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Steady Pace Wins the Race

By Joyce Swann
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #10, 1995.

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Joyce Swann

Because my children have finished school sooner than the average student, I have gained a reputation for being a “specialist” in accelerated education. Frankly, this has always disturbed me. I feel that by focusing on the rate at which my children complete school, many people lose sight of why my children graduate from high school at age 11, receive bachelor’s degrees at age 15, and earn master’s degrees at age 16. They tend to view our educational experience as a breathless downhill race and wonder how any of the lessons were able to “stick” when they were learned so quickly.

Webster defines “accelerate” as “to go faster; to make something go faster.” From some of the letters I receive, I suspect there is an image among homeschoolers of me standing next to my children whispering, “Faster! Faster!” in their ears as they press forward to meet more and more demanding deadlines.

When John and I decided that I would teach our children at home, acceleration was never a consideration. We wanted what most homeschooling parents want for their children—a superior education delivered in a safe and moral environment. Our home, of course, provided what we considered to be the ideal environment, but it was the search for a superior educational experience which led to the early graduations.

In the true sense of the word, acceleration has never occurred in our homeschool. At no time have we gained speed as we move forward. In fact, I would describe us as faithful plodders who are able to accomplish quite a lot because we are consistent.

The key to our success is simple: When God told me to homeschool, I said, “Yes.” And then I committed myself to the task. Any homeschooling mother can do the same if she is willing to make a long-term commitment to a disciplined lifestyle which centers around an unwavering homeschool schedule.

The first thing I did after making the decision to homeschool was to decide on a teaching schedule. I planned from the beginning to have a twelve-month school year so that I would not have to constantly re-teach lessons that were forgotten over summer vacation. I also decided that I would give the children short holidays: Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, one day for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day (I later allowed them to take off Christmas Eve as well), and New Year’s Day. In addition they had off every Saturday and Sunday. I then scheduled a three-hour school day and worked everything else I had to do to care for my rapidly growing brood (I had ten children in twelve years with no multiple births) around those hours.

I carried that same philosophy of commitment into the classroom. We have undergone some scheduling changes over the years. For instance, when I had lots of preschoolers, I scheduled half of the school day in the morning and the other half in the afternoon during the preschoolers’ naps. As my number of preschoolers diminished, however, I changed the schedule to one three-hour session from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. The rules that had always governed our homeschool stayed in effect:

1.  No talking about anything not pertaining to lessons. Given the opportunity, nearly all children will attempt to distract the teacher so that they can escape their assignments. Frequently, that effort will take the form of pretending to be interested in something that has little if anything to do with the subject at hand. A simple, “I would love to talk about that, but we will have to do it after school,” works wonders. Nine times out of ten the child has no interest in the subject and does not want to discuss it later.
2.  No wasting time. At times everyone is tempted to sit staring out the window or gazing into space. It is the teacher’s responsibility to gently remind them to get their minds back on their work so that they will be free to act out those daydreams after school.
3.  No food or drinks. Virtually anyone can go for three hours without eating. Students should get that drink of water before school.
4.  No breaks unless a trip to the bathroom is absolutely essential. Students should also make it a habit to use the bathroom before school. It is then seldom necessary to interrupt for a bathroom break. All breaks should be avoided because they do exactly what their name implies—they break up the school day, break apart concentration, and break down order and discipline.

In a stable atmosphere there is really nothing to do but learn. I am always present in the classroom to answer questions and help with any difficulty a student may encounter.

Given the right reinforcement and encouragement, children are able to grasp a great many concepts that adults tend to think of as “too difficult” for youngsters—especially if no one tells them that they are difficult! I love discussing my student’s assignments with them and helping them discover new insights into lessons in history, literature, philosophy, etc. For me, some of the most meaningful moments with my children have been spent in the quiet, undistracted atmosphere of that home classroom, and I feel that many of them would agree.

Perhaps the whole topic of accelerated education can best be illustrated with a simple algebra problem.

Q: Car A leaves Smithtown traveling due south at 100 miles per hour. At the same time car B leaves Happyville traveling due north at 55 miles per hour. Smithtown and Happyville are 450 miles apart. How long will it take the cars to meet?

A: The cars will never meet. The car traveling at 100 miles per hour will crash and burn and the police will have cleared away the dead bodies and debris long before car B approaches the site of the accident!

If you would like to see your children move ahead in their educational experience, forget everything you have ever heard about accelerated education. Do not even consider skipping grades. Banish all thoughts of eight-hour school days. Never concentrate on how you can get your children to “go faster.” Instead, set a steady pace that can be maintained over your children’s academic lifetimes, and put your homeschool on a course that will allow your children to move forward naturally, while reaping the full benefits of their educational experiences.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Joyce’s children do move along more quickly than most—they have been “accelerated” up to a faster speed—but they are not “accelerating.” Twice as fast is fast enough!

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