Welcome to a new way of thinking and living, one that thousands of families have found to be very rewarding. This page is an introduction to the discovery of a new lifestyle. It is in no way intended to be comprehensive, but only a guide to point you down the path of the home education adventure.
Our goal is not to tell you what is right for your family, because what is right for one family may not be right for another family. We want to come alongside of you and share some of what we have learned and let you take it from there. The journey is worth the time and effort.
1) Before you Begin—READ
The best way to begin getting the home education picture is by reading. Home education is a different way of life, a new (actually old!) way of learning that is unfamiliar to most people. You will probably find that home education is difficult or ‘doesn't work’ if you have not invested time and thought into understanding its philosophical basis. Check out the suggested book list on our site www.aheaonline.com. It is important that you do a fair amount of reading before you take the plunge and begin home educating. It is also very helpful to talk with experienced home educating families to gain insight from them. Check out the Support Group List for contacts in your area.
2) Understand the Home Education Philosophy
Home educating is a completely different way of learning, where the parent takes responsibility for choosing the materials, teaching the lessons, assessing the learning that takes place and providing support and encouragement.
We are interested in teaching our children skills: reading, writing, math, how to do research, and how to use reference books and the library. If they have these basic skills, then they can always acquire knowledge. Do not concentrate on giving them knowledge. There is too much knowledge in the world to have them learn it all. That would be mind-boggling! Give them a love of learning, and it will give them a lifetime to thrill in the joy of discovery.
Be aware of the efficiency of tutoring. Learning takes place much faster in a one-on-one situation. You will find that you will not need as much time as the public school to cover the material. You will also find that younger children get tired faster because it is still difficult for them to focus on one subject for a long period of time. Don't push them to exhaustion!
Do not be afraid to have your older children teach the younger children. One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it.
Remember that you do not have to know everything in order to teach. One of the exciting rewards of home educating is that you will learn along with your children. When your children see you experiencing the joy of discovery, it will make a lasting impression on them.
Be careful not to compare your children with siblings and with children in other families. It may be wonderful to hear about all the good things others are doing, but resist peer dependence. You and your children are individuals; do what is best for your family. There is no right or wrong way to home educate.
3) Establish a Vision and Write out some Goals
Proverbs 29:18 states “Where there is no vision the people perish.” It is common for families who do not have a clear vision to become frustrated and give up before they see the fruits of their labor. We need to know why we are doing what we are doing. Why are you choosing home education? Are you doing it because of religious convictions, for academic reasons, to protect your children from negative influences, to protect your children from being bullied? What do you hope to achieve? Do you want to develop Godly character, to cultivate a love for learning that will last a lifetime, to cultivate creativity, to develop critical thinkers? Maybe you would like more opportunity to study specific topics such as music or art? A vision is more than just knowing why; it includes a plan to accomplish your goals.
Of course a vision without any goals probably will go nowhere. We need a plan for how we will accomplish our vision. So set some goals and make some plans. These will probably change (maybe even frequently), but they are a target at which to shoot. A word of warning—be realistic. We are only accountable for what can be humanly accomplished. Not everything has to be or will be accomplished in a year or two; home education is a marathon, not a sprint.
4) Establish Discipline in Your Home
Parents who do not have their children’s respect will have trouble getting their cooperation. Gaining their respect through proper discipline, training and example should be parents’ top priority, whether or not they are home educating their children.
One way to improve your family life is to define clear ‘house rules.’ Children need to know what is acceptable and unacceptable to their parents. Rules help all family members live together considerately, as well as provide an objective basis for discipline. When rules are clear, there is less likelihood that a child will receive correction he does not really deserve or fail to receive the discipline he needs. Follow through! An excellent book to help in this area is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Dr Tedd Tripp.
5) Establish Self Discipline
Mom, you are CEO. You must direct, coordinate, train, motivate, teach, and inspect. You are the hardest worker in your home, and you must be self-disciplined. If there was a ‘Universal Law of Home Thermodynamics,’ it might state that in home systems all things tend toward disorder and disarray. Even the most unorganized person can learn a few habits and skills that will be helpful. Read a good book or two on home management and find a system that will work for your family. Most home organization books will tell you to start by de-junking your home. Stuff is like rabbits; when you are not looking, it has babies. It can get out of control. Get rid of stuff that you do not use, and establish a system to maintain what you do have, especially information (papers). Include your children in doing the housework; as this involvement teaches them neatness, order, responsibility and industry. Many families find that some kind of chore chart helps everyone to know what is to be done and what is expected of them.
The second area of self-discipline is to learn to manage your time, which is the hardest item to manage. Learn to prioritize how you spend your time. Are there things that you can eliminate, such as reading the newspaper or watching television? This will free up time for other activities. Know your limitations. Can you reasonably expect to home educate your children, run a home business, have lunch with friends, scrapbook, and work out at the gym? Some things may need to be set aside for a season. Choose activities based on time. Could a walk give you the exercise that you need instead of going to the gym? You cannot do everything, so it is better to do a few things well than a lot of things poorly. This may mean learning to say “No” or “I’ll let you know.”
6) Establish an Approach to Teaching your Family
A good education is not achieved by gaining knowledge in many areas of study, but by teaching your children how to gain the knowledge that they will need for their lives. There is no way you can teach your children everything; there will always be gaps in knowledge. That is why learning is for a lifetime, not a season. Therefore, it is not important that we cover every topic that public school children learn, but that we give our children the skills to learn. Keep this in mind as you choose curriculum.
Begin slowly with the core subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic. Do not try to do everything at once. Remember, if they know those subjects well, they can learn anything!
A common mistake of beginning home educators is to bring the conventional school's classroom/textbook approach into their home. The result is usually overwhelming for parents and students alike. Your home school should not be much like a conventional school. The home was the original education system—the school is the substitute situation. Don’t bring school home.
Try to teach some subjects like science, history, geography, art, etc. to all of your children together. Include even your young children. It is amazing how much younger children absorb when they are in these lessons. Do not be afraid to ask your children what they would like to study.
Words of warning—textbook or workbook approaches can give you a false sense of security that you are covering everything. Textbooks and workbooks tend to focus more on imparting knowledge than on teaching skills. There is a place for these types of programs, but do not become overly reliant on them.
There are many different approaches to teaching from which you can choose:
- Curricular Approach – highly structured, using mostly textbooks and workbooks
- Accelerated Education – begins high school when child is as young as 10 to 12 years old
- Delayed Academics – no formal studies until child is 8 to 12 years old
- Classical Education – Medieval form of education; develops critical thinkers
- Unit Studies – integrates and relates several subject areas into one theme
- Charlotte Mason Method – learning through real life, living books
- Delight Directed Studies – learning based on child’s area of interest
- Unschooling – highly unstructured and informal
Read a few good books about home education—most explain the different approaches.
Your choice should be influenced by the following factors: your children’s style of learning, whether you have boys or girls, the number of children you teach at the same time, their grade levels (not public school levels), the level of confidence you have as a teacher, and the amount of money you want to spend on curriculum.
Choose what will work for your family and will help you attain your goals. You will probably change curricula many times. Choose materials that work well within a reasonable timeframe. Home-educated children are not immune to academic burnout created by overly zealous moms. Realize that home education is a marathon, not a sprint.
Remember to use the curriculum and not let it use you. It is a tool, and you can choose what to do or what not to do. For example, your child may not need to do every math question.
Five questions to ask yourself when considering curricula:
- Can I teach this subject naturally without a curriculum? What will this curriculum do for my children that I, or they, cannot do without?
- What good books on the subject could I buy with the money it would take to buy this curriculum?
- Am I just attracted to its packaging and promotion? Am I judging the book ‘by its cover’ or by its contents? Is it effective or just clever?
- Do I know anyone personally who is using or recommending this curriculum? Have I read any objective reviews on it?
- Does the tone of the writing appeal to my children’s maturing appetites, or does it appeal to their immaturity and childishness?
George Simmel, a German philosopher, said, “He is educated who knows how to find out what he doesn’t know.”
7) Get Support
An island unto its own can be a lonely place. Support groups are a great place to glean from more experienced families, share ideas, encourage each other, and socialize! Check out the page on our website for a list of groups in Alberta. If there is not a group in your area, start one. Even getting together with one or two other families has great benefits. Consider attending a home education convention; it is a great place to meet other families, glean information from speakers, be encouraged, be challenged and look at curriculum.
Consider joining the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). HSLDA works with home educating families to protect their rights, provide legal representation if needed, provide copies of provincial laws, answer questions and provide a wealth of other information. Check out their website at HSLDA.ca.
Home education is a journey. Sometimes this journey takes you to the mountaintop and sometimes to the valley; sometimes the road is smooth and sometimes it is rocky and rough. But with prayer and persistence you will make it where you want to go. Just wait and you will see that the journey is worth it!