents are qualified and able — even without formal degrees! — to teach their own children. We can teach them because God provides all we need for what He requires. How true!

And yet, we must continually go to Him with our questions and be willing to sit and hear His advice. God is the only expert worthy of our full attention because He created the precious children that we have, and He knows best how they will learn.

It is a simple, yet powerful truth to remember: make time daily to read God's Word and pray. Many times I have been too busy, and have waited until the day unraveled before stopping to ask Him to guide us and make our attitudes right. Recognizing that we are all learners helps us realize who the real Teacher is!

Glean All You Can

Resources abound explaining the hows and whys of home schooling. One of the most important is your local support group. Read, observe, and listen to the advice of others with experience.

As you do, remember to not compare your bad days, or areas of weakness, with another family's pinnacle of success: it brings despair and it clouds reality.

Search out other home schooling families, and be open to share with one another. In getting to know the uniqueness of other families through their choices and experiences, your family will be enriched and challenged.

I wish I had known when we began that there is more than just one right curriculum, and more than just one right way to home school. It is OK to change your plan as you and your family grow.

As you begin to gather lots of great ideas, or hear about a fun project to do, remember that it does not all have to be done this year. There will be time to work in some things later.

Keep a simple file drawer with notes about those great ideas under general categories: science, math, history, music, etc. Later, when you need something new and different, or when you are planning the next semester, the ideas will be there close at hand.

Be Aware of Perspective

As we began, it was tempting to make choices based on another person's opinion or on someone else's values or perceived expectations for our family. Trying to live up to the expectations of others has not always been wise.

When we pause to consider that other person's perspective, we might realize that our values differ greatly. What is absolutely essential to one person may not be important to another. What do they value? What do you value? Whose standard do you live by? Are you determining your values based on truth in context with the whole counsel of God's Word?

Because it is so easy to be sidetracked by someone's comments or enthusiasm, we frequently need to monitor our own perspective. Our pastor explains perspective with the illustration of a person who picks up a small piece of green glass. If he holds it to his eye, he will declare that all the world is green, because all that he sees is colored by that glass.

True perspective is found by holding the glass at arm's length. Then we realize that, although the piece of glass is green, not everything in the world is. Take time to evaluate what "glass" may be influencing you. Sifting the influences, and holding them in perspective, will help to keep you on track.

Follow God's Priorities for Each Day

It sounds easy in theory, but this is where I struggle the most. I make "to do" lists, and then find myself asking God to bless what I have decided to do...ouch!

In a study of the book of John, it became apparent that Jesus' example was to always seek His Father first. Jesus had very full, productive days, ordered by His Father. He also had time for rest and relaxation. Jesus avoided stress as we know it because He followed God's priorities for each day. He did not add his own agenda to the work of the day.

I have often crawled along this part of the journey because of my unwillingness to let go of my "to do" lists. Some days lead us in a totally different direction than we had planned: a friend has a pressing need, illness strikes, fatigue overwhelms, a doorbell announces a surprise visit, or we wrestle with a math concept and then with each other!

Whatever the detour, when I remember to trust God to know what to put in and take out of each day, and yield to His guidance, He never fails to bring good out of it all. Trusting God to order each day brings peace and greater satisfaction than any completed list ever will.

What is your destination? When we began the journey of home schooling, our first goal was to get through the year with good grades. We have since realized that academics will come with daily diligence.

Time on the trail has taught us that our life here on earth is simply "boot camp" for eternity. A lifetime of learning is but a brief preparation for life in eternity with God.

Our goal now is to invest our days in building relationships and developing character, which have eternal value, as we master academics. Proverbs 3:5-6 has been described as God's compass for life. It is a practical travel guide for the journey of home schooling as well. It says:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make your paths straight. (NAS)

In home schooling, as in life, the compass you use to reach your goals and destination will determine the course of your journey. Make each day count for what you value.


Planning Your Home School

Four simple strategies to help you plan your school days and your school year

by Debra Bell

Here are the strategies that will bring peace to your home school life by bringing order. They are simple and few. Complex systems that require too much time to maintain fail very quickly. These are the ones that have lasted at our house over the years.

Strategy #1: Long-Range Planning

A peaceful and well-managed home school begins with a commitment to plan. You can't invest too much time at this end of the spectrum. Long-range planning and weekly goal-setting will eliminate unnecessary day-to-day decision-making and give you confidence.

Summertime Is Planning Time. I use this time to regroup and do my long-range planning. After soliciting feedback from my kids, I scope out our year. First I focus on areas of weakness. I prioritize these and set goals for improvement. I'm never going to correct all of them in a year's time, but I am determined to keep chipping away at the list.

Add Faith. Don't let unmet goals discourage you. You'll get more accomplished in life by setting goals and not meeting all of them than by not setting goals at all.

Bring faith to your planning. Treat your goals as a prayer list. Sometimes I feel as though we aren't getting anywhere, or worse, we're moving backward. But when I look at my goals from previous years, I'm encouraged by the gains that have been made. Often God brings special opportunities our way that allow us to meet our goals in unexpected ways. Just putting the goals on the list makes me more conscious of God's commitment to our success and my awareness of His intercession on our behalf.

Write Objectives. After tackling our weaknesses, I then write out objectives for every subject for each child. I use this plan throughout the year as a yardstick for our progress. It is easy to adjust or change as the year progresses. Planning is the strategy that will help you hit those targets you are aiming at. But don't let it enslave you. Always be ready to adapt your program to the needs of your children.

At the end of each school year, I go into my objectives file on the computer and enter a brief paragraph indicating whether or not the objective was met, partially met, or not met and then detail evidence to support my evaluation.

Strategy #2: Weekly Planning

You aren't done yet. Planning is an ongoing discipline that allows you to maximize your time. Without it, you will waste time daily gathering resources, making decisions, and solving problems you didn't anticipate. So carve two hours out of your schedule regularly to prepare for the coming school week.

Before my older children began managing their own time, I spent an afternoon every week at our local library working on our home school program. I used the time to anticipate problems and prepare for them, to gather books, and to script out my goals and schedule in my plan book.

Remember: Time on task determines mastery of a skill or subject area. Plan so that your children can use their time wisely.

Your Schedule Will Be Uneven. When setting up your weekly schedule, don't shoot for even allotments of time across the board as they do in a traditional setting. This strategy does not help children achieve mastery in any area.

Some families do science first semester and history second. We found science once a week, with at least two or more hours devoted to experiments and study, worked well for us. As a rule of thumb: Skill areas are mastered through practice. Handwriting, spelling, mathematics, reading, etc., should be on your daily schedule. But content areas such as literature, history, science, etc., are better learned through fewer sessions in larger chunks of time. These also require more setup time on your part; so doing that once a week or for one semester is often better time management.

Strategy #3: Establish Policies and Procedures

In my home, at the office, and at the co-op, I am a manager. I invest my time in developing organizational systems that allow everyone to know what his or her job is and how to do it without my constant oversight or direction. How does this translate into your home?

Make a Rut to Run In. Routines may get boring, but they still make things run smoothly. (If you can't take consistency, just cut a new rut periodically.)

During the school year, kids should have a set bedtime and rising time. You should, too. I begin losing control of my day the minute we sleep in. From there, maintain a loose routine for the day and week. Food is a pretty important motivator for my kids. I have minimum standards that must be reached before lunch and then before supper.

Just Say No! Remember the anti-drug slogan from a few years back? I used to have it hanging on my phone because I was tempted to say yes to anything anyone asked of me. My goals for the day would quickly go by the wayside as I let the phone calls control my day.

Get an Answering Machine. I not only use an answering machine, but I've also turned all the phones in the house off so I don't even know when they ring. If someone wants to reach me, they have to send a fax or e-mail. Minimally, an answering machine will save you loads of time and prevent your day from slipping away from you with phone calls that turn into long conversations.

Strategy #4: Use Organizers

Pocket-Size Organizers. A personal organizer is an essential life-management tool. I've kept an organizer now for nearly twenty years. The essential premise is this: Use an organizer simple enough to take with you everywhere you go. Create a section for every area of your life that you currently need to manage. Include a monthly appointment calendar and a section for frequently used addresses. I've found an eighteen-month academic calendar is the best for my needs.

Every morning I make a list of what I need to do that day and record it in my organizer. I prioritize this and check things off as they are completed. It takes no more than ten minutes because it is an ingrained habit.

Central Calendar. We keep a central calendar on the refrigerator and everyone keeps his or her appointments there as well. It helps my kids feel more in control of their lives. I'm a great one for planning things and not telling anyone else. As soon as I put up the new monthly calendar, my children hurry to see what's coming up and then transfer that information to their own daily organizers.

Teacher's Plan Book. A teacher's plan book is the only other organizational tool I use regularly. Quite a few that are designed for home schooling are on the market, but my favorite is The Homeschool Journal, published by FERG N US Services. It's the simplest, that's why, and the most easily adapted to different families' needs. Recently FERG N US released a plan book for students, and my kids now use this as their own daily logbook where they record their weekly academic goals.


Choosing a Home School Curriculum

Where do you start? How do you keep from being overwhelmed?

by Sheila Seifert

"Home schooling looked like a great option," says Pam, a mother concerned about her youngest girl's high school education. "But when I started looking into curricula, I felt like a guppy thrown into the ocean. There was so much out there to pick from, and it was absolutely overwhelming."

Like Pam, many parents feel out of their depth with the seemingly endless supply of home schooling resources available. But if you're stepping into the home school arena, you don't have to be intimidated. With a little preparation, you can find the curriculum that is a perfect fit for your family.

Don't forget the obvious

The best curriculum for your children will be the one that aligns with your family's purpose for home schooling. Perhaps your worldview, schedule or school district has played a significant role in your decision. One of the best ways to avoid getting sidetracked from your initial purpose is to write an academic mission statement that you can reference as you're reviewing curricula.

Writing this mission statement is easier than you may think. Briefly explain why you decided to home school and define your desired outcome. Your outcome is characterized by what a successful home school year looks like to you. The goal may be to complete a workbook, score well on a standardized test, meet the state standards or see children integrating their knowledge in day-to-day situations. Your measurement of success is important in your evaluation of curriculum materials.

Then consider your influencing factors, such as the role your faith will play in your children's curriculum and how you intend to achieve your state's educational standards. Some states require home school students to adhere to detailed grade-level requirements. Others do not. Contact your state's board of education. The government has indexed each state's contact information at ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html. From there, get information about what your child is supposed learn at each grade level. Understanding your state's standards can help you narrow curriculum options.

A final variable in choosing a curriculum is your finances. What's your budget for home school curricula, and how expensive are they? Will you need a computer at home, and can you afford to buy one right now? Are there registration fees in the program, and what do you get for your money? Home school costs can vary depending on your curriculum choices. Figure out how much you intend to spend, and then adjust curricula to fit your budget, perhaps being creative with some subjects, such as using the library for literature books, to make home schooling work for your family.

Once you have created a mission statement, consider the educational model that best fits your academic teaching method.

Choose a teaching method

In addition to the many ways that curriculum is offered — video lectures, computer programs, distance classrooms, books, workbooks and projects — each curriculum rests on the tenets of a single teaching model. To better understand how you want to teach your children, explore these six popular teaching methods:

Charlotte Mason
British educator Charlotte Mason saw learning as a lifestyle, not a means for passing tests and doing a set amount of assignments. She thought that part of the process should include a realization of who each child is in the world and before God. Instead of being empty sacks that needed to be filled with knowledge, children are seen as capable of contemplating ideas.

Classical Education
Based on a patterned concept called Trivium, the classical model sits on pillars of grammar (early elementary study), logic (middle school study) and rhetoric (high school study). This Socratic method has been used for centuries to raise leaders and includes memorization, training in public speaking and critical thinking.

Eclectic
The eclectic method allows parents to use different teaching models with different subjects. They may prefer one method for English and another for science, mixing and matching the ways subjects are taught to fit a student's unique talents and learning style, often on a set budget.

The Principle Approach
God's Word is at the center of this educational model. Biblical principles are explored in every subject, and a biblical worldview is taught. Research, purpose and reasoning play key roles, and children capture this individualized training in a notebook.

Traditional
Lectures, reading, memorization, tests and writing are key to the traditional method. Curricula in this model may be self-directed, probably include workbooks, and inevitably strive to meet state and national education standards. In addition, good citizenship and character values are taught.

Unit Studies
Unit studies are lessons that center on a single theme, subject or time in history. Children of different ages can be taught the same lesson at varying degrees of difficulty. This allows parents to teach multiple age groups as they instill the value of learning in the lives of their children.

For curriculum examples of each teaching method, download Curricula Categorized by Teaching Methods. Once you determine which teaching method best fits your personality and the manner in which your children learn, eliminate the curricula that don't fall into that teaching method.

Understand your family

Curriculum is a tool to help your children gain the knowledge they need to advance to the next grade level. To find one that works for your family, consider these four keys to a home school routine:

  1. How much time will you spend working one-on-one with your children? Estimate the hours, or download the Available One-on-One Time worksheet to better understand both your free time and your time constraints.
  2. How motivated are you and your children? In subject areas where you are strong or your children are highly motivated, consider purchasing curricula that allow for more interaction. In areas where you are weak or your children don't like the subjects, consider a fuller program that offers self-teaching or video lectures. If you need help realizing what motivates you and your children, complete the Motivation Worksheet.
  3. How much curriculum will you need to purchase? Most states require a specific number of instructional days and hours in an academic year; confirm your state's requirements. Perhaps you will need 36 weeks of curricula if your state requires 180 days per year.

    Consider creating a daily schedule, budgeting the amount of time necessary for each subject. Review subject programs that contain the necessary hours (per home school week) to complete state requirements, keeping in mind that you can always combine shorter programs if necessary. If you need help figuring this out, download a Yearly Planning Sheet.
  4. How can you determine what each curriculum is really like? Reviewing curricula first-hand is important, and many curriculum publishers have online placement tests and Web sample lessons for parental assessment.

    Without a doubt, the best place to explore curriculum is still with other home school parents and in online home school communities. These men and women can help you understand what a product will look like after it's been used, detailing what they feel were the strengths and weaknesses of the program.

    Another excellent resource is a home school fair or convention. When looking at curricula, keep an ongoing record about the information you find. You can do this on your own or use our Curricula Comparison Worksheet.

Once you understand your family's constraints, pinpoint your varied learning styles and personalities and define a compatible teaching method, you will quickly eliminate some curricula and find that you want to explore others.


Home Schooling High School: Just the Next Step

Home schooling high school is not as scary as it sounds.

by Jeanne Gowen Dennis

Many people who home school give up when their children reach ninth grade. However, high school may be the most important time to home school, because the final preparation for adult life happens during the teen years. Even if you have never educated your own children, you can teach your teens at home.

Not as Scary as It Sounds

Home schooling high school is not as scary as it sounds. It is just the next step after eighth grade, which was the next step after seventh grade and so on. If you plan well and partner with your teens, you can design a great high school program that will not only prepare them for adult life, college and/or a career but also give you the joy of relating to your children at an adult level in every area of life and thought.

The main difference between eighth grade and high school is that is counts for college. Don't let that worry you. In my survey of 263 colleges, over 90 percent had accepted home schooled students. Most of them wanted a transcript, which you can make yourself. (I give detailed instructions in my book Homeschooling High School.) Others asked for samples of student work or a portfolio. If you keep up with your record keeping each year, providing the information colleges require will be easy.

Academics

As for academics, you may feel inadequate to teach all the subjects your teens want or need to take. Don't worry. An enormous number of resources are available for home schoolers of every educational philosophy, learning style and budget.

Even with that, you don't have to do it all. In high school, your main job is to prepare your teens to live and work independently after high school. By their senior year, they should need very little help from you.

In the meantime, alternatives you might consider include:

It is even possible for students to finish high school early and earn a college degree online or by correspondence during their teen years.

Even if your students study independently, try to work through a few subjects with them each year. Consider especially courses in literature, history, cultures or the arts. Interacting with your teens in these areas will be valuable for them because of your adult perspective. You will enjoy strengthening your relationship with your children and revisiting interesting topics armed with the wisdom to comprehend them better than you did in high school.

What about Socialization?

Often people who do not understand home schooling will ask about socialization. Home schoolers generally are among the best socialized of all youths, because they regularly interact with people of all ages. Most of them actively participate in their churches and communities.

Still, colleges want to see that your teens know how to get along and work with people outside the home. Many colleges I surveyed mentioned that home schooling high schoolers should be involved in activities such as volunteer work, jobs, music, scouting, clubs or sports, but colleges expect this from all their applicants.

In some states, it is possible for home schooled students to participate in high school sports teams, bands and other activities, and some areas offer home school teams, choirs and orchestras.

Well-chosen extracurricular activities serve to enhance the learning process and develop leadership and social skills. Encourage your students to get involved in group projects, jobs and community service, especially in their areas of keen interest. Such experiences also can help students define their goals for the future.

Is it Legal?

Home schooling is legal in every US state. If you have never home schooled before, you will need to find out what the law requires in your home state. The Home School Legal Defense Association Web site gives information about state requirements. If you live in another country, you will need to find out the law in your area.

A Worthwhile Challenge

Home high schooling is a challenge and a tremendous responsibility. Even the best home educators have periodic doubts that their children's education will be strong enough for them to compete with traditional high schoolers.

However, surveys have shown that home schoolers' accomplishments usually equal and often exceed those of their traditionally-educated peers. Experts in the field attribute this success to the many advantages home schoolers enjoy, including:

Your Family's Choice

Is high school at home the right choice for your family? Only you can decide. The teen years can be some of the most enjoyable years you spend with your children, because home high school provides the opportunity for parents and students to relate to one another on a new level. As your teens mature and shoulder more responsibilities, the parent-child relationship matures as well. Home schooling during high school often provides an atmosphere of mutual love and respect that fosters deeper friendship between parents and their children.

If you choose to home school your teens, proceed with your eyes open to the realities — the advantages, disadvantages, possible consequences and, most of all, priceless rewards that await you. For when the going gets rough, as it almost always does, you will need the commitment to press on to the finish line. Just remember that nothing offered in traditional schools can replace the unique benefits home schooling high school has to offer your family.


Home Schooling and Single Parents

Given up on the idea of home education? It might be time to reconsider.

by Crystal Kupper

When her marriage ended and she became a single parent, Mary Jo Tate, a home-schooling mother from Tupelo, Miss., faced an unusual dilemma. Could she continue educating her four sons at home as a single mom? Most would answer no, but the freelance editor and book coach immediately said yes.

"I never considered stopping," Tate says. "I trusted that God would provide the way to continue educating my children at home."

Seem impossible? While the words single parent and home schooling seem incompatible, a small but growing segment of the U.S. home-schooling population finds itself in this situation. Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, estimates there could be as many as 185,000 single-parent home-school families in America today.

Is it doable?

Single parents home school with the same motives as their two-parent counterparts, Ray says. "In home-based education, parents may offer better academic options, stronger parent-child relationships and customized individual education plans [to their children]. These reasons apply to single-parent families, too."

There may be additional benefits to keeping children at home following a divorce or parental death, Ray says. Some parents find that home schooling provides continuity that other educational options often cannot. Andrea La-Rosa, a Web developer from Miami and creator of singleparenthomeschool.com, agrees that the need for continuity after major life changes is a prime reason for single-parent home schooling.

"A single parent who home schools can be there for [her] children in a way that most single parents can't be," she says. "It's a way to keep families more intact, minimize the damage of a broken home and reclaim the positions of primary caregiver and guide in children's lives — things many single parents often count as losses."

But what about working single parents? Some, like Tate and La-Rosa, work from home. Others receive sufficient alimony, child support or life insurance payments, but most spouseless moms and dads work full-time, outside-the-home jobs to make ends meet. Can a single parent with a 9-to-5 job still teach her child at home?

Don't rule it out, La-Rosa says. Many single home-schooling parents enlist friends or family with child care and academic assistance. Others swap tutoring services within their home-schooling community or leave homework assignments to be completed during the workday and hold classes in the evenings.

"It's important to remember that your home school doesn't have to look like anyone else's," she says. "Get out of the mind-set of what should work. What does work for you and your children is what counts."

Is it right for you?

Most single parents withstand inner doubts about their parenting abilities already, and single-parent home schooling might only compound these worries. But Brian D. Ray offers reassurance to anyone doubting the validity of this educational path.

"When a child is home-educated, regardless of having a single parent or two, the child does as well academically, socially, emotionally and psychologically as other students," Ray says. "Study after study shows that home schoolers outperform those in public school and [do] at least as well as private school students. This fact remains the same for single-parent and two-parent families."

However, if a single parent tries home schooling and finds it too taxing, there are options beyond giving up entirely. La-Rosa urges home-schooling single parents to avoid self-imposed isolation.

"Knowing when and how to ask for necessary help is crucial for the success of single-parent home schooling," she says. "If you no longer want to home school, by all means put your kids back in school. But if you want to continue yet feel as though it's too challenging, reach out to your family, neighbors, fellow home-schooling families and church."

Tate and La-Rosa are confident that acceptance for single-parent home schooling will grow over time, but cultural approval isn't what motivates them. Rather, it is the knowledge of eternally impacting their children by making the best choice for their families.

Though many have found great success as single-parent educators, the choice to teach children at home remains difficult. Single-parent home schooling isn't for everybody, but single mothers and fathers should not rule out home education simply because of their marital status. They can always look to the greatest Teacher for guidance on shaping their children's education and future.


Next Steps and Related Information

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