The temptation for many new home educators is to run out and buy as much curriculum as they can afford and immediately start their eight-hour homeschool day in a dedicated room filled with desks, bulletin boards, and fresh paint. Before you fall prey to the old public school mentality, take a few moments to sit down with a cup of your favorite coffee or tea and read through the following steps in order to get your homeschooling career get off on the right foot.
A. Seek God in prayer
a. Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain. While home discipleship is the Biblical model, each home will be different in its daily expression, so we need to seek the wisdom of God through His Word and the Holy Spirit. There is no way we can anticipate the various needs of each day; therefore, we need the grace of God to meet the various challenges in order to experience success.
B. Do your homework
a. Although there is no greater way to learn how to homeschool than by actually homeschooling, it’s a good idea to read a few books, talk to some experienced homeschoolers who have a Christ-centered vision, and listen to some downloads from your states homeschool convention.
C. Know your “Why”
a. There are many reasons to homeschool. Some are proactive, such as the burden to more fully obey Deuteronomy 6. Others are more reactive, including homeschooling a child because of a negative situation that happened at public school. To best ensure long-term success, you need to spend time asking and answering, “Why do we want to homeschool?” You may want to write down the advantages and any disadvantages. This will give you a solid foundation off which to build. You need to understand, as with any worthwhile endeavor, there are times when difficulties and challenges arise. For those who take time to answer the “Why?” they will be like the house, which withstood the winds of adversity.
D. Have a basic understanding of the Law
a. We have been blessed with remarkable homeschooling freedom here in the Land of Lincoln. It is good to know the basics of the law not only for us, but to also be able to share if family or friends should ask. Illinois law requires that students between the ages of 6 and 17 attend either a public or private school. A homeschool is considered a private school. There is no separate category for homeschools compared to other private schools under the Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/26-1). Find out what your states laws are.
E. Count the cost
a. Financial. There is the financial price tag as one parent usually sacrifices an income, not to mention the cost of materials.
b. Time and Energy. In a self-centered culture, it takes a big vision for the next generation to forego some of the adult activities and indulgences that your contemporaries are involved in.
c. Personal examination. Thirdly, there is the cost—though it brings eternal rewards—of realizing how far short we parents fall of the Biblical mark in regards to the fruit of the Spirit. Homeschooling is as much about the sanctification of the family as it is the education of the child.
F. Decide the highest values which you want to transfer to your children. Your priorities and goals should flow out of these values.
a. The beauty of home education is that each home is a private school and is to reflect the priorities of the parents. As a Christian home educator, you will no doubt want to prioritize character training along with academics. This could include a focus on relationships such as older siblings working together on projects with younger siblings or an emphasis on service activities, including trips to the local nursing home or soup kitchen. Parents who want their children to have a strong work ethic will probably set aside proportional time for chores, their child’s own business, or work in the family business.
G. Reflect on your children’s individual needs, interests, learning styles, etc.
a. If you haven’t already, take a little time to watch how your little ones learn. Some will be on the move, needing to have hands on experiences (kinesthetic), while others will learn best by sitting and listening (auditory). Others are visual, needing to see pictures, illustrations, or the project itself. Additionally, tactile children learn through touch. Boys tend to have shorter attention spans than their sisters; this is a God-given attribute that the public school tries to medicate out of them! Take the liberty homeschool offers to engage in subjects that interest them by going to the local library, talking to a local expert, or using the Internet. As their interests change, adjust accordingly. As important as it is to transfer knowledge, it’s even more important to establish learning as a life-long joy.
H. Choose a curriculum
a. After you have done all the above, then give consideration to curriculum. You may want to begin by purchasing a complete box curriculum in order to alleviate some initial anxiety. Some of these will include the service of grading your child’s work as well as supplying a transcript. Other box curriculum allows you the freedom to grade the work yourself. As you find your schooling legs, you may choose to mix and match as you learn the pros and cons of different curriculums and educative models. Some parents choose total autonomy, assigning certain topics and allowing their children to research, write papers, give speeches, conduct experiments, do a project, etc. all on their own. As with scheduling, curriculum is there to serve you, not vice versa.
I. Set a schedule.
a. Be prayerful. Since home discipleship is based on the premise that the fear of the Lord gives knowledge and wisdom, time in God’s Word and on your knees in prayer should be the priority. The gospel of John makes it clear that without Him you can do nothing.
b. Number of days. While IL law requires 176 days of instruction for public school, this does not apply to homeschooling, which is considered a private school; the compulsory ages of 6 -17 does apply. Again, check with what your states laws are and how they define public, private and homeschooling.
c. Schedules. Homeschoolers tend to fall into the ditch on either side of the road in regards to scheduling. Parents may be too rigid, getting overly upset if an occasional interruption occurs, or they may be too lax, allowing every little diversion that comes along to sidetrack their entire day. A schedule is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Schedules should reflect the priorities of individual families on both daily and seasonal levels. Most families follow a typical school day while others may accommodate a parent’s work schedule. Some may choose to take off when the weather is pleasant and school more heavily in the hot months of summer or the cold of winter.
d. Calendars. You may consider setting up a yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily calendar, albeit with flexibility. If you have but little space left on any of these time intervals, you have probably attempted to do way too much. Remember, you want to enjoy the journey and if you stack too many activities in a day, you will do many things halfway rather than doing a few things well and joyfully.
e. Interruptions. Often times, when people know you homeschool they incorrectly assume that you have more time to volunteer at church, babysit, etc. When you have a vision (the “Why”) it will give you the courage to politely decline their request. Also, don’t feel guilty letting the message machine take care of your phone calls during school. If you were teaching at a public school, you wouldn’t leave your class for a phone call.
f. Daily Responsibilities. Meals have to be cooked. Rooms have to be picked up. Dishes, clothes, and cars have to be washed. Yards have to be mowed. Rather than compartmentalizing these apart from the homeschooling day, use these responsibilities to teach home economics, mechanics, time management, landscaping, etc. Homeschooling is successful because it ties learning into real life.
g. Toddlers. Having little ones in the house can be seen as a negative or a positive. Those who embrace a home discipleship model realize that learning is to be life-integrated. It’s important for your sons and daughters to see you multi-task without getting frustrated. This means you may not get quite as much covered as you had hoped, but your flexibility and enjoyment of the toddlers will be observed and embraced by your older children, providing them with a solid parental perspective for their futures. Additionally, you can use nap times to focus on the individual needs of your older children.
h. Illness. What’s true with toddlers is also true with sickness. Illness needs to be seen as an opportunity to serve and not become overly stressed out about not getting that extra worksheet done. The same is true if the parent is sick; it is an ideal time to allow your children to demonstrate their self-control, personal growth, and vision by taking care of things in your absence.
J. Prepare physical space
a. Most beginning homeschoolers imagine the need to replicate the public school setting in their home, complete with desks, chairs, bulletin boards, work stations, etc. A kitchen table works great for a desk and children often choose a comfortable couch over a hard chair for reading time. A second hand cabinet with numerous shelves works well for storing books and materials, both for the student and the teacher.
K. Give room for transition
a. Balance. Don’t try to set the world ablaze in your first few months. It’s so important to enjoy your child and enjoy the experience of home discipleship, so start out slowly until you find what schedule works best for you. If your plans don’t initially meet your expectations in one area, consider it a learning experience and not a failure. Take the pressure of your child and yourself.
b. Transition. If you child is coming home from school, he may go through a time of adjustment. If he is more social, he may go through some withdraw from peer interaction—good and bad—until he learns new ways to interrelate within the parameters given. (Please read the article entitled “Jumping in Mid-Stream” by Colleen Moeller)
c. If your child is rebellious, you may want to spend more time on heart issues at first than academics. Some have suggested that even if it takes a prolonged period of time, a greater emphasis should be placed on getting his heart than filling his brain. Be cautioned. Some see homeschooling as a silver bullet for a rebellious child. While homeschooling has strong biblical precedence, only Christ can deal with a sin-sick soul.
L. Don’t overcomplicate the process
a. Remember that God has wired your children to learn; this is why they have an endless array of questions! One child will learn quicker in one area and slower in another and that’s completely okay. Don’t get caught up in comparing your child’s weakness to another child’s strength because God wired all children differently.
b. Remember it is the fear of the Lord that gives knowledge and wisdom, so commit the year, each week, and each day to Him in prayer. Simplicity is an invaluable key.
M. Enjoy the journey
a. Homeschooling is just that, a journey, not a destination. Challenges not withstanding, you will get the unbelievable and unique privilege of enjoying the growth of your child from a toddler into a mature young adult. Additionally, you may also look into the mirror and realize the person who has learned the most through the homeschool experience is the person looking back at you.