Homeschooling: A Reluctant Mother’s View

By Jessie Hodge, in 1992.

Can I Teach My Children?

When my husband, Ian, and I began to consider the question of education for our children he was quite emphatic that they would not be going to a government school. I then assumed that a Christian school was the only other option. He often hinted at home schooling but I was nervous and thought, “I don’t have the ability to educate my children!”

At Ian’s insistence and by trial and error, I successfully taught my first child to read before the age of four. At about this time I was hearing more and more of children who were still illiterate after spending many years in school! (Some years later I taught a 29-year-old illiterate to read and I then knew that the rumours about illiteracy were very true.) My next child was also reading quite well by age four.

Despite the fact that I had taught two of my children to read I still felt intimidated by the professional teachers and thought that I could never do the job as well as they could. One of the most frequent questions I get asked about homeschooling is “Are you a qualified teacher?” This question used to make me feel uneasy at first but now when I see how well my children seem to be doing, particularly in the literacy skills, my lack of credentials seems unimportant. In fact at one stage I had some local mothers bringing their children to me to be taught to read because they were concerned at their lack of progress!

Children Can Teach Themselves

Our first child spent three years in school and during the last two of these years he was using the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. Ian had always believed that a child should progress according to his own abilities and this curriculum made that possible. When we decided to home school we continued to use this curriculum. Having become familiar with it during the two years prior to home schooling this made me feel a little easier when I commenced homeschooling our children. Because the curriculum is self-instructional and my children could read they needed little tuition from me apart from the occasional new concepts in maths that caused difficulty.
Using a well established, self-instructional curriculum gave me more confidence to home school firstly because I knew my children would cover all the necessary subject areas, and secondly, if for any reason I was unable to spend time in preparation or supervision, there would be no interruption to lessons because they were already prepared with clearly written instructions and set work to do.

When Do I Do My Housework?

Yes, with five children I do have some. I used to be fanatical about having a clean and tidy house but with each new addition to the family I’ve had to make a few changes to my ideals or go crazy. It’s difficult — impossible? — to have five children in your home 24 hours a day and have a show home! Some people love clutter but I’m one of those strange people that find it very difficult to be organized when surrounded by it. If I can see that the clutter is being used I don’t mind but I encourage the children to put toys and belongings away when not in use otherwise they’ll make one mess after another for me to get frustrated over and then waste everyone’s time while we search for missing things.

Most mothers today have a full time job away from their home and they get their housework done so why can’t I? Sometimes I wash at night so that the clothes can be pegged early next morning. But even on disrupted mornings it’s nice to be able to peg clothes or do other urgent chores without the pressure of getting everyone out the door to catch a bus or train to work or school.

Do I Have a Daily Routine?

I have always tried to have some sort of daily routine but with new babies being born this has not always been possible and each year has had its own set of problems. Since the birth of my first child I’ve always known that you don’t get very much done around the place during the first six months of a new baby’s life. My fourth child was born one month after I commenced homeschooling and although I didn’t quite know what problems to expect with homeschooling I knew just what to expect from a new baby. He seemed to be awake many more hours than any of my previous children or was it my imagination? At that stage only two of my children were school age and I was so glad that I had taught them to read well before my fourth child arrived (never put off till tomorrow what you can do today!) Although there were many frustrating days I somehow managed to give the older children some of my time and even if I wasn’t available they were teaching themselves with their self instructional curriculum.

In the second year of homeschooling with less nappies to wash and a baby who took a little less of my time I turned my attention to my third child and began teaching him to read. I made sure he was reading fairly well by the time he was five so that he too would be able to begin to educate himself from his books like his older brothers and sisters. Two months after he started his first official year of schooling child number five arrived. So again I commenced another cycle of breastfeeding, nappy changing and washing etc. When number five became less demanding of my time I turned my attention to number four and began teaching him to read. So I feel a bit like the man who operates the merry go round — as you send one safely on his way, you then help another get started.

Children’s Daily Routine

Our present daily routine goes something like this. We rise about 7:00 a.m. and the children get dressed, make their beds and do various allotted chores such as emptying the dishwasher, setting the breakfast table, making toast, feeding rabbits etc. After breakfast they clear the table, brush their teeth and hair and complete any jobs they didn’t do prior to breakfast.

About 8:15 a.m. we have devotions where we read the Bible, sing a hymn and pray. After this we spend about ten minutes learning and memorizing the bible passage (usually about 10 verses) that has been set for the month. At 8:30 a.m. the children go to their desk and begin their daily goals.

The ACE system advocates the use of a weekly goal chart on which you write the pages to be completed in each subject for each day. This teaches the children to organize their day to ensure that they achieve their daily aims. I prefer to set the goals for the younger children so that their goals are realistic and achievable (i.e. not too hard and not too easy). As they complete each subject for the day they cross it out on their chart. With this system I am assured that they are moving consistently through their workbooks and they have no excuse for not knowing how much work to do. It’s a great way to teach children to manage and be responsible for their time and efforts.

It’s All in a Day’s Work

A typical morning could go something like this. The children open their workbooks and start while I finish pegging the washing or maybe dressing the youngest child. I then see how my youngest student is progressing and will often sit with him to make sure his writing is neat or listen to him read social studies and science to ensure his pronunciation is right and generally to encourage and motivate. I sometimes wish they needed more help than they do because I actually enjoy explaining things to them but they rarely need this sort of help.

However, occasionally the situation will arise where I’m trying to explain a new and troublesome concept in maths or english grammar and at the same time my three year old strikes a problem with his bike, puzzle or whatever and he begins to scream. Just then another child develops a problem and also wants my attention. In the middle of this the phone rings and chaos then reigns. By the time I come off the phone no schoolwork has been done, I have to sort out a teasing match that developed into a fight and the youngest child didn’t quite make it to the toilet in time and has left a wet mess for me to clean up. Thankfully not every day is like this, and yes, I do try to discourage phone calls during school hours.

The younger children usually have their goals completed by midday when we break for lunch. I sometimes find the afternoon more frustrating than the morning because I have older children trying to work and younger ones needing to be occupied in some other manner. Finding ways to keep them out of mischief requires new ideas and, as always, mother’s supervision. Although I enjoy sewing, knitting and needlework, I’ve never been the sort of mother that has had a lot of ideas and inspiration when it comes to arts and crafts for children, so I usually let them work this out for themselves as long as they are quiet. Since I’m addicted to cross-stitching that’s one craft the older children can do! Sometimes we just walk to a nearby park or reserve for a bit of exercise and fresh air. On other afternoons an older child might suddenly develop the urge to cook something — oh the bliss and mess of it all!

Practical Advantages of Homeschooling

Despite all the problems involved in homeschooling there are many simple advantages that I’ve just about taken for granted. I can’t forget the hassles I had getting my eldest child to the bus stop during his first year at school. During that year he seemed to take forever to eat his breakfast and get dressed and we were always running late. Because we had a deadline to meet which was a 15-minute uphill walk away I always felt under stress getting there on time. Some mornings we just didn’t make it and I had to phone a friend to give him a lift to school. Some mornings my three year old was still asleep or the baby was wanting a feed. When it was time to meet him in the afternoon I usually had a sleeping toddler who had to be disturbed if I couldn’t find a babysitter.

Many mums spend almost an hour in travelling time just to get their children to a christian school. In that time my children have finished a good proportion of their schoolwork for the day.

Good health is another advantage of homeschooling that can easily be taken for granted. On cold wet days my children are warm and dry all day and this means they are far less likely to be infected with colds and flu which often result from wet clothing. They also escape many other infections which spread easily from one child to another in the school environment. At home I can make sure they are eating nutritious food each day and this of course also goes a long way towards good health.

Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child

The Bible says: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” and I certainly find this to be the case on many days. Just recently I walked into the boys’ bedroom and was greeted by piles of clothing scattered all over the floor. My two youngest boys had decided to play in the cupboard where I store clothing not currently in use. It had taken much time and effort for me to sort this clothing into about ten different bags according to size, season etc., and here it was in a big jumble in the middle of the floor. Not being a person who “tolerates fools gladly” there are many “hair tearing” days such as this when I would love to have a full time nanny.

Not surprisingly, then, many mothers inquiring about homeschooling have been concerned about the problem of discipline. I’ve had comments made such as: “How do you get your children to do their work — my children don’t take any notice of what I say?” These mothers have a problem, and worse than that, they are creating problems for society by raising undisciplined, spoiled children who only want to please themselves. To be sure, the most difficult and frustrating aspect of homeschooling is discipline. It is the first and most obvious problem that confronts the homeschooling mum — controlling and managing your children — and yet it is probably the most important aspect of home schooling.

If more mothers were willing to take on this task, instead of paying other people (with my money!) to do the job for them, families would be much happier and societies would be better off. I’ve had mothers tell me that they are glad to see their children go out the door each day, and others who moan and groan about school holidays when they have to babysit their own children for a few weeks. With this parental attitude, is it any wonder we are seeing aged parents abandoned by their children in nursing homes? Discipline does require much time, effort and patience in following consistent guidelines so the children know exactly what they are being punished for and why. I’ve still a long way to go in mastering this problem, but my husband constantly reminds me that “if I can’t control my children at age four what will it be like when they are sixteen years old?”

Coping with a Home Business

For the past six years we have had a home business which involves selling books by mail order. When we first commenced homeschooling Ian was at home for at least part of the day and he did all the work involved in running this business. Two years ago he commenced a full time job in the city which takes him away from the home from 7 a.m. until 7 or 8 p.m. This is not the ideal situation to be in when running a home school, however there seemed to be no other alternative until the home business was established and could support us.

I’m sure every homeschool has its own problems and frustrations but in order to ensure that the main goal, namely educating your children, is achieved each day, it is best to try and do this at every available opportunity. For example, last year when my two year old would have an afternoon nap I would use this time to process accounts and orders on the computer. However I was often interrupted by my four year old who wanted to help or at least be entertained. I explained to him the value of computer equipment and that he could only help if he did sensible things with it. The result was that he learned to recognize the capital letters of the alphabet by helping me with my typing (you could call this “killing two birds with one stone” or “making the most of a bad situation”). Sure, I could have done my computer work much faster without him being around — but he was around — and so I made the best use of the time I could, but I won’t say it wasn’t frustrating at times.

Many other afternoons are interrupted by the necessity for me to go to the banks or local post office to collect mail, including boxes of books which have come in from overseas. The mention of “going out in the car” brings different responses from the children. Some of them grab the car keys and are out the door in a flash (free at last!), while the others complain about another boring trip to the post office. By the time I get my belongings together and head out the front door I can hear that World War III has broken out in the car. Before I can reverse the car from the garage I have to discipline the warriors, try and remember who’s turn it is to sit in the front seat and maybe settle a dispute about who will be near the window and who is in the middle. I’m reaching the stage where I need a roster system to keep track of who sits where. I’m also starting to realize that perhaps I should plan my week differently to eliminate any unnecessary trips of this nature.

Life’s Like That

Going to the bank has never been a favourite past time of mine because of the usual lengthy delays. Recently it was my misfortune to have to go to the bank with four children in tow, to open a new account. Much as I desired to jump the counter and complete the application form myself, I stood patiently for twenty minutes gritting my teeth while the female clerk casually filled in the form. I wasn’t bored however, as during this time there was plenty for me to do such as untangle my five and seven-year-old boys who had decided to have a wrestling match in the middle of the floor, reprimand my three-year-old who was fascinated by the locking device on the bank entrance door and persisted in locking customers in and out of the bank, and various other scenarios that children get up to when confined in a small room with nothing to do but stare at blank walls. The two wrestlers reluctantly but finally settled themselves on the floor (there weren’t enough chairs) while the three year old stretched out comfortably across the entrance way to the bank. He hadn’t tripped too many customers before his 13-year-old brother who had just returned from an errand to the post office, decided to walk on him as he came through the door to see if he could encourage him to remove himself to a better location.

I could imagine the thoughts going through the minds of the onlookers as I tried to answer questions at the desk while trying to keep four healthy, lively children out of mischief, “Oh that poor woman with all those children — hasn’t she heard of a school or pre-school?” As for me, I was trying to remember what life was like before homeschooling. But I wouldn’t swap it for anything (most of the time, if you know what I mean).

When Do My Children Mix With Other Children?

This is the most frequently asked question and the inquiry seems to revolve around two concerns. Firstly, how will my children cope when they finally face the real world? Secondly, don’t they miss the companionship of children their own age?

Most children these days are quite aware of what is happening in the real world thanks to the explicit details given in the news media. As far as coping with a society whose lifestyle may be contrary to their upbringing I don’t believe my children’s task will be any more difficult than mine was, although increasing pressures will not make it any easier.

I was child number eight in a family of ten children, lived next door to a family with eleven children and was educated in large primary and high schools. Did this make my life in school or the workforce any easier or enjoyable? Not always. To “get on with others” usually meant conformity with the majority, and so despite all my socializing, I was often a misfit because of my christian upbringing.

One of the reasons I survived in these hostile environments was because I belonged to a loving, secure family, where strict discipline and high morals were encouraged. I could therefore make a comparison between the two environments (family or valueless society) and it wasn’t difficult for me to decide which one I preferred.

It isn’t easy, however, to swim upstream and I know of children with similar upbringings to mine who couldn’t cope with peer pressure and so conformed to be accepted. Although some of them returned to their family values in later years, is it really worth the risk of putting your children under that sort of pressure?

With regard to companionship my children thoroughly enjoy any time they spend with friends outside of the family. However they are just as happy amusing themselves either with their own individual interest or with another member of the family. If my children seem to be needing companionship (i.e. someone to talk to or play a game with) they are usually quite happy if I become the companion.

Nearly every person I have ever associated with has been through a large public school. Has that ensured their ability to overcome shyness, be extroverted and able to get on with everyone they meet? Certainly not! Although fairly quiet-natured, my brothers and sisters make friends easily and quickly, and people often comment: “Oh he or she comes from a big family.” Not once have I heard the comment: “Oh he or she went to a public school!” There is no doubt in my mind that the learning centre for the art of mixing and making friends is not the school but the home.

I do not want my children to learn to “get on” (conform) with those who oppose their Christian faith and way of life. However, I do encourage them to be friendly and caring towards others, beginning, naturally, with the immediate members of their family. They learn from the Bible that “if a man wants to win friends he must be friendly”. They also learn from the Bible many other friendship winning traits such as compassion, kindness, goodness and truth.

When I compare my totally different childhood with that of my children I believe that if they develop the same godly characteristics that I was taught they will have no trouble making friends later in life and getting on in society.

Conclusion

Can I recommend home schooling? Families need to weigh up for themselves the relative advantages and disadvantages of this option and the alternatives. As my husband says, choices in life depend upon which set of problems you want. Homeschooling is not ideal, and has its own set of problems. The public schools, and private Christian schools offer yet another set of problems.

It seems the better question is this: are the problems insurmountable? They certainly are not. This is not an attempt to play them down, for they are real and difficult. The rewards, however, must outweigh the disadvantages. As a family we believe we’re providing the best available opportunity for the children by homeschooling. If happiness in the home, godly training, and advancement in the children’s education are a guide, the advantages of home schooling are certainly there for those who are willing to try it.