By Amanda Bennett
What a wild and interesting ride this has been! In addition to all that has happened in America, these past twelve years have been spent by our family as a homeschooling family – a novel and not-always-positive label twelve years ago. We were “bizarre” in our educational ideas – believing that children learn best with more attention, less peer pressure, and a healthy dose of freedom to explore the world around them, without the confines of a classroom and more than 20 other children to share it all.
Yes, we were and are different. However, we’ve had an exciting time of exploration and adventure since we began homeschooling more than twelve years ago, and we wouldn’t change a bit of it if we had it to do all over again. Well, perhaps we’d change just a few things… Let’s see, what we would do differently?
1. Have less textbook stress, more individualized
2. Focus on the child, not the information lists
3. Expand the family’s horizons – as individuals and
as a family
4. Listen more, talk less – avoiding the “transmit only”
5. Encourage more often, instead of being judgmental
6. Remember "Fear Not!"
Over the past twelve years, we’ve experienced a circus of life-changing events – actually, just life itself. We moved twice, started our homeschooling adventure, survived two major automobile accidents (ardent supporters of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers), endured more than twenty-two resulting surgeries, wrote 33 books, traveled across the country encouraging homeschooling families, saw two children off to college, and now we are experiencing farm life firsthand – and loving every minute of it. Through it all, we have homeschooled, and are blessed to have been able to pursue this course.
People ask me how I can stay so calm and upbeat through it all, and I respond that I have learned three very important lessons. First and foremost, my faith has never failed me – never. Second, always stay flexible and expect the unexpected. Third, this day is a gift – and I will never, ever, have this time to spend again – I must use it wisely.
Now, here are a few ideas for your homeschool efforts this coming year. These come from our experiences as a homeschool family – and I hope they help.
1. I wish I had known to relax and enjoy the time together as a family more. In the beginning, we were so nervous about covering everything, using all of the workbook pages, filling up the plan book ahead of time and sticking with it rigidly. So much stress, so little long-time learning, and so little enjoyment of the educational process.
2. Buy plenty of world globes at garage sales – put the world in their hands. For about 25 cents apiece, I have purchased several globes this way, and everyone has their own globe to study and spin when learning about a new country or perhaps listening to the evening news. The world is “getting smaller” with advanced communications these days, and it is a leap ahead to be able to hold the world in your hands as you learn where a missionary in Cambodia is, how far they are from home, and where the special friend is currently stationed in the military. Hands-on learning at its best – expand their horizons and concept of the world.
3. Put the ideas, scripture, or passages that you would like for them to learn right where they can see it. For years, I’ve been printing off these items and posting them on the doors of the kitchen cupboard, over the kitchen telephone, and in other conspicuous places that the children face several times a day. Exposure is key -- curiosity takes care of the rest!
4. The more we homeschool, the broader our interests become. No longer pursuing narrow, society-defined topics alone, we enjoy the freedom to investigate topics like horticulture, sports fitness, glass painting, business and economic concepts for kids, personalized pursuits of art, music, and so much more.
5. Read classic literature with a new eye – finally having the time and curiosity to “see” what the author was saying, and how it fits in with the big picture. Recently, we read The Swiss Family Robinson aloud, and what an eye-opener it was to read it again after living out here in the middle of nowhere. While studying Lighthouses, we learned that Rudyard Kipling wrote Captains Courageous while living in a lighthouse off the New England coast. This classic took on a whole new meaning with this knowledge.
6. You will never be able to completely fill their minds with absolutely every bit of available information – but you CAN teach them or learn WITH them about how to FIND all kinds of information that they might need to know – research skills are vital for this next generation. The overabundance of information on the internet is so overwhelming, and at the same time – provides priceless access to things that we could never have found through a local library. Give them the gift of thinking skills and research ability.
Remember, homeschooling is not just about learning academic materials. It is about opening the envelop of each child’s imagination with wonder and awe – feeding their desire to learn more, to investigate, to discover and pursue their unique God-given gifts and talents. I think that Leonardo Da Vinci had a good point when he said:
"Just as eating against one's will is injurious to health, so studying without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in."
And what about you, the homeschooling parent? So often I hear parents lamenting over eventual empty nest syndrome -- what to do when the kids graduate and move on – and I am amazed. Through the homeschool years, we have not only developed a wonderful understanding of our children and developed priceless relationships, we’ve also been given the perfect opportunity to explore our own gifts and talents, discovering new areas of interest to pursue in the coming years. Blessed to be a blessing – that describes our homeschool adventure in a nutshell.
Homeschooling has provided the opportunity for each of us to become who we were meant to be. For example, I obtained a degree in engineering because I was good at math and science, not because I had a burning passion to pursue that course of study or profession. Given some encouragement to follow my dreams, I would probably have chosen art or perhaps journalism or writing. Homeschooling has given me a second chance in that area of my life. As a result, we build the future together, with the freedom to pursue all of our interests and help others along the way. According to Albert Einstein,
"The only rational way of educating is to be an example."
What do I know now that I wish we had known when we first started homeschooling?
- The things that count can’t be counted.
- Time goes by too quickly to worry about or obsess over small things, like whether or not my child can read by the time they are five years old, etc.
- Keep the big picture in the forefront – getting from point A (beginning homeschooling) to point B (finish homeschooling) – remember that perspective is key to success. While we might miss algebra for this week due to family illness, we will still focus on the desired outcome – a well-rounded and enthusiastic learner by the time high school is complete.
So relax, take a deep breath – you are not alone. Where are you going – where are you starting from, and where would you like to go with this opportunity? What would you like the finished product, your educated child, to be like? What should they know, what should they value, what should they think of themselves and of others? I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember much of anything that I learned from textbooks used in my many years of education.
I remember the people who took time to help me grow and wonder and question, stretching my imagination and challenging my abilities. Our children are going to remember the time we spend with them -- the time we listen, the time we encourage, and the moral support we offer as they test their wings and ideas, and begin moving on their dreams. Now that’s an education!
Until next time,