The Power of Homeschooling
Copyright 2007 Amanda Bennett
Empowering, enlivening, energizing – all words that bring to mind a sense of power and energy – invigorating. The power of homeschooling is all of that and more for our generation as parents, the generations that we are teaching, and many yet to be born. I don’t know about you, but homeschooling gave this small-town girl the confidence to think independently, not follow the crowd, and to speak up. While learning to think and wonder and not conform to an ever-changing society, a funny thing happened along the trail of homeschooling – the children learned these lessons, too! From veterinary college to mock trial championships, our children have been empowered by homeschooling, right along with their parents.
I used to be a typical working mom, employed outside the home, struggling to find any time to catch my breath, while juggling schedules, family demands, finances, and dreams of retirement. With the switch to the amazing position of homeschool mom, I discovered both the rewards and fascination of following our interests, from studying the stars to tracking the ocean tides, from planting a vegetable garden to learning to cook, from following the routes of the explorers to tracking the paths of the men that walked on moon, from learning to quilt like the pioneers to learning how to build a fire, and so much more. No one ever made learning “interesting” for me when I was a child, but I’ve discovered that this is a powerful gift that I can give our children on a daily basis – a gift that will keep on giving for the rest of their lives.
In the beginning, homeschooling was a nerve-wracking choice – am I doing the right thing, what will I teach them, what books shall we use, will they be able to get into college, and on and on. Then, through trial and error, we hit upon unit studies – and the light turned on, and away we went. The choice of homeschooling is a wonderful choice to make for many families, and the combined power of learning and following interests together is a life-changing force.
First, let me tell you just a bit of my story. We began homeschooling in the middle of a school year, so we chose to keep using the textbooks that the children had been using in school. That was an easy enough decision, but it quickly became obvious that they were well-trained in the use of textbooks – they read for bolded and italicized words, answered the questions at the end of the chapter, and memorized just well enough to take the test. There was no interest in schoolwork other than getting it done – no joy and certainly no curiosity. Another problem that I became painfully aware of was that there was not much long-term retention of the material covered in the textbooks.
Rote memorization of textbook material is no replacement for thinking skills and logic when it comes to leading a satisfying and fulfilling adult life. If the knowledge isn’t there to stay, there is no foundation or framework to build on for the rest of their lives. For example, if they memorize the names of the parts of a plant, but never get to take one apart and experiment with the pieces, studying them under a magnifying glass or microscope, how will the controversy of genetically engineered crops ever begin to make sense? If the framework isn’t there, the new information isn’t connected to anything, and it is difficult to use new information in a meaningful way.
With unit studies, we found a very powerful tool that has helped build a strong tree of knowledge for our children. Remember, your curriculum should be a shaping tool, NOT a vice grip. In my opinion, the strength of a unit study approach is that the student looks at a topic from all different directions. For example, when studying gardens, we look at the basics of plant science, the history of gardens, the gardens around the world, the art of Monet and other artists who were famous for their garden paintings, and much more.
To show the difference in textbook learning and unit studies, realize that nothing ever occurs in the vacuum of just being a historical, geographical or scientific event. When something happens, it happens in a particular place (geography), at a particular time (history), involving certain people (biographies), and has an impact on life in many ways (art, science, economics, etc). However, when using a history textbook, events are presented chronologically, in a somewhat condensed and dry format. When we read about the first American landing on the moon, the typical history textbook will not include any information about the exciting scientific discoveries that were made to achieve this great feat. In this same textbook, we probably would not read about the astronauts and their individual contributions and sacrifices. The textbooks usually won’t include the thrilling descriptions of all that has been gained from putting a man on the moon – from the world of computers to the amazing breakthroughs in medicine. These exciting and interlinked accomplishments aren’t typically included in the brief paragraph on the American space program. See what we would have missed if we had relied on a typical history textbook to learn about the space program? And yet these missing pieces are the ones that open up the world to our children, and show them how to dream big dreams and understand how all things work together.
Boring Textbooks = Bored Kids + Bored Mom.
So, what do you do next? First and foremost, remember that every child is a blessing, uniquely gifted by God. Unit studies help us to help them discover their own gifts and talents, as they learn about the world while we are right there beside them. I’ll never forget the time that the chemistry experiment blew silver nitrate all over my brand new white curtains, and just how our daughter looked when it happened! I will never forget the thrill of the kids when they met some of the astronauts in person, and heard about some of their space adventures. To use unit studies is to begin a trail of discovery for both you AND your children – a powerful journey of discovery.
Give them a chance to follow their interests and you might just be surprised at the outcome. With unit studies, our children have obtained a better understanding of the way things work, the history of the world, their own abilities, and much more. I am always asked about “holes in their education” if unit studies are used. First, I ask the audience if anyone ever remembers completely finishing a textbook when they were a child – not many hands have ever been raised. I share my personal experience that we never finished a textbook when I was a child, and I was so disappointed – the “good” stuff was always toward the end of the book!
The concept of education is not just to fill their heads up with any and all information available – that would take hundreds of years in these days of ever-expanding information. The concept of a good education, in my opinion, is teaching the child to be able to think, to help them build a sound foundation of learning – a strong tree of knowledge where they can place more information over the course of their lives.
I will never be able to teach my children about all things, BUT, I will teach them how to think, to investigate, to research and dig for answers. In the years ahead, it is my opinion that this will be a priceless education for those who will be successful in a rapidly changing world. Unit studies can do just this, and that’s my intention when I write them and use them – getting the child to think and explore, letting curiosity get the best of them. Try to help them develop a love of learning and enjoy the wonder of the world – it’s quite an empowering accomplishment.
As powerful as homeschooling can be, it is not a result of all homeschooling families being just alike. Realize that you will never be “just like” other families in your homeschool group or those at your state convention. I’ve traveled all over the country as a speaker at homeschool conferences, and I’ve met all kinds of people. I am frequently asked by many parents, “Are we like typical homeschoolers?” I have to smile at this point – I don’t think I’ve ever met a “typical” homeschooler. That would be like having a “normal” day of homeschooling, whatever that is.
Enjoy the uniqueness of your family and your approach to homeschooling. Some families use textbooks, while others use unit studies. It isn’t as important to follow the crowd anymore, now that the crowd is just you and your clan – what a blessing this is for all of us. Our family has done so many things since we started homeschooling – we’ve traveled all over, met some amazing people, and followed our dreams to all kinds of places, and I can honestly say that we’ve never had a boring day – and certainly not a “normal” day, and that is not our goal.
As a former corporate engineer, I am well aware of the concept of having goals and a mission statement. What is my mission statement these days? To help the children discover their own gifts and talents, whether in botany or veterinary science, athletics or orthodontics, who knows what the future holds! Now, as a homeschooling mom, what is my goal? To work myself out of a job by helping them become self-motivated learners – to have them out there, learning and challenging and thriving within the realm of their own very unique gifts and talents.
Until next time,
Amanda Bennett is an author/speaker and has homeschooled for more than sixteen years. Visit her website at www.unitstudy.com to learn more about her books. She and her family live on a farm in