As a retired homeschool mom, let me make the case for educating ourselves.
First, The Problem
There are two sides to the issue. One side says that we shouldn’t burden new homeschoolers with educational models. That we shouldn’t encourage them to formulate a philosophy because their philosophy will formulate itself after they have homeschooled for some length of time. Better to just let them jump in and make corrections as they go.
At the base of this argument is a focus on encouraging new homeschoolers to find their own way by not burdening them with what can be an overwhelming number of decisions at the very beginning of their homeschool journey. Certainly there are those who will turn back after feeling overwhelmed at the realization of what they do not yet know, amid the pressure to “first do no harm” to their children.
Second, The Other Side of the Coin
But there is another side.
Many moms just starting out pick up a full-blown curriculum from a Christian textbook publisher, sit their children down to workbooks and quickly burnout after becoming overwhelmed with schedules, grading, and coordinating several “classes” at once.
Moms who might thrive using a different approach may never have a chance to find out, having quickly determined that the schools can do a better job.
We all start out with an inclination toward the way things have always been done — or the way things were done to us. Understandably, having just taken a big step away from the way things are usually done, Mom may feel she needs the security of the familiar in educating her children at home. But the familiar may not be the best route to take, particularly when just beginning.
For a variety of reasons, it may be better to begin at the beginning — defining what we mean by “education” and determining what we want to accomplish.
Things to Consider
Why should we invest time in educating ourselves?
Providing our Children With a Quality Education
We all want to provide our children with a quality education. But how do we define quality? It largely depends on our educational goals.
By educating ourselves, we are better able to set goals for our children. Once we have set these goals it will be much easier to pick and choose from the best that the world of education has to offer to provide our children with a quality education.
Avoiding the New and Shiny
Every few years a new method or idea makes an appearance (or more accurately, an old method makes a resurgence in a new form). Very astute folks begin designing new materials that fit the new method, supported by flashy presentations, and a type of peer pressure to conform as “you do not want to deprive your children by missing out.”
By educating ourselves, we will be better able to stay the course. By knowing in advance where we stand we will be able to quickly assess whether or not a new method or approach has something to offer us — in whole or in part.
We will be able to quickly determine if the associated materials will fit within our current approach to home education. By already knowing what we want we will be less likely to be blown off course.
Using Materials That Support Our Efforts
All materials have educational philosophies underlying the presentation and the scope of the information provided. All educational models and approaches have ideological underpinnings.
By taking the time to understand some of these philosophies, we can determine whether or not we agree with them, whether or not they will work in our situation — in our home, and whether or not they fit the goals we have for our children or work against them.
It is hard to get where we are going if we don’t know where we are going.
Every approach can be evaluated on its benefits to us as homeschooling moms mentoring our children, once we know where it is that we wish to go.
Avoiding Known Failures
New Math. Whole Language.
There are several educational experiments that have failed to provide the desired results. By understanding the theories that underlie these ideas, we are better able to spot materials that make use of them. By doing so, we can quickly and easily avoid replicating at home those ideas and methods that will not (or did not) work for our children.
Finding Materials that Complement Instead of Complicate
There are a wide variety of approaches available to choose from. Many times a particular approach will not work with every child in the family.
For example, some children thrive with the repetition in a spiral math program, others are driven to distraction by having to continually work problems they already understand.
By educating ourselves, we can choose methods and materials that work well for each child.
Reaching the Heart
It was once widely acknowledged that “properly educated” meant cultivating wisdom — the use of knowledge applied to right actions.
Once God was removed from the government schooling system, there was no longer any underpinning for such wisdom. What did it mean to do right if relativism refused to allow room for a defined “good” and “evil”?
By educating ourselves, we can redefine education, bringing it back to its former high ideal of educating the whole person, rather than simply readying him for his future occupation (obviously one goal). By putting the heart back into education we can prepare our children not only for their vocation, but also for life.
Passing on Our Beliefs
One reason parents often cite for taking personal responsibility for their child’s education is so that they will be able to pass on their beliefs. Yet, we often end up letting the materials we use speak for us.
By educating ourselves, we are better able to discuss our beliefs with our children — particularly when they differ from the variety of materials our children come into contact with. We have an opportunity to explain what we believe and why.
Tutor. Mentor. Parent. In each of these roles we teach more by what we do than by what we say.
By educating ourselves, we model the behavior of a lifelong learner. We pass along the idea that education is not something someone does to us, but something we do for ourselves.
While determining the best way to mentor our children, we do not have to be left without an organizing structure or framework. We do not have to know it all at once. Many have already condensed the available information.
A cursory examination of a handful of approaches to homeschooling will likely provide us with a starting place. There will likely be one approach that we gravitate to, and that will deserve more in-depth study. So we can begin with a program that serves as a framework whether it follows a classical, literature-based, unit study, or traditional (without all of the bells and whistles) approach, knowing that we are free to keep the pieces that work for us and rid ourselves of methodologies that only burden us. You can read our suggestions for developing your approach.
By investing in our own education, we are able to clarify our ideas about learning. We have a better idea of where we want to go, and how we would like to get there. We can build upon the basic foundations of learning with those ideas that speak to our own heart and complement the way our children learn. And we are better able to mentor and tutor our children as we model a learning lifestyle.