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“We’ve always considered public school ed our kids receive as supplemental to the ed we provide at home ….”

14 Sep

The full quote is here:

“We’ve always considered public school ed our kids receive as supplemental to the ed we provide at home so we don’t go crazy about it.”

And my reply, from the comments, is this:

So many people say this. My response?


Do we really need warehouses for children so badly that we’re willing to give away 6-7 hours of a child’s life, five days a week, in order to maintain the appearance of conformity? And this is quite aside from the homework!

Here’s a radical idea: Keep your kids out of institutional school. They will have more time with their families, more time for playing with friends, more time for independent leisure activities, more time for organized activities, and more time for learning. They will be more mature and responsible and, because they will not look near-exclusively to their peers to model behavior, will be better at getting along with people from a variety of backgrounds instead of just their own age group and clique within their neighborhood school.

Can’t work from home or give up a salary and homeschool your kids? Then see if you can form a part-day daycare. If you make enough money, a tutor or governess is also an option. Older kids can stay home by themselves for at least part of the day.

There is no reason that a child can’t cover all of “normal” Kindergarten in two hours a day, first grade in three, and second to fourth in four. Why restrict yourself to the pitiful standards of institutional schools, though? In five and a half hours a day, my seven-year-old does the usual core courses (reading at the 7th grade level, plus spelling, grammar, handwriting, and composition; algebra 1; science and real history, not social studies) and also has time for art, violin, piano, Bible, and three languages. And competitive gymnastics outside of school. He’s a smart kid, but there are plenty of other smart kids out there who could/should be doing as well or better but can’t.

Every child should have the opportunity to succeed. I’ve seen schools try to quash that in children from the moderately mentally retarded to the profoundly gifted. It doesn’t matter where you are–the learning should meet you where you need it. Instead, schools try to make the child fit the mold. That’ll never get the results that individual education gets.


Independence and homeschooling

13 Sep

The greatest strength as well as the greatest potential weakness of homeschooling is the role of the teacher.  Too many parents, in a desire to support their children, end up becoming a crutch.  In fourth grade, Mom sits next to Susie for every math problem, and by tenth, Mom is pulling out her hair because Susie still can’t come up with anything approximating a coherent research paper without her hand being held at every step.

Many more homeschooled students are driven, independent learners and self-starters.  They come up with original thoughts and pursue those thoughts with action.  They handle themselves with maturity and self-control.  They take responsibility for themselves and their futures in their school and far beyond.

The trick is to make sure your child is in the second group, not the first!  Some of this is personality.  Some children are born with a broad independent streak.  If I had been homeschooled, I would have taken my work into a corner, finished it in a couple of hours, and then gone and done my own thing for the rest of the day.  Some children are not made this way.  If I would hand-hold Danger Boy every second of the day, that would not be too much for him!

But whatever a students’ natural bent, all children  need to grow into independence.  So how to you get your reluctant child’s feet on the right path?

Step by step.  At first, that may be no more than “Finish these five questions in the time allotted.  I’ll be back when the timer rings to check on you.”  Eventually, your child should be able to work through the entire school day with your role limited to clarifying instructions and information and checking work.

Doesn’t sound exciting?  I don’t mean that you can’t still do great family projects.  You can, of course.  Nor do I mean that you can’t science experiments, field trips, and the like together.  However, the fastest way to learn the greatest amount of information is through work that can and should be studied independently before sparking our lively discussions and further research.

Every child needs a chance to develop her own thoughts about what she is learning based upon what she has previously learned.  Once she has made connections, these connections can be discussed and expanded upon.  Until the burden of learning is placed on the child, the child is less concerned about the information that she’s supposed to be processing and more concerned about pleasing the adult.  The child is playing a mind game, a guessing game, and the facts being studied are only incidental to the real objective, which is to get adult approval.

In contrast, the child with a mind actively engaged with learning will develop his ideas which can form the basis for a lively debate and will open up further avenues of thought and discussion.  She will be the actor in her learning instead of the passive recipient.

I believe in building independence in learning stage by stage. You look at where you are now and decide how you will reach the next stage whenever your child is ready for it, one tweak at a time.


The tools to reach each stage will be different for different children with different personalities–for example, for my ADHD Danger Boy, a timer is crucial, as are incremental tokens and various rewards.

I’ll discuss that more later.  For now, I’ll set up the stages as I use them.

Stage 1:

Our starting point!  Total dependence.  Everything is done together.  At this point, my only cares are reading, handwriting, and, to a lesser extent, math.  Do anything else?  Great.  But it doesn’t really matter.

Stage 2, by first grade:

The child reads independently at a low level.  Reading is partly independent and partly together.  Handwriting is largely independent.  Math is mostly teacher-led, with some independent worksheet and/or electronic flashcard work.  The child is at least one year ahead on mathematics at this point, since math and reading were the sole early focus.  History and science are added as read-aloud subjects, and so is learning to play an instrument.

At least 50% independent:

  • Reading
  • Handwriting

25% indpendent

  • Mathematics

Totally dependent

  • Science
  • History

Stage 3, by second grade:

The child reads independently at a fourth grade level and is at third to fourth grade level in math–due to an early emphasis, these skills are accelerated compared to the usual trajectory.  Composition is added, along with the first foreign language. Science and history are, at this point, mere exposure subjects.  The child is learning a framework of information from which real, sophisticated learning can occur later.

The following activities are at least 75% independent:

  • Reading
  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Handwriting
  • Science
  • History

50%+ independent:

  • Mathematics
  • Music

Largely dependent:

  • Foreign language
  • Composition

Stage 4, by 6th grade:

The child reads at or near a high school level and is beginning pre-algebra or algebra.  Art, as real drawing instruction, is added.  At this point, a student should become accustomed to taking tests beyond the occasional spelling test.

At least 80% independent:

  • Reading
  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Handwriting
  • Science
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Music

70% independent:

  • Foreign language
  • Composition
  • Art

Stage 5, by 9th grade:

At this point, over 80% of everything a child does in daily work is independent.   Discussions, explanations, and grading are the only assistance needed.  The student begins working on long-term projects, keeping his own deadlines and maintaining a schedule to get things done on time.  Testing continues.

Danger Boy is at Stage 4 in everything but mathematics.  We’re working on providing a combination between support and incentive that will get him to that level of independence, too.

Some parents say, “I could never do that!  It’s battle enough to make Johnny do his work as it is!” let me assure you that the battles disappear when Johnny takes ownership of his learning.  Once a child fully takes on responsibility for his own learning, he begins to see learning as his own goal, not just that of his teachers…

…which is one of the greatest gifts that homeschooling can give any child!

Danger Boy’s curriculum, 2010-11

11 Sep

The school year is just starting up.  I’ll discuss everything is much greater detail as we go along, of course, but these are my picks for this year of homeschooling.


Various books, including more of Andrew Lang’s Fairy books, The Wind in the Willows, and many more.  We use no activities with literature except discussion.  I have been incredibly encouraged by how far Danger Boy has come in reading over the past year.  His speed and accuracy are much, much higher, and he’s beginning to absorb new vocabulary like a mature reader.  This had been worrying me as he was (is) moderately dyslexic, and he had no ability to learn new words from context clues just eight months ago.  He’s loving reading not only picture books and super-easy chapter books but real, substantial chapter books, too.

Pollard’s Intermediate Speller. I used to use Reading Workout, but while it was teaching Danger Boy specific spelling words just fine, it wasn’t doing well establishing patterns.  We tried Sequential Speller before that, but it was overwhelming.  I like where the Intermediate Speller “lets off,” so to speak.

Growing With Grammar 6. We did 2 last year, but it was too easy, so we skipped ahead.  This has been a good fit thus far, despite some frustration during the first two or three weeks.  Now, he flies through it.  Whatever grammar program you use, it should have sentence diagramming.

Classical Composition or Classical Writing.  We have been doing Classical Composition, but it’s teacher-intensive, and Danger Boy does much better with independent work, so we might shift over to Classical Writing.

Getty-Dubay Italic.  Right now, he’s copying in other subjects to practice his handwriting, which is not awful.  He’s doing translations from one of his Spanish textbooks as well as his AWANA verses.


Harold Jacob’s Elementary Algebra. Math is the one last subject in which Danger Boy is routinely unfocused and difficult.  My stop-gap measure was to take away a bunch of electives until he behaved better.  I think my long-term approach will be that if he has not finished his work in one hour, he will be required to do 20 minutes of facts drills.  The problem isn’t the difficulty of the work but that he zones out during simple calculations.


Story of the World III and tons of supplemental books. Actually, we probably won’t get to III until spring, as we have so much else to read.


God’s Design for Science, Apologia‘s General Science, tons of supplemental books, and perhaps Apologia’s Physical Science.  I’m not thrilled with Apologia’s high school books, but they are very much geared toward independent learning.  If Danger Boy can handle it, I’d prefer that he use Zumdahl‘s for his first real chemistry high school course (I got it used for $3) and BSCS Biology: A Molecular Approach for bio.


The Bible, of course.  International Children’s Version.  His looks like a treasure box.


Cambridge Latin, Unit 2 and maybe part of 3.  We had a setback over the summer when Danger Boy began cheating on his vocabulary flashcards using Full Recall.

Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish and tons of early-20th-c. Spanish readers (free on Google Books).  Madrigal’s is extremely user-friendly, even for kids, and provides a grounding for the readers.

My First Chinese Reader.  This is new to us.  Hopefully, we’ll get to it this year.


Suzuki Violin, Level 1. STILL.

Bastien Piano Series, Primer.

Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad and Artistic Pursuits.

(If he were in public school, he would be in second grade.)