Our 5 R's of Homeschooling
What's Really Important?
(Jill J. Dixon)
During my years as a homeschool mom, tutor, educational diagnostician, consultant, and homeschool author, I have encountered more desperate and anxious parents than I care to remember. I have witnessed many of these parents "throw in the towel" because they are convinced that they cannot possibly "give their children all they need!" Of course, when you try to pin these parents down about what it is that their child really needs, each one has a different set of criteria. Much of this criteria has come from their own preconceived ideas or those forced upon them by others of what a "good education" really is.
Over the years, through long and intensive soul-searching and fervent observation of both my own children and others, I have come to some definite conclusions about what our children truly need to succeed academically and in life in general. Like other important things in life, the answer is quite simple, even though we often make it very complex. It is my belief that many homeschool parents force their children to spend time on many unnecessary academic "activities", thus, producing burn-out, not only in the students, but in the parents as well. In evaluating the skills needed to make it in our academic world and in life in general, I have developed the following set of criteria:
- Character (especially responsibility, perseverance, reliability)
- Love of Learning/Curiosity
- Critical Reading Skills - (SAT)
- Reading Skills
- Vocabulary - (SAT)
- Vocabulary Skills
- Literary Analysis - (SAT)
- Writing (grammar, spelling, usage, and proofreading skills)
- Thinking Skills - (SAT)
- Math Skills (including living math skills such as balancing a checkbook, etc.)
- Writing - (SAT) - includes extensive proofreading
- Thinking Skills
- Math - (SAT)
- Research Skills
- Study Skills/Research Skills
- Practical Life Skills (e.g. child care, cooking)
- Foreign Language
- Interests, Hobbies, and Talents
- Computer and Typing Skills
- Computer and Typing Skills
With the exception of a few of the college skills, which require some specialized materials, all of these skills can be obtained through what I label "The 5 R's of Homeschooling", which are Relationship, Real Learning, Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.
Relationship involves, first of all, as parents, our relationship with God. Unless we are where we need to be in our walk with God, our children cannot and will not receive the full benefit of our teaching, either by our words or the lives we live in front of them. Therefore, this relationship should be our top priority. Secondly, our relationship with our children must come before any academic concerns we have for them. What difference does it make if they score a 1200 on the SAT or three grade levels ahead in math if they don't feel like they can talk to us about the inmost concerns of their hearts? Does it matter how well they read if they "read" inconsistency in our lives everyday and therefore, view us as hypocrites? When they grow up and leave us, they may not remember all the dates and facts of the Revolutionary War, but you better believe they will remember how we treated them and what their home life was like on a daily basis. Thirdly, if we take care of the first two aspects of relationship - our own with God and our children, we can trust that the outcome will be children who also have a proper relationship with the Lord. All academic skills and activities we stress should be viewed in the light of these three aspects of relationship.
Real Learning involves not only a heart for learning but a mastery of the necessary tools involved in learning. One of my greatest desires for my own children is that they will not only possess an enjoyment in learning new things, but a curiosity for learning that will never die. When they become parents or enter the work force, they probably won't use a lot of the facts they have learned over the years, but they will need a good attitude about learning, curiosity, and the proper tools for continued learning. The proper tools include thinking skills, research skills, computer skills, and a recognition of how they learn best or their primary learning style. Discovering their learning styles will help them know how they learn easiest and most effectively. They must be taught how to find out about various topics and how to generalize, analyze, and synthesize information. These are highly important and can be incorporated into every aspect of learning.
Reading involves actual decoding of words, vocabulary skills and comprehension. Reading is, without a doubt, the most important and most used academic skill ever taught. Parents must remember, however, that reading reaches beyond just learning to sound out words. Vocabulary development is extremely crucial, not only for a life skill, but for test-taking preparation. At least one-fourth of college entrance exams are comprised of vocabulary skills. Comprehension is also very important and includes skills such as recognizing the author's intent, purpose, and bias, inferring information, drawing conclusions, and understanding the main idea. A great portion of the SAT assesses critical reading skills.
wRiting, which also encompasses the subjects of grammar, spelling, proofreading and English, is probably one of the most neglected subjects of modern academics. The public school system has made an all out effort in the last 10 to 15 years to focus on writing skills because of the poor quality of writing produced by students entering the college arena. In my own experience with high school students, I have been shocked at their inability to communicate in writing. Writing is a skill that must be taught systematically and started as early as possible by allowing students to dictate stories to their parents. Students should participate in a variety of writing experiences consistently such as poetry, biographies, book reviews, newspaper articles, descriptions, stories, and research papers. Grammar, spelling, proofreading and English usage should mainly be taught in the context of writing, which makes these skills much more effective, practical, and long-lasting. On the most commonly used standardized tests, the only way that English and grammar are tested is through a proofreading subtest. Proofreading skills are highly important.
aRithmetic is another skill which is in demand in our world today. I believe more emphasis should be placed on "living" math skills, such as balancing a checkbook, calculating interest, etc. Fortunately, there is an increase of materials available that teach these skills. One very important advantage of mathematics, which I often mention to my own children, is its ability to teach us to think. I agree that much of math seems purposeless and unnecessary; yet, we often do not realize that one of its main purposes is to cultivate thinking and reasoning skills.
In conclusion, parents who are working on reducing "burn-out" in themselves and their children should mainly focus on these five areas. It should be noted that history, science, and character building can easily be incorporated into reading and writing activities. Instead of making these subjects courses that stand separate from the others, I have found it much easier to increase reading skills by providing great history and science books, biographies, and magazines. History, science and character are emphasized, while reading and writing skills are increased. The end result is that we end up with prepared children who are ready for both academic challenges and the real world, while we still maintain a proper relationship with them and keep ourselves happy at the same time. Sounds like a pretty good set up to me!