In addition to the expected socialization question, I often have many of the same inquiries about our homeschooling days. These are some of the most common ones and my responses.
Q1: Why did you decide to homeschool?
A: There were many deciding factors in our decision to homeschool including our desire to give our children one-on-one instruction, the freedom to learn outside-the-box subjects and to avoid the drama (and possible danger and influences) that other education options might have. But the most important determining factor was that we felt that we were called to take this path with our children’s education.
Q2: How did you decide what curriculum to use?
A: I did a lot of research when selecting not only the subjects that we studied, but also the books we used. I visited lots of websites and book stores, read product reviews, examined samples of the curricula and I asked the opinions of others who had used particular items. At times I wrote the publisher with specific questions. I tried to match the presentation style of the material with the way my children seemed to learn the best. And, even after purchasing a product, if we found that it was not working for us, I would go back and repeat the process to find something else that did the trick.
Q3: Where did you get your materials you used?
A: After determining what we were going to use each year, it was time to shop around. I usually used the internet to find what we needed. I did my best to find free resources across the net but that was often not possible, so the first place I started shopping was on eBay. Lots of homeschooling families, like ours, listed their used items there to earn the money to buy the next year’s books, so I felt that not only was I usually getting a good bargain, but I was helping another family to meet their needs. My next stop was used curriculum boards like the Homeschool Buyers Co-op's Free Classifieds. If I couldn't find the used materials I needed, I'd shop curriculum suppliers like Homeschool Buyers Co-op and others, looking for the best prices. It usually took me a few days before I actually made my purchases. When the packages and the online subscriptions started arriving it felt like Christmas as we poured over all the wonderful gifts of learning that were delivered to our home.
Q4: Did you follow the same schedules as the public schools do?
A: As far as scheduling school goes, we didn't follow the same timing as our public schools did. When my children were in elementary school, we would start every morning around 8:00 am and finish our days about 1:00 pm, but we were very flexible. Sometimes it took longer to finish the assignments for the day, but most days we finished earlier. When they got into middle school and high school, we began the day much later, sometimes starting around 10:00 or 11:00. I know a lot of people would gasp at starting so late in the day but drawing from my observations working in a private school teaching high school, I found that teens need a lot more sleep and my children functioned a whole lot better when they slept longer. It just meant that we also finished later in the afternoon. We did not set an exact number of hours to ‘be in school’, but just stayed at it until the day’s assignments were done. When averaged out it typically came out to be about 5 hours a day, unless we ran into some trouble with a subject. Then it would go much longer until we felt it was time to quit for the day.
We also usually did above the required 180 days of school, spending closer to 200 days or more in our studies. We sometimes lightly schooled throughout the summer months and quite often took different days off than the public-school system for breaks and vacations. We usually started full-time schooling the first week in August and ended the middle of May.
Q5: How did you know what to teach and when?
A: Many educators have already done the hard part of determining what should be taught and when, so we have just followed the basic pattern that had been set forth by them. What I mean by that is that we used their blueprint to help determine the basic path to study a specific topic. We did not stick to the standards that this is taught in first grade and that is taught in second grade and so forth. We did not move onto another concept just because of age but because the previous concept was mastered.
For example, in math, after mastering addition and subtraction we moved onto multiplication and division. After mastering that, we proceeded to fractions and formulas, then onto simple algebraic studies, and then built upon that to the higher math. We always studied history chronologically because it just made sense to do so. English started with learning to read and write, then moving onto learning how to interpret what was read, then coherently and grammatically correctly expressing that information in written form and so on. Age and grade level were not the determining factors in what we learned; understanding and comprehension were.
Q6: How did you decide what you were going to teach?
A: As far as the subject matter, because of the learning structure we had established, we usually just built on what was previously learned and spent little time in redundant review of concepts already mastered. That’s not to say that we never reviewed but we just didn’t set aside specific times to do it. It just happened in the course of learning.
Quite often I discussed with my children what they would like to study and, after I found some curricula that looked interesting, I asked their opinions on whether they thought they would enjoy using it or not. I always tried to make sure that learning was pleasurable because I wanted them to have a desire to learn and not hate it. That didn’t mean I was always successful in achieving that goal, but I sure did try.
Q7: How did you know how to grade your children’s schoolwork?
A: I have never been a huge fan of grades and especially of standardized testing (see Q8 for my thoughts on those), but unfortunately, they are necessary in our society. For me, this was a difficult process. I can remember when I was in school putting a lot of work into a paper I thought was excellent only to have it returned to me with a grade that brought tears to my eyes (back then if I didn’t earn an A or at least a B I was devastated). There were lots of red marks but little explanation about why they were there. In those days you did not question the teacher about your grades, you just accepted them. With this in mind, when I graded my children’s work, I always made sure that there was an explanation for each mark. I required my children to achieve an 80% or better on tests before they were allowed to move on. If they scored lower, we'd go over the mistakes, I would have them correct them, and then, if I felt it was needed, I would have them either redo the lesson(s) to be sure they understood or I'd have them study for another day, reviewing the material and then retake the test.
I would have loved to not to have tested my children at all and just go with my observations that they knew something, but I needed an acceptable form of measure for the mandated record keeping, so written tests were often used in our home (though for the Speech course we did, I videotaped all the speeches they gave and have that in our records). For those curricula tests, scoring was pretty much based on right and wrong answers. I scored test essay answers subjectively and tended to be lenient on the structure and grammar, pointing out the errors but focusing more on the accuracy of the content. However, English assignments were scored the opposite with more emphasis on the mechanics. I also gave partial credit on complicated math problems when I saw that they did the problem correctly but made errors in computation. There were other standards that I based our grading process on which can be read about here.
For me grading was a complicated and sticky business as we all have different standards that we use as a basis for our assessment of our students’ work.
Q8: Did you take standardized tests every year?
A: Luckily for us, our state did not require standardized tests (you will need to check your state’s homeschooling requirements to determine if your students have to take them). I, personally, do not think that they give an accurate measure of a child’s education or their knowledge base. I also feel like they are comparing apples and oranges. No two children are alike so how can they be compared. I know some children who do well on those tests but if you try to talk to them about a specific topic, they can only spew the facts and have nothing more to add. They do not have an opinion or insight beyond what they have been told nor do they seem to care much to have one. This makes me sad. And then there are children who do very poorly on those tests because they think outside the box or panic under the pressure that they will not measure up even though they might know the subject matter very well and are able to talk about it all day.
Every few years I had my children take practice standardized tests that I was able to find online to help me determine where we might need to improve in our studies and so that my children had experience in test taking for the college entrance exams and the SAT/ACT tests. Again, I only used the standardized tests as a tool and not as a measuring rod.
Q9: How can you teach if you are not a certified teacher?
A: This was a biggie and often not verbalized in the same manner. You know the looks. The unspoken comment “What makes you think you are qualified? You didn’t go to college to be a teacher (or didn’t go to college at all for that matter). You’re cheating your kids out of a proper education by trained professionals.” You see that raised eyebrow that implies you haven’t got a clue what you are doing (and, frankly, sometimes I felt like I didn’t). But that didn't stop me from following what I believed was right for our family.
From the moment our children were brought into our lives we have been their teachers. We not only taught them how to walk and talk, how to feed and dress themselves, how to do this, that, and the other thing, but we taught them about love, compassion, discipline, right and wrong and about their spiritual natures. We have done all this with a whole lot of “on-the-job-training”. If we didn’t know how to do something, we looked it up or asked someone for help. We did the same thing when we taught our kids academically.
Teaching academics is only a small portion of a good education. Whose desire is greater than ours for our children to be the best they can be? We are willing to put the time and effort above and beyond what any certified professional can, insuring that we are instilling our values and beliefs into their hearts. We strive to provide them with the best knowledge base they can get so that they can go into that great big world ready to face it head-on. I think that because we are motivated by our end game, that is certification enough.
Q10: I hear this all the time: "I don’t think I could teach my children. It’s a battle just doing homework. How did you deal with it?"
A: I would so love to say that it was always a breeze and that my kids never gave me any trouble doing their school work, but that would be an utter fabrication. There were days of screaming and yelling, lost tempers, and even tantrums on both sides. For the most part I did have cooperative and hard-working children, but we had times when stubbornness or frustration got the better of us. Many times, the solution to these rough spots was actually to take a step back from what we were doing and do something else, sometimes even nothing else. We took a breather, grabbed a change of scenery and got creative in our thinking. And there were lots of prayer; loads and loads of prayer. I don’t believe there is a perfect formula to dealing with the ups and downs of life. Just as each and every one of us is different, so is how we deal with the challenges that come our way. How we deal with teaching our children through the tough times is no different than how we deal with those every day challenges. We just keep our focus on the prize of a well-rounded, educated and happy person who leave us to be on their own way sooner than we think and do the very best that we can. And did I mention, lots of prayer.
So, what kinds of questions do you field from folks about homeschooling? How do you answer them?