I’ve been homeschooling children for more than a whole decade, and since I know that many families are turning to homeschooling these days, I thought I might share a little about what has worked for us.
First of all, I LOVE home schooling! I think it’s tons of fun. Each state is different as far as home-school laws. Florida, where I am, is very supportive of home schooling. We do a once-a-year evaluation with a teacher to show progress – otherwise what I teach and how I teach is completely up to me. Every state is different, however, and some Florida homeschoolers enroll in an “umbrella school” and take attendance to avoid the yearly evaluation or standardized test.
There are so many different methods for education – Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, unschooling, wild schooling, and regular old worksheets, to name a few. I’ve read and tried out all of these education methods, which is by no means an exhaustive list. The wonderful thing about home school is that you can do just what works for your family and inspires you, and that’s really the key to success – finding out what works for you. Every child is different, and home school can be tailored to each one’s particular personality.
It really helped me in refining my homeschool to think long and hard about what I wanted for my children’s education. I wanted it to prepare them for success, but the world is changing rapidly, and I wasn’t sure what that would look like by the time they were grown up. Kids in my generation were all groomed towards college education with little other option besides, and this did not necessarily serve us well.
After thinking a lot about it, I decided that I wanted to teach them the following:
1. A love of learning and desire to pursue interests and inspirations.
2. Reading skills so they can read about what they are interested in and learn what they want (this level of literacy sounds simplistic but is unattained by large sections of the population – many of whom have been to regular school for many years. When my parents taught at the local college for a year, they were surprised to find that the majority of their students were functionally illiterate – they could read, but they didn’t understand what they had read).
3. Basic math with an emphasis on mathematical thinking rather than rote memorization and vocabulary. This, I felt, would prepare them best for learning different math in the future – if they needed to. Vocabulary is easy to pick up when needed – but a basic understanding of numbers, place value, number patterns, logic, problem solving, etc. is most useful.
In testimony to this idea, my son has consistently been placed in the difficult math classes, despite a total lack of inclination towards homework. His math teacher in 7th grade told me he was one of the best students in his class. He said Mirin maybe hadn’t gotten to some of the same things as the other students (our progress was different), but he was the first in the class to understand a new concept.
Once those basics were covered, we had time for:
1. History and different cultures through stories, poems, and songs (my son said he passed a difficult American history exam without studying by going over the civil war songs we sang for home school!).
2. Artistic expression in the form of art, music, and crafts. Poetry through verses and memorized poems, and just reading poetry out loud regularly as well.
3. Good literature through careful bedtime reading selections, and our home school main lessons that count towards history, culture, writing, grammar, spelling, handwriting, and literature are selected from the great stories of human culture from around the world, many of which are unknown to most Americans.
4. Practical skills through their interests:
My oldest child, my son who is now 16, loved primitive and survival skills and weapons, civil war re-enactments, hunting, flint knapping, making bows and arrows, blacksmithing, carving, gunsmithing, cars, and now wants to build a computer.
When he was nine, he carved beautifully accurate copies of all the Harry Potter wands from pictures he printed out online.
When he was ten, he built a slam-fire .22 that used nail gun blanks and actually fired out of junk that he scavenged.
He read the Foxfire books and checked out gun books from the library, and hand-milled gun pieces out of solid bits of metal he found with an angle grinder, first testing out bamboo barrels (the original gun), and moving on to metal.
He mowed lawns in the neighborhood for money, and would ride his bike down to the hardware store to buy materials and tools with it. After years of study, he’s now encyclopedic about the subject and knows all about the history and design of all different kinds of guns, their mechanics, metal interactions, and the process of making gun powder.
For his 8th grade history he had to give a presentation, and chose the history of rifling. His PowerPoint was just pictures,and he did the rest from memory. The teacher was amazed – he had never met a kid who could do a lecture just like that.
He did a little apprenticing with gunsmith later, and now he has a 1970’s Lincoln Mercury Cougar he is fixing up. I love that he knew nothing about combustion engines at first, but this didn’t stop him. He has been teaching himself, meeting people who have offered advice and experience, and learning along the way. All the homeschoolers I know are like this – ready to learn and figure things out.
My middle child, Rose, now 13, has had her interests lead her towards sewing, style, and make-up recently. She took great sewing classes at a local sew shop, and will often sew little projects independently. With some help she has designed clothes and costumes for herself. She loves thrift shopping, and has checked out all the books we could find at the library on beauty, fashion, hair styles, and make-up.
I know make-up for girls can be a controversial topic – and I have very seldom worn make-up myself, but I can’t deny that this is an extremely profitable and in-demand career path for those who are talented and ambitious, and there is a lot of art and skill involved in it. I also insist all her make up is high-quality mineral based natural make up without lead or animal cruelty. We also make our own all-natural cosmetics, face masks, and hair rinses. Lately she has also found a strong interest in manga, and is teaching herself to draw in that style from books. She is also learning Japanese.
This year Clothilde has been doing a lot of self-directed nature study. She has tadpoles that she’s been raising in batches, watching their development from eggs to frogs. She has also been raising caterpillars.
My dad is a butterfly expert, and he helps her identify the caterpillars she discovers and find the right host plants to raise them on. She has learned so many different plants and insects this way. She has several containers where she’s raised various kinds of caterpillars until they pupated and them released them when they hatched (like the Io moth larvae pictured above). We’ve learned so much watching the process. It’s really like magic to watch a queen butterfly caterpillar turn itself into a jade-green, gold-studded pupa. Science began because of observations people made about the world around them, and there are still many things that are unknown about the life cycles of even common butterflies.
These are just the things they are doing and learning just from their own inspiration and direction. You don’t get to learn these things in a school setting – which is why I love homeschool so much!
To be continued….