By Mary Hood, Ph.D.
This is the first of a two-part series. This article will focus on the years up to age 12 or 13, and the September issue will deal with making it through the teenage years on a tight budget.
The first thing you have to do is get over your fear of operating without a set curriculum. The Bible has many promises that tell us that “all things are possible with God.” Stand on those promises, trust your mom’s intuition, trust your kids’ desire to learn, and trust God! You can do this! Stop saying you can’t, because that will be a hindrance as you try to help your children develop a healthy level of confidence in their own abilities.
Second, you have to lose the assumptions you are carrying around from public school. Yes, you will “miss something” once in a while. That’s okay! No, your children will not have horrible consequences if they aren’t exactly on “grade level.” Focus on developing lifelong learners with skills to continue learning as they become adults. Try to forget all those assumptions you are carrying around from your own public school days, set some worthwhile goals, and get busy having some relaxed, joyful learning experiences!
Next, without believing you have to do things just like the schools do, identify the basic subjects that you want your children to learn. Then plan some free or very inexpensive ways to help children reach the goals you have set for them. Following are some examples/suggestions:
1. Reading. This one is simple. Use the public library! Don’t say it is too far away or that your children are too little. When I was in elementary school I walked (alone) more than 2 miles to get to the nearest library to get my weekly fix of “Cowboy Sam” books. Do you live in a rural area? Find out if a bookmobile visits your area regularly, or go once a month and load up! Just read, read, read . . . and make sure most of the books are real books you can hold in your hand, whose pages you can turn, and which your children will learn to love!
E-Books may have their place, but I don’t see them fostering the love of books the way that a printed-on-paper one can. When your children are small, read to them. Learn about good authors, and above all, don’t kill off their love of reading. When something isn’t working, back off before damage is done.
2. Are your children not reading yet?1 Remember that not everyone learns at the same speed or in the same manner. Do phonics work? Get some cheap workbooks from the grocery store, or make up your own phonics games. He isn’t “getting” it with phonics? Maybe your child isn’t ready, or maybe, like my oldest daughter (who graduated with an English degree and is a freelance writer/counseling master’s student), he or she will never be able to learn with phonics. Relax. Be flexible. Keep reading to them until they are able to do it themselves, and then . . . keep reading to them!
3. Writing? Language arts? Abraham Lincoln didn’t use a grammar book and managed to write the Gettysburg Address. Reading will lead to writing. Just have them write about their experiences, edit a little at a time with common sense, and watch the literacy build!
Is spelling an issue? Don’t worry about it too much when they are this age. If you want to do a little something, you can make your own lists out of words they misspell, or have them do spelling bees in the car.
4. Math! Before the age of 12, the key is to build their understanding and the basic skills. Just consider what those math topics are: an understanding of numbers (setting the table for 4 people . . . oh, wait, the grandparents are coming tonight, that makes 6) and time, measurement, and money (buy a real digital watch, measure in the garden and the kitchen, use an allowance to teach money management). Practice adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, working with fractions, and using decimals in daily life situations. Always strive for understanding.2
Use Cheerios and M&Ms to group and focus on understanding that 3 x 4 means three groups of four . . . and 4 x 3 means four groups of three—and you’ve just taught the commutative property of multiplication! Use some grocery store workbooks to supplement your instruction, along with lots of real-life experiences.
Fractions can be taught with pizza and apples and a few little workbooks once they get the idea. Dividing can be understood first, then learned and practiced a little with the long-division algorithm, and once they really understand it, let them use a calculator. That’s what adults do!
Forget the pre-algebra for now. We’ll talk about that next month.
5. Science and social studies can be taught through relaxed unit studies. If you need ideas, look at curriculum materials and make a list of topics. Pick one in each area, and focus on those two things for a month. For example, in science, you can study natural things, such as insects, snakes, birds, the weather, rocks and minerals, or dinosaurs. Follow your children’s curiosity to learn about things.
Get some good non-fiction books from the library, and set up a learning center with an aquarium, terrarium, binoculars, and a bird feeder. Consider diving into topics like earthquakes or tornadoes or something like levers and pulleys or mechanical things for the upper elementary years. Use a combination of books, real-life experiences, and educational videos.
Do the same for social studies. Pick a topic, such as a particular country or U.S. history or the Great Depression, or the World Wars or whatever, and go in search of interesting materials. It will be so much more fun than using dry textbooks!
6. Don’t forget the fine arts. Set up a learning center for art, as discussed in one of my recent articles for TOS. Get books about artists, and include music and theatre in your children’s lives. Radio programs are free! If you have a little money, get a baritone ukulele, which is a stepping-stone to a guitar . . . or better yet, get a small keyboard.
7. Do some physical activities each day. Hike, bike, play tennis, and climb trees together. Yes, you!
8. Focus, above all, on developing their character and the values and habits you are helping them appreciate and acquire. Start the day with Bible stories, end with prayer, and spend some time on your knees planning for the next day. One day at a time! You don’t need a lot of expensive curriculum materials to homeschool in the early years.
Look for inexpensive experiences in the community to enjoy too, such as community theatre, church activities, and sports leagues. Above all, relax and enjoy it!
1. Listen to my CD titled Reading and Writing the Natural Way, if you can.
Mary Hood, Ph.D., and her husband, Roy, homeschooled their five children since the
early 1980s. All have successfully made the transition to adulthood. Mary has a Ph.D. in
education and is the director of ARCHERS for the Lord, Inc. (The Association of Relaxed
Christian Home Educators). She is the author of The Relaxed Home School, The
Joyful Home Schooler, and other books, and is available for speaking engagements.
Contact her via her website, www.archersforthelord.org.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.