Homeschooling elementary students is a somewhat daunting yet very exciting process. Having selected a classical education philosophy, you assemble your teaching aids, materials, and curricula. You feel like you’re all ready to start. But then you realize that you also face a somewhat crumpling question: How will you know whether you’re teaching successfully? How will you evaluate your child? How much is ‘enough’? How will you know?
The responsibility is yours. You can’t fall back on anyone else. You’re the teacher. You’re the evaluator. You’re the assessor of whether reasonable progress is being made. And frankly, after the hard work of figuring out your teaching philosophy, studying up on curricula or other materials, finding out how to register with the state properly, it almost seems like too much. It’s a bit daunting. It almost makes you want to fall back on ‘school in a box’—a program that has textbooks for all subjects needed for one entire grade. Then you will know that there are no gaps, right? Then you will know that your child is on grade level.
Classical education is different. Our standards for assessing grade level are to be age appropriate and focused on each child’s individual capabilities. Marching your child through standard classroom material in the 180 days of a standard school year schedule really gives up a great deal of the available benefits of homeschooling. Being inflexible does nothing to customize your child’s learning to her unique abilities. It does not permit letting her spring ahead in composition compared with spelling, for instance. It does not allow the significant advantage of being able to take family vacations and field trips away from the school crowds during the school year. It doesn’t let you catch up or leap ahead in math over the summer or enjoy full days out in wild parks during the week or take three weeks off at Christmas time and thoroughly enjoy the holidays. It leaves no room for a four-week focus on writing a novel, complete with character development, dialogue, and imaginative development; or to coordinate your science studies with your Lego robotics projects. In short, it gives up too much for too little—for that bit of security based on norming your child to be like every other child of the same age.
By nature, classical homeschooling takes a far different approach to learning than typical public school curricula. It focuses on learning about the whole world, from the very start. It teaches reading, writing, and other language arts from a very different perspective than public schools—emphasizing massive amounts of personal and read-aloud literature, history, and science. It avoids busy work so completely that it empowers children to recognize and resist it forever. It uses copywork and grammar as well as composition to teach writing skills. Science is taught in depth; experiments and field trips are more important than book work at the early stages. Summarization, outlining, conversation, and thesis formation are taught gradually across all subject areas and lead naturally to being able to formulate and convey effective argumentation. (This is a mixed blessing in the high school years, but I digress…)
Naturally this means that children being taught in a classical manner are not necessarily going to be learning the same strategies and ways of organizing information that public school children do. Or they will learn strategies at different ages than public schoolers, due to a combination of the different sequencing of learning in a classical education and the opportunities for customized progress that homeschooling offers.
Really, though, there is no need for concern about these issues when you’re first getting started, if you take a few basic steps to eliminate these questions. First, make a commitment to homeschool long enough for your child’s learning to converge with public school learning. Generally by around 3rd or 4th grade, the various approaches result in consistently similar results from a testing standpoint. Of course, in addition to the typically tested skills, the classically-homeschooled child has had considerably more experience in science experimentation, more exposure to world history, and a lot more opportunities to investigate a broad range of their own interests.
Secondly, commit to teaching to the point of mastery, and don’t worry about assigning letter or numerical grades through at least 6th grade. Grades are used to assess progress and compare children with each other, by teachers who are teaching an entire classroom full of children. You don’t need to compare your child with others, and you know whether she is learning the material or not, so assigning grades is largely a useless exercise unless and until you need them for an application to a brick and mortar school. If your child is going to homeschool through high school, start assigning grades in 8th grade. If she is going to homeschool through middle school only and needs a transcript to apply for a private high school, find the high school application materials (usually available on their websites) and start assigning grades in the first year that is required on the applications. Many homeschoolers who place their children into public high schools find that they simply need to discuss math and/or honors placement with the high school counseling staff and don’t need to assign middle school grades at all.
Thirdly, establish a routine, and establish minimum weekly progress as an ongoing benchmark. While some use a minute by minute schedule, a routine is effective (and less onerous) for many. What kind of routine? I suggest distinguishing skills from content, and teaching skills every morning and content in the afternoons as much as possible. Skills are things like reading, writing, grammar, and arithmetic. Content areas include history and science. Our ‘typical day’ included a religion lesson first thing, followed by either a lesson in reading skills acquisition or arithmetic, whichever was currently more difficult, followed by the other, and then followed by other aspects of language arts—copywork, editing practice, reading aloud, discussing, and summarizing reading, spelling, etc. Science, history, literature, art, music, foreign language, etc. were taught in the afternoons, and not all of them were taught every day. A reasonable schedule for a week might include 5 math lessons, 4 grammar lessons, 4 copywork episodes, 4 literature lessons, 3 spelling episodes, a foreign language lesson and 2 practices, 2 history lessons, a music lesson, and 2 science lessons. So you would call a week ‘done’ when those were finished, and exceed those quantities most weeks, but also have the flexibility to settle for that amount and know that good progress is being made. Field trips counted into the mix—a day-long trip to a science museum might be the equivalent of 4-5 science lessons. Watching and discussing a play would be perhaps 3-4 literature lessons.
Lastly, track your progress loosely for your own benefit and to make sure that you are not letting anything fall through the cracks. I homeschooled my daughter through 8th grade and used two main tools to track her progress: a master calendar and a monthly template.
The master calendar can be kept in any standard software format. I used Lotus notes, but others such as Outlook would work just fine. The calendar is for exceptions and scheduled lessons outside of the home. Weekly choral and art lessons would go onto the calendar, because despite their being routine, everyone needed to be reminded of the times and dates for lessons that occurred outside of the house. More uncommon exceptions like field trips to the zoo, plays, science museum visits, and play dates were also documented. This meant these activities did not need to be remembered in advance and that later, when documentation was being made, it was easy to create a list of ‘special’ activities.
The monthly template is a Word document that has major subject areas as headings and is cut and pasted into a new Word document each month. Subject areas might be religion, science, math, social studies, writing, reading, other language arts, music, art, PE, and Misc. Each month I would look at a printout of the prior month’s report to remind myself of the status at the beginning of the month. For instance, in March we may have completed the grammar text through lesson 35 and continued through lesson 57 in April. So to write the April report, under ‘other language arts’ I would write, “Grammar lessons 36 through 57.” Hence a short but reasonably detailed overview of progress would easily be generated.
What is useful about this? For one thing, it enables the teaching parent to clearly see that progress is, in fact, being made—something that is easy to miss in the moment. It also gives her a chance to take stock and see whether progress is too skewed—too much writing at the cost of science, for instance, or vice versa. Is there something that should be emphasized more next month? Has progress been so great that it’s time to purchase the next materials? Is there something that could use a little more emphasis? This process also puts a summary of that month’s accomplishments right at the tip of her tongue, for interested relatives or others. And lastly, assembling all of the monthly reports for a year or two is a great starting point if you need to formulate a transcript or an overview of progress for applications to brick and mortar schools, or scholarships, or jobs.
In summary, the processes of homeschool scheduling and record keeping can be thorough, complete, and yet not particularly time consuming. It doesn’t have to be difficult to be effective.
What do you do when nothing (or little) is required of you?
The Oklahoma State Constitution provides protection for the right of parents to homeschool their children. The Attorney General qualified that right by stating “so long as the private instruction is supplied in good faith and equivalent in fact to that afforded by the State.” “Equivalency” has never been established. The compulsory school age is over 5 and under 18, and 180 days of instruction must be completed in a year. The following subjects must be taught: math, writing, reading, citizenship, U.S. Constitution, health, science, P.E., safety, and conservation. Although this is all required, we report to no one. No one looks at our attendance chart or our grade records. (For a full evaluation of the laws affecting homeschools in Oklahoma, visit the OCHEC website* or HSLDA’s page on Oklahoma Regulations.)
*The OCHEC website includes a withdrawal form for children who have been in public school previously.
If your child has never been enrolled in public school, as of the publishing of this article, there is nothing you must do in this state.
With no one to report to,and no required records to maintain, there is great freedom — but should you really do nothing? Should you just forego record keeping all together? In my opinion, no. Why?
1. It is good to keep some sort of record to track your child’s progress. It is also fun to go back and compare their work from previous years to see how they have grown. In addition, laws can change or you could face a move to a more highly-regulated state. It is good to be in the habit of keeping some records.
3. If your child is interested in attending college, you will need records of work at the high school level that fulfills the admission requirements for the school. By keeping records throughout the child’s school career, it will be a less daunting task when you reach high school.
I keep three types of records for our school. The first is simply to keep all work completed in a year. We date our work and everything goes in one box at the end of the year. The second is a photographic record of the kids on field trips and working at home. The third is one standardized test at the end of each year. (I have played around with several online and paper planners for maintaining records. For elementary school–for me and the way we run our homeschool–they are not a good fit. When we reach middle school or logic stage work, I plan to add an online planner to our record keeping.)
Why do I test if it is not required? For my peace of mind. That is the only reason. I start testing when my kids are at a first grade level or above in reading and math. I order my tests through Seton Testing. The tests are inexpensive, and the company has provided quick service every year we have used them. Scores are posted to your online account for a quick turnaround time.
I have used the CAT/E or CAT Survey for 1st and 2nd grade and the CogAT for 3rd and will use it again for 4th/5th grade testing. I like these tests because they only test math, reading, and language abilities, not science or social studies. Since we follow the classical method as laid out in The Well-Trained Mind, we do four-year history and science cycles. What we study does not line up with what is taught in most public and private schools in the lower elementary (or grammar) stage. I just want to see how my kids are doing in the basics of math and language.
I do not test for the “grade” my child is in, or the “grade” they would be in if enrolled in public school. I select the test for the level at which my child works. My son took the first grade CAT/E when in “kindergarten” because he was working on first grade math and reading. This year he has made a huge leap and we will test at a 5th grade level (last year we did 3rd). My daughter is in kindergarten, working at a kindergarten level, so we will not test this year. Next year we will start with a first grade test. You will not gain any information about your child’s growth and development if you test too far below or above their level. (This advice is meant only for states where testing is NOT mandated; if testing is required, follow the regulations for your state.)
One side benefit of testing when it is not required: If anyone were to question the education of my children, I have tests that show they are at or above the level of their peers. Another side benefit is that they have practice taking standardized tests in a low-stress environment. My hope is that they will be very comfortable with testing by the time they start taking college admissions tests.
When nothing is required of you, you must be more self-motivated. You must set the standards you want for yourself and your children.
Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.
Megan has compiled a list of links to begin your research on homeschooling laws in your state, and Cheryl has shared her best advice for recordkeeping in a minimally-reporting state. The editors at StS decided we should also offer some record-keeping insight for those living in more stringent states, but most of our team do not live in those areas of the country so we can’t write authoritatively about them. Our solution is to bring you the best from-the-horse’s-mouth information we can find online, shared by generous homeschool bloggers who live under more regulation than the rest of us. We hope you will enjoy this little Blog Hop! We are delighted to meet these bloggers, journalists, and organizations, and we thank them for sharing their skill and knowledge with us all.
Vitarete Academy is a new homeschooling umbrella organization that is registered as a private school in the state of Florida
Homeschooling in New York by Angela for Sandbox to Socrates