For many, "school" is the main focus in "homeschooling." As for me "home" is most important.
“Hello, Rebekah, theeis iz yer mama... I luv you... Would you lak to sing thuh ABC song with me, Rebekah? Heyeer we go.. A B C D E F G... ” My friends looked at me with envy as I rewound the cassette tape to play it again. I was five years old and had a cassette tape of my mama’s voice talking to me in a deep southern accent. I also had a cassette with mama teaching the phonics chart, and one with the “times tables.” I was well stocked. My homeschool curriculum had been personalized.
A five-gallon plastic jug sat just inside Mom and Dad’s bedroom door for years. All our extra pocket change was added to the jug. When it got almost too full to lift, Dad would dump it out on the table, and we would all scoot onto the backbench to start counting. Seems like there were more nickels and pennies than anything else. Not many dimes or quarters were discarded into the jug. It took all evening to count up those pennies and nickels into neat little piles and slide them into brown paper rolls. It took a long time because we had to stop every five minutes and add up the value of the rolls we had done so far to see how much we had. Could we afford a dune buggy, or just a trip to Baskin & Robbins?
When I was at Bible College, my speech teacher wanted to know where I had learned public speaking. I told him my story. On Saturday morning after the pancakes, we all plopped down on the worn-out couch in the living room. We pulled out our Bibles and found the book of Proverbs. What day was it... the ninth? Wisdom hath builded her house... Standing in the corner that served as our stage and podium, we took turns holding our Bible with one hand so as to leave the other free for gesturing. Then, with a raised and projected voice we each read our verse aloud, making as much eye contact as possible, and enunciating our words clearly. If one mumbled or slumped, that one was asked to try again. Reading ability was rarely commented on – we all knew that it would improve over time. The real test was comprehension and stage appeal. Once the verse was read, the reader would exposit the meaning as they understood it. The rest of us would comment; is that what it meant, or did it mean this...? The youngest kids were aided by an older one or by Mom, right down to the three-year-old who could do nothing more than grin happily over the edge of the Bible and announce proudly that her verse was “about God.”
My mother rarely impresses people as being an intellectual. But I am absolutely convinced she is one of the best teachers on the planet. Mom taught as continually as she breathed. She counted everything aloud in a singsong voice; steps, apples, money, fence posts. We saw the world in numbers because Mom counted everything aloud. She sounded every sign aloud and pointed out the letters as we drove by. We played games of finding all the G’s on billboards and signs as we drove down the street. She asked questions continually: “How much do you think this weighs? Do you think that’s more than a quart or less?” “How long does a cow carry its baby?” “I wonder what that weed is good for? I bet we could eat it.”
She answered our questions as best she could – even if the answers were still over our heads. Mom enjoyed learning for herself. She was continually studying something. I remember many of her projects: growing mushrooms, making dye, making a quilt, herbs, soybeans, drying food, writing a book, harvesting cotton, midwifery, and on the list goes. Mom made homeschooling a part of my life, something I will never outgrow.
Now, as a mother of my own growing family, I realize something important. The essence of homeschooling is equipping a child to learn for the rest of his/her life. Homeschooling at its best is a way of life that will never leave an individual, aiding them to continue learning their whole life long. Teaching a child to think is so much larger than the modern classroom allows. I have met “homeschooled” kids who never learned to think because the “classroom” mentality was simply instituted in their own living room. But I have also met young adults who went to public schools from kindergarten right through college who are thinking, creative people. This phenomenon had nothing to do with their public schooling. They learned to think because their parents “taught” them at home every moment they weren’t confined in a classroom. Homeschooling is an approach to life.
From time to time I meet young mothers who want to start homeschooling, but they are terrified by their own inadequacy. They’re afraid they won’t remember how to do geometry or be able to help their kids through the schoolbooks. So what? That’s what answer keys are for. Homeschooling isn’t about knowing the right answers; it’s about FINDING the answers. Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t the kind who knew all the right answers – he was the kind who questioned the answers and looked for new ones. Creativity is far more viable than knowledge. It has no limits, no boundaries. Creativity will take you beyond the status quo; knowledge alone will not even qualify you for hourly wages.
What is creativity in a practical sense? Making up your own pattern for a dress instead of buying one. Making up your own ABC song. Taking a six-digit number and scrambling it into a brand new number as fast as you can in your head. Making up a rhyme or a song, writing a story, coming up with a brand new recipe, asking questions about anything you can think of and finding the answer any way you can.
When I was eight years old, I really fell in love with reading. I read everything I could get my hands on and devoured the best of three libraries. One day Mom asked me casually why I didn’t write my own book. I was stunned. How had the idea escaped me? I was eight years old and had read a thousand books and still hadn’t thought of writing my own. I went straight to work. For a while I pumped out about two “books” a month. Now I’m down to one every four years. But I’m still writing. Creativity was inside of me, just waiting to be called forth.
My Dad used to make fine cabinets for a living. He rarely cleaned his shop, so the sawdust would pile up into beautiful aromatic mountains we could tunnel through. One day while we were playing in the sawdust, I decided to carve a sign (Dad was carving a sign) for a homeschooling project contest I’d heard of. All of us soon got carried away with preparing for the contest. I had a large hand-carved wooden sign that said “Homeschooling 1986” on it, and a poem, and a handmade dress to enter. Gabriel had a drawing, something he’d built – I can’t remember what – and a chocolate cake he’d baked! Nathan had the alphabet shaped out in peanut butter Play-Dough, and a drawing. We wiped up all the blue ribbons to be had that day, and about 200 disgruntled homeschoolers watched us pile into our beat-up Volkswagen bus and drive off. Mom wouldn’t let us enter anymore contests. We were too creative to be socially acceptable. I couldn’t understand why the other kids hadn’t done better. Some of the kids I had talked to could read and write circles around me. But they didn’t have an original thought in their heads.
One of the best things my mom taught me was how to search the library for what I wanted to know. My husband added to that by showing me how to search the World-Wide Web for everything from detailed maps of foreign countries to recipes and tips on growing avocados. I remember the thrill that came over me when I realized that I could find the answer to almost any question I could ask, and do practically anything I wanted to do, if I worked hard enough. Give that thrill to your children, and you will have succeeded in homeschooling them.
I know that there are hundreds of families out there with original and creative homeschooling ideas. If you are like me, you would love to have a whole book – or a three-volume series – of those great ideas.
So I have a creative proposal for you: Send us your best homeschooling ideas, and we will compile them for everyone to enjoy. In the future, when I need a new idea to make homeschooling my children more interesting, I will read your inspirations!
Many new homeschool parents across the country will benefit from the insights of your experiences. Be sure to include a general age or grade level and the subject you were teaching with your story, so it will be easier for us to sort them into categories. Your ideas will be subject to editorial license and may undergo some cosmetic surgery, but you will still recognize them on the other side of the printers, and credit will be given to you. I can hardly wait to read your ideas. Send them soon!
If you send your ideas over e-mail (check website), put “homeschooling ideas” in the subject box. If you send it through snail mail, put “homeschooling ideas” on the outside of the envelope.
Rebekah Joy Pearl