When we began homeschooling, the worldly officials in our part of the world convinced us that we were all alone, that we would ruin our children, and that we would eventually find ourselves in jail. Such foreboding can cause a person to do strange things.
One thing we did to make ourselves “safer” was to manage our school on exactly the same schedule as the institutional schools. For instance, we always had spelling words on Monday with the test on Friday, since that was how things had gone when we were in school. Of course, the time came that we had to go to a funeral, and we dared to “close school” because of it. I experienced dread of the day I would have to explain how we managed a school with that lone spelling test administered on a Saturday. It bothered me, as if my children had earned an “Insufficient” on their grade cards. I was relieved when we were able to close that year without a visit from the state.
As I began to master our daily operational decisions, I began to notice something about the worldly schooling I received as a child—it had changed through the years. It used to be that the new school year would start in September. I can remember writing 9/6 for the date in the beginning of a text while noticing that the school year had begun on 9/5 the previous year. Paying closer attention, I have noticed that most now begin in mid- to early August. The supposed reasoning for this is to supply the needed snow days. Who are they trying to snow? What really is happening is that officials want more days off during the year, and the laws require 180 class days. Something had to give.
This information was not lost on God’s people who were working within the worldly systems of a few decades ago. For example, an old science text that I once purchased (we always prefer old texts) had 37 chapters in it. I wondered what anyone working within a 36-week system would want with a text containing 37 chapters. Once I began to examine it, I discovered that the last chapter covered the requisite topic of evolution. Of course, since there was no way anyone could conveniently finish 37 chapters, it was the publisher’s way of pretending to fulfill the requirements of an ungodly policy without omitting any real science. I thought it an ingenious way to get around unjust requirements. (Since I had advanced to realizing that it was my school, my book, I knew I could remove those evolution pages with impunity.)
This method of including extra work, first invented by worldly publishers, shows just how easy it is to leave out the things you do not desire to cover. In a similar fashion, chapters on measurement in math, mapping in social studies, and poetry in English always came last. The presumption was that these matters, not being as important, were safe to leave for last, where they might suffer omission due to lack of time. Many professional educators of my youth were in a quandary over the fact that U.S. children could not understand maps and weights and measures. Any child could have explained it: we never ended up with time to study the last chapter.
I realized that this had been happening all along. Ultimately, an excess of such creative teaching forced us to remove our children from worldly education. Too much time spent viewing videos, queuing for candy, etc., made us rethink the entire system. Still, although we were out of the worldly schools, I had the worldly schools in me. I had to come to a point of realizing, “It is my school; I can do what I want.”
Walking in this freedom is the true beauty of homeschooling. Freedom of schedule in schooling belongs only to those who own or operate a school. Worldly teachers do not have the freedom to close school, if they want, for a funeral; they must answer to others—it is not their school. You will have this freedom when you realize that your school is your school; you can do what you want.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should give our children a second-rate education just because we can. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the freedom to choose our own paths and approach homeschooling in a way that best fits our families’ unique needs.
Let’s look at several ways we can all can use this to our benefit and the benefit of our children. We will examine the areas of subject matter, record keeping, and annual schedule. You may expand it from there to fit your needs—or rather, the needs of your school.
In selecting subject matter for your school, you have freedom that you may not realize you have. As noted earlier, you do not intend to shortchange your children, but sometimes it may seem redundant to cover subjects you know they will not need. Perhaps the most famous example of this might be Blaise Pascal, whose dad had to redesign his home studies when he found him sketching very elevated math problems in the margins of his classical language assignments.
For a more recent example, my artistic daughter did not and does not need more than a little math (algebra and geometry). We threw in some Algebra II and some economic/bookkeeping math to assure her a well-rounded education. We thought that if she could CLEP college math, she could avoid it forever, an idea that appealed to her immensely and left her more college time for the studies she really wanted. Since she desires to be a writer/illustrator, we pushed her through a difficult English course to improve her writing thought processes. She has benefited greatly from this course, as she is the first to say. Excelling in her current English classes, and in all other classes which require writing, such as Bible history, she has been chosen to aid in researching bibliographies, a work study project that definitely beats scraping plates in the cafeteria. Our statistics whiz child, however, we knew was sure to become an accountant. Our easier English class still allowed him to CLEP College English and saved more time for crunching the numbers and part-time employment in an accounting department. One friend’s child, desiring to become a missionary, spends much time studying history and languages such as Mandarin, but only average time on science and music. It is her school; she can do whatever she wants.
How does this idea carry over into record keeping? Our communications with the world need not be very detailed, unless the law requires it. Although we do not want to suffer for doing wrong, we also do not want to give in to ungodly manipulation imposed upon us by over-zealous civil servants who themselves are sometimes not obeying their authority—the law. We must face the fact that power corrupts, and determine beforehand that we will not become accessories to lawbreakers. Still, we want to have some type of record for our own purposes that shows how far we have come and what we intend for tomorrow. Daily remembering to write in a journal is difficult unless you have nothing else to do. We dismissed that habit after a couple years.
In our home, the annual plan is simply the books themselves. The child finishes the books and the year is over, period. In the front of each of our textbooks, you can find such notations as “two pages per day” or “three lessons per week,” depending upon the length and arrangement of the book. The daily plan also depends upon the child. We issue what we call “task sheets” for each child to record his daily plans. As a task is accomplished, that goal is marked off. We store these papers, along with every scrap of completed assignments, in small boxes in our attic. The work that one child does in three or four years will fit in a plastic box that is about 1½ ft. by 2½ ft. by 1 ft. deep. These boxes have lids and stack well. When on sale, they cost about five dollars. They are our records. We keep them until the child graduates. It is very easy to require the child to keep his year’s work in chronological order in three-ring binders. At year’s end, I file it in labeled brown envelopes to go into the boxes. That’s it for our record keeping. It is our school; we can do whatever we want.
If you elect not to keep every paper, you can help your children record daily scores and test scores onto a dated wall chart or mural. The display could be the invention of your children, perhaps based on seasonal themes such as leaves appearing on trees for spring, snowflakes all over the house for winter, etc. If your children take turns being the record keeper, with rewards for this extra job, it will lift your load a little. The leaves would store well in a brown envelope, should you have to present evidence some day. (Confidentially, there is a side of me that likes the idea of watching a judge or caseworker sort through piles of evidence in the form of leaves and snowflakes.) Our schools are our own; we can do whatever we want.
My favorite facet of this, though, is the annual schedule. Why do we traditionally have schooling all year except summer? Originally, it was to allow children to vacate the school to help with planting and harvest. For our school, this is important, because we actually plant and harvest. The trouble for us when we were homeschooling in Mississippi is that there, planting begins in February and harvest ends in October, around which time we plant just a little more. Since it is our school, though, we can take off when we need and resume when ready. (We also can stay up all night to guard chickens from marauding raccoons, if needed, and sleep during the day.) Still, with groceries being what they are, many people perceive no real need to vacate school during summer. What they really could use is a week off during the deer hunt, or a chance to go with Daddy on his business trip, or six weeks off when the baby comes, or a month off when big brother gets married or . . . you fill in the blank.
Let me help you with more ideas. One of my friends begins school on the first day of August, closes it just before Thanksgiving, spends all of December on crafts and baking, then re-opens in January. Another friend, living in the Deep South, schools all during the summer because “It is too hot to play outside, so we might as well study inside.” She takes her three months off in spring, planting flowerbeds, vacationing, and doing other activities that, to her family, are more enjoyable because of the milder weather. What a cure for spring fever!
Can you see that the possibilities are limitless? What would you really like to do? We have friends that tour the country as Gospel singers, schooling on the road. Other friends move every time the husband’s construction site changes, without missing a beat. Another friend decided to begin a family business and let her children really learn math and economics. You can skip school for a year and tour Europe. You can provide online college courses for your children’s high school subjects to put them ahead when they begin college. You can teach your entire science course outdoors in the summer when you can observe nature, instead of during the winter.
Yes, the possibilities are truly limitless. It is your school—make the most of it!
Katharine and her husband, Gerald, live in Arkansas. They are “graduated” homeschool parents and enjoy Bible study, reading, and gardening.
Katharine Trauger has homeschooled her six children for over twenty years. She and her husband, Gerald, live in Arkansas, and enjoy gardening, reading, and Bible study.