Home schooling is increasing in popularity across North America, and over the years we’ve done some home schooling here at the end of Bailey Line Road. In fact, we’re still doing it. But our approach is different than most. Here’s how we home school and why . . .
It was 1995 when it came time for our oldest child, Robert, to go to school, and at the time I really wanted to teach him at home. There he is at the left, in the middle years of his elementary school career. My thinking was simple: Both my wife, Mary, and I are home all day every day, and working together I was sure we could teach Robert in ways that the school system couldn’t match. Trouble was, Mary didn’t feel up to the job of home schooling and I didn’t think I could fit the job of a home schooling dad into my work day. So Robert ended up going to public school for his whole career, and so did his younger sister, Katherine. That’s her below at the swimming raft on the lake near our place.
As the years went by, I could see a steady decline in the level of morality and behavior in the classroom. Every long-term teacher I speak with tells me the same thing: kids today are nothing like the kids they taught 20 years ago. But despite my growing concerns as a dad, I couldn’t figure out how to fit home schooling into my work day, at least not the way I envisioned home schooling at the time. If only I knew then what I know now.
Quite by accident one day I realized something. So many home schoolers manage their day the same way professional teachers do in public schools, just on a smaller scale. The parent acts as the teacher, spoon feeding the children information, leading them through the learning process hand-in-hand. My problem was that I didn’t have time to spoon feed and I’d never seen any alternative. Then it hit me: In a world where information is anything but scarce, is spoon feeding education really the ideal way for a child to learn? Perhaps one of the best “lessons” I could give my kids was the experience of how they could teach themselves.
I decided to put this idea into practice in 2009, when my son Joseph was going into grade 7, and my son Jacob was heading into grade 5. That’s Joe to the right working on a wooden egg he made in our shop. Jake is to the left with a Monarch butterfly he hatched from an egg. Neither liked the idea of home schooling when I suggested it, but I explained that we’d try it for two years and see what happened. My plan was simple and it worked beautifully.
I set out daily academic expectations for Joe and Jake, gave them the resources they needed to learn what they needed to learn on their own, then I’d monitor the results. I would do no teaching unless absolutely necessary, passing the responsibility for learning on to them. My job was to tell the boys what they needed to learn, then make sure they learned it without spoon feeding them. As it turned out, my role as a home schooling dad took me only about one hour a day, but the results we achieved were even better than I’d hoped.
The first thing I noticed about Joe and Jake when they started home schooling was that neither could write properly. They were both at the top of their school classes in all subjects, yet neither of them knew how to use capitals, commas, periods and paragraphs. Each of their “sentences” had at least two spelling errors. Hand writing was almost illegible all the time. Math was weak, too. Neither boy knew their multiplication tables by heart (a milestone that everyone in my school had mastered by the end of grade 3), and neither understood how to manage their time at all. In short, these top-of-the-class boys were academically incompetent in the fundamentals.
One of the home schooling approaches I put into practice back then had to do with time and productivity. I didn’t care how fast or slow the boys worked, as long as they got their day’s work done before sun down. At first, if the boys wasted time, it might take them from 8am to 6pm to finish their day’s work. But once they realized that working efficiently got them out of the office and down to the lake fishing for the afternoon, they could be done their day’s work by 11am. It’s amazing what happens when a boy feels the rewards of being productive.
By the end of our two years of home schooling, both Joe and Jake could write better than most adults, they could teach themselves just about anything, and they were covering chemistry and history and geography at a high school level. Joseph went on to teach himself all through high school at home (not a single bit of help from me nor a teacher) and he earned an SAT score high enough to win an academic scholarship at the University of Tennessee. Joseph also used his free afternoons to teach himself shot put and discus throwing on some concrete pads we poured together in our pasture. He went on to set Canadian records in both these events. Jacob is on his way to becoming a veterinarian. He’s opted to go to high school so he can spend time with friends but he’s still holding a 90%+ average. When he runs into problems, he knows how to solve them without help.
None of this is to brag. It’s just that I firmly believe many, many young people could achieve similar results if they were presented with expectations for learning that were different than what’s common today. Will this approach to home schooling work for every family? No, it won’t. But I’m sure most young people would develop far more fully if they were taught to teach themselves as well as taught specific subjects while focussing on the basics.
Right now I’m home schooling just one child, our 8 year old daughter, Ellie. That’s her to the left. She has a very different personality than the boys, but the same principle of self-teaching is working well with her. In my next blog, I explain the nuts and bolts of how I manage our self-directed home schooling program, exactly how it takes far less time than most, while also encouraging skills that don’t usually get developed in young people these days.