Hand-held devices greatly enhance today’s homeschool experience
I began homeschooling in 1992. I had three children at the time – ages 7, 5, and 1. My seven and five year-old were in second grade and kindergarten, respectively. We were living in my hometown and my children were attending the elementary school that I had attended as a child. Of course this seemed like a good idea at first, but I quickly became aware of the changes that had taken place since I was a student there. Many made me uncomfortable, some scared me. My husband and I decided we needed to educate our children at home.
My first challenge was to find some kind of curriculum. I knew I wanted to teach them the gospel as the foundation of our education plan. Beyond that, I decided that locating a few used textbooks at Deseret Industries was good enough to start. I found books to cover all of the important subjects… math, science, grammar… and I began expanding our home reading library.
A short time later we moved to a small farming community, in a state that was homeschool friendly. We set up a classroom in our attic and began classes. I’m sure our school resembled much of my public school experience, except that at first there were only four of us and when the children needed a break, we took one. Some days we explored the mountains and trails around our home, other days we spent at the library. When the weather was warm we ran through the sprinklers and talked about the properties of water. In the cool fall we lay on the grass and buried each other in the leaves or looked up at the sky and talked about the migrating birds overhead. We shared thoughts, hopes, dreams, and talked about who they really were, and why they were on the earth… members of our family. It was a sweet time and I enjoyed knowing my children in a way that I knew I would be missing had I left them in public school.
They seemed to be progressing well academically. After a time, a couple of friends heard about what we were doing in our attic and asked if they could send their children to school with us, too. I agreed, thinking “How difficult could it be?” I was naïve. Our numbers doubled and so did my work. I felt that friendships would be good for them, but I was not prepared for the extra work I created for myself. Because I was still maintaining much of my public school mentality, I tried to develop a different program for each child. The state required a different scope and sequence for each grade level, and I thought that I should, too. I was trying to teach the first graders to read, the third graders to memorize multiplication, the fourth graders to learn state history, and the fifth graders to study states and capitols. I was finding that I was staying up until 2:00 a.m. every night, working hard to create an individual plan for each child. Needless to say, I burned out before the year ended… discouraged and exhausted.
I renewed my enthusiasm that summer by attending my first home school convention. It was held at Brigham Young University and was just what I needed. As soon as I stepped on campus I felt the electricity and enthusiasm of L.D.S. homeschool movement. People had gathered from all over the country to be with other homeschoolers and to see the newest products. In most places in the country, “homeschool” was still a bad word, so uniting with others with similar convictions was refreshing. Ideas and encouragement were being exchanged at every turn.
The speakers were exceptional. Reed Benson was the keynote speaker. What a privilege it was to hear from him. I chose classes which I thought would help me be better organized the following fall. Shopping the long, long hall of curriculum vendors was fun, but after about four hours of listening to sales pitches, I felt I had been drinking from a fire hydrant. I was confused about what was best for my children and nothing they offered really fit my situation. Besides, so much was Christian-based and although it was well-written, it did not address the gospel of Jesus Christ as I felt we should be doing as a family. And the cost! If I did not choose the right program, we would be stuck with a very expensive mistake.
That fall I taught with more confidence. And although I still struggled with curriculum, I learned from other homeschoolers this most important concept: That no one loved my children more than I did; no one cared more about their academics than I did; and no one else probably cared at all about their spiritual progression – the part of their education that was most important to me. I knew that the Spirit would direct me to know what was best to teach them, and would guide me as their mom and teacher. Knowing this, I knew I could do at least as good of a job as the local school, and probably much better in the areas that counted most. During the subsequent years, my approach improved and we grew together as a family.
I have watched the homeschool movement change over the past twenty years. It continues to evolve. Most of the changes I have observed are good. Parents who choose to take charge of their children’s education and teach their children at home, especially those in the Church, have many more choices today. It is much easier to have a well-organized home classroom without feeling the need to duplicate the public school classroom. Professional companies have jumped on the curriculum bandwagon to provide material that is challenging and meets national education standards. Teaching philosophies and learning styles are addressed to help families create and customize a program that fits their needs. Technology provides ways to deliver information to parent and child in ways that streamline curriculum while making it more interactive, effective, and interesting. These developments empower parents to be better teachers by helping them meet each of their child’s needs and address individual learning styles.
The internet has also made the attainment of information affordable. Although the camaraderie of a large home school convention can’t be duplicated exactly over the internet, parents can still participate via live streaming, saving airfare and other travel expenses. Curriculum comparisons can be made via the internet and without time constraints. And blogs, newsletters, local conventions and support groups can still provide a sense of community for families educating at home. These are all positive changes in the industry that have combined to create a more mainstream reputation, thus inviting more and more families to participate.
But not all changes have been positive. It seems to me that the key challenge to modern home education is lack of parent involvement. While not always the case, an increasing number of families tend to leave the role of educator to the curriculum provider. This is easier to do when the program is completely computer-based, eliminating the need for parent interface. One such program which is gaining in popularity, mostly because it is free, is simply an extension of public education in the home. All public school rules and expectations apply to the student, who is usually required to spend a certain number of hours logged into the computer or “school.” In my opinion, this is an invasion of family privacy – an invasion that parents should not allow. Because the curriculum is secular, parents are left to “add” scripture to the program, instead of presenting the gospel as the cornerstone of a child’s education.
So what is the ideal LDS home education setting? First, LDS parents should know consciously why they are homeschooling. This knowledge will keep the parent going during rough times… which will surely come. I didn’t really know why I was homeschooling, but something in my heart told me that I needed to. Then I read a book that clarified many of my feelings and armed me with a good amount of conviction. The book is titled “Revealed Educational Principles and the Public Schools,” by Jack Monnett. If you have not read it and are currently homeschooling, or considering homeschooling, this book is a “must read.” Another book I recommend is “Educating Zion.” It was published by BYU Studies and examines the history of BYU as envisioned by early Church leaders. Some of the chapter headings include: An Eternal Quest – Freedom of the Mind; Education for Eternity; A House of Faith; Discipleship and Scholarship; Our Sacred Trust; and more. If you don’t feel that these ideas are at the foundation of your current homeschool program, I suggest you read the book and explore how these ideas can make your homeschool experience much more enjoyable for your children, and much more rewarding for you.
A parent should look for a curriculum that leaves open the possibility to change course during a lesson, as the Spirit directs. No software program, no workbook, can take the place of a loving and concerned parent. Be there to hear your child’s questions and respond. Your child won’t learn what you believe from anyone but you. A good curriculum will not tie a child to a computer screen without the opportunity to get out and see the world. Most subjects such as math and grammar can be effectively taught via a computer, but in order for parents to be truly effective, they must interact with their children and act as teacher and mentor. A good curriculum provides “theory,” a parent provides “application.”
History lessons are most effective when based on a scriptural timeline that shows a child his place in the world’s history. Secular and spiritual events should be taught in tandem, not as separate subjects. Then, when spiritual topics are discussed, or human behavior in history goes awry, the parent is close by and available to talk through events and beliefs that may affect a child’s view of himself, the family, the world, but more importantly, his relationship with God.
And don’t leave out the basics. Children still need to learn to memorize, write, compute basic math equations in their head, and spell most words correctly – even if they have access to “spell check.” I suggest prayerfully building a spiritual foundation for your family. As parents, set goals for the kind of adults you want your children to become – then teach to your goals. What character traits do you want them to possess morally and spiritually? Let this be your base. Then select a curriculum or program that supports your family goals.
Utilize technology in your homeschool. Technology is not going away and children need to be technologically literate – not just for a competitive job market, but in our changing day-to-day world. We all learn differently and computers can deliver information in several different ways, making them capable of addressing a child’s individual learning style. In the near future we will see a greater use of hand-held devices such as the Android Tablet or the iPad or iPod Touch. These tools can be highly effective learning environments for students of any age.
As you consider or continue in the path of LDS home education, hold fast to ideas from the past that nurture the parent/child relationship. Then look to future technological possibilities and advancements that will bless and accelerate your child’s progress. During this education process with you as mentor, an intimate rapport will grow and develop between you and your child. Trust will be established – a trust that will be vital during the teenage years and beyond.
©2011 Patti Landes Adams, All Rights Reserved