Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘Home School’

12 steps to homeschool on a shoestring

Teach kids the way they learnIf you’re new to home education, deciding which course of action to take can be overwhelming. The range of curriculae alone seems infinite. And before you even select a curriculum, you need to identify your educational philosophy. Do you believe in schooling at all, or do you prefer an “unschooling” approach? If you prefer a slightly more traditional approach, do unit studies appeal to you, or have the works of Charlotte Mason inspired you? Would you prefer to create your own material for your children, or would you feel more comfortable using prescribed programmes, designed by teams of experts and researchers?

Whatever your preferences, it is possible to give your children education of the highest possible standards without breaking the bank.

Twelve simple steps to quality home education

1. Understand your motives

Why do you want to educate your children at home? We wanted to spend more time with our children, make sure they had the best possible education available, protect them from harm, and address the challenges wrought in our family by food intolerances, scoliosis, Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD, and other autism-spectrum disorders. I also wanted a safe environment in which to foster faith and enquiring minds.

2. Identify your goals

For our family, our goals are very simple:

  1. Build a thorough grounding in God’s Word.
  2. Inspire a love for learning.
  3. Thoroughly develop the ability to LEARN.
  4. Create a solid grounding in mathematical principles.
  5. Develop a firm grasp of language.
  6. Provide an overview of how the world fits together in both space and time (geography and history).
  7. Delve into how the world works (science and biology).
  8. Allow and support free expression.

That may sounds like a long list, but we have actually distilled all education in these simple principles. Furthermore, having identified what we want to get out of education in our home has given us the freedom to pursue it through whatever means presents itself. We are not bound by a single curriculum. Rather, we have the freedom to take advantage of every new opportunity as it arises, and harness all that it offers to accomplish these goals. Changing course midstream is not disruptive, as long as it continues to build on these principles,

3. Clarify your philosophy

Alright, you know why you’re homeschooling. Not to choose a philosophy (or two – or three – or more …) that resonates with you and, more importantly, that works for your family. We started out with a very simplistic system that used a series of workbooks to take children from one grade to the next. We all hated it and the early days of home education were filled with loathing and dread. From there we quickly moved to a unit-study-type of curriculum based on key character traits. This was excellent and served us well, but it didn’t really resonate with me academically. This year I’ve been researching the teaching philosophies of both Charlotte Mason, who based her programmes on what she called Living Books, and John Holt, who advocated unschooling. What we have now is a loose mix of the two, with some unit study work and a lot of free study thrown in.

4. Determine your children’s learning styles

If you insist on teaching material in a way your child simply cannot grasp, you’re wasting your time. It really doesn’t matter how great your curriculum is, or how well-structured your activities are. Moreover, not feeding their individual learning styles will quench any inclination to learn that they may have had, and may well turn them off learning altogether. We’ve recently invested in the excellent “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style” on kindle from Amazon.com. Buy it. Read it. Apply it. Your home education experience will be improved immeasurably.

5. Learning to think is infinitely more important than learning facts

The explosion of the internet has shown beyond doubt that information is virtually infinite. New data is shared online every moment, and there seems to be n end in sight.  With all that is out there for us to know, who’s to say which bits are important? How can anyone decide what information a child absolutely has to know before leaving school, and what information can wait until they’re older – if they learn it at all? Obviously certain facts are not appropriate for certain ages. What I am talking about, though, is not the more risqué areas of science or history. I’m referring, rather, to the sequence and selection of data presented to our children. Do children in Grade 3 really have to know about volcanoes? Can they not learn about them in Grade 5? Or Grade 2? Or never? And if your child would prefer to learn about Titian than Hitler, is that a crisis? I don’t believe so.

It seems to me that structured lessons in airless classrooms, where a teacher’s attention is split between 35 boisterous young people and a rigorous syllabus are the true murderers of a love of learning. That, above all, needs to be fostered in home education. We need to ignite our children’s passion for finding out new things, and give them the tools they need to make those discoveries. We teach our children to ask us questions, look things up on the internet or in encyclopaedias, experiment, test, prove. There are thousands of ways to gather data, and these are what needs to be taught. With a strong grasp of language, a firm foundation in maths, and the ability to learn, no doors can be closed on their potential.

6. Map out your day

children are not a distraction from more important work.Once you know why you’re doing it, and you have an idea about how you’re going to carry it out, you need to address the when. If, like most of us, you work for yourself, juggling a full-time job, housework, and home education can be – let’s call it challenging. It’s very important to prioritise your children’s education. You only get one shot at this. A career can happen at any time. Your clients are adults and they can handle a little wiggle room. But a moment missed with your child is a moment gone forever. Don’t waste it.

For us, we find that first thing in the morning is by far the most effective time for structured education. This is when we do our Maths, Bible Study, and reading. Our “school” day rarely takes more than three hours, and we’re usually finished between 9 and 10AM. That may not seem like a lot of time, but the results speak for themselves: the girls are years above their grade level in both reading and Maths. They have a thorough grounding in history and geography for their ages, and both draw and paint beautifully. Even my tiger mom inclinations are satisfied by their progress.

7. Mix it up

Outings and crafts make the school year more interesting. Any subject can benefit from an outing that supports what is being taught. Everything from camping and hiking to museums and galleries can inspire a growing mind and entrench a lesson learnt. Art, crafts and play acting go even further, providing both kinesthetic and tangible reinforcement of concepts. Furthermore, these activities build their own set of valuable skills and strengths. A routine offers a number of benefits for learning, but occasional deviations act like oases, providing refreshment to wearying souls.

8. Be flexible

Your children are not like you. They don’t process things the way you do. They don’t see the world the way you see it. They are unlikely to learn the way you do. This can be the hardest part, but we need to be flexible. We need to accommodate our children’s uniqueness. We also need to accept the bad days. Some days, it’s hard to be present for teaching. Some days one of the kids will be having a bad day. Something unexpected could come up at the last minute. The key to success in home education is learning to roll with the punches.

8. Don’t be afraid to fail

As Thomas Edison famously said, I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways it doesn’t work. That’s a great attitude, and one that can help both our children and ourselves. In the beginning, especially, it can be hard to have the confidence to make a decision in the face of a sea of options and little advise. My advice is to plunge in, do your best and see what happens. Never stop refining; that’s the only ay to keep improving. It’s not over until you succeed. So if you haven’t succeeded yet, it’s because you’re not done.

9. Free is not cheap

We don’t pay for educational materials. As far as possible we follow Charlotte Mason’s “Living Book” approach in selecting our materials. Many of the books recommended by her are public domain and downloadable from Gutenberg.org. Even more  have been given to us over the years by loving family, generous friends and a raging book addiction. For Maths we use Khan Academy. I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s resulted in a marked improvement in everyone’s numeracy around here. These resources have cost us no money (if you don’t count bandwidth), yet they’re proving to be the most effective tools around.  Just because they’re free that doesn’t mean that they’re not excellent, so don’t turn down an opportunity because it lacks perceived value.

10. Double up for extra oomph

For History and Geography we use Living Books. Right now, we’re working through “Our Island Story” (available free on Gutenberg). Not only do we use it for history and geography, it provides our reading practice, copy work, and language skills. And story time! That means that in one half hour session, using just one book, we get a whole lot of learning done!

11. Lifelong Learning

The two most important things you can teach your children as far as “school” goes are a love of reading and a love of learning – along with the tools to feed those loves. Facts change. Information increases. We can never teach our children all there is to know. But if we teach them how to find what they need to know for themselves, we have done them a great service.

12. Have fun!

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just take every day as it comes, squeeze every ounce of gladness out of it, and relish in the unique opportunity you have to invest in the future.


Educate your child to be happy.

educate your child to be happy

Space Invaders

Heb. 13:5 “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

At the moment, I am really battling with contentment – or at least, the lack thereof. I won’t pretend that I don’t want to be rich; I do. But that’s not the problem. If I could consistently pay my bills with my income, while at the same time occasionally having some down time (or even just a little sleep), that would suit me fine.

No, the problem is being content with such home as I have.

I’ve been trying to work out why it should be that living in this little cottage is driving me crazy. Because really, living here makes a lot of sense.

The Benefits of Down-Sizing

  • It’s very easy to clean up: there just isn’t that much space for mess to accumulate.
  • It’s cheaper than anywhere we’ve lived before.
  • It’s close to everything.
  • Our landlord lives right next door, and the family is very nice.
  • It’s a cute little cottage with potential to be made very cute indeed.

So what’s the problem? It’s a no-brainer, staying here.

Well, today I figured it out. I have no space that’s just mine! We’ve converted our bedroom into an office, and as many as four of us work in there on any given day. Most days, I work in the dining room, which is also the classroom. The kitchen is right across from me, and the garage (which is behind me) is also the laundry, craft room, workshop, and storage hole.

Every day, we unpack our lives onto the various surfaces, live our lives a little bit, pack up so that we can live the next bit (say, for instance, a meal), and then start again. Every night, everything needs to be packed out of the way, and every morning it’s unpacked again. There’s no sense of getting into the swing of a project and being able to pick up where you left off. And not a single surface in the house is exclusively my domain.

Now that I know what it is that’s driving me crazy, it’s easier to accept it and deal with it. But I do wish for a bigger house – maybe one with a room dedicated to school, a room dedicated to our business, and maybe (just maybe) DOORS! Who knew interior doors were so very vital?? Oh yes – and more than one bathroom.

Balancing act

The current theme of my life is “Being Tired”. I keep meaning to get more sleep, and I keep failing to do so. We’re still experimenting with unschooling, although currently it looks more like a splash of maths, a sprinkle of Terry Pratchett, and a health dollop of no ruddy school at all. And still nothing seems to get done. It feels like I am wading through treacle blended with tar. On a hot day. In the desert. I hope the girls are learning something from the YouTube National Geographic channel, at least.

In short: not balancing too well at the moment.

The Talk

No, not THAT Talk. But still, a Talk with a capital T. Do all homeschooling families have this conversation, or is it just me and some of my more delinquent homeschooling friends? Let me back up a little and give some background. Here’s what happened:

Last week was Billing Week. It’s the most important week in my business month. It’s the week when I frantically finish as much as I can so that I can reconcile as much as possible and bill as many people as can reasonably be billed, with the faint hope that some of them will pay me in time to pay the rent. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled roller coaster ride that adds the pizzazz to my stay-at-home-work-from-home-home-educating lifestyle. Needless to say, for one coffee-driven, sleep-deficient week, very little formal education gets done (although unfortunately I think a lot of other education takes place. The kids have a front row seat in the theatre spectacle we fondly refer to as The School of Life).

It’s never great to have even a day or two without focused education. We all seem to lose the plot. The girls get fractious. They snap at each other and forget their manners. They get bored. Since Papa Bear and I are stressed, slightly panic-stricken and utterly exhausted, we don’t always handle this situation with the best grace (although we really, sincerely try with all our might). The final result is that the little bit of “school” we do have becomes a loose, relaxed affair, and kind of blurry around the edges.

This week we’re working on getting back on track. As you know, I’ve already explained that we’re doing a month-long unschool experiment. This means that “school” shouldn’t really take very long at all. Bible time is about 20 minutes, and so is Maths. Technically, copywork shouldn’t take more than about 15 – 20 minutes so, at most, we’re looking at an hour of the basics, followed by an entire morning of super-fun learning adventures.

Yesterday, that “hour” took nearly three hours to complete. It was punctuated by wild hilarity and chaos, and the half hour of copywork yielded scarcely six deformed words a piece.

I lost my cool.

Using that quiet, sinister tone that only very angry mothers use, I explained in graphic detail every aspect of my day. I explained how I start the housework at 6AM, breakfast straight after that, then school. After school I work, make lunch, carry on with school, work some more, make supper, read stories to them, work some more, and do my best to get into bed by 1AM. The next day it starts all over again.

After that, I explained slowly and quietly how, when they took three hours to do one hour’s work, they were stealing: stealing my sleep from me. Stealing their experience of a happy mother from themselves. Stealing food from their own plates because I simply can’t achieve deadlines and will lose clients as a result.

The poor babies watched with pale faces and wide eyes, and I was astonished to find that I felt no guilt at all. I really felt that they should realise that if they don’t take at least some of the responsibility for their education and success, they may as well not even have the benefits of a home education. Their potential would hardly exceed becoming poorly paid waitresses in a local coffee house, and frankly they can acquire the skills they need for that in any government school. I explained that they have phenomenal potential, and they’re allowing it to atrophy with their sloppy attitudes and distracted focus on what really matters in life.

All the time I was talking, I could hear my dad pouring out of my mouth. I remember him saying these words to me. I remember feeling overwhelmed at the weight of responsibility and utterly not understood. I also remember pulling up my socks, working hard, being at the top of my class and achieving most of my goals in my life so far.

Perhaps I was hard on them, perhaps even cruel. I don’t think so. I realised that I am actually a Tiger Mom, after all, and that I do believe in giving my children the very best life has to offer: character, self-discipline, high expectations of themselves, and the ability to achieve no matter the odds.

Have any of you ever had to have The Talk with your home educated children?

An Unschool Adventure

Last week was billing week, and exam week. Neither of those is a particularly simple or carefree time, and facing both at once proved – ahem, challenging.  Admittedly, I did have some say in the matter, and better planning would have resulted in a better week for all of us.

Even so, the trials we faced last week were eye-opening, and allowed us to realise and begin to address some issues.

Most glaringly, and the focus of this month’s “fix-it”, is Goldilocks’ approach to school. She’s doing much better than she was, and enjoys most of it. But when we have a challenging week, we tend to butt heads and each bit of learning has to be injected by force, it seems.

So, after some serious thought and prayer, we’ve decided to do a one month unschool experiment. I’ve blogged about unschooling before here, and now I’m ready to wade in and do some field research. I’ve agreed to a one-month trial. We’ll keep some of the basic school day structure, like Bible, Maths and Copywork. We’re also probably going to help a friend of the girls’ with his reading and art, so we’ll include those in every day. But most of the school day (and as much of the rest of the day as she likes) will be dedicated to learning about the things that interest her. Apparently we’re starting with woodwork and plastic injection moulding.

I, for one, am waiting in anticipation of the results.

Education at home: distilling what matters

We had a lot of reasons to start home schooling our kids, but at the end of the day there were results we wanted to see in our adult children, and what was happening in the classroom each day bore no relationship to our family goals.

We’ve tried a number of curricula and a range of course material, and this is what we’ve distilled:

I think that they will enjoy anything if we make it absolutely gripping. I also see no harm in starting with stuff they DO like. Eventually, they WILL be interested in everything. Here’s what I care about right now, in order:

  1. Do they have a strong concept of RIGHT and TRUE, and can they navigate their own lives based on this concept, without my help?
  2. Do they passionately LOVE to learn?
  3. Do they love to read, and take any and every opportunity to do so?
  4. Are they competent at Maths and able to grasp the concepts, extend them and, above all, APPLY them to the real world?

Beyond that, everything else is superfluous. I fundamentally believe that with these in place, the rest will come. They will eventually be curious about aspects of the world that may not old their attention now. And one day it will click together and they’ll be filled with wonder.

Considering that this happens to me more and more as I get older, I am not worried about them not completely grasping certain facts so early in life, because for me the facts are merely the vehicle taking them to the goals I’ve mentioned above. As long as the books I use to teach the facts serve my purpose, I will continue to use them. When they don’t, I’ll find ones that do.

We put a lot of energy into making sure there’s laughter in our household. Trying not to sweat the small stuff, laughing whenever we can, finding the lighter side of life. It’s not always easy but it’s already paying off, so in the long run I am very optimistic about the future.


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