Then Things I Wish I Believed When I First Began Homeschooling...
I wrote this with a friend many years ago and I think it is worth sharing again. As I age, and my years of homeschooling increase, I can't say I disagree with it yet! I hope it blesses some of you.
10. Don't buy too far ahead.
I had a friend who had young children, but was nervous about the future. She decided to purchase all the remaining years of her child's curriculum! Now I don't know about you, but when I first started homeschooling there were things I saw that looked great to me, and some I even bought and planned to use over time, but as the years passed and my style of homeschooling changed, I just did not want to use them anymore. I also have a dear friend who felt buying all the years to a particular program was a good idea. Once she started using it, she discovered it was not a good fit for her family. She was then left with a lot of curriculum that she was not going to use. It is not always easy to recoup that money!
9. In the beginning, math needs to be concrete.
Manipulatives! We are the household of math manipulatives. Some are used to sort, some are used to count, some are used to help us with fractions, and some are used to understand the vital concept of place value. Young children need to see math. They need to understand the “why” of math. Why do we cross out that ten and carry the one? What does that mean to a tiny person? Do we want to teach them math rhymes, “Divide, multiply, subtract, bring down, divide, multiply, subtract, bring down.” But what does that really mean at the end of the day? Will they understand it at the end of the year, or will they mix it up because they have never really learned it? Math needs to be concrete, visual, and hands on.
We feel so locked into grade levels and books sometimes. I know I do! What if your child is not getting the concept? What if you have a child that struggles? Don't move on in math until they get it. I have another friend who has a child in third grade who is doing a first grade math workbook. Now, is this because the mother has been neglectful? No. The mother is brilliant. She used to work for NASA and helped to build a space shuttle. She understands the “why” of math. However, she also understands that her daughter's brain isn't “getting it” yet. She knows that if she moves on her daughter will remain lost so she patiently stays where her daughter needs her to be. I fully believe that she will, at some time, understand it and she will move on, but that may not be for a while. What a blessing it is that she has a mother who can wait with her without panic and stress!
That is exactly what happened with my own daughter. She is now at the age where her brain is “clicking” and she is finally understanding the “why.” Did she have a brilliant mother who used to work for NASA? Absolutely not! Did she have a mother who made lots of mistakes on her first guinea pig child? Oh yes. I made a LOT of mistakes that I really don't want to pass on! That is why this portion is in this list! We made a lot of mistakes and didn't teach them correctly at first.
Don't let yourself get bogged down with the number of lessons in a book. I used to fall into this trap, and still sometimes stuggle with it. It is the child that matters, and their ability, not finishing the book.
8. Copywork and dictation are simple yet effective ways to teach writing.
When they are young, copywork and eventually dictation are great ways to get your children interested in and accomplished in writing. Copying small portions of works of literature that your children like or are interested in can really open up a whole world to them. They see, hear, and copy, correct grammar, spelling, and sentence structure over and over.
When they are very young, don't push writing too much because for some little ones, writing is sincerely a chore and their little hands have a difficult time doing it. I begin writing by having my children trace copywork I have printed out for them with my StartWrite software. I have used selections from Scripture, from favorite books or poems, catechism Q & A, or silly sentences that grab their attention. I watch them as they trace the letters making sure they are learning how to write correctly. When they have mastered their letters and are reading, we move onto more thorough selections for their copywork. I do use a grammar text later on, but for beginners, copywork is a wonderful place to start!
A helpful resource is, The Three R's, by Ruth Beechick. It is very helpful and I highly recommend this for beginning homeschoolers! It will encourage you in the beginning of your journey and reassure you – yes, you can do it!
7. You can't force reading.
This is quite possibly my biggest message and the one that I see homeschool parents freaking out about the most. Between my friend and I, we have ten children. Out of those ten children, all ten are now reading, several of them well beyond their grade levels. Each and every one of them learned at a different rate. This cannot be stated enough.
I was reading a homeschooling board the other day and a mother posted that she had been trying to teach her five year-old to read for three years. Right there a red flag went up for me – five years old and learning for three years? She then went on to say that she realized that she had started too early and took a break and began again when her oldest turned five. She said they have been progressing very slowly and that they have reached a point where they are not progressing in combining the letters and the mother is frustrated and concerned that her daughter is stupid. I will be honest and say my heart broke for this child as I read this, but for many reasons. Some of which involve my own failings teaching my firstborn. Looking back can be very hard, can't it? We see the mistakes very clearly sometimes.
Many many children do not learn to read until they are late 6 or 7, and sometimes 8 or 9 depending on the child and their brain. Two of mine did not learn to read until fully 9. This does NOT mean they are stupid. They are completely normal – for them. Start when your children are showing ready-to-read signs, and don't force it. One of my biggest fears as a new homeschooler was not being able to pass on a love of reading. Reading is central to so much of life and how else do we get to know our Lord? Reading is also the key to any future learning on a large scale. Don't create a hatred or fear of it!
Many new homeschooling moms really struggle in this area and face the very real fears of, “Will I fail to teach my child to read?” It is usually their first child and they are in a panic. I know because I lived it! I struggled when my firstborn was six and didn't read! What I learned and what I tried to impart was that she did and yours will learn, but it will only come in time. I used and love and highly recommend, Phonics Pathways, because it is systematic and thorough. Not only do you learn all the letter sounds and blends, and see how it all comes together, you also learn the WHY. I don't know about you, but when I went to public school I was one of their guinea pigs who learned to read with the "Look Say" method. Guess what? I never really knew, until much later in my life and after some self-teaching, that there were such things as digraphs and diphthongs, or why the "a" says its name instead of its sounds in the word "game." Phonics Pathways opened a lot of doors for me and for my children and I have used it successfully with three of my own children who are reading now. There are a lot of great resources for teaching reading to your children, but this was one of the best for us.
* You can't force blending or combining. It will only "click" when their brains are ready for it to.
* Make learning available to them in small increments (15-20 minutes maximum), regularly, with no stress involved. Make it fun and easy with games, phonics magnetic tiles on the fridge, songs of the phonics sounds, DVDs, etc. There are tons of things like this out there and much available at the library.
* Not every child is learning delayed or learning disabled. Some are, but many are just late bloomers. More on this in number 5 on another day. Suffice it to say that if you have real concerns, www.NATHHAN.com is the place to begin.
* One of my friend's children needed three complete phonics programs from start to finish, lots of time spent with mom in practice, and mom buying books at his level in his interests to do it. She was patient and knew he would learn over time with effort and growth, and he did!
* Read to them a lot. Hearing stories, book tapes/CDs (again, library is a great source or Library and Educational Services) and understanding that words are an opening to another world make that real.
* NO ANGER. Blending will happen when their brains are ready and not before. Your anger and frustration will not help, but can actually harm the situation. I know because I lived it. It humbles and saddens me to think that I got angry at my tiny six year-old firstborn because she was not blending when I thought she should. Oh, parents, love those little ones!
Homeschooling and teaching our children is a part of life, not life itself.
Our children are special creations with their own needs, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. They are precious, and any perceived weaknesses should be dealt with in love and patience.
More to come in future posts.