A PRIMER ON HOMESCHOOLING
By: Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore
When it comes to education, many parents readily surrender their
youngsters to the professionals. After school has been going for a
time, some begin to wonder about having sent their little ones off
to these institutions. There are, of course, good schools, a few
of real excellence, but none of them can match the record of most
good homes with warm, responsive parents who have teaching
instincts. Few parents think that they do, and if the truth were
known, most teachers fear that they don’t.
Chances are that both parents and teachers who have such respect
for this great profession are its best candidates. Yet you parents
carry a great advantage because you work “one-to-one;’ while
typical classroom teachers must deal with 20,30,40 or more
children under circumstances which often times turn off learning
more than they turn it on. Such teachers need our sympathy and
encouragement more than the censure they so often receive.
Then there is the child. The curious, questioning one is usually
the bright one. Yet, when he has to fit into a pre-molded
educational program where he has to take his turn in class, there
is bound to be some learning loss as compared to his being taught
one-to-one. Add to this all the extras required of most teachers,
the total material they must cover, and the many different kinds
of equipment they are under mandate to use, and there is little
time left for person-to-person contact with their students.
In a 1983 study reported by Graduate Dean John Goodlad of the
University of California at Los Angeles, it was found that the
average teacher in 1,016 American classrooms responded personally
to his students about seven minutes a day. Elementary school
children each receive from none to four or five responses per day,
depending on how aggressive or assertive they are. In a reasonably
loving and responsive home, the average family-schooled child
often receives 50 to 100 times as many adult-to-child responses.
No wonder, then, that such researchers and writers about genius as
Harold McCurdy either imply or declare again and again that the
spring of brilliance and leadership flows mostly from the home.
The Fallacy of Assembly-Line Schooling
Most of us teach as we were taught; unfortunately, many of us were
not taught well. So there are quite a few teachers who act as
though teaching were a mechanical infusion of knowledge – as with
a nipple, a teaspoon, a funnel, or a sledge. Many teachers
thoughtlessly conclude that all children in the same class or of
the same age should learn the same amount of the same things at
about the same time and that they will come off the assembly line
in about the same shapes with about the same equipment. It never
occurs to them that some youngsters are “triangular,” some are
“cylindrical,” some are “rectangular,” and some are oddly shaped.
But they try to drive them all through the same “square” hole.
Our children are caught in a system handed down by Greek and Roman
philosophers which we randomly call the “liberal arts and
sciences” or the “humanities,” and which includes along with
classics some occasional academic skills. Many glorify this
For most youngsters (and even teachers), this Greco-Roman heritage
is an exercise in endurance whose only meaning for them is that
they will be accepted, conventional, and will be doing what
everyone else is doing, with as much rivalry as can be developed
in a system which cultivates more repetition than original
thought. Principle – the basic reason for a conclusion – is
ignored, because it is not known or even considered. It doesn’t
occur to many teachers that children should know whys and hows.
Social pressure becomes the highest law, and in its train follow
expedience, ignorance, and learning failure. This absence of
thought and common sense in turn destroys creativity and brings a
stupidity that breeds moral recklessness and decay.
The Ingredients of Great Teaching
Real teaching is loving. If you don’t believe that love is the
greatest teacher, read about Abigail Adams. She spent precious
hours daily with her young John Quincy and saw that he had the
privilege of work every day – that of running the mail to Boston
during the American Revolution. When he returned, she sat down
with him, side by side, to discuss events of the day, making the
best of what books and manuscripts were available in his early
years. Abigail loved young John Quincy into great learning. Her
hundreds of daily responses were many more, perhaps hundreds more,
than the best of classes provide today in institutional schools.
And these responses meant the sheerest of educational power. Thus
young J.Q. went to Harvard at age fourteen, without any
Teaching is responding. In one of the most famous experiments on
mental and social development, Professor Harold Skeels noticed
that even though certain young orphanage children were given the
most antiseptic care, they became more and more retarded, and some
died. He theorized that the sterility of the care may have been
keeping them from the standard diseases, but it was not providing
for their emotional needs. So he asked permission to place 12
little orphan girls in the care of retarded teenage girls (who
were also in the custody of the orphanage). Each retarded teenager
warmly took care of her particular charge as though the infant
belonged to her. Although they were neither sophisticated nor
certificated, they brought every one of the 12 infants out of her
stupor to become healthy and attain an average or better
mentality, later to marry and enjoy a normal family life. The
orphans who did not have the benefit of this limited emotional
response became more retarded and in some cases suffered an early
death. Thus Dr. Skeels rightly concluded that the development of a
child’s mind depends far less on formal education than it does on
Teaching is giving your child time to respond to you. Recent
University of Florida studies verify that the best teachers wait
longer for answers to their questions than do inferior teachers.
Effective teaching gives the student time to think. If a question
is not worth the investment of a few extra seconds – or minutes or
hours or days, in some cases – it is not worth asking. Many
teachers allow only a split second, then give the answer
themselves. Strong teachers allow at least four times as long.
Each time you tell a child too much or do it for him when he can
find out or do it himself, you stifle his creative potential.
Teaching is giving. Those who teach solely to earn a dollar, and
not to provide kindness, to stimulate young minds, and to build
children, should not wonder why today’s literacy levels have been
falling so consistently and fast since the nation started out on
its program of learning pressures after the Russian Sputnik made
its appearance in Western skies. Even the famed High/Scope studies
at Ypsilanti, Michigan, which were supposed to bring credit to
Head Start programs, actually found their best success by relating
closely with the home and working in very small groups – with a
skilled adult to every five or six children – rather than
centering on typical Head Start store-front operations downtown.
Concerned parents and teachers who understand that great teaching
is warm responding and wise modeling, who become swept up in the
beauty of the child’s response, who teach in order to give more
than take – are those who know the thrill of true teaching.
Teaching is understanding the needs of the ones to be taught. The
University of Chicago’s Benjamin Bloom did all kinds of factoring
from a thousand or so studies that he reviewed. At first he
decided that little children should best be hurried into school.
But the professor either had not looked at his data carefully
enough or had cradled it in biases. After the early-schooling
movement had done irreparable damage by brainwashing parents into
rushing their children out of the home into institutions, he had
second thoughts. So he rechecked and expanded his research.
In 1980, to his immense credit, he came to the conclusion that the
home is, in fact, the best educational nest, parents are generally
the best teachers, and parents are educable. Dr. Bloom had finally
centered on the needs of children as they develop optimally in a
beautiful symphony – mentally, physically, spiritually,
emotionally, and socially.
This does not mean to suggest that all homes provide these
advantages, but rather that most of them can and more of them
should. We must stretch our minds to understand what is happening
and why! It is time for America’s people, as world leaders, to
place the home and the school in proper perspective. Greece failed
to do this and decayed until it was destroyed. Rome followed
Greece’s tragic model, and later France fell into the same trap in
the era of the French Revolution. If we do not undergird the home
and set out deliberately to make it first in the lives of our
children, our society, too, is in danger of dying. We can already
smell the decay.
Teaching is exploring. Even more than books by themselves can do,
teaching gives our children freedom to explore, much as little
lambs out in the pasture. Teaching consists of providing many
experiences in this pasture. Let your imagination go. Find a
lesson in a teaspoon, a flower, a star, a grain of sand; in every
personal experience – yours, your children’s, your friends’. Note
colors, odors, textures, sounds. Think of all the senses – taste,
touch, smell, vision, hearing. All are involved in building a real
live person. Teaching of this kind gives great breadth and depth;
it offers the children “learning hooks” on which they can hang
other learning’s. And the more of these hooks they have, the more
abundant will be their genius. Most children who learn self-
control and self-direction, guided by the responses of concerned
parents, will have some obvious elements of genius.
Teaching is being an example. This may be the most powerful
teaching tool of all. Research clearly shows that young children
who have the opportunity to learn from relatively few people,
without the distraction of having many children about them, will
be less confused and more certain of their direction. As pointed
out by Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University, the more
individuals there are around the children, the less meaningful
human contacts they will have.” Dr. McCurdy agrees, from his study
genius. Children need the singular adult example which parents can
best provide. If the parents cannot provide this, let the
children- at least for the first ten or twelve years – have the
relatively limited and selective influences of others, such as
worthy grandparents or other trusted adults who have values
similar to those of their family.
Imparting formal academic skills and content, however important,
is only a small part of teaching. For the first eight or twelve
years, teaching should not be primarily from books. It is not
simply learning how to add, subtract, multiply, or punctuate that
makes productive citizens, crucial as these skills may be. It is
not only learning the lessons of history and of how our government
works, and of how many cubic centimeters there are in a cubic
inch, and who won the Battle of Waterloo. It is also learning why
most things fall instead of rise in the earth’s atmosphere. And it
is discovering that a hot stove may burn your hand, and that
spending your savings on the first jalopy that is offered you may
be a bad buy. It is learning that integrity is priceless,
consistency is a jewel, and dependability is rarer these days than
Teaching is character education. The highest goal of teaching is
to bring to our children lessons of love which breed concern for
others – putting them ahead of ourselves. It is showing by example
that honesty, dependability, neatness, order, industry and
initiative pay richly. It is teaching the equality of human beings
by practicing the Golden Rule. It is demonstrating to children how
to work and how to help, instead of waiting for things to be done
for them. It is teaching them to feel needed and wanted and
depended upon – in order to develop a sense of self-worth. The
child who has this advantage generally becomes a self-directed
leader in his society. He knows where he is going and is not
easily pressured by his peers.
Debunking a Myth
It is not hard, then, to see that the greatest teaching is best
done “one-on-one.” The best remedial teaching and the best
creative teaching have both been done this way for centuries. The
lives of John Wesley, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Agatha
Christie, Douglas MacArthur, Pearl Buck, Hans Christian Andersen,
artists Andrew Wyeth and his son, Jamie, are examples of home-
educated youngsters who were given the freedom to explore. They
were not restrained in classrooms, which, to many, are cages. They
were given the freedom of the little lambs or “kids” that they
were. Their mothers and fathers lovingly shepherded them, warmly
responded to them, and provided sound parental examples. Thomas
Edison, whose teachers considered him dumb, is a noted, if not
notorious, example of a child who found his mind and his body
cramped by the classroom. Fortunately, his mother accurately
appraised his creative mind and encouraged and responded to him at
The general impression that prevails today that the best teaching
is done in the classroom – is a devious myth, largely manufactured
by people who are protecting their own jobs, by parents who are
rationalizing because they want to get their children out from
underneath their feet, and by people who simply do not know better
and actually think they are doing a public service. But now many
mothers and fathers and professional educators are seeing this
myth for what it is and are discovering that their responses,
their example, and their supervision of free exploration are
bringing out great children – academically, behaviorally, and
socially. Any normal parent with a little curricular help can
start his child on paths of brilliance which few classrooms can
match. And, concurrently, the more that classroom teachers emulate
a good home, the more successful they will be, regardless of their
credentials and degrees.
Teaching is helping students learn to live and to become excited
and motivated to learn more. . . and more. . . and more. Indeed,
much excellent teaching is recorded by teachers in the classroom,
but the best teaching of all – in proportion to the numbers of
children involved in home or school and geniuses produced – is
most naturally done by parents in the home, many of whom, probably
like you, at first doubted their ability to teach.
HOW TO GO ABOUT TEACHING AT HOME
You are capable of teaching your child at home if you are willing, concerned and systematic. If you feel a little less than confident, you probably should enroll your child or children in a good curriculum at least for the first year. However, a good program is more a system of teaching than a set of books, and this is what we want to help you understand.
Using Books Creatively
The study of books is only a part of your child’s education and in some respects the least part. Life experiences are usually far more important. These experiences, initiated by both children and parents and involving specific activities and general exploration, are the flesh and blood of true education. We suggest that you look at books with these ideas in mind.
1. Make books your servants. In no case should you and your child become their slaves. And minimize workbooks! Too many will stifle creative thought.
2. Don’t necessarily use the entire book. Sometimes you will begin at the front of a book and work through it. In some instances, only parts of a book need be used – and not necessarily in order. Don’t hesitate to apply the information in the book to your practical needs. For example, on the day you plant your garden or lay your new rug, you may choose a part (perhaps even in the back of the book) dealing with calculating the size of areas.
3. Combine learning from real life with source books to discover additional and unusual facts and to build genius.
Making a Schedule
Parents who have consistently maintained an organized household will find little problem in bringing classwork into the daily schedule. If you think of the book work as part of your housework- an extension of your daily routine – much of your stress will be relieved when you first attempt to set up your schedule. Remember, when you start your formal program, you need only an hour or two daily, including breaks, for face-to-face or side-by-side teaching. This might be in intervals of 15 or 20 minutes at a time, rather than at one stretch. Include supervised study (teacher on call) for another hour and a half. A “beginner” would probably spend most of his time with you, of course, and not study this long until he gains more physical maturity and some independence in his work.
Assuming that you are a loving and responsive parent, this is very high-quality time for your child, with much more attention than he would receive all day from a teacher in the classroom. Home-taught children on a daily program usually achieve much more than schooled youngsters.
Probably nothing else is more essential for a good learning environment than the organizational structure of the total home. The home is school, and school is part of life. When your child awakens, goes to sleep, helps with chores, practices an instrument, or works in the garden, he is engaging in the most important schooling for living. You teach him the relative importance (or unimportance) of a clean home, for instance, by whether or not he usually picks up his clothes or tidies up the kitchen before he opens his books. Your school is best begun with the house in order. Sweeping the floors is an efficient way, making the beds without lumps under the covers, putting away the leftovers from a meal – all are part of crucial “home economics” for life and deserve high priority in the daily routine.
From observing your own devotions (the earlier in the day the better) your child will have “caught” rather than been “taught” the value of personal meditation or worship, and he will want to take part once he is old enough to read and pray on his own. Establishing an Absolute Source in whom to trust is the foundation on which all learning should start. It will help bring full meaning to American history when he can know by personal experience the trust in God on which our country was founded.
Whether or not your family is religious, we encourage you to lead your children in acting out character-building stories – secular and religious – or musical selections. Many character-story cassette tapes are available for their thoughtful learning. Children who begin while young are more likely to maintain this habit pattern consistently, throughout life. Prayer and verse can also set the tone for the opening exercises of school. Other studies will then follow in reasonable order.
Although you should have a schedule prominently displayed in your “classroom” – one very much like the traditional school schedule you will not be limited in carrying it out in a way that is necessary in a classroom of 25 to 30 students. Within the structure of the school time, you can be rather flexible, yet consistent in the subjects where there is weakness, not letting slide any subject area in which review and drills are necessary for progress. For example, beginners should probably read every day. Consistent review is vital for learning.
Teaching through Chores
As with books, so with schedules: Be sure that they are your servants, not your masters. When boxes of pears are turning a golden yellow on the back porch, or a neighbor calls with the news that you may have all the green beans left in his garden, or the local farmers need help picking berries, your school day will take a very practical turn while you and your students become harvesters. Never feel that you are delaying school, for you are only enriching it with the highest type of teaching-working with your child. In the process you will profit by spending a few moments determining what lessons you would like to have your children learn about harvesting, preparing and preserving food.
One fall, a mother was motivated to teach her daughter at home primarily so that she could help her on a one-to-one basis to earn a scouting badge in the preservation of food. If your children are already reading and writing at such a time, have them write a letter to grandma or other relative or friend, telling about the good things they were able to can that day.
Don’t forget your journal or diary! It will be fun to read a few months or years or generations later. Have your children tell how many quarts they canned, froze, gave away or prepared for dad’s favorite dishes. For an arithmetic experience, have your children convert the number of pints of green beans into quarts, and so on.
The very quality of the work you do with your child is related to how much you actually work with him. If you peel pears with him, or direct his packing of fruit into jars while you scald the lids, the learning will be much more productive than if you put the child to work pitting cherries in the back yard while you run the show in the kitchen.
Several things can be done to make practical work a real learning adventure. First, as much as possible, progress from the work to books, rather than from books to work. However, after the child reads about something in a book, then encourage him to go on to apply the information he has found. When questions arise as the child does a job, be prepared with encyclopedias and other resource books where the why-and-how answers can be found. Use your town library if your own is scant. Answers can be shared with the family at the dinner table, in letters to pen pals or family members away from home and, of course, in his journal or diary.
Second, pray daily for alertness to talk with your child as you work together. This is a good time to ask the child questions, to show interest in his feelings and problems. While the hands are busy and the mind is somewhat free, you will often find that your child will reveal inner thoughts that would never be shared over a desk or while seated in the living room.
It may be appropriate for you and your child to learn a great quotation or a poem or Bible verse while working. Garden work can often lead into spiritual truths and lessons. For example, hoeing together along the rows of emerging green plants might provide the opportunity to teach patience and endurance by your encouraging example. Also remember that children handle big jobs that have been divided into bite-sized pieces better than large total tasks- which sometimes overwhelm even an adult. Just the presence of someone working alongside is often enough to spur children to persevere to the end. Help your child feel the thrill of finishing a job and doing it well.
Keeping Careful Records
Obtain any former records your child may have accumulated and continue to keep scores of the tests you administer. Also keep health records. It would be wise to maintain a portfolio containing samples of your child’s handwriting, creative writing, and other completed work, including a record of field trips (to a store, the fire department, the park, the zoo, and so on).
Your own records should be kept in a simple log book or journal listing dates and one or more significant activities or events about each school day. This might include a particular breakthrough in terms of a child’s learning, a new concept introduced or an old one mastered, some very special work, field trip, or project.
Order in Learning
We mature and learn in a natural sequence. For example, receptive language is learned before expressive language. We all know that babies understand a lot of concepts long before they can verbalize those things. Thus, if we want to lower the level of difficulty, it is important that we ask children to choose between two alternatives, rather than asking them to come up with a particular word to answer a question or pick out a right answer from a group of answers, as in a multiple-choice question.
Another rule in the order of learning is that oral material is easier to do than written. Little children can tell lots of stories before they can write them. Sometimes in our desire to hurry the process we unwisely expect them to write down everything that they can say. Start in small steps. For example, first have them look at a picture and then tell what they are seeing in it. Have them tell you or the whole family or their neighborhood playmates something important that they are able to verbalize. Then have them write one sentence that tells something significant. Later on, ask for two or three sentences. If a child says, “I don’t know what to write,” have him tell you what he would like to say. Stop him at the end of the first sentence, and have him put it down. If you have the equipment, have him tape his sentence and listen to it several times. Then turn the tape recorder off, and have him write it down. Little by little the children will become young authors.
Laws of Learning
Remember, the old saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? I he perfect parallel is: “You can send a boy to school, but you can’t make him think.” Some things cannot be forced, and learning is one of them. Positive academic learning takes place only when the individual is ready, receptive, and cooperative.
There are some fundamental laws of learning that you can apply to make you a more effective teacher. Make them a vital part of your daily program.
1. Children learn through their senses – hearing, vision, touch, taste and smell. These channels can be sharpened by the proper stimulation but dulled by too much or too little. For example, ears trained to hear bird songs will recognize a particular call even in the midst of city noise. Or when one has studied trees, the eyes are quick to notice the variety of foliage, color, shape and beauty which untrained eyes fail to appreciate.
2. Children learn best by physical, hands-on experimentation. Active learning is needed to discover and solidify knowledge. It is said that we remember 10 percent of what we hear, 50 percent of what we see, 75 percent of what we say, and 90 percent of what we do. This is true of everyone, but particularly of young children who actually need physical, hands-on experimentation. Passive learning such as educational television seldom produces creative scholars.
3. Children learn by imitation. They adopt the personality, attitudes, manners, habits, language and even the tone of voice of those persons who are dominant in their lives. In addition, until their values are stabilized and they are able to make reasonably independent decisions about acceptable or unacceptable behavior, they need to be protected from negative influences and exposed to consistent, sound parental models who exemplify worthy values and seek to develop them in their children.
4. Children learn by repetition. Simply introducing a concept does not constitute learning. If taught recently, it may be remembered, but then be totally forgotten if not soon repeated or reviewed. The greatest loss occurs after the first exposure, so the next review should follow reasonably soon – even as soon as the end of the class period, depending on the concept or process involved. Review must be continued until mastery is obtained, and then occasional review is necessary for permanency.
5. Children learn to live up to the expectations of their parents and other adults. They possess a built-in desire for approval and with reasonable motivation will attempt to achieve your goals for them. Handling this properly takes much wisdom. If your level of expectation is too high and your child feels he can never gain your approbation, he may give up. On the other hand, if your goals are too low, they will not challenge him to do his best. Law #6 is the next logical step.
6. Children learn best when they are successful. Whether the project is in academic learning, physical work, or character development, the child needs to feel that he is making progress. Verbal rather than material rewards are most desirable, and the accomplishment rather than the child should be commended. Everyone enjoys having his work appreciated.
7. Children learn best when they feel secure. This is best provided by consistent parenting in a warm, responsive home with a systematic program. For a child, routine is like the skeleton which supports the body; it is framework to depend on.
8. Children learn what they can understand. Difficult concepts are forgotten quickly or ignored. Young children learn first about home, family, and nature. These concepts, which become familiar to them in their early years by active exploration and experiences, form the learning hooks on which they can hang other information. When this background of practical, hands-on activity is sparse or nonexistent and language development is scant, we say that the child is deprived. Programs such as Head Start have been organized to compensate for such neglect. However, only if the home is highly involved do these methods produce any lasting academic recovery.
9. Children learn what is interesting to them. Parents often notice that children who do not seem to have a long attention span in some things can hardly be pulled away from others. The key is to start the learning where the interest lies or devise ways to make the subject interesting.
10. What children learn must be used in order to be retained. As soon as possible, put into practice what has been taught, either by doing something with the knowledge or allowing your child to teach it to another. Many parents have achieved mastery or discovered new understanding of a subject by teaching it to their child and a child can experience the same happy result.
Do plan some opportunities for oral expression. Once or twice a month, schedule a special time for your children to put on a little program for grandparents, the people next door, elderly people in a nursing home, or whomever is available. Let the children recite a poem or act out a Bible story they have been studying, plan a special worship time for the family or present a program which tells about some faraway place they are studying. The audience needn’t be large – just enough people so that the children feel that someone is listening, and they are challenged to do their very best.
The Unit Method
Science, social studies, religion or any topic consisting of “subject matter” can be studied by using a single textbook and moving through it with the aid of a workbook to record the facts your child gleans from the reading. This is the traditional way. However, the unit method of organizing the day’s learning activities around a single topic is considered to be one of the most effective methods of teaching. It is extremely practical for your child for finding any information he may ever need. It is particularly useful when you are teaching several children of varied ages. Even preschool youngsters can be included in the informal part of such a method. The unfolding of the procedure should follow as much as possible the creative approach of the children rather than be overly dominated by the adult.
A unit of study may be as simple as preparing a meal (including menu planning, marketing, cooking, serving and cleaning) or as complex as the study of your state (including its history, geography, government and economics). The choice of a topic may be triggered by a story or textbook chapter that invites further exploration, by an experience, or merely by natural curiosity or need.
Along with you, their teacher, the children should choose the subject they wish to study, establish their purpose in choosing it, plan activities or experiences which would be appropriate for the subject, and think through the kinds of materials or equipment needed and how to acquire them. If the unit of study requires maps, pamphlets and other informational material which must be sent for, this may be one of the first activities to accomplish. Rather than confining the study to one book, information may be accumulated by reading in parts of several publications – encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines and library books – finding pictures, exhibits, film strips, tapes or other visual aids which provide information; interviewing or writing to knowledgeable people; or taking field trips.
Every unit should contain as many as possible of the following activities in balance: reading for skills, information and enjoyment; observing; experimenting; listening; writing; oral expression through reporting and storytelling; problem-solving; making and using visual aids by preparing illustrated notebooks, maps, models, charts or graphs; arts and crafts; music; poetry reading; discussion, evaluation and sharing of learning; construction work employing fine and/or large-muscle groups; and presentation of the learning to someone outside of the school group. The unit should include the skills of penmanship, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and even math and art.
A unit of study could be planned to last a few days, a week, a month or longer, but ideally should be evaluated often and culminated by a proper conclusion-an activity of sharing, a summation of what has been learned, or the completion of a construction project. Though such a method may overflow into many different learning areas, it may not necessarily eliminate other routine studies that constitute the basics. It simply helps the child understand how very essential these skills are in finding and using information that one needs in order to become knowledgeable and practical in today’s world.
Key to Success
We wish we might give you one key to ensure the success of your school. The great majority of homeschoolers are religiously oriented, so they feel the presence of a personal Divine Power. We agree and also find these homeschoolers easiest to defend in court. These parents are astonishingly successful, but those who are not “religious” also do amazingly well. The homeschool, properly conducted, is a remarkable tool for all.
At the end of your first school year, you will find that you will have learned perhaps as much as your children. Your students will be your best teachers, so listen to what they say and learn from your errors. Don’t let mistakes discourage you. You’re going to become a much better person because of your experience. It won’t be easy, but it will be a challenging road with surprising turns and a reward at the end. And you will know that you have had a very important part to play in the character development of the little ones in your trust.
HOW TO START A HOMESCHOOL
For generations, most states have been lenient about homeschools. But as enrollments have dropped and teacher jobs are at stake, it has been more difficult for public and private school officials to let go of their subsidies, from either your taxes or your tuition fees. And the threat is more obvious when you withdraw your children from school than if you had never enrolled them.
In the past, most of our emphasis has been on parents’ keeping their children at home, whenever possible, at least until age eight or ten or older. We have suggested ways to build a solid foundation for later formal schooling by a consistent, informal home program. However, as school problems and parental awareness of an alternative have increased, we have also seen some spectacularly successful results from changing horses in midstream. Some have found that it is never too late to take children out of school (a) if you are committed to homeschooling as a better alternative; (b) if you will be reasonably consistent, warm, responsive, and well organized in your program; (c) if you have a sound curriculum; and (d) if it does not make them too unhappy to be separated from their friends. In almost every case, we have found that you can make your children content by providing such activities as trips with you while others are in school; involving them in family industries-making and selling things, or providing needed services-as officers in your family “corporation”; doing kind deeds for others; and fixing up a corner or room together for a “school.” Other children will be quick to visit you. They know when parents care and children are happy. We suggest the following steps:
1. Send a letter to the school, timed to arrive on your child’s first day of absence, explaining that you have decided to enroll your child in a private school. This is your own private school. It is a “school” because learning takes place, and it is as “private” as any available.
Generally speaking, keeping children home after a school vacation break is an opportune time for making the change. Such wise timing creates as little commotion as possible.
2. Know your state law and learn how to deal with local authorities in case it is necessary. You may eventually fulfill every letter of the law, if this is your desire, but you must first determine what that is from a sympathetic, knowledgeable source. Nearby homeschoolers may be your best source of information.
Because acceptance of homeschooling varies so much among states, as well as in local districts, most experienced leaders advise against attempting to make any preliminary arrangements with school officials, unless you are very “visible” in your community and can’t avoid it, and until you know about the local legal climate. We have found that even when statutory provisions are clear, superintendents may be prejudiced or may choose to ignore the law. At best, officials may try to dissuade you on the basis of your “inferior” ability and facilities, or you child’s “need of socialization” – none of which is generally a valid reason. Most homeschooled children achieve significantly higher levels, academically, socially, and behaviorally, than public and church school students, and any possible disadvantages are nearly always far outweighed by the advantages. The U.S. Constitution, our basic law, supports you.
3. Name your school. Children like to share in this. Many names for homeschools have special significance to the family and can give the child and parent a satisfactory answer to questioners.
4. Use a “homeschool curriculum,” at least for the first year, especially if you have any doubts about teaching on your own. This gives the structure to keep your program on a consistent track and a reasonable basis for equivalence to a regular school system, if you are questioned. However, on a one-to-one ratio, an hour and a half of parent-teacher time and about the same amount for supervised study is an adequate schedule for even the mature student. Afternoon is usually spent in constructive activities such as gardening, baking, homemaking, cottage industries, and so on, but should be listed on your program as practical arts, science, or other “subjects.”
5. Acquire previous school records. This is actually optional, because you don’t have to have the records, but it might avoid later problems. It also makes you the custodian of all pertinent documents. Your curriculum source will usually send for your child’s cumulative records from the previous school, or you may ask for them yourself. Whether or not you use an outside school curriculum, you might want to have typed or printed official- looking school stationery. (Some homeschoolers use a post office box to make their location less obvious.)
6. Write up your general philosophy, objectives, resources, methods, and schedule. You will then be ready in case your “school” is challenged.
7. Keep a daily journal of your activities. Both you and your students should do this. It not only gives a good picture of organization to others, but also helps both teacher and child to be systematic and learn how to write. Besides, it can be fun now. and provide fond recollections later.
So, be off and running, for you are on your way to the kind of education that kings use to make… kings!
HOME SCHOOLS AND THE LAW
The Constitution, as interpreted in a sequence of decisions by the United States Supreme Court over more than 60 years, guarantees parents the prior right to determine the education of their children. Any state policies or laws in conflict with this principle are unconstitutional and therefore un-American. Some authorities describe them as “totalitarian,” which in fact they are when control of children is superimposed by the state instead of coming from those who are their parents.
The compelling rights of the state include the power to require that children have at least the literacy we would require of an immigrant before he is granted citizenship. The state may expect minimum literacy skills – reading, writing, arithmetic – and a knowledge of our government for good citizenship. It may also require reasonable standards of health and safety. Fortunately, the homeschool is usually best at providing all of these.
For information on how to respond to authorities if challenged, see the Moores’ books and other resources listed below.
For all books and other products prepared by Raymond and Dorothy Moore and associates, including Better Late Than Early, School Can Wait, Home-Grown Kids, Home-Spun Schools and the Moore-McGuffey Reader Series, contact your local bookstore or write to the Moore Foundation, Box 1, Camas, WA 98607. You may also write the Foundation for general information on homeschooling, legal questions, support groups and subscriptions to the Moores’ newsletter The Parent Educator and Family Report.
For more information on the Moores’ own homeschool curriculum program, send a business-sized, self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Hewitt-Moore Child Development Center at the same address.
Further background on the legal status of homeschooling may be found in Home Education and Constitutional Liberties by John W.Whitehead and Wendell R. Bird (Westchester, Illinois: CrosswayBooks, 1984).
(The above material was published by Focus on the Family, ColoradoSprings, CO.)
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