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Practical advice about raising children

Homeschooling: A Holistic Approach to Education

Rapidly growing in popularity, homeschooling is coming to be seen as a more holistic approach to education for many reasons.  In addition, homeschooling is a perfect fit for families unafraid to question the “experts” and take charge of their own well-being and their future.

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Benefits of Homeschooling

Studies show that children learn better in an atmosphere where they feel comfortable and when they have a teacher with whom they have a personal relationship.  Clearly, learning at home from a loving parent fits the bill. Every child learns at an individual pace, and homeschoolers can slow down or speed up as needed, avoiding both confusion and boredom.  Just as there is no magic age for learning to roll over, stand up, or walk, there is no magic age to learn to read, add or multiply; however, conventional schools usually demand children learn these things at the same age or assign labels to the children that may negatively affect their self-esteem for life.  But children who are forced to learn to read before they are ready often struggle with reading for years and may never really learn to enjoy reading, while children who learn at an older age usually catch up to the reading level of their peers within a few months.  Since reading promotes abstract thinking, imagination, improved writing and communications skills, expanded vocabulary, and learning about an endless array of topics, a child who loves to read has a powerful advantage.

Individual instruction takes a fraction of the time that classroom education does, leaving children time for free play, a much-neglected, but necessary element in healthy childhood development, as children learn more from activities they initiate.  Homeschooled children also have more time for crafts, hobbies, chores, and community activities, all of which build confidence, impart new skills, and prepares them for living in and contributing to the real world as adults.  Gardening, carpentry, baking, apprenticeships, political campaigning, musical or artistic development, and volunteering at their church or other local charity, and even starting their own business are among the many types of activities that homeschoolers are participating in every day.  Obviously, experiences of this nature will tend to form mature, responsible, and enthusiastic youngsters and citizens who are used to contributing to their communities.

Homeschoolers can individualize lessons according to the interests and needs of each child, since children learn better if they are interested in the subject or if they can see how it relates to real life.  Further, if a book or program is not working well for a child, homeschoolers have the option of choosing another book or program better-suited to the child’s learning style or interests—something a teacher of twenty or thirty children in a traditional classroom simply can’t do!

Most importantly, homeschooling teaches families not to blindly trust the experts but to take charge of their own lives, not only in education but in other areas, too.  Once a family has made the commitment to educate their children at home, they become increasingly open to beginning other activities at home.  More and more homeschoolers are starting to grow their own food, raise chickens or bees, make their own soaps or candles, bake from scratch, and use herbs, essential oils and other natural remedies for minor pains and illnesses.  Sometimes homeschoolers start doing these kinds of activities for educational purposes, for example, an interest in gardening or candlemaking might begin as hands-on science class. Other times the tight budget necessitated by having only one parent working outside the home might lead a family to learn to make their own toothpastes, shampoos, or detergents.  However, the experience of homeschooling, which involves the daily experience of how holistic learning surpasses conventional, one-size-fits-all classroom education, easily leads a family to consider what other endeavors they could successfully take on.  In particular, taking charge of one’s health goes well with homeschooling because both foster an individualized, holistic approach, and, of course, learning how to help the body heal itself is educational for the whole family!

Unfortunately homeschooling intimidates many families who imagine it requires a lot of money, academic prowess, or superior organizational skills.  Don’t worry.  In 2009, a study by the National Home Education Research Institute found that homeschoolers consistently outperform conventionally schooled students on standardized tests, regardless of the level of their parents’ education or their income bracket or the style of homeschooling.

Homeschooling Styles

Those interested in homeschooling can investigate different homeschooling styles to find one with which they feel comfortable. The options below are a few of the most popular styles, but there are many more.

Charlotte Mason style homeschooling. This involves using living books that engage the child’s interest, rather than textbooks, as well as limiting paperwork to the mornings and substituting nature walks, complete with nature notebooks for sketches and notes, in the afternoons.

Unschooling. Also called child-led education, where children initiate their own learning experiences, an approach first made famous by educator John Holt, who believed in children’s ability to learn what they need to learn; just as a child learns to walk and talk with the help, but without formal teaching, by the parents, so also children can teach themselves to read, write and do math with minimal help.

Relaxed homeschooling. In this style, parents provide parameters but allow children a certain amount of choice regarding books, educational games and activities and try to individualize lessons according to each child’s interests and needs.

Unit studies. The homeschooling family chooses one particular topic and applies it to all subjects; for example, a child interested in baseball could study how baseball affected history and vice versa, do math using baseball statistics, read and analyze literature about baseball, and study the science of different types of pitches, etc.

In reality, homeschooling is just an extension of parenthood, not the adoption of the new role as teacher.  You don’t need a lot of expensive textbooks, elaborate science kits, academic brilliance, advanced degrees, or a perfectly organized house.  All you need is determination and love.

Agnes PennyAgnes M. Penny homeschools her nine children in Whitehall, PA.  Her newest book, Your School of Love: A Spiritual Companion for Homeschooling Mothers, is available from TAN Books, as are her other two books, Your Labor of Love for expectant mothers and Your Vocation of Love for all mothers.