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Starting with the wrong question

I’m one of those weird creatures who has homeschooled since the beginning. In fact, before we were married, I knew I wanted to homeschool my kids.  So I had a longer time than many to look at what homeschooling was and how we would implement it in our family.  I have, however, talked to lots of families who are looking to move from institutional schools — either public or private — to homeschool, and I’m struck that the first question is almost always, “What curriculum should we use?”

To be sure, this isn’t an unimportant question, nor is it always easy to answer.  There are an overwhelming number of options, and finding the right fit for your child and your family can be challenging. But it isn’t the most important question you can ask. In fact, skipping straight to this question will likely ensure that you jump from curriculum to curriculum looking for the right fit without knowing exactly what fit you’re looking for.

The first questions a homeschooler should answer are not “What math and reading program should we use?”, but “Why are we doing this and what is our goal for education.”  Before you can answer what map to use, you need to decide where you are going.  How you answer this question will depend on your faith, your values, and your unique family situation.

What is your goal for your children’s education?  Our goal is intricately tied to our faith. We believe we are created to glorify God and our desire for our children is that all the talents, skills, and desires that He has given them would be used for to glorify God and build His kingdom.  (R.C. Sproul has a great teaching on the goals of education that impacted me profoundly.)

Why did you choose homeschooling as the best way to meet these goals? If you’re looking at homeschooling, it is because you think it offers something that other methods of education don’t.  What is that? Verbalize it; analyze it; know why you think homeschooling is best for your family. And then make sure you’re taking advantage of the wonderful opportunities homeschool offers and not merely mimicking institutional school in your homes.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: even if you answer these questions while your babe is yet in the womb, that’s not the end.  Our own goals and plans to meet those goals have changed over the years.  Hopefully, this is because we’re getting wiser as we get older. I know I’ve mellowed quite a bit. (People who know me can stop laughing now. It’s true!) I’ve also discovered we have a big reason and lots of little reasons: blessings that flow from homeschooling that I wouldn’t have guessed until we got elbow deep into the mess. That’s not a metaphor. Homeschooling is messy. You have been warned.

Below are some of the resources that have helped me on the journey to know what we want for our children and how we’re going to get there.  There are probably more, but they escape me now. If you have a good book or resource, please leave it in the comments.

“The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorothy Sayers

 For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (This is also chocked full of curriculum suggestions, in addition to the philosophy advocated.)

When You Rise Up by R.C. Sproul, Jr.

Right now, I’m being most influenced and challenged by the writings of Charlotte Mason.

But all these sources can only influence and inform your answer to those questions: what is our goal for our children and how does homeschooling help us reach that goal. Once you’ve decided on where you want to end up, deciding on the vehicle to get there will be much easier.

By the way, my advice on curriculum?

  • Let it be your servant, not your master.
  • Try to look at the actual thing before you buy, and if possible try a sample lesson with your kid.
  • Realize that there is no “one way” to teach anything, and someone telling you otherwise is likely a snake-oil salesman.

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