From a Letter

Hello Pearls,

My question is about homeschooling. I have been reading your articles on the subject, and, being a homeschool graduate myself, who hated school when I was younger, I have been finding them very intriguing. I’m confused on a few points, however. I know you are very busy and don’t have time to answer every question you receive, but I am wondering if you would consider writing another article or doing a Cane Creek Corner video on the subject. All of the homeschooling families I know (and there are quite a few in my area) more or less mimic a classroom environment, and most of their kids hate school. I’ve discussed your methods with my mom and the idea makes sense, but there are some things we don’t understand about how it works. My younger brother will be in 7th grade this fall and he hates school with a passion. This seems to be a great need, and I like the sound of your methods, but…I understand the idea of not forcing kids to learn when they’re too young and letting them learn at their own pace. I’ve heard that before from other sources as well, and it makes sense. They will catch up when their minds are ready. You write that for a few years they will be behind the children in school, but by the time they are 16 they will be 3 years ahead. My question, however, is how is that possible when they spend so little time studying? You say “Rather than the imbalance of six hours of study and one hour of recess, for the six- to ten-year-old let there be one hour of study, five hours of recess, and two hours of work.” That makes sense for such young children, but what about when they get older? And what else is there to keep him out of mischief besides schoolwork?

Debi Answers

When I was young, I hated school, and I was a poor student. Once I was free of school, I really started learning. What interested me were ideas, concepts, possibilities, and communication. What I had to learn in school were facts, spelling, and math. Those I could do without. So when my children came along, I decided to teach them what I loved. And they loved to learn. Only one in five could spell, but I thought, “No matter.” Well, it does matter—just ask Shoshanna, who owns The Bulk Herb Store and writes professionally. Or you can ask Nathan, who also is a teacher and writer. And if they don’t convince you, ask Shalom. She has a very popular blog—NGJ’s most popular BY FAR—and her spelling is poor. So not being able to spell is a problem but not a life issue. There is a difference.

I would much rather have the gift of writing than the discipline of good spelling.

In answer to the letter, I do think most homeschooling mamas have forgotten that for school to be successful, the children must enjoy it. If I had a choice (and I am sure my grown homeschooled children who are accomplished in communication would agree) I would much rather have the gift of writing than the discipline of good spelling. Being able to reach into someone’s soul and mind with words is wonderful. Creating a challenge with words and seeing it work in thousands of people’s hearts is too marvelous to explain. Just this past week I read a small ditty that Nathan Pearl wrote on Facebook about his sister Shoshanna. Within minutes his short tale had hundreds of likes and shares. It was just an entertaining narrative, but it communicated fun, concern for others, and a brother and sister relating as only brothers and sisters can. It was cute. Nathan really works at spelling now that he is in the world of communications. He will learn fast enough, I hope. I must confess that I never did master spelling and neither did his daddy. But we are both professional writers who have published many books now in print in over 40 languages—with over 1.5 million copies in print around the world! We poor spellers have gone far beyond our mechanical skills.

I tell you this tale for a very important reason. I think homeschooling has “lost its first love.” At the beginning, when the idea of homeschooling was young and daring, we didn’t care about keeping up with the Joneses’ school grades. We were a generation who grew up in the hippy age, and we wanted our children to be freethinkers. We wanted them to make decisions based on conviction. We raised them to be shakers and changers, not good little models for the homeschool arenas. I didn’t care if they were up on history as long as they could read history and have an intelligent conversation about why Napoleon’s strategy was faulty or why Hitler was allowed a reign of terror over so many without anyone taking him down, and how God judged the Germans for allowing such a man to come to power. I wanted them to think about consequences—eternal consequences on nations, families, and individuals.

Another reason I valued teaching concepts and ideas rather than facts was because I wanted my kids to be leaders, to bear responsibility, and to always feel it was their honor to work hard and provide for others. Facts alone didn’t cultivate them to that end. Knowing the whys and wherefores did.

When a child is force-fed a curriculum that he doesn’t find relevant, he will be bored and tormented for hours every day. He may learn the mechanics of a liberal education, but it will not liberate his spirit to love investigative learning. The negative feelings he experiences daily, and the criticism that comes from his teachers or parents, will ingrain in him a sense of failure and generate a poor self-image. He will be able to spell, but will never have a vision to write creatively.

When homeschooling is not fun, it is not real homeschooling—at least not what us old-timers who started the movement meant homeschooling to be. Sitting down to a stack of boring books and learning a pile of facts you don’t care about is for Nazis, not homeschoolers. We are a people of ideas, dreams, and possibilities—not fodder for the status quo.

At the beginning when the idea of homeschooling was young and daring, we didn’t care about keeping up with the Joneses’ school grades.

What I did 35 years ago as a pioneer homeschool mom was set up a 6,000-year timeline, a map of the world, and a place to pin stuff up on the wall. Any time we read a story or book (free library resources) about an event in history, a people group, or even literature, music, or art, I put it up where it belonged on the timeline and strung a string to the place on the map. Even the history of missionaries made it up on the wall. The kids had an understanding of time, people, events, Bible stories, and even weather and natural catastrophes, seeing at it all as a whole. Their learning wasn’t a confused mountain of tiny puzzle pieces of information. This process allowed them to make judgments and to see the hand of God work in history. If you ever watch Nathan teach on Contend For Your Faith, you will see how this type of teaching shaped a serious history buff, yet he never had a history textbook while being homeschooled. He is also a science buff, yet we never—not one time—went through a science curriculum book. Never.

Now, I know many moms would rather just use store-bought curriculum. I did not have that option. When homeschooling was in its infancy, there were no pre-made curriculums, and I am seriously glad of that vacuum, because I was forced to create my own. I am a better person for the effort, and my kids have a wider understanding of life…it’s called wisdom.

I can hear the loud fray of rebellious homeschooling moms calling out to me to mind my own business. Hey, girlies, YOU ARE MY BUSINESS. The Bible says, “let the aged women teach the younger.” At this time in my life, I have definitely qualified as aged. My advice to you is to use your curriculum, but don’t use it like the Old Testament law. Completing every page is not necessary. Get off the treadmill and learn to walk in the sunlight, discovering real-life things while you learn facts. Go to the library every week and check out books that pertain to your week’s project. Over the years we studied volcanoes, spiders, Indians, herbs, wind currents, trees, and hundreds of other interesting topics. Start a book club and train your children to read to younger children when you have meetings. Teach them dramatics in reading—children love this.

Get off the treadmill and learn to walk in the sunlight, discovering real-life things while you learn facts.

Make it a practice to read out loud to your children…a lot. We read cowboy stories, mysteries, science fiction and nonfiction, and a lot of missionary biographies. A wonderful way to teach creative writing is every evening at bedtime, make up wild, long, to-be-continued tales stopping often to say, “And what do you think happened next?” Work their ideas into your story. Have them do art during the day that depicts the story.

And by all means, make a timeline. Even a short family timeline is fun and a learning experience.

So, yes, I miss my homeschooling days. Even for me, as the homeschooling mom, they were fun. Homeschooling and learning can and should be a real pleasure for the whole gang. It is your job to make sure it is.