My two sisters and I were home schooled. When I was three we moved to northwest Montana. That year included 6 months of living in the woods where my father was able to find work, first in a tent and then in a teepee, and during one of the coldest winters of Montana history.
My parents actually started their homeschooling adventure then, when my older sister was 6, beginning her reading, but fearing they wouldn’t do a good job. After we moved closer to town, we all attended school until my parents decided to make the big jump to home schooling all of us the year I entered 4th grade. My older sister was entering 7th, my younger, 3rd.
My parents did not have any experienced home schoolers supporting them, or extending advice. There was little even written on the subject. They were of the few that were exploring home schooling as even a possible viable option. So they tried things out, and figured things out as they went. My parents made plenty of mistakes in teaching and parenting (don’t we all), and yet they kept going and did their best.
Right there, the fact that they stumbled through figuring things out and managed to get it done, taught me probably my first valuable lesson: It is possible to step into uncharted territory, find your way, and succeed. You don’t have to do things the way everyone else does them!
My parents did not believe in testing. In fact, they never did test us. We did study for the ACT test in preparation for college, and when we were studying through our books, we would do exercise sets to test our knowledge. However, when we got a wrong answer, we did not just plow forward assuming a percentage correct indicated mastery. We went back and re-worked those problems and solved them. We LEARNED from the mistakes.
Another thing my parents did was limit the quantity of school we had to do each day. We set out at the beginning of each school year planning what books we needed, and once we had them, how to get through them in the time we had. In the earlier years, they measured quantity of school by time: 30 minutes of math, 30 minutes of language arts, 30 minutes of history, etc. As we got older, we planned for an hour each. I do not believe we ever spent more than an hour and a half on any subject even in high school. Thinking back on this I am realizing how like the Charlotte Mason approach this is: spend a short time focusing and doing well, then move on – no extended time spent on worksheets and busywork, no time spent listening to a teacher lecture, or even watching someone speak on video. The time we spent was valuable and accomplished what was necessary. We had no homework after school. School time was spent on what was important. I think at most we only spent around 3 hours a day total on school in the later years.
Another thing they did was read to us. In fact, story time/ reading time every night before bed was a ritual we all enjoyed until I left home. My parents were fantastic readers. I have solid memories of my dad’s voice reading Treasure Island, Kidnapped, David Copperfield, the original True Grit, …. My mom’s gentle voice reading through the Little House stories, and the list goes on. In later years, sometimes we all took turns, but my parents’ reading is implanted in my mind, and inspired me not only to read, but even to practice reading aloud. My parents valued reading and so passed it on to us.
Probably the most important thing my parents did, which was underlying all, was to inspire. They gave me the strong sense that I was capable of learning anything. If I had an interest they would encourage looking up things in encyclopedias and books. We did not have the internet! Our choice of books for the school year was heavily influenced by what we wanted to study, and some of what they felt necessary. We were inspired to learn, and research ways to do this ourselves.
My father often stimulated us with questions. And I do remember my asking him a question, only to have him tell me to look it up. While this wasn’t always well received, it was a valuable lesson.
They shared with us principles of many things during daily life. They shared themselves. My mother is a writer. In fact, her master’s thesis was an entire book of poetry. So she gave us some fundamentals of writing, in her loving gentle way, inspiring all of us to pursue this in different ways. My father is an artist. He shared some fundamentals of art. My father is also a philosopher, studying fields of interest for many years on his own. In fact, he never stopped studying. That was an inspiration in and of itself.
One last thing I should mention is that my parents had very little money to work with. Both parents worked different jobs throughout the years, to make ends meet. We also had a family business that we girls were taught to contribute to. They built many things by hand, including our house. We didn’t have electricity or running water. Our financial situation was transparent. My parents did not hide anything from us, and shared with us how they were saving and using every thing we did have. I think this taught us a lot about life.
All three of us have college or advanced degrees. In this way we have been measurably successful. Actually, it is interesting how all of us have ended up in the educational arena in different ways (my degree and studies have not been in this area, but since I began homeschooling I’ve been challenged to study this).
More importantly all of us keep learning and growing. While my parents did not know all the answers, and made plenty of mistakes, they started us with a solid basis of Inspiration, and Ability to Learn. Isn’t this what education should be about? I really believe that if this is what we give our kids, we succeed.
While the pressure is out there for my kids to prove themselves to others via tests or the spouting of memorized facts, I should not need this in order to consider them truly successful. Names, dates, facts pale in comparison to the ultimate goals of education: inspiration, the ability and the desire to learn, an understanding of the bigger picture, and a humility that allows one to ask questions and continue learning.