Editor’s Note: In case you missed it last year, here’s Diane’s timeless words to new homeschoolers. In an ever-changing world, some things remain a comfort: a warm drink on a cold day, a friendly smile from a stranger, tried-and-true advice from the trenches. Diane is a friend of Sandbox to Socrates and a homeschooling mother with two decades experience.
It is very hard to explain to a homeschool mom with young children, or a homeschool mom with only a few years of experience, exactly how to do the things you’re doing when you’ve done them for so long. Just a curriculum list won’t cut it because the curriculum itself isn’t doing the instructing.
I think your ability to teach in a classical manner is VERY dependent on your own educational experience. What are you bringing to the table as a teacher? If your own education was lacking, you will have a much harder time executing this than a mom who was classically educated as a child.
Simply as background information: I was fortunate enough to have a classical education before anybody even called it that. I studied Latin in high school for all four years, so teaching Latin to my own kids is easy. I’ve studied both French and Italian since second grade, so that’s two more languages I can teach with no problem. My exposure to classic literature was very thorough. I hated it as a kid, but I can’t tell you how grateful I am now. I never had to “pre-read” any of the classic works; I’d already read them. In my high school, you couldn’t graduate without taking a literature class every year, and the discussions were deep and thorough. Four years of mathematics were also required, in addition to four years of lab science and four years of Latin, plus one other foreign language. Logic was taken during our junior and senior years. We took art history for two years, which required a study abroad in Paris, so that we could see all of the important works of art for ourselves. Music history was also taken for two years, and we had to attend the symphony and opera more times than I can count. I hated the opera. LOL Not any more.
So, my point is that my own educational background, combined with the fact that I’m now finishing my 20th year of homeschooling, means that much of what I do is instinctual and not quantifiable. I don’t think I could explain it in a way that would enable someone else to glean anything from it. And providing you with a list of curriculum I use wouldn’t really be that helpful. You would need to spend a few days in my school to see how it works.
Give yourself time. Over the past twenty years, I learned by experience how to stop children from dawdling through their work, how to make it interesting, and how to carry out my educational plans. I will say that if your children are not being obedient, and not doing their tasks, you need to get control of it. You will never have success as a homeschool mom if your children don’t listen to you and respect you as their teacher. Having a neurotypical child take hours to get through one subject (in which they understand the material and can do the assignment) is completely unacceptable. So if that is happening in your house, don’t bother reading up on educational theory and Socratic discussions because that is not what you need to focus on.
If your own education was lacking, then you need to remedy that as well. You will need to do A LOT of studying and preparation so that the discussions about literature come to you naturally. I have never followed a “literature guide” because I don’t need one. I had it modeled for me by every teacher in my youth, and it’s second nature for me now. If that wasn’t your educational experience, then you will need to work to get there. Read Susan Wise Bauer’s book The Well-Educated Mind, if you haven’t already. It’s a great help for parents who are struggling with their own lack of a classical education. Take some courses on your own that will help you feel more confident in your knowledge base. That goes a long way toward being successful in teaching in this way.
So, personal experience in homeschooling plus your own knowledge are what makes teaching this way easier. Start with developing order in your home and school because teaching in the midst of chaos is a recipe for failure. I don’t just mean a clean and organized home and school (although that is important, too). I mean that your children have the degree of self-discipline necessary to do their work, pay attention, participate, and be respectful. They should be able to do what is age appropriate and not inject additional chaos into the environment. No learning is accomplished without a certain degree of self-discipline. In turn, as a teacher, you owe your students the respect of having well-planned lessons (not running around looking for things at the last minute…”Where did that book go? Why there are no scissors here? Why is the copier out of ink? I thought we had eyedroppers? We can’t finish this experiment without an eyedropper.”), being prepared, and knowing your material well enough to make it interesting and engaging. In a great deal of homeschools, there is more lack of self-discipline on the part of the teacher than the students. And you can hardly expect your children to learn anything other than what they see their mother model for them on a daily basis.
So, that’s the end of my ramble. I’m sorry if it sounds harsh in spots…I don’t mean it to be. But I do like to tell younger homeschooling moms the truth, without sugarcoating it. You are the end-all and be-all of your children’s education. You hold the whole thing in your hands. In the final analysis, what is comes down to is DOING it. All the theory and reading and curriculum in the world won’t mean a thing if you don’t execute the plan.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to follow every theory and recommendation perfectly. It doesn’t have to be done with the newest, shiniest curriculum out there. But it does have to be done. Teach your children with love, with honesty, with integrity, and from the heart. Do it every day. Be faithful to your goals, ideals, and personal standards. Teach them that reading is wonderful, that learning is exciting, and that knowledge is inspiring, and you’ll be successful in your educational endeavors.
That’s the best advice I can give you after twenty years at this gig.