Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guest Post: The Survival Mom

I'm honored to have Lisa, The Survival Mom, send this guest post on homeschooling. After reading the post below from the pastor regarding socialization, I think this message is an important one.


SMART and STUPID Homeschooling

For the past seven years I have homeschooled my two kids. My daughter is now entering 7th grade, and my son will be a 4th grader. I’d like to say it’s been smooth sailing, but I have made some pretty stupid mistakes. I’ve also made some smart decisions that have ultimately been responsible for seven wonderful years. Here are a few of the smartest and stupidest things I’ve done.

SMART: We decided to homeschool long before my kids were ready for school. This gave me lots of time to research and time for our families to get used to the idea. All the other grandkids were headed off to public schools. Ours weren’t. That took some getting used to.

STUPID: It was futile to argue with family members about our decision. With time, they saw that our kids were turning out just fine. In fact, just two years into our homeschooling venture, I heard my mother-in-law comment about a particularly well-behaved kid, “I’ll bet he’s homeschooled!”

SMART: I introduced my kids to literature that I thought was too advanced for them. We either read it aloud, listened to the unabridged recorded versions, or they read it on their own. I was so proud of my daughter for reading Little Women, Robin Hood, Mary Poppins, and other unabridged classics that no longer appear on public school reading lists.

STUPID: Initially, I thought we would always use the same curriculum. We began with an activity based curriculum, KONOS. It was fun building our own model of a medieval castle and turning a chicken into a preserved mummy, but after a while, it became burdensome to constantly have major projects to prepare for. When I saw that our next unit included making leather moccasins by hand, I started looking for something different.

SMART: We formed friendships with other homeschooling families. We’ve vacationed with one particular family at different times of the school year, gone on numerous field trips together, and it’s turned into a whole-family friendship.

STUPID: I was naïve in not realizing that politics and personalities can cause problems within homeschooling groups. The first group we joined was wonderful, or so I thought, until I learned that one of the moms had taken a singular dislike to my six year-old daughter. The woman was deranged, but we ended up leaving the group when we realized she had influenced other families and we no longer felt welcome. Yes, it was bizarre and maybe not the norm, but I was probably too trusting.

SMART: I’ve been willing to stop using a particular curriculum or method when I found it wasn’t working. Saxon Math was a terrific choice when my daughter was in kindergarten, but halfway through first grade, she started freaking out when faced with a page of dozens of math problems. After a few weeks, I switched to Singapore Math, and it was a much better fit.

STUPID: At times we really overdid it with field trips. In our city, there are dozens of possible field trips. We belong to an email loop that informs me of every ballet, play, and other cultural event, all with unbeatable ticket prices. After two years of one, and sometimes two, field trips a month, I realized it was too much. The field trips were great but between traveling to and from and then a good dose of socializing at the event, we ended up losing entire school days.

SMART: Choosing the best over the good. Field trips and extracurricular activities are all well and good, but ultimately, you have to remember that you’re supposed to be doing school! One year, we dropped everything: a Tuesday morning Bible study, AWANAS, ballet, and sports. It wasn’t that those things weren’t important. We had just started spending less time with school, and I needed to refocus. Bit by bit we’ve added some of those activities back into our schedule, but I constantly have to maintain a balance and drop the good when it starts overtaking the best.

STUPID: At first, I didn’t think I needed guidance. I was maybe a little too cocky my first year of homeschooling. After all, I had been a classroom teacher for several years and had trained teachers, so homeschooling would be a piece of cake, right? Well, not quite. I had some real difficulties with coming up with a schedule that worked for us. I also hadn’t counted on trying to do school with a three year-old climbing all over me, the table, and the math manipulatives. It was our third year when my daughter was in second grade, that we started using curriculum that came with a weekly schedule. It was such a good feeling to check off each activity and lesson and a little humbling for this know-it-all.

SMART: Not trying to duplicate school at home. We’ve only used one or two books I suppose could be called textbooks, and my kids have never sat at desks. Years ago, before we began homeschooling, I saw a poor little eight year-old boy sitting at his family’s kitchen table with a stack of textbooks and workbooks two feet high. I felt sorry for him and knew instinctively that this wasn’t how I wanted to homeschool. We’ve always been, what I call, casual homeschoolers. Definitely not the textbook/desk type.

STUPID: I tend to be pretty independent and I didn’t think I needed a boost of motivation every now and then. I’ve missed several homechooling conventions, but when I go, I leave charged up and ready to take on a new year.

SMART: Early on we realized that homeschooling is a lifestyle. Learning becomes a whole-family activity. Family vacations become long distance field trips. Questions from the kids become research assignments. Yeah, it doesn’t always make us popular with the kids, but life is all about learning, and we try to reinforce that concept every day.

STUPID: Doing something just because other families are doing it. It was cute watching my little five year-old doing ballet, but it took her taking me aside, as a nine year-old, and saying, “Mom, I just don’t want to do ballet anymore. It isn’t me,” for me to realize we’d overstayed our welcome with ballet. I had fun visiting with all the other ballet moms, but while I was busy chatting and sharing recipes, my little sweetie was feeling like a clumsy misfit. We immediately dropped ballet and never looked back.

SMART: Taking comfort that tomorrow is another day. When we have a day when we’ve been busy with errands, chores, and other stuff and no “school” happens, I know that tomorrow we get to try again. Besides, the kids are always learning something, even if it’s the fact that the dry cleaners will donate a bedspread to Goodwill if it isn’t picked up on time!

My takeaway lesson is that homeschooling doesn’t demand perfection. It’s more a matter of enjoying the journey, learning from mistakes, and focusing on what is most important, fostering a love of learning in our children.


  1. Thanks for the guest post. We read both SM and RR near daily.

    As a family who has considered homeschooling, our question is how do you measure their success and more importantly, how does the state measure their success? I'm sure you give weekly tests or something similar but are there year-end finals? Does the state want to see the results of a final or do you school them all the way to senior year and have them go take a standardized high school final like the GED?

    I guess my concern has always been in not knowing how the state will recognize that I have taught them what they need to know in order to be considered "graduates" and therefore be eligible for college.

    Aside from that, we struggle with how we'd teach all of our six children since they are all at different ages/levels. We have a (soon to be) 8th grader, 6th, 5th, Kinder, Pre-school and two year old. How would you teach so many different levels AND tend to the little ones climbing all over the place?

  2. Hi OJD,

    With my now 20 year old daughter, I used Christian Liberty Press for her whole schooling years. If your child is serious about college then you could check for what that college (or even different colleges) requires for entry. My oldest did not desire college but my 12 year old is already thinking about it so it is on my radar.

    As for teaching different age levels. Some people thrive on unit studies that seems to incorporate different ages. I have never succeeded in that area. I have set goals in my teaching. Teach them to read first and foremost. My just turned 4 year old is already reading the McGuffey reader. Once they learn to read then they can read, read, and read some more on different things. We have set amount of pages they have to do in each subject and the children do it. It really helps to let them just sit to do the history/science/reading/Bible (if you plan to do that) wherever they would like. One of my children goes off to her bed to do the reading portion. We sit at the table - all together - to do Math/Grammar/Spelling. It allows me to move around the table to help whomever needs help. Next year I hope to incorporate Spanish on the computer. My 12 and 10 year old are learning Typing on the computer already. Homeschooling is hard work but it does work out. As the post above as said, it helps to be flexible too. Some years you only get 3/4 of the work done before the "school year" is over. Some years it will be done early (not that I ever achieved this with my 5 youngest children!) but really, it all works out.

    Your 8th, 6th, and 5th grader will be able to do a lot on their own. My personal goal is at 8th or 9th grade that they do 85 or 90% on their own. I did this with my 20 year old and she did well. Math was her downfall but my husband helped her with that. She did almost everyone else on her own. My whole philosophy for homeschooling is that we must teach ourselves. That is what life is about! I don't know that I would expect your 8th grader to do a lot on their own as they are transitioning - unless he/she is bright and feels they can take on the load. It may be what that child needs to thrive at learning. Some of us work better when left alone.

    As for your Kindergartner, Pre Schooler and 2 year old. I have a 7, 6, and 4 year old. My experience is that children learn in small increments. I do not expect my 4 year old to sit for two hours each day (that is for worship service at church!). So I do McGuffey for 15 to 20 minutes (which you can do with the 2 year old and Pre Schooler) then let them do a puzzle or two for 15 minutes. That allows you 15 minutes for the Kindergartener. It switches like that back and forth for a couple hours. In the afternoon I allow free play but try to keep it in the room I am in. Letting them off to their own room is 1- defeats the family setting of being together most of the time and 2- means whomever cleans the house will have a heart attack at the mess left in said bedroom. I know this because I still struggle with this issue!

    If your 3 youngest are like my 3 youngest then they will learn together in some areas, with the oldest making leaps and bounds ahead. This helps in also in that the older of the 3 can help the younger two. When I need a extra 15 minutes for one of the older children; I ask my 7 (almost 8) year old to read or to work with the younger two. It helps in building good relationships too. My 4 year old learned her alphabet because I was teaching the now 6 year old. You can't help that they are learning along with the other! It all flows together, for the most part.

    I had more but it wouldn't let me post it. I hope my words help a little.

    Ouida Gabriel

  3. Wow, that's what I love about the online community. What a wonderful, in depth explanation from an obviously experienced parent. Thank you Ouida for your wonderful insight and thanks, of course, to Lisa and Patrice for starting the topic.

  4. I was a College Dean at one University and I'm currently the Director of Education at another University. My experience with home-schooled students is that they are usually much better prepared for college than most students. Home-schooled students seem to understand that a major portion of their education is up to them; the course instructor is their simply to guide their learning.

  5. Very nice, I like how she puts the good and bad. even tough I can not home school during this summer I have gotten the science and art standards for Kinder to fourth grade and my daughter and I are going to do a few things so that she is prepared since the school she was at this last few years doesn't so science or art....

  6. Your comment on Saxon Math brought a chuckle. My son is in a private Christian school that uses Saxon. He just finished third grade. Those sheets COVERED by problems are a little daunting, but since it's what he's used since Kindergarten, he's used to it. (Not sure what 4th grade might bring...) He's pretty good at math and likes to see how fast he can complete one of those monsters. "dad, time me!"

    (And checking them over has been fun for me and mom!)

    The funny thing is that he complains the whole time he's working that he "doesn't like math because he's no good at it," while he's actually getting 100% scores and pulling straight A's. We're not sure where he got the idea about him and math, considering nothing could be further from the truth, but it's taken some effort to get it out of his head. And our ears!

    Thanks for the awesome info.

    Jeff - Tucson

  7. @OJD: As for the state monitoring homeschool, it depends on the state. In my state, we are registered under what the law calls an umbrella school. Because of that, we do not have to file anything with the school system.

    My student participates in Stanford 10 testing each year (except this one, oops!), just so I can get a feel for where his strengths/weaknesses are, but I and my husband (and, presumably the person who packed it into the envelope) are the only ones who see the results. has information on education laws throughout the U.S. and you can look up your state without being a member. I highly recommend it.

    Homeschool Mom with one down and one to go!

  8. The Saxon Math portion of this post made me laugh. My mom had me do Saxon as well, until I did the same thing as this poor kid. At the higher levels, there are 60+ math problems a day, which is ridiculous for any "schooler" who isn't in college. haha.. excellent post! :)

  9. In response to Orange Jeep Dad re applications to college: I have 4 children. The oldest is a junior at a very academic private college. He always attended public school. He applied to 4 colleges, Vanderbilt, Pepperdine, Center, and our state university. I accompanied him on interviews at two of the private universities. Both of them told us that while they expect applicants to have good high school GPAs, they have no way of evaluating grades earned at one school vs any other. So they rely very heavily on college admission scores - SATs and ACTs. They also pay attention to AP scores as they are also standardized. So if you have a homeschooler who wants to go to college, you really need to emphasize test prep, starting with the PSAT. The magnet high school he attended spent most of their time on test prep, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Example: proofs in geometry class - not on the SATs so we skip them completely.

    We pulled our second son out of the same public school a few weeks into 9th grade. In our state, homeschoolers register w/ "cover schools" which provide record-keeping services and which issue the actual high school diploma. So a university will not necessarily even know that a graduate studied at home, his transcript & diploma will come from an accredited private school. The most important part of his application, assuming good grades, will still be standardized test scores.

    Our younger two children, 4th & 6th grade, have always homeschooled.

    My hardest child to homeschool, by far, has been my second son, because of the bad habits he had learned in school. For example, the first week he was home he was assigned "Julius Caesar" for his lit class. He told me, "Oh Mom, nobody actually reads that stuff. You just look it up on Sparks Notes". So he read it out loud, to me. He went on to read "Antigone" and then "Master & Man" out loud, until finally he said, "OK Mom, I get it." He is a smart kid, and he wanted to homeschool, so he did try to be cooperative, but he just had learned very well how to do the least amount possible & still get a good grade in his school career. It took a lot of work on my part to overcome this. We compromised by enrolling him in classes w/ tutors for several of his classes, including lit & comp and his science lab classes. These classes are widely available in our area and most high school kids use them for at least some classes, esp science & foreign languages. They are taught by homeschool moms & dads, sometimes retired teachers (his chemistry tutor), sometimes other professionals. His biology teacher was a NICU nurse, and his physics teacher was an electrical engineer (and homeschool mom of 10). His literature teacher was the librarian for a seminary. All were far more competent than the teachers he had at the magnet school. They were also much more interested in their students. In our case, I don't think homeschooling would have worked without their help, as I would have had to walk him through each of these subjects step by step. He will be a senior this fall, and it has worked out fine. I have no doubt whatsoever that he has done much better than he would have if he had remained in public school. His grades are better, his test scores are better, and he is an all-around great kid! No regrets on his part, or ours. However, I don't consider him truly homeschooled, but rather more of a hybrid. Whatever works. I think that my younger two will be much easier once they get to high school, because they already have much better study habits.

    So I would definitely encourage you to try homeschooling, but to expect it to be hardest with your children who have "done the most time" in public school. Look for all the help you can get with your older ones. There are some great tutors out there who can help, depending on your area. Start with your state & local homeschool assoc to find these great resources. It has been well worth the effort for us.

  10. We homeschooled for several years of elementary school through a Christian school that had an umbrella program for homeschoolers and provided very minimal supervision. Home schoolers could take music, art, sports, math, or other classes from the Christian school as desired to supplement their program. Also the school provided annual standardized testing so the home shcooled student could have objective evidence of achievement and ongoing learning that was recognized by the state. This daughter is now an honors student at her university.

  11. OJD, In my state testing of homeschoolers is not required, but I did it each year so I could monitor their progress. The Stanford or IOWA Basics tests are available through BJU Press testing. I am a registered tester through BJU but did not test my own children until this year. Registered testers can be found from an online list through BJU or through a local private school. We used the tests to see if we had any issues with any subjects that needed to be addressed the next year. I was open with my children and showed them their results; I found that this made them more amenable to working on subjects that they might have found difficult or boring, as they could see that they needed the extra work. We have homeschooled from day one, using outside classes sparingly. As students approach high school curriculum, more outside classes are often needed. Online distance learning through community colleges is one way to meet that need. They can get both high school and college credit for these classes! There are also excellent classes available online through The Potter's School. Other subjects can be found through local co-ops or homeschool enrichment programs.

    My 17 yr old received a score of 30 on the first taking of the ACT test, which is scholarship level here in my state. We are hoping to increase that the next time the test is taken, to improve scholarship opportunities. My 8th grader consistently scores a core total in the 90s on the IOWA tests.

    I TOTALLY agree with the idea of teaching them to learn how to learn. True education is ultimately limited to those who insist on knowing; those who know how to learn independently will be learning the rest of their lives. I would add that the closeness that is gained from parents working directly with their children is invaluable.