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.
But there is another side of the coin. 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 being 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.
Why should we invest time in educating ourselves?
- To provide 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 have set those 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.
- To avoid being blown around by every new thing that comes along. 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.
- To ensure that the methods and materials we use support our efforts rather than hinder them. 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 a homeschooling moms mentoring our children, once we know where it is that we wish to go.
- To avoid materials promoting known failed theories. 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 and can avoid replicating at home those ideas and methods that will not (or did not) work for our children.
- To avoid methods and materials that will frustrate our children. Many times a particular approach does 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.
- To put the “heart” back into education. It was once widely acknowledged that to be 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.
- To be prepared to effectively pass on our beliefs to our children. One reason parents often cite for deciding to take personal responsibility for their child’s education is so that they will be able to pass on their beliefs to their children. 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.
- To encourage our children to be self-educated by self-educating. Tutor. Mentor. Parent. In each of these roles we teach more by what we do than by what we say. By educating ourselves, we are modeling the behavior of a lifelong learner. We pass along the idea that education is not something someone does for 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.