Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dear Jill...

I received a note from a homeschooling dad expressing his frustration that he can hardly teach his two young children because each takes so much individual time. Here is part of his very good letter [names have been changed]:

"I'm finding that right now, my big challenge is coordinating things. Robin is six and her math takes a lot of time and attention. So while I'm doing Robin's math with her, it's hard to figure out how to keep Jacob busy and engaged with useful activity, without interrupting Robin's math. And vice-versa. If I'm involved in 2nd grade math with Jacob, it's hard to keep Robin engaged with something useful, without interrupting Jacob.

"Also, since both kids are young, there are constant questions and a lack of ability to solve their own I'm constantly jumping back and forth from one child to the other. I like to finish one task before starting another. That really doesn't work with home school, as in my case, I'm teaching 1st and 2nd grade pretty much simultaneously in the daytime."

The implied question is, "How can I get it all done?"

I hear this over and over as I talk to parents throughout the Midwest. I replied to this dedicated father in the following way and my husband thought I should share my response in case it might encourage other homeschooling families.

Dear Friend,

I have a couple of suggestions. First off, I would not do two separate curricula with children so close together. Please think about having them share whatever is practical, such as science, social studies/history and Bible. There is absolutely no reason to teach each one separately. When you teach children together you will not only be simplifying the teaching, but they will be learning together which will forge strong family bonds. You will probably hear them reinforcing what they are studying with each other during non-school time because they are studying the same thing.

I am not sure what curriculum you are using, but even before I used Sonlight Curriculum with my children, I combined them in many subjects. In fact, one year, I wrote unit studies so all my children could learn together. They were in 9th, 7th, 5th and 1st grades plus we had a 3 year old to make things more interesting! Obviously the 9th grader understood more than the 3 year old, but we all learned together at our own level. Just like when you have Bible study—all can join in, but each takes something different away from it.

I am not sure what math you are doing, but generally I would sit at the table and start one child off while other children worked on handwriting, or spelling or maybe just had a 10 minute break. Then I would start the other one off and sit at the table and kind of help both/all the children at the same time, going from one to another. If this doesn’t work, then schedule 30 minutes with each child while the other one is doing silent reading, tidying up their room, cleaning the bathroom, etc. If they take longer than 30 minutes, make it a two day lesson, or have them do what they didn’t get done as homework. There is really no reason for math for a 1st grader to take a 45 minutes or more. Slow down if it is too hard. You are building a foundation you can build on later, not trying to win a race.

If you are doing a traditional curriculum they are frankly a LOT of busywork because they are designed for school use. Cut out some stuff, don’t do it all. You are the teacher—you control what your children do at what pace. When you were in school did you EVER finish a text book? Didn’t the teacher skip some chapters? The books are your tools, you are their master. Many folks let the curriculum be the master and they are the servant. Don’t get into that trap. You are the master, the books are your servants. Don’t let them be in charge.

I am fully convinced after homeschooling our five children for 17 years that there are only three things to teach our children [as far as academics]:

• To be able to read and comprehend [This would apply to most subjects, even math. If they can read it and comprehend it you have done your job.]
• To be able to think critically about what they have read and form opinions [This does not mean doing the questions at the end of the chapter. This means having thoughtful discussions with your children about what they have read or what they are learning about]
• To be able to communicate back [orally and via the written word] what they know or think about a subject

They do not necessarily need to learn about every time period in history. They don’t necessarily need to learn how to diagram sentences or a lot of other things. What they need is to be able to read about a subject, understand what they have read, think about it and what the implications are, and to communicate it back. You cannot teach a child everything. Can you? I know I don’t know everything. But, if you can teach them to read and think and communicate they can approach any subject, job or situation with confidence.

I truly believe that today’s schools do not teach children to succeed because they don’t teach them to think. Yet, our whole lives involve thinking. When you get a job, no one asks you to do a multiple choice test—they give you work and expect you to be able to read the material, figure out what to do and do it.

I suggest when you have the time you may want to read “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by DeMille. He has some wonderful insights about the difference between an education like our founding fathers received and the "assembly line" education of today's schools.

I also suggest that this year you try combining the children in some subjects. I think you will all benefit. And if you are not reading good literature to your children, you might want to ditch history and just read to your children some of the Childhood of Famous American books or other historical biographies and/or novels. This could be done as bedtime reading to break up the day a little bit. You will all learn a lot and it will be much more enjoyable. If you plan to homeschool for the long haul, then I think it would be nice if it was enjoyable for you too.

Feel free to use what you can from my suggestions and toss what would not work. Homeschooling is a job. It is not easy, but it is the most rewarding job you will ever have and it will reap huge benefits.


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