Are You an Organic Homeschooler?

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by Kara Murphy

You don’t need to buy a goat to be an Organic Homeschooler. If you believe that education is discipleship and that people learn best from real life and real books, you are a good candidate. Explore these ways to use real life and real books to teach your children at home.

Use Picture Books

Picture books aren’t for little children only. Packed with accurate, understandable information,  they have introduced me to a staggering amount of content. Writing coaches encourage professional writers to find children’s books at the library covering topics they need to learn. A picture book introduces a topic, generates interest, and teaches detailed content in an enjoyable format. Older children learn, appreciate the information conveyed, and learn writing techniques from the author. An older child’s learning may not end with picture books, but it certainly should begin there.

Reread

Don’t miss rereading opportunities. Preschoolers often teach themselves to read a few words from a well-loved book that you read to them repeatedly. All children benefit from repeated exposure to quality picture books’ language, style, and illustrations. The words and pictures become part of their mental furniture from which they will later draw their own unique ideas.

Build in Variety

Boredom is one reason many homeschoolers hop, skip, and jump from curriculum to curriculum and from one style to another. There is a fine line between creating a comfortable routine for your family and getting into a rut, which makes learning drudgery. Using a variety of real books helps as does varying the amount of daily work and modifying the order in which the work is accomplished. Schedule academically heavy and light days throughout the week.

Incorporate Fine Art and Music

Fine art is one area where the “drip” method is particularly helpful. Homeschooling Today magazine makes this easy. Our “Exploring Art” section provides six full-color works of art. Focus on one each week for five minutes at a time. The classical music section follows the same pattern, including a short biography and listening suggestions. Throughout each issue, find reprinted poems to read aloud. Drip by drip, over many years your child becomes familiar with the world’s greatest artists, composers, and poets.

Teach Ages Together

Discipleship is the heart of homeschooling. The core of discipleship is relationship, your relationship to your child and your child’s relationship to his siblings. Separating your children and sending each to work alone defeats this goal to a degree. Obviously, in some areas, your child will work independently, but the more you work and learn together, the stronger your relationships will be and the more effective your discipleship. Isn’t that what homeschooling is about?

Teach Skills Naturally

Some view children as blank slates on which to write the appropriate information at the right time. It doesn’t take a trained teacher to see that children are humans with strengths and weakness. One child reads at five, another at nine. This child is strong in writing; his brother can work mental arithmetic rapidly. No prepackaged curriculum can account for this variety. Even within specific skills, a child’s ability may vary. One child may have poor handwriting skills but be full of exciting compositions; another may have picture-perfect handwriting but cry when instructed to write an original story.

Let your child focus on the skills he needs to improve. If he speaks using good grammar, don’t worry about grammar instruction until junior high. Work at the cutting edge of your child’s ability. Formal curriculums can’t plan this for you. I know many ten-year-olds but few who are at exactly the same place in their skill proficiency. Without a classroom to manage, we are free to individualize our teaching. Don’t let concerns about your child’s “grade level” negate this benefit. Really, what does it matter? The goal is to arrive at a certain place before your child leaves home, not match what we think other children are doing elsewhere. Natural methods are more efficient and lessen the time spent acquiring and practicing skills. If you tutor your child faithfully, he will still be further in his mastery than if he spent most of his time completing workbook pages.

A Few Crafts Go a Long Way

Projects and crafts are fun, but you don’t need many to add spark to your teaching. It is unnecessary and distracting to have to complete a follow-up activity after every picture book that you read. The work of gathering materials and planning lessons discourages most homeschoolers from doing this.

Often moms object to using a real-book curriculum because they believe they are not creative. It doesn’t take creativity to read a book aloud, ask your child to repeat it in his own words, and occasionally discuss something the book brought to mind. You don’t need to add a scale model of a castle or costumes assembled from brown paper sacks and sequins. These activities, when they occur, should be child initiated and independently executed (occasionally with oversight). Otherwise, you will not continue this style of homeschooling during difficult or stressful seasons.

Don’t Overplan!

Most curriculums marketed to homeschoolers plan more work than any family can possibly complete. Unfortunately, this “smorgasbord” mentality leaves parents feeling inadequate, assuming they are unable to do everything they are “supposed” to be doing. Curriculum is a tool that should make the homeschooling parent’s job easier, not create false guilt. Rare is the parent who has learned to underplan, leaving margin in the day’s activities. Leave room for the unexpected, whether calamitous or pleasant. Allow time for your child to explore outside or play with craft supplies. Let your child become bored so he can learn to be creative. While you are at it, give yourself some time as well. An unhurried life and sweet memories of childhood will be the result.

Keep Learning

Continuing education is important in many fields but more so when homeschooling. In addition to your Bible, read books on parenting and homeschooling, and apply the advice given here. Choose your reading material carefully; focus on books and articles that encourage you and help you become a more alert, sensitive teacher.

Wrapped in a loving, responsive relationship, natural methods for teaching skill, such as narration and copying plus quality literature and the best in art and music, form a foundation for discipling your children. Incorporate these principles into your day, and you will reap the harvest of an organic homeschool.

—Originally published in Homeschooling Today magazine, January/February 2011 © 2011 Kara Murphy

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