How are you going to homeschool? – an introduction to relaxed homeschooling

There once was a little house where Mom and Dad lived with their two precious children – Joey and Susan.  For several years, Dad went to work and Mom spent the day at home with the children.

“It’s time to get up, my dears,” Mom said each morning with a smile.  

The children got out of bed and then their daily routine usually consisted of Mom reading some picture books to the children, taking a walk down the road or visiting the local park together, having fun together and just “living life.” 

Joey loved his little sister and spent a lot of time showing off his Lego creations or teaching her how to build block towers.  He would sometimes even try to “read” books to her that he actually had just memorized.  There were also days when guests would come over or the family would go somewhere else to play.  Sometimes they went on field trips, visited the local children’s museum or spent a whole day playing fort in the living room.  Life was good and everyone was happy.

Amazingly, during the first five years of his life, Joey had learned to walk, talk, tie his shoes, say “please” and “thank you,” set the table, feed the pets, make his bed, put away the laundry Mom washed, and many other things.  He could even recognize a few letters and he was beginning to recognize their sounds.  He knew several Bible verses and enjoyed reciting those when anyone would listen.  Even three-year-old Susie could say a few Bible verses.  Both children sat still while Mom read books and they enjoyed helping clean the kitchen and switch laundry.  Joey also ran the vacuum cleaner (although it was practically too big for him!), took out the trash and answered the phone.  He was even teaching Susan some of the things he knew.  Mom taught Joey and Susan as a natural part of life and they learned more during those first few years than they ever would at any point in their lives.  And life was good and everyone was happy.

Then, the time came to enroll Joey in school.  Mom and Dad really didn’t want to send him to school.  They had heard about homeschooling and since the children seemed to be doing so well at home, they thought they might like to continue teaching him.  They would also be able to instill their values in the process.  They discussed the issue and decided that not only would they teach Joey at home, but if all went well, they’d teach little Susie at home when the time came.

So the next week, Mom bought some schoolbooks, paper, pencils, and a little school desk.  She even bought a bulletin board, some pretty ABC border for the wall, and some other educational supplies.  Since Mom had spent so much time getting ready for this new “school” thing, they knew that it must be something really special, but they had really missed their walks through the woods that week.  They also missed their weekly art project and their Wednesday “family cook-day.” Mom also hadn’t had time to read books to them or tell them stories while they cleaned house together.  She was tired.  Life was good and everyone was happy, but mom was very tired and the children were a little cranky since they didn’t have the privilege of Mom’s guiding hand that week.

The next week, Mom started homeschooling.  She sat Joey down at the little school desk she had bought for him and said, “Now, I’ll let you have regular breaks, but the law says you have to do school for four hours per day so let’s get started.”  And so Mom gave Joey first grade science books with pictures and math workbooks and phonics pages.  The first day it was mostly fun, except for when Susan wanted to color on Joey’s phonics pages and Mom said she needed to wait until she had her own.  Then little Susie had to go to time out because she wanted to “do school,” too.  Joey missed time with his sister and by the end of the week, he figured he had done enough worksheets so when Mom wasn’t looking, he gave some to his sister and started showing her where to color them.  By the time Mom came back in the room, they were both sitting at the dining room table with all the phonics pages colored and the counting teddy bears (for math) were stacked in battle formation with the “red team” against the “blue team.”  Life was good, Mom was frustrated and the children were sent to bed early.

During the second and third weeks, the children became increasingly irritable.  Mom was tired.  Dad began to question whether the decision to homeschool was actually a good one.  Mom questioned as well.  Joey had decided that “school” was definitely no fun!

By the end of the first month of homeschooling, everyone wondered why people thought this “homeschooling thing” was such a good idea.  Mom never had time to read any more because she was much busier now trying to figure out which work Joey should do the next day and then trying to get him to do it.  During the day, since Joey didn’t have as much time to play with Susan, the little girl got into things more and Mom had to spend time cleaning up messes.  Joey was frustrated.  He used to think learning was fun and he couldn’t wait to learn how to read, but that’s when Mom was doing it with him.  When Mom read aloud to him and Susie, Joey thought it was great fun to sound out words sometimes or to pick out letters, but now he spent a lot of time sitting at his desk. He didn’t think he’d ever learn to read on his own and he didn’t really care anymore. … 


While this isn’t a “real” family, the fact is that there are many families just like this one.  Because most of us were raised in the government school system, we have been “trained” that education takes place in a school – under the tutelage of a trained teacher.  In reality, this is just one way to learn and it’s not the most efficient.  Look at all the things the PARENTS – mom and dad – teach a child before they ever enter a classroom.  Moms and dads teach children to walk, talk, run, ride a bicycle, use polite language, use the potty, answer the phone, dispose of trash properly, eat with manners, and soooo many more things – all in five years, usually.  J   These are things that are essential LIFE SKILLS.  In fact, children today who are being raised in daycare settings are lacking many essential “life skills,” including those ever-talked-about socialization skills that come up at the first mention of homeschooling.  A child in a group setting without constant supervision from a loving adult who is has a vested interest in the outcome of that child may be subjected to bullying, loneliness, confusion, and anger.  That’s not socialization, yet that’s what they’re being exposed to day after day.

In the homeschool environment, because many parents have forgotten what real “education” is, we are exposing our children to the same thing.  Homeschool parents are enrolling children – at younger and younger ages – in co-op environments, outside classes, sports, activities, clubs and other programs.  Some of these can be very helpful and of course most of us would never argue the benefit of these things for older children as they reach an age where they can actually express interests and desires, but when one-, two-, and three-year-olds are being enrolled in these activities, it seems to be a bit more for the parent than the child.  I don’t want a bunch of angry hate mail accusing me of bashing co-ops and support groups.  I’m certainly not bashing anyone and we’ve actively participated in outside activities for years, but we did decide a couple of years ago that these activities seem to have more benefit for children over the age of nine than younger children.

Many homeschool parents have also forgotten that home teaching used to be the “norm,” but of course it wasn’t called “homeschooling.”  Before compulsory attendance laws of the mid-1850s, parents considered it their responsibility to prepare their children for life and children considered it their responsibility to learn.  While the child was young – from birth until about age 11, the parent passed on all the skills and knowledge they had to their child.  They taught their children to read; they taught them Bible verses; they taught them how to sew, cook, clean, ride a horse, plow a garden, build a house, etc.  They also taught them how to love and respect others and they did all of this without the help of a trained teacher!  Normally, the child needed little prodding.  Education was dear.  It was a privilege.  Around the age of 11, children either prepared for marriage (girls) or they prepared for an internship or formal schooling of some sort (boys).  Children before this age were treated as children.  Once a “child” neared puberty, they were seen as “young adults.”  They were not “teenagers,” as we hear so often today.  They didn’t make bad decisions because there was something wrong with their brains or because they had hormones raging.  They were expected to make good decisions – adult decisions – and they were held accountable for their decisions.  If they didn’t study, they were kicked out of school.  If they didn’t work, they were dismissed from internships (or worse, such as beaten).  But the whole point is that THEY – what we would call “preteens and teens” – took responsibility for their education since it was part of life, whether that education was learning to care for a home and family, learning to care for the community’s sick, learning how to crunch numbers or whatever.  If they wanted to achieve something, they needed to work hard to achieve their goals because there was no such thing as a free ride.

In the home setting, where much learning took place before we ever had standardized tests, compulsory attendance, or fancy schools hooked up to the Internet, parents did a wonderful job teaching their children.  They taught them things they knew and when the child had questions about things mom and dad didn’t have an answer for, they asked someone else, had someone else teach them, or they borrowed books from friends or libraries (much later).  Students learned about things that interested them and became experts in their fields of study.  That’s how we ended up with people like Ferdinand Magellan, Davy Crockett, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin and so many others…  Their parents taught them the basics and then they also branched out and learned as much as they could about the subject that interested them most. 

Am I suggesting that you only teach your child about butterflies if that’s the only thing that interests her?  Or allow your son to play Legos all day if that’s the only thing that interests him?  Of course not.  But what I am saying is that we all might learn something from the parents and students who lived long ago.  Teach your child the basics: reading, writing (which largely comes from reading good quality books and then just practicing), and math – and instill the basic life skills: cooking, personal care, home care, etc. – and the basic personal skills: manners, love for others, devotion to God and family, etc.  As your child gains a good grasp of the basics, allow your child to pursue the things that interest him/her most.  You might have another Mozart or Monet, John Audubon or Elizabeth Blackwell.  But it’s going to be difficult to know if you take the desire to learn away from them. 

If we model our homeschool environments after the “sit down at a desk for hours each day” model as “Joey’s mom” did, it’s likely that your child will eventually get the work done, but you might take away their natural love of learning.  Some children like the “desk method” and I think all children like it sometimes, but if you’re doing it every day and your child doesn’t like it, then try going back to doing what you did during those first five years of their lives.  Read aloud to them, provide your child with excellent reading material that they can read on their own, spend lots of time outdoors, and take time to visit parks, aquariums, zoos, museums and anywhere else where your child will learn because it will actually mean something to him/her.  That is education even if it is not “school.”

Under the Tennessee homeschool laws, we are required to have “four hours of instruction time” per day.  I would be amazed if any parent told me that they spent less than four hours instructing their child each day – even if they didn’t open a single book.  After all….. Have you reminded your child to brush his teeth today?  Taught your daughter how to make a casserole?  Helped your six-year-old catch a bird that the cats brought in and then discussed what type of bird it is?  Allowed your son to play a flight simulator game with actual maps of World War II?  Reprimanded your children for speaking harshly to one another?  Caught your teenager reading Fox News?  Watched your children set up Playmobil castles and decide how to divide out the people that they will use as prisoners?  Read your child a bedtime story?  Three or four bedtime stories?

All of those things can be counted toward “instructional hours.”  After all, you are instructing your child, training your child, teaching your child almost all day long.  I have shared this before, but I once heard that education is “learning something new or learning how to do something you already knew better than before.”  I love that definition and it’s true!  I speak Spanish, but I certainly have to review it from time to time to keep up my skills.  In order to do this, I could take a class at the local college or I could get out my books and study them here at home.  Either way, I’m learning.  When I teach my child life skills, academic skills, homemaking skills, hunting skills, personal skills, etc., they are still learning.  THAT is homeschooling.

So for all of you new homeschoolers that will begin teaching your little ones at home this year, enjoy life!  Enjoy your child!  Enjoy the time you will have with your child!  Pick and choose your outside activities carefully.  Don’t become so burdened with commitments that you don’t have time to do the things that made your child want to learn MORE MORE MORE, the time you spent just cuddling up on the couch with your child and taking those romps through the woods or in the creek.  THOSE are the things that will make your child love learning and he/she will come back for more.  If you can instill THAT in your child, then I believe you will have accomplished the best goal in regards to the educational aspect of homeschooling … You will have instilled in your child a desire to learn that will last a lifetime.

Sonya Haskins


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