On that hot September day in 1975 when I sat down for the first time with my oldest daughter Alexandra to begin teaching her at home, I knew virtually nothing about homeschooling. In fact, I had only one example - a family of traveling Mennonite missionaries we had met several years earlier who homeschooled while they were on the road but enrolled their children in school as soon as they reached their destination. Their homeschool was a hodgepodge of well-worn texts piled in the back of an ancient station wagon that served as their classroom on wheels.
When the Lord called John and me to homeschool, therefore, I thought first of this family. As much as I admired them for their dedication and Christian witness, I was appalled by their casual approach to education, and I knew that I did not want my homeschool to be anything like theirs.
I am a rigidly organized person who lives a highly structured life at every level. I had to find a method of homeschooling that would fit my lifestyle. That is rule number one - begin by finding an approach that complements your personality type.
Simple Steps to Success
I began by writing a schedule with a time slot for everything I had to do during my day including meal preparation, house cleaning, laundry, and school. Thus I could move from one task to another without wasting time or getting bogged down with one activity and neglecting others. That is rule number two - make a schedule. Even if you pride yourself on being disorganized, there are certain things you must do each day to keep your family running. Make at least a basic schedule with regular school hours so that the most important things will get done.
I then began a curriculum search. Keep in mind that in 1975 there were no curriculum fairs, etc., and I had no idea where to begin. I located a school supply house and purchased addition and subtraction flash cards and a couple of phonics books. I used the books to create a set of phonics flash cards and then added other cards by including the most frequent letter combinations I found in children's books. For readers I went to my local discount store and purchased two Dr. Seuss books and several Little Golden Books. Using these materials and plain notebook paper, I taught Alexandra reading, printing, and addition and subtraction facts. That is rule number three - a homeschool does not have to be fancy. Cheap basic materials work as well or better than elaborate expensive ones when teaching a child the fundamentals of reading, writing, and math.
We Chose Calvert
Of course, I knew that I must find a curriculum that would meet all of Alexandra's needs as she progressed. Fortunately, our attorney located the Calvert program for us which proved to be exactly what we were hoping to find. For each grade level the Calvert program offered an accredited curriculum which included all texts, a teacher's manual with structured lesson plans for each day's work, and an optional advisory teaching service (the advisory teaching service is expensive but mandatory if the student is to have the benefit of accreditation).
When Alexandra was five years and four months old, we enrolled her in Calvert. Armed with my personal written schedule and the Calvert manual, I was able to maintain the structured lifestyle I wanted so much to preserve.
I had a baby every year until I had produced ten children in less than thirteen years. Thanks to a structured homeschool, I was able to add a new student to my classroom each year until 1988 when Judah, my youngest, began the first grade, and also keep the house clean and well ordered.
I was far from confident when I began teaching my daughter. To tell the truth, I feared that at some point my homeschool might come tumbling down like a house of cards. I am happy to report, however, that after 21 years of using a structured approach, I still believe that it was the only method for my family.
All of my children who are old enough have earned their Masters degrees at age 16. My five oldest children, who range in age from 21 to 25, are happily employed in a number of fields, including television news production, photojournalism, education, and publishing. My 17-year-old son Benjamin is the youth pastor at our church and supplements his income by substitute teaching at a local elementary school. He plans to eventually pastor his own church. My 16-year-old son Israel received his Masters in December. He is an excellent artist who hopes to find a career as an animator. The three youngest - ages 12, 13, and 15 - are earning their university degrees.
I believe that structure is the key to an educational experience which makes the best use of both the student's and the teacher's time. There is no "magic" curriculum that will do the work for us. There is no perpetually "fun" course of study that will constantly interest and delight our students. While some are unarguably better than others, all curricula are imperfect. However, the manner in which we present a curriculum to our students makes a great deal of difference. If we are casual about our children's education, they will probably not feel any real motivation to push ahead and do their best.
For me, embarking on an educational experience without the benefit of structure and a schedule which includes both daily and long term goals would be as foolhardy as leaving on an automobile trip without a road map. After all, if we do not have a well-marked route, how can we ever expect to reach our destination?