Starting out

Pitfalls to avoid when starting out

Remember: Actually it is a simple process. If you have succeeded in teaching your children basic good manners, and in potty-training them, you can home school them.

A Don’t rush!

Take it very slowly. Extensive research and even more extensive experience has shown that your children will not “fall behind” their peers in schools if they take an extended “holiday” from bookwork.

Starting out in home education is, for most families, a tense and confusing time. The result of this is that parents tend to rely on their own experiences of schools to find some solid ground. They rush to “get on with it” and to take over where the school left off as soon as they can. If they do this, they will almost certainly make costly mistakes that can take a very long time, much stress and many tears to resolve.

B Don’t buy anything !

At least, don’t buy anything to “teach” your children with for at least six months.

Do not start our by going out to buy a pre-packaged curriculum. Buying curriculum is not the first thing one does when starting on your homeschooling journey. It is the last thing one does. The reason is that home education is not about what mother (or father) teaches the children. It is about what the children learn. And we know from decades of research that most children (in school as well as at home) do not learn much from school books.

Having all that “school stuff” around simply distracts everyone’s attention and makes one think that the children are learning – because mother bravely goes through the motions of teaching so hard. Schools (especially in South Africa) are organised and managed around teaching (instruction). That is not because instruction results in learning, but simply because instruction can be seen and managed. One can see a teacher teaching. Learning cannot be seen. (Take a minute and think about your own learning experiences – learning is a subtle, internal process.)

But don’t worry about the difference between teaching and learning too much – just be aware of it, and trust that you will soon begin to understand it as your experience of home education expands.

So, what do I do, then?

  1. Talk to each other, and start living together again

A child learns the most from conversations with his parents or other adults. This is something that does not cost a cent, except for time devoted to conversations in the family and with each child. The purpose of the conversations is to share and crystallize each other’s ideals and interests. Encourage your child to follow his interests – his interests probably will lead to his career(s) one day.

Involve your children in your life – take them with you when you do business, and teach them everything that you know and that you can do. If you think about it, you actually have learnt so much from life itself, like how to get along with people. These skills you were not taught at school or in a formal course; the kind of life skills your children will need when they themselves become parents one day.

Get to know your children again, and to function as a family.

  1.   Spend your money on learning, not on teaching

Use your money to “homeschool” yourself (and the other parent) first, while your children unlearn the bad habits and false expectations that were ingrained in them in school. Read books about homeschooling, attend workshops, join the Pestalozzi Trust, societies and support groups (and attend their meetings). Above all, spend many days scouring the internet for websites and facebook groups and pages about home education, and Google every question that comes to mind.

Also allow the children to learn: Go on educational outings with the children – museums and places of historical or scientific interest, farms and factories, concerts and so on. Get to know your children again, and to function as a family.

  1.   Implement the Basic Ingredients of home education

These “basic ingredients” are what they say: a basic “recipe” for all education. You can add to it, but you cannot subtract from it.

It is like a basic recipe for bread – flour, water, yeast and salt. If you leave out any of those ingredients the result will not be bread, but something else.

To the flour, water, yeast and salt you can, however, add bran, raisins, seeds, nuts and many other things, but none of those are essential. You can leave them out and you will still have bread.

It is likewise with the education of your children. The four basic ingredients of your recommended “curriculum” are:

  • Free time and opportunities to play or to be alone. Play is the most important part of education. Free play, not the organised kind. The best games are those that come from the child’s own imagination. Encourage them also to run, jump and climb trees. A jungle gym is essential; try to obtain one with thin bars, so their hands can grip them securely.

Play develops their bodies, which is essential to develop the nervous system and the brain. It develops their perception, especially three-dimensional perception. It develops their understanding of space, which is essential to understand mathematics. And it develops their imagination which is the necessary precondition for all forms of creative thinking, problem solving, art, science and math.

  • Work – children must work and take responsibilities in and around the house, in your business if you have one, and as much as possible in the company of the parents. Even a three-year-old can empty waste paper baskets and help their parents with shopping. Teenagers can sign up for volunteer work at the SPCA, old age homes, or other charities, and they can start job shadowing to learn from adults in various lines of work.

Work brings and keeps children in touch with the “real world” where they have function as adults. House and garden work, shopping, etc. contains most if not all of the math that a child will actually need in daily living for the rest of its life. And it prepares the mind for more advanced math, should they go in for that.

  • Read to your children – at least one hour per day, but more, if possible. And this applies to children of all ages. Read stories, poetry and drama (about 70%), biographies (10%), travel books (10%) and books about science, technology, animals, the sea, etc. (10%). While reading the biographies and travel books, keep to hand a globe and an atlas, because you are doing history and geography. But this is live history and geography, with real people in it, with whom the child can associate.

Reading to children (of all ages) is probably the single most important mechanism to develop the mind. Charlotte Mason believed that “ideas are the food of the mind”, and she is right. The best way to provide children with an environment that is rich in ideas is to read to them. This is over and above any reading that the child may do on its own, and is even more essential to children who are dyslectic – it feeds their minds. Discuss what you have read with them, informally, and never turn it into a comprehension test, or into any kind of test at all.

  • Music and math. These two are closely related – not only in academic scores, but on many levels.

(It is said that the ancient Greeks saw music as “the mathematics of change over time”.) Music is an important aspect of mental and emotional development. Expose children of all ages to a wide variety of music on a daily basis: encourage them to sing along, clap and/or count the beat, move to the rhythm, etc. If they want to learn an instrument, encourage that, and make sure they do the theory too.

Abstract mathematics can never be mastered unless the child has mastered concrete mathematics. That means doing maths with objects – counting them, grouping them, collecting them, adding and substracting, etc. And that is what is happening in a normal household all day. From laying tables to sorting laundry, making food (double or triple the recipe, or halve it), drawing up shopping lists, shopping itself, planting beans in rows, painting a palisade fence, and so on, ad infinitum.

“Formal” mathematics should be postponed as long as possible. When (if) you start on formal math, we do not recommend the kind of math that teaches “methods” (or “recipes”) for solving problems. Use the opportunity to give your child the great advantage of what is called constructivist math (look at for excellent materials). But never get anxious about math – in practice, a well-motivated teenager can master the entire school math curriculum in a few months.

  1.   Be ready to change your mind!

The basic ingredients above are sufficient – you need nothing else, other than to answer you children’s questions (or preferably find the answers with them), and to provide them with suitable materials to learn and do the things they ask to learn and do – whether that is art classes, computer programming or book keeping. And, no matter what else you do, never neglect the basic ingredients. They remain essential at all levels of education.

If you have implemented the basic ingredients for six months, and if you have used that time to also school yourself in all the various approaches available to you (and especially, to your children), you will be in a position to choose more structured programmes if you need them.

It is important to remember the research findings that only 10.2% of homeschooling families use “full service” pre-packaged programmes, and that this figure has been dwindling. The simple fact is that it is extremely unlikely that any pre-packaged programme will fit the individual needs of any child.

It is, therefore important to be ready to try something new whenever you conclude that whatever you are doing is not working. Don’t get locked in some programme or system that does not work for you or your children, but you are too scared to let it go. And this is the most important reason why you should educate yourself and keep up to date with what other homeschoolers are doing – so that you know that you have options.