Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Letter to My Daughter About Homeschooling

Today while browsing my Word documents I uncovered a letter I'd written several years ago to my daughter. As a new mother she asked me to jot down some things about homeschooling. Below was my response. As you can see, the few things turned into many, for I am still as passionate about home schooling as the day I began. Perhaps more so.


Hi Rachel,

Rebekah is a baby of many faces! She looks a little different in every picture. Glad you had a fun day yesterday.

Ah, yes, homeschooling.......well, here goes.....

1.  What it is, man! 

Homeschooling is the God-given right and privilege of every parent to design a particular type of education for his child. For the Christian parent, it involves under-girding every discipline of study with a biblical worldview so that the child is not only academically sound, but spiritually equipped to impact his world for Christ. Our scriptural basis for this conviction flows from Deuteronomy 6:1-9 where God instructs Jewish parents to teach and train their children to love the Lord their God with all their heart and with their soul and with all their might as they go about their daily affairs. The principle applies to the Christian parent in general, and thus the homeschooling community latched onto this scripture as strong support for home education, with the practical outworking taking place as you talk...as you sit....as you lie down. In other words, education is not limited to a classroom; it can take place anywhere, which makes the old adage, "the world is my classroom!" ring true. Although the apostle John is referring to spiritual "children" in 3 John 1:4, I also like to think of the verse for my own children and grandchildren, as what greater joy can there be when you have had the privilege of leading your own offspring to the truth and then seeing them run with it and walk in it. 

2.  Why it's done

I can't speak for your part of the world, although some factors may be similar, but I can speak for America. Generally speaking, most homeschool in America for the following reasons:

*   Why not? Since even the secular community recognizes parents as a child's first teachers
*   To be able to instill family values more easily (you have more hours together to reinforce what's important in your family life) 
*   To present a biblically-based education
*   To maintain control over what the child is learning
*   To allow the child to progress at his own pace
*   To shield him while he is impressionable from too much peer contact (when else in life does a person spend eight hours a day with only his age group?)
*   To allow creativity to flow (more flexible hours)
*   To train him to respect authority which begins with submission to parents (you have more time to fail, but also more time to recover and discover what does and what does not work)

3.  How to go about it (ah, so much can be said here; I am writing off the top of my head. I know you will have much to contribute on this point with your experience and teaching credential, a plus for many. I say many, because some have more trouble because they DO have a license, simply because they tend to expect more organization and such).

Again, the standards where you live may be different, or there may be no requirements in place. Here in America, there are basically three options:  Report yearly under the home education statute which requires either testing or a portfolio evaluation, apply for religious exemption, or just don't report at all. Requirements vary from state to state, and even from school district to school district, and much of what goes on is not even in accordance with the freedom presented in the Constitution. That's why it's good to be a member of a legal organization like Home School Legal Defense, at least here in America.

*   Pray about it as a couple. Read the scriptures about a parent's responsibility toward his child. Proverbs is a practical book to consider.

*   Read books on and about those who have home schooled. The Home School Legal Defense is a good organization to consult. With internet accessibility mushrooming in the last few years, everyone can research any topic they choose. Just type in "home education" and you will bring up a plethora of resources. Raymond and Dorothy Moore were the pioneers behind the modern homeschool movement back in the 70's. They wrote such books as Better Late Than Early, Home-stye Teaching, and Home School Burnout.

*   Together, take a sheet of paper and list the pros and cons of homeschooling. Pray over the list. If you sense a strong conviction that God is leading you to homeschool, you are ready to begin the adventure!

*   Again, do some research on skills that are learned in the early years (K-5, 1st, etc). The internet can help here again. You can then investigate ready-made curriculums (there are a host! ABeka and Bob Jones, Saxon Math being the most popular) or you can tailor make the curriculum for your child's personality, present skill level, and interests. This is what the Moores encourage in the early years, up to third grade. Too many workbooks and worksheets can discourage, as I had the misfortune to discover, but the happy circumstance to correct early on from consult with veteran home educators. As an aside, I believe second generation home schoolers will be much more effective in home education because they do not have the trappings of "traditional" school to fall back on. They only know what they experienced in their home, for better or worse. I believe most of them will be better equipped to take what they saw and experienced and feel free to adapt, throwing out what works and what doesn't without guilt!

*  After you've done some homework, sit down together again and list the areas of your child's development: spiritual, mental, physical, emotional, and social. Then begin to brainstorm under each category. What skills are typically learned at this age level? Is my child ready for this skill? (i.e. letters, reading, writing, etc.). What do I want to see my child learn or achieve in the physical area? (stop sucking his thumb, ride a bike, etc.). In the spiritual area? (embrace the gospel, personal devotions, pray out loud with the family). In the social area? (choosing godly friends, ministering in group settings). This requires becoming a student of your child. Who better to do that than a parent who loves his child better than anyone else? Hilary Clinton maintained that the whole "community" is responsible for the child, pulling more and more authority away from the parent. Hogwash! God instructed parents to teach and train their children. They may draw from other resources as they deem necessary and appropriate, but the reins are in their hands to steer their ponies as God has granted them authority to do.

*  After you have a good handle on what you want your child to learn (and for the young child this assessment may take place every couple months or so), you are ready to move forward with actual teaching. You can follow the ready-made curriculum of resources or you can take a more laid-back approach. The laid-back approach is encouraged for young children. Unit studies are great for this! Pick one topic (frogs, the solar system, rocks, Laura Ingles Wilder, etc.) and exhaust every angle you can from that topic: go to the library and look up books on the subject, search the internet, draw pictures, bake recipes related (early math skills), write papers on the topic, present a talk on the subject, build a replica of Walnut Grove, you get the idea!

Some of the best studies are the ones that the kids themselves generate through some interest they specifically have. Steph's was Adam and Eve, rocks, space, robots, Japan, ships and later, Pearl Harbor/WW II; Michelle was enamored by Christopher Columbus, porcelain dolls, baking, the childhood history books, and later the Titanic. And of course, you loved the mysteries of the solar system, the ocean, geography (now we know where that was going, don't we?), animals, and the childhood history series, also. Unit studies can be challenging, but if approached with the mindset of allowing the young child to set the course, it will be less frustrating. Actually, early childhood only requires that you read to your child at least 20 minutes a day, let her bake with you, and perform other household duties, and she WILL learn. About all kinds of things! Reading cereal boxes, recipes, directions of all sorts. Learning to count apples, or mangoes, or whatever fruit is available to you, and learning the colors of these objects. All things loving, attentive parents are going to do anyway. Worksheets can wait. When presented, they should be done in moderation and approached as "FUN SHEET.” And then, of course, as you and I know quite well, games can be such great tools for learning. I don't see how Rebekah will escape a love for games with both your and Nathan's fondness for them.

*  Evaluate again at the end of every "school year,” if you choose to identify a school year. Some don't and prefer it that way, since when does learning ever stop? 

4.  Benefits

Most have been mentioned previously, but the greatest benefit I see to home schooling, even over the academic consideration, is the family cohesiveness that is generated, and the spiritual life that is nurtured in an environment that allows the freedom of God's Spirit to work. Even if a family didn't do very much at all to facilitate active learning, just by virtue of the lack of exposure to certain negative elements, the child would be better off, except in cases of severe neglect and child abuse. MOST parents are loving and caring and want to provide their children with everything possible to grow them into mature, responsible adults. (As an aside, a good book I just did a review on for a mag is Raising Kids for Greatness. I'll try to remember to bring it when we come).

5.  Pitfalls

Besides the fact that home education can be just plain ole' hard work, challenging, and frustrating, I see little that is negative. Certainly, not every home schooler turns out to love God or walk responsibly, just as not every public/private school child turns out "right,” but for the most part, home schooling is not just a worthy pursuit but one which every Christian parent should at least consider and pray about. Those who say, "I could never teach my own child" are vastly deluded: They already are, just by virtue of their position! Besides, what child in America doesn't bring home a mountain of homework which the parent then has to navigate through with him, even after the child has spent eight hours in a classroom. In home schooling the parent and child learn TOGETHER, and in many instances, the child's understanding exceeds the parent's, especially if the child has a natural inclination towards a particular subject.

Others say, "I can't teach MY child; he would never listen to ME!" Again, a tragic, deluded statement. If the child does not learn to listen to his primary authority, it is suspect that he will ever truly learn to listen and appreciate other authority figures. Home education provides mega-doses of "field experience" in this area of authority, which will under-gird everything else in life.

A typical question is "What about my child's socialization if he is alone with me all day?"  I reply, "Would you rather have your impressionable child penned up with 25 other six-year-olds who breed contempt for parents, share their bad habits, and foul language?" Again, at no other time in life is a person surrounded by that many peers for that number of hours in the day. Healthy socialization is when a child can relate to many different age groups and feel at ease. Opportunities abound for that to occur: nursing home trips, summer camp, recreational departments, home school support groups (don't have one, start one), community volunteering, church activities, etc. etc. etc.

Pitfalls? If both parents are committed to the progress, it will work. While one parent may do more active teaching, both parents need to be on the same page, because home schooling does take commitment! There will be tears, frustration, times when you feel alone, uncertain how to teach, what to do, how to love, how to discipline. But it is a godly struggle you do together with much prayer and holy trepidation! 

Home schooling is the greatest pursuit a mom and dad can undertake! If God took me home right now, I'd be completely satisfied that I had completed all He had given me to do (of course, if He did that, I WOULD have completed all His work for me). That's how passionately I feel about the call to homeschool my three most precious treasures on this earth. I believe the greatest impact I will ever make for the Kingdom will come through them and through their children and their children. I'm forever grateful that I am already beginning to see just how extensive that impact is!

Well, I've gone on and on. I'm sure you could add, delete, modify, expand, whatever. It's great you have the opportunity to help others understand home education.



chaplaindebbie said...

Wow, Eileen, you sure covered it beautifully! I never had any doubt that I wanted to homeschool, but I would have benefited from reading that letter. I think I will save it to my computer to share with my daughter. Thanks for sharing it! God Bless!

Eileen Rife said...

Thanks, Debbie. What a blessing to home school. After three years of absence, I hope to get back to teaching creative writing to home school teens. When I taught the class in India I remembered how much I loved interacting with the kids and drawing out their unique interests and abilities.

chaplaindebbie said...

I will be praying that God finds a place for you. No doubt you'll do a great job with the teens!

Eileen Rife said...

Looks like I have one student already. Praying for more, if not now, in the fall.

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