Episode 008 - Jennifer Anderson, Creating a Peaceful Family Learning Environment
I recently interviewed an amazing lady that has homeschooled her 7 children for several years. She had such a wonderful experience with our interview that she wrote the following letter to further encourage other families:
To a New Homeschooler:
I am so excited that you are considering homeschooling as an option for your family. It’s quite an undertaking but it is so rewarding and worth the effort. I am happy to share some insights that I’ve gained from my sixteen years of homeschooling my own family.
There are many methods and applications out there and I’m sure you’ve heard of several different ideas and can find out more about the ones that are of interest to you so I’ll try to just share what has worked well for us since that is what I have the most experience with. The principles in the Thomas Jefferson Education (TJEd) model have been the principles I have found most natural to our family’s education. I’ve done a lot of different things over the years and tried pre-made curriculums as well as making my own curriculum plan for the year. But it seems that no matter what method I am using the principles that drive our family’s education and culture can be found in the TJEd philosophy. The most basic idea that I take from TJEd is the idea of education being in “phases”, three basic ones; Core Phase, Love of Learning Phase, and Scholar Phase (which has several progressions within itself). Core Phase is generally from birth to about 8 years old, give or take, since we all are on our own time frame and some get there a little sooner and some much later, but the importance of Core Phase is building a foundation of character and preparing a child to learn with a solid idea of what is right/wrong, good/bad, true/false, etc. This is when they will spend the largest majority of their time with their family and with their parents, and learn about and interact with their family culture. This is when they learn the basic tenets of their family’s religion and true principles such as obedience, kindness, love, sharing, work, etc. I elaborate on Core Phase here because that is the beginning and right where your kindergartener would be. It is wise to understand the other Phases before you get there with your children so I would highly recommend reading and studying A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille because no matter what method you end up choosing or what curriculum you use these Phases and the principles behind them are true and a natural part of learning for anyone. I really appreciate the way Dr. DeMille has recognized and outlined these principles of education in his book and Thomas Jefferson Education or TJEd is simply a way of referring to these principles but they existed before his book was written and are really “natural law” in the world of learning. Core Phase makes a lot of sense in light of scriptural teachings (such as Isaiah 28:10) and this and the other phases follow the principle of “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little.”
I can understand some individuals’ concerns about TJEd seeming perhaps too unstructured, I had some of the same concerns, especially when my children were younger and I had less experience with homeschooling. So the way I apply the TJEd philosophy and principles might look different than the way someone else does. We have three STAPLES to our family’s education and these are the things that I strive to do daily no matter our circumstances. These staples are #1—Family Devotional, #2—Family Read Aloud (from classics), #3—Family Work. When you are homeschooling there are times when your ideal daily schedule will just have to be set aside because of “real life” interruptions. Things like visiting family members, emergencies, illness, a new baby in the family, etc. are all things that might cause you to have to put “regular” school on hold. When we are experiencing these circumstances I maintain our three staples and it is amazing how much learning is still happening. In addition to our three staples our basic daily school includes mathematics, language arts (reading/learning to read, handwriting, etc.), and a rotating core subject like History, Science, Art, etc. I found it easiest to have the basics be daily (the Three staples, math, and reading or language arts) and then have each day of the week have its own core subject such as History on Mondays and Thursdays, Science on Tuesdays, Art on Fridays, etc. I have also found a 4 day school week to work best for us and then a 5th day can be for co-op, field trips, library day, or whatever we need or want it to be.
We have used a lot of different materials over the years and I have learned so much about how I want to educate my children and the kind of education I want for myself. The books that I would most highly recommend for your own investigation and education as you are exploring your options would be the following:
A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille (A basic primer in the phases of education and the seven keys that make for a great education).
Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning by Oliver and Rachel DeMille (This book really expounds in more detail and practical application the way the DeMille’s have utilized the principles of TJEd in their own home and ideas for making it work well in yours).
A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion by Oliver DeMille, Rachel DeMille, and Diann Jeppson (It shares stories and experiences of practical application of the principles of TJEd).
Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola (Karen discusses the work of Charlotte Mason and her educational philosophies as well as practical ways she has utilized these ideas in her family’s homeschool. Charlotte Mason’s ideas are very powerful in the Core Phase and Love of Learning Phase).
The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick (Ruth teaches you how to teach the three basics, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, to your child and helps you realize that as a parent you are your child’s natural teacher).
You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick (In this book Ruth teaches you how to teach your older elementary school and middle school child).
The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (This book was the one that introduced me to the idea of education in different phases long before I had hear of Thomas Jefferson Education and really helped me feel confident about giving my children a classical, leadership education. This book is a little intense and some don’t like it for that reason but for me personally it is a classic that I am grateful to have read).
The above books are a great place to start in your own research and to have on hand as reference books. For your actual school the following are resources that we have enjoyed over the years and are the ones I would most highly recommend:
“Happy Phonics” by Dianne Hopkins (I have taught all my children to read from this resource. It is a fun way of teaching them reading and really helps them learn those skills with confidence and fun. My friend recently invested in it to teach her younger children and has seen great results and also enjoyed it very much.)
“Singapore Math U.S. Edition” (Really good program for getting kids thinking mathematically, we use it up until the end of elementary school).
“Story of the World” series by Susan Wise Bauer (There are four books, Ancient History, Medieval History, Early Modern Times, The Modern Age. They are history books and they have a companion project idea book that has coloring pages and maps and lots of projects to go with each chapter. We have loved these books for our history studies. They are a great springboard for discussion and then we get library books that elaborate on the chapters we are most interested in. When we studied ancient history we chose to mummify a chicken—one of the unforgettable projects in the activity book).
First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise (Basic grammar lessons that are scripted and easy to follow as a parent).
The above are the most basic resources that I have used over and over again through the years. They are the ones that I would recommend over any others as the most basic and a great place to begin homeschooling younger children. When my children are done with Singapore Math we have found Teaching Textbooks to be a great resource for older children especially as they move into more challenging math that I may need help understanding or that might even be over my head—we haven’t gotten that far yet but the day is coming.
I have also tried pre-made curriculums from Sonlight (I have used the core 3/4 American History, Eastern Hemisphere, American History In Depth, and One Year World History). Sonlight is a literature based program and is very well put together. It is fairly pricey but it is worth the money if it is what you want. Their website is www.sonlight.com. You can order a free catalogue to look over what they offer and what advantages their curriculum has.
I have also tried “Latter Day Learning Family School” year one. It is a very well put together program for Latter Day Saint families and has scripted lessons with all of the preparation laid out before the lesson so it is easy to teach with. They utilize the internet, the scriptures, worksheets, etc. and have the basic subjects of History, Science, Geography, Music, Art, and Literature. Their website is www.latterdaylearning.org.
A curriculum can be very convenient and give you the confidence you need to feel prepared to teach but they are usually expensive (although much less than sending your children to private school). I have enjoyed learning from using them but for our family I find that it is almost too much structure and usually not in my budget and I have enjoyed using the basics that I listed above and just supplementing them with trips to the library and classes that they might take at a co-op or in the community.
My favorite part of homeschooling is family read aloud time. My kids and I have enjoyed many wonderful books that have influenced each of us and our family culture. Some of our absolute favorites are:
The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Britches by Ralph Moody
Man of the Family by Ralph Moody
Mary Emma and Company by Ralph Moody
The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
There are SO many others but these have been our some of our favorites and many of them we have read over and over again, especially the Little House Series, Little Britches, and the Chronicles of Narnia series. I started reading these books a chapter or two at a time even when my children were quite small and it is just a part of what we do. Even very little children will sit and listen if that’s just what you do in your family. Sometimes they might color or do some quiet activity while I read but they are there listening and there are so many amazing truths and lessons and principles that will come up as you read aloud together.
Websites that I would recommend are:
www.hslda.org (Home School Legal Defense Association, a great resource for homeschooling families and will outline the laws of your state in relation to homeschooling and parental rights, etc. and MANY great resources for teaching your children. This is where I learned the most about putting together a transcript for my oldest and figuring out her GPA, etc.)
www.rainbowresource.com (This is an amazing resource for ordering ALL kinds of materials, books, curriculums, art supplies, lab supplies, and on and on. They have so many products that it can be overwhelming if you are trying to choose things. If you know what you want, however, it is likely that rainbow resource has it and probably for the best price. They will send you a free catalogue, which is the best way to shop them—rather than online. The catalogue in itself has been educational for me.)
As well as the other websites I have listed above throughout this letter.
Choosing to be responsible for your children’s education and spending your time and energy homeschooling is a challenging and very rewarding experience. One of the most important things that I’ve learned over the years is that little things add up and that the Lord qualifies those who He calls and are striving to obey His will for their family. I’ve seen God’s grace magnify my efforts and make them more effective than anything I could have done on my own. Best of luck to you in your research and efforts as you make the very important decision of how to educate your family.