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Answering Homeschool Questions

December 14, 2012
Michael and Debi Pearl: NOW

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.

Leave a Reply

17 comments on “Answering Homeschool Questions”

  1. Thank you for this wonderful, inspiring, and motivating article! I am so thankful for homeschooling pioneers like you all who paved the way for us to homeschool today. And I find that I am starved for stories, tales, descriptions, and discussions of the way the pioneers made it work without all the homeschool conveniences we have today.

    One question I ask a lot, and would love to see answered, is how do you let your children "get behind" when they are younger when there are umbrella programs requiring testing? We choose an umbrella program so that we can stay far, far away from the local school board. As a result, we are required to follow their requirements. Some umbrella programs require that we turn in our curriculum choices at the beginning of the year; they check these to make sure that we are using legitimate curriculum choices. Thankfully for us, our program changed their requirements recently and this year we did not have to turn in what curriculum we were using (since we are now considered "veterans"). So for the first time in 11 years of homeschooling, we "made up" our 15yo son's 10th grade curriculum. He has LOVED it. I wish I had had the confidence and freedom to do this years ago. I would love to hear your thoughts on the above question - how do you give your children such learning freedom when there are requirements set on you by your umbrella program?

  2. I was homeschooled by a single mom with two girls. We were in school from K-8, and Mom just used the school system as a babysitter. When I finished middle school and was to go on to high school, I begged my mother to not force me to go. I didn't want to deal with the pressure of sex, drugs and showering in public. Thankfully, she allowed me to study at home. We simply didn't notify any agency. We quietly did this on our own and nobody was the worse for knowing.
    But thanks to my Mom, not the school system, she taught me to read at 3 and I was able to read the pledge of alliegience from a cigar box. By 6th grade I was at a 12th grade reading comprehension.That was all the time my mother took with us after school hours and after her work hours. She followed the Dr. Laura plan, even though she had never heard of Dr.Laura (work while your kid is in school, and be home when he comes home). She bought our textbooks from the Goodwill for 10 cents. I learned medical terminology at 15, just because it was interesting. I learned basic latin roots and the odd structure (to me, compared to English) of latin sentencing at 12. Just because I thought it was interesting. And the book was only 10 cents. I read a college level zoology book at 13, just because I loved animals and it talked about animals. She had the old Golden Book encyclopedias which we both read through a few times. Now of course as a former evolutionist, I have to discount most of the Millions of years these books routinely teach.

    I don't understand parents who fail at homeschooling. There is just so much to use, especially now. Even the dollar store has word games and spellin g games and books and coloring books of math etc to learn from.

  3. Very thankful God made us your business! (I would like more "fly on the wall" or "day in the life" descriptions or recounts of women being what we were created to be 🙂

  4. Read the bible DRAMaTicLy will help a lot 😉

    Drawing while reading can translate into a whole new world 😉

    If parents are interested in learning, kids will be too!

    If parents are interested in teaching, kids will be too!

    Teach kids how to teach and you will have a proficient learner.

    Teaching and gardening are very similar to each other. The mind is a garden. Plant God's word there.

  5. Thank you so much for your wisdom 🙂 You inspire me and help bring my heart to the Lord and I am so grateful for your words Debbie. This article is so good. I was wondering if anyone can help me. We have done home learning for 7 years. Started in the public system and was brought to our knees by a very wicked woman (principle) and social workers. Where we are we must (under the law) report two times a year to the government regarding what we are doing with our children. We are doing the "basics of readn', writen', and rithmatic", with some science and HISstory. Does that make us public school at home? Do we break the law and quite registering our children? I feel a little confused about your article for some reason. I would appreciate any input on this. I have read a lot about "unschooling" but how do you do this without breaking the law?

    1. Birdie, I know I'm not Debbie, but I just had to comment. Having been homeschooled in many ways like regular school, but having read widely on the topic and having the goal of doing things differently, I want to say that first, you do what you have to do. You have to teach the reading, writing, and arithmetic. They are all skills that people need more or less (the basics, that is--we're not talking calculus). lists the requirements and laws in each state for homeschooling. Find out what your state's laws are. Sometimes the local school district will tell you things that aren't true, and then the HSLDA will help you out, advocating for you.

      In our state, children have to be in first the year they turn 7 after September 1. We have to notify the local school district of our intent to homeschool, but then we have no other requirements until 3rd grade, when we are required to administer a test to see if they are at some predetermined 3rd-grade level of knowledge. I'm not too worried about it. Most home schoolers do just fine on such tests--usually blow them out of the water. I took my GED 2 years after finishing high school, and I got very high marks on everything, didn't study for it, and took half the time allowed for each test. I could have scored higher if I had taken more time, probably.

      If I had to report twice a year what we were doing, I would. So you teach 3 R's. That's fine. Just make it practical. Have them help you double a recipe (especially one with fractions in it), or maybe increase it 1.5. Give them the receipt of when you purchased the ingredients and figure out the cost of the meal. Let them skip a lesson in math and do this instead. It will make a lot more sense than some of those word problems usually do! When studying the human body, do what Debbie did in the Article "An Idea We Tabled". Do the basics, but get creative about it. What Debbie put in bold is the key. My mom made me do every math problem, even though it was obvious that I had gotten the concept. I could have cut my time by 1/3 if I could have only done the even problems (the odd problems could be given if the child needs more practice or skipped all together if they don't).

      Basically, do what works for your family; make sure the kids are having fun. Make sure they are learning. In the long run, if they know the why, they will learn the what, where, when, and who as a matter of course. And they will learn more if they enjoy it. You didn't say exactly what you have to report (do you have to send in detailed lesson plans showing what you did each day, or just a progress report like "we studied American History from this date to that date" or something in between?). I'm sure you can find a way to teach creatively. Ultimately, if your kids learn, it will show, and anyone who meets them will know you are doing just fine. 🙂

      BTW, in spite of the way my mom schooled us (very traditional, even though at home), my brother got a 4.0 in college and now he's in med school.

      1. Dear Lisa R. Thank you so much for answering my questions! I feel rather "dumb" for questioning my motives after seven years. When I reread my letter I sound so weak :< Not at all what my God wants me to be! My sweetheart is the one who keeps me going and every one of you ladies that put our Lord first. We have to do a short overview of the year in fall and we have a choice of how to report to the government. I do a summary of what our children accomplished.

  6. Wow! I am just about to begin my homeschool journey as a teacher. I was homeschooled 12 grades, decided not to go to college (I wanted to be a wife and mother, and didn't want a big debt I couldn't pay). My oldest is 6 years old, and she's been begging me to teach her to read. I have just purchased the My Father's World Kindergarten curriculum, because I feel it will give me structure (which will save me time and energy--I have 3 kids, youngest almost 6 months), but I like that it is not rigid and includes a lot of reading (me to her), as well as fun things like a butterfly cage and ant farm. I ordered it this week (with year-end sales!) and plan on starting it after the new year.

    But what I really wanted to share was my story of being homeschooled and how I wish my mom could have known what you taught in this article. Oh, how I wish!

    My mom used A Beka as the curriculum. She made me do everything, read everything, and at times it bored me to tears. I loved math and grammar (I guess I'm analytical), but I hated history. A Beka's history is very facts oriented. I only liked the mathematical parts of science. The elementary grades were not so bad, but then I got to high school.

    My freshman year, I had this huge (about 1 1/2" thick) world history book. It had all the names and dates and places and expected me to learn them. I didn't want to. My mom basically let me do my school and take tests as needed (I was taking correspondence, so as long as my grades were okay, she kept busy elsewhere--not a good thing). There was no due date for tests--I just had to finish any given subject within 12 months of starting it--so I put off history. I only got through about a quarter or less of the book by the end of the school year. I figured I'd get it done in the summer. But then I didn't feel like it. I know--there are some other character issues here, but it really would have helped if I had enjoyed it; I loved reading and devoured books all the time, but this history book was boring.

    Well, when faced with needing to finish it by the end of summer (and since school was so different than real life, I felt like I needed that summer to "recover"), I did what I never thought I would ever do: I cheated. Mom didn't supervise my tests, so it wasn't hard. This created a pattern of laziness that carried over into the next two years. Then I repented and stopped doing it for my senior year, and just before I was supposed to get my diploma I confessed to the principle of the school and my mother, so I didn't get a diploma (but I got pretty high marks on my GED 2 years later--99 percentile for math, for instance--and I didn't even study for it).

    When I was 19, I went to Italy for a few days to study the history of the Waldenses, a people who kept the flame of truth alive during the Dark Ages. I was fascinated with it. I came home and read every book I could get my hands on, even some books that I would have considered boring otherwise. I learned names and dates and places (especially places that I had seen with my own eyes!). I realized that I really did like history--but only when it was relevant to me. The way you explained about knowing why Napoleon this and why Hitler that was exactly why I really do love history, but thought I hated it, because they didn't teach the why in the curriculum.

    My Father's World curriculum is based on the Charlotte Mason method, which I feel is much more ideal than a traditional curriculum (and A Beka, as much as it has going for it, is pretty traditional--it was designed for a classroom). I plan to use it as the basis for learning, a way to give structure and keep me focused (because that tendency to laziness that I cultivated in high school is still something I have to fight).

    So thank you for giving your readers a glimpse of what homeschooling can and should be!

    1. Dear Lisa R. Wonderful! You make my heart sing to know that you are taking the journey that you are. I hope that you have one person you can call at any time to inspire you to keep going. You will have discouraging days. God will keep you and your loved ones. Keep reading and reading and reading. AND do what is right for you and your loved ones.

  7. Thank you for the article and response! I have been homeschooling 3 of our 5 children for almost 6 yrs now. I have always been drawn to the type of relaxed method Debi used with her children. However... I feel like I have the cartoon angels on each shoulder, one the good angel, the other one bad. - Good one says 'relax, enjoy it, study what interests them', the bad angel says... 'no no no! you must do it like the schools... they have to go to college and take tests.'

    How would I switch from our semi-formal way of homeschooling to Debi's way, with a 7th & 8th grader? HS Junior is going to start k12 so he can take some courses that really interest him. I want this relaxed, God-lead homeschool!



  8. Okay, how do I start doing this when my kids are in high school and junior high? If unschooling has been a way of life since the children were small, they love learning, and you don't have to worry about it. But my older kids have already learned to hate school. I would love to start summer vacation early and then never start back up again! They have useful interests, and I know they would do okay. But like a previous commenter, I don't know how to unschool and still comply with state law. ...I think when it comes down to it, I am just afraid to let go.

  9. And I am a big concerned my older kids would just "hang out" if they didn't have to "do school" any more, though they do have interests... how long would it take them to be de-schooled and to recognize learning for what it is?

  10. Thank you for your words! Is "Unschooling" a bit like your original approach? I have read many books and blogs on unschooling. It sure feels like what you're talking about. Is the learning child-directed or parent-directed? Who chooses the topics and the books? What does an average day look like? Do you encourage a schedule? The thing that bothers me the most if feeling like I haven't accomplished anything for the whole day. Such high expectations we set for ourselves. I think it's the expectations that wreck our joy and sense of freedom in homeschooling. So here in our homeschooling home I have taped signs up around our house, from Rebekah's words, "Enjoy your children." And that has already helped me sift out what's worth doing, and what isn't. Also the encouragement to "talk to your children" about everything you do has been helpful, as I tend to be quiet and lost in my own thoughts.
    On a side note, my husband and I have talked at length about what we remember from our public/Christian school days: we only remember the hands-on projects we did. Nothing else. It's all gone. But we remember the paper mache solar system and the project on Communist Russia. Please keep up the re-directing and inspiration! We need you guys! Thanks so much!