Walking the Narrow Path toward Freedom in Education:
An Informational Guide to Homeschooling
by Tammy D. Choleva
Homeschooling is a calling. Some families are called to veer away from the wide path of institutional learning, and to instead walk along the narrow path toward freedom in education – the path of homeschooling. How do you know if your family has been called to travel this narrow path? A key step toward recognizing the call to homeschool is to first establish a family statement on what you believe to be the purpose of educating children. For example, this is my family’s statement:
The purpose of educating our children is to…
- Train them up in the way of the Lord;
- Lead them toward greater understanding and self-application of God’s Word;
- Help them see for themselves that worldly knowledge without Godly wisdom is worthless in an eternal sense;
- Teach them that God is Creator;
- Teach them to put God first in their lives and to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength;
- Teach them that Scripture thoroughly equips them for every good work;
- Teach them that if they seek God first and His righteousness, God will take care of all their needs (including academic needs);
- Teach them to revere the Lord;
- Teach them that their ultimate purpose in life is to serve the living God and to do all things for His glory;
- Train them in life skills;
- Discover their gifts and talents and future calling in life.
You may or may not agree with my family’s statement on the purpose of educating children. My point in sharing our statement is to show you that for my family, when we articulated on paper what we believe to be the purpose of educating our children, it was obvious to us that this purpose will not be accomplished by government schools. Upon prayerful consideration, we also determined that our purpose for education will not be accomplished by private schools. Ultimately, the Lord called for my family to walk the path of homeschooling. Establishing your family’s statement on the purpose of educating children will help you determine the call upon your family – be it government schooling, private schooling, or homeschooling.
After recognizing the call for my family to homeschool, we then determined our homeschool philosophy. Our homeschool philosophy is a more succinct wording of our statement on the purpose of educating our children. In one sentence, my family’s homeschool philosophy is to educate our children through Christian discipleship. This is the primary goal of our homeschool. If you determine your family’s purpose of educating children will be best accomplished by homeschooling, you will want to determine your own family’s homeschool philosophy.
Your family’s statement on the purpose of educating children and your homeschool philosophy will help determine your homeschooling method and curriculum choices, as well as how you choose to keep schedules and records. This informational guide has been written to help you make decisions in these areas and more. If you are still unsure as to whether your family has been called to homeschool, first consider the following benefits of homeschooling.
Children are not cookie cutter cut-outs. They have different learning styles, different learning needs, and different special interests and gifts. Neither public nor private schools are equipped to create and work with a customized curriculum plan for each and every child. Both public and private schools are essentially forced to work with a one-size-fits-all plan. While some students can handle being conformed to the middle ground, many others suffer as though they are square pegs being forced to fit into round holes. Homeschooling allows children the opportunity to receive a customized curriculum plan better suited to fit their individual needs.
•Encourages Gifts and Talents
Children are specially designed by their Creator. One child may respond well to sitting down at a desk and working independently on a writing project, while another may be driven to express his/her thoughts through dramatic role playing, and still another may have an inner passion to paint an elaborate picture depicting the lesson learned. Homeschooling allows children the opportunity to express themselves and what they have learned in a way that encourages their individual gifts and talents to be fanned into flames.
•Personalized Attention, Individually Paced Learning
Children are not commodities meant to be pushed through the system on a conveyor belt. If a child works at a slower pace than other children his/her age, a homeschool enables that child to receive individualized attention to better address his needs. Likewise, if a child works at a quicker pace, a homeschool affords that child the opportunity to receive personalized enrichment activities. Homeschooling allows children the opportunity to receive personalized attention and individually paced learning.
•Children have Time to be Children
Children are meant to be children, with free time being an integral part of their day. Free time allows children the opportunity to re-energize before facing their next academic challenge. When public and private schooled children wake up at the crack of dawn to leave their homes to attend school, only to return home late in the afternoon to face homework and oftentimes extracurricular activities, just how much free time do they have? Homeschooling allows children time to be children.
•More Natural Socialization
Children are not meant to be artificially separated into age-segregated groups. Family units encourage positive age-integrated and even intergenerational interactions, while public and private school units encourage peer pressure and cliques. Homeschooling allows children more frequent opportunities to practice their social skills in a more natural age-integrated setting, resulting in more mature and socially adept children.
•No Time, Space, Topic Limitations
Children are designed to be learning sponges. An overabundance of constraints on the learning process can quickly dry up the sponge. Homeschooling gives children the freedom to learn anywhere, anytime, anything without having to conform to the space, time, and topic limitations prevalent in public (and even private) schools. For example, in an institutional school, the student’s learning revolves around a classroom space, segmented learning times, and assigned topics. In a homeschool, the parents have the freedom to take a family vacation whenever they want and turn it into a fun, educational experience. In a homeschool, the child has the freedom to grab a reading book, some pillows, and a blanket and read in the comforts of a tent made by draping the blanket over the dining room table or the backs of a few chairs. In a homeschool, the child has the freedom to take his math exam in bed at night while sipping a cup of hot cocoa and eating popcorn, as opposed to having to sit in a classroom full of nervous test-takers. In a homeschool, the family has the option of putting all the school books aside for the day and taking a hike in the woods to learn about botany. In a homeschool, the child can choose to work on a self-designed writing project on a topic of special interest to him. Homeschools are not limited to the space, time, and topic limitations prevalent in public and private schools.
•Parents in Control of Education
Again, children are designed to be learning sponges. At the same time, parents are designed to be the main source of moisture to keep the sponges pliable but not oversaturated. In a homeschool, parents have the freedom to teach their children what they believe the children should be learning, adding whatever level of moisture they deem to be appropriate for their children. Over-saturation is prevalent in public schools. Children are exposed at earlier and earlier ages to information they just aren’t ready to process. In a homeschool, parents are in control of the education of their children.
An eclectic homeschooling family considers the methodologies, principles, and thoughts of many different approaches to homeschooling, gleaning what it considers to be the best from each in order to form an approach to homeschooling specifically suited to that family’s needs.
(delight learning, child-delighted learning, child-led learning, child-directed learning, interest-based education, free learning, relaxed homeschooling, natural learning, discovery learning, etc.)
While there are many different names for unschooling, they all focus on encouraging the child to take an active role in his/her own learning. The emphasis is on learning in the midst of everyday life, with few constraints being placed on the learning process. In addition, rather than serving as instructors of their children, unschooling parents take on the role of learner walking alongside their children. For Christian homeschoolers, this method assumes the homeschool parent is helping to guide the child’s learning choices so they line up with the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
While similar to the concept of unschooling, this method is different in that it is based on the specific philosophy of one person (Dr. Maria Montessori, 1870-1952). Montessori believed a child will best flourish when the child’s environment is controlled, rather than the child being controlled. She believed a child’s true inner self is allowed to emerge when that child is free to study subjects and participate in activities of his/her personal selection within the confines of a controlled environment. For example, according to the Montessori school of thought, a child who lives within a TV-free, book-saturated, manipulative-rich environment (and who experiences little to no parental or teacher instruction) will emerge as a well-learned, normal child. Normal is defined as what is natural for that particular child based on his/her specific learning desires and interests.
•Classical and Principle Approaches
One form of classical education is based on the Trivium, which is a three-tiered teaching model. Tier 1 is the knowledge level (teaching basic fact memorization to grade school students). Tier 2 is the understanding level (teaching analytical thinking skills to middle school students). Tier 3 is the wisdom level (teaching high school students how to express what they have learned). Trivium-based classical education focuses on studies of Western Civilization with an emphasis on the arts, culture, history, language, science, literature, philosophy, and theology.
Another method of classical education is called the Principle Approach. This is a form of Christian classical education. Children taught by this method learn how to apply a Biblical worldview toward every aspect of their lives. They also learn to recognize the providential hand of God throughout history (particularly American history). In addition, the principles of self-government and liberty are emphasized.
This method is based on the philosophy of British educator Charlotte Mason (1842-1923). Narration, dictation, copywork, literature-based education, living books (as opposed to textbooks), nature books and journals, the fine arts, language studies, learning for life (as opposed to learning to pass tests), etc. are critical components of this learning/teaching method.
The basic philosophy behind this method of homeschooling is that children learn best when a topic is of interest to them and when all (or at least most) subjects are able to work together to form one cohesive unit of study. In other words, there is one main topic with each subject focusing on that one topic. The main topic can be a children’s book, a time period, an event in history, a science topic, an artist, a musical instrument, and so on. Consider the topic of the Civil War as an example. The homeschool parent designs a unit study (or purchases a ready-made unit study) with the Civil War as the central focus. The lessons on grammar, spelling, writing, history, geography, science, reading, math, and so on all focus on the main theme of the Civil War.
This method is modeled after the public school approach to teaching (which is also the basis for most private schools). Teaching and learning follow a scope and sequence oriented to specific grade levels; subjects are taught separately each day; textbooks are the basis for lessons; lessons are followed by quizzes and tests; a structured daily schedule is followed; and so on.
Oftentimes, parents who homeschool using this method choose to purchase their resources from a curriculum company that offers placement tests, pre-selected textbooks, prepared lesson plans, teacher manuals, and which may even offer administrative support services (like assignment grading, report cards, transcript preparation, etc.). Parents who choose this method of homeschooling typically equate accountability and oversight with more effective homeschooling.
Traditional homeschool packages come in many different shapes and sizes. Included in this method of homeschooling are DVD packages, televised (via satellite) schools, distance learning or virtual schools (both on-line and mail-in versions), CD packages, workbook-based learning packs, customized textbook learning that is overseen by an umbrella school, and so on.
There are three main considerations when deciding on a homeschool curriculum:
(1) philosophy of homeschooling; (2) method of homeschooling; and (3) budget. I caution you to not let your budget determine either your philosophy or your method. Instead, let your budget help guide your curriculum choices while being sure your choices complement your philosophy and method. If you obtain curriculum not conducive to your homeschooling philosophy and method, it will end up sitting on your bookshelf collecting dust.
It is possible to homeschool on a shoestring budget using any method of homeschooling (admittedly, it is easier with some methods than others). Sources of low-cost homeschool curriculum include the following: using the Internet for the bulk of your materials, used curriculum book sales, curriculum swaps and auctions (i.e. eBay), interlibrary loans, borrowing curriculum (i.e. from your local public school), used book stores, garage sales, etc. Keep in mind that even though the Internet can be a great resource for low-cost homeschooling, there are still costs to the homeschooling parent. Mainly, the costs are the time necessary to do the research to find relevant Internet resources, as well as the costs of printing your own materials.
The main point to keep in mind regarding whatever curriculum you decide to use is that your curriculum is meant to be your helper not your master. If you allow your curriculum to be your master, the joy that accompanies the freedom of education through homeschooling will decrease, while the likelihood of you experiencing teacher burn-out will increase.
There are as many different ways to schedule your family’s homeschool day as there are families. What may work for one family will not necessarily work for another family. Even then, what may work one day within one family may not necessarily work the very next day in the same family.
One point to keep in mind when you are planning your homeschool schedule is flexibility. All the best intentions in the world can go right out the window when the first unexpected doctor’s appointment comes up, or an especially cranky toddler sabotages your plans, or a particularly gorgeous day is calling for you to take the children on a hike through the woods. Just like a homeschool method and curriculum must not be your master, neither must your homeschool schedule. Plan enough into your schedule to know the basics of what you’d like to cover. At the same time, don’t over-plan to the point of feeling obligated to carry out the plans to the exclusion of enjoying the freedom in learning that comes with the blessing of being able to homeschool.
If flexibility has never been a problem for you, and you sense you may need more structure in your homeschool day in order to be sure your family stays on task with homeschooling, then by all means develop an outline for your homeschool schedule. Remember, though, the outline is meant to help you not control you. It is so easy to lose the joy of homeschooling by being driven to follow a schedule instead of following God’s daily promptings.
For those who prefer to follow a written daily schedule, there are several ways to accomplish this goal. There are various kinds of software that allow you to generate daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules. You can create your own word processing documents to serve as checklists and schedules. You can hand-write your schedule in a daily calendar or notebook or journal. Use whatever method works best for you. (Keep in mind that if you write your intended plans too far ahead in a hand-written calendar/journal, you may find yourself frustrated by having to make changes later.) Consider the following questions when making your schedule:
- Do you want to stick with a specific starting and ending time each day? If so, what times do you want to use?
- Do you want your children to do their chores before or after school?
- Do you want to include breaks in your school time (stretching, snack, lunch)?
- Do you want to work your schedule around toddler naptimes?
- Do you want to do the bulk of your seatwork in the mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekdays, weekends, etc.? (Keep in mind that most children’s minds work best in the morning.)
- Do you want to teach the bulk of your subjects to all your children in one group, instead of trying to juggle multiple children’s lessons?
- Do you want to schedule individualized teaching while other children are working on independent projects or reading?
- Do you want to be finished with seatwork by noon and save the afternoons for hands-on projects and/or independent projects of personal interest?
- Do you want general time slots for subjects each day, or do you want to stick with specific times for specific subjects (assigning homework if a child doesn’t finish the assigned work in the allotted time)?
- Do you want to homeschool for nine consecutive months each year, year-round, take weeklong breaks each month, etc.?
- Do you want to schedule four days of seatwork per week, allowing one day a week for field trips?
(This is the basic edition of Homeschool Tracker offered as a free service to the homeschool community.)
Your town and/or state’s requirements, in addition to your personal preferences, will play a role in how you handle homeschool record-keeping. Some states and/or towns require portfolios for each child (a compilation of examples of the student’s work in each subject area). Some require a record showing the dates of school attended by the student for the school year. Some require a lesson plan book showing the specific daily lesson plans for the school year. Some require scores of standardized achievement tests. Some require report cards. To know what your town and/or state require for record-keeping, you will need to be familiar with the laws and requirements of your own town and state. (See the section below on homeschool laws.)
Even if your town and state recognize the freedom of parents to teach their own children at home, thereby not placing stringent record-keeping requirements on homeschool parents, it is still wise to keep some kind of records of your child’s homeschool experience. At the very least, consider keeping an annual portfolio of examples of your child’s best work for each subject. This will give both you and your child an indication of your child’s level of progress each year when you view the portfolios of prior years. Additionally, it is always a joy to hear my children exclaim, “I remember when I did that in school!”
Record-keeping is particularly important during your homeschooled child’s high school years, especially (but not only) if your child plans to attend college. You will want to keep a high school transcript of your child’s subjects studied, along with grades and credits earned. For an example of how to keep a high school transcript, refer to my article at
A good place to begin your search for information on homeschool laws by state is to visit the official website of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Just click on your state of interest; then, on the next webpage, click on “Laws” under the category called, “[State] Resources.”
Many homeschoolers enjoy the help, encouragement, and activities that come with being associated with a homeschool support group. Searching for the right support group to help you on your homeschool journey can be both daunting and exciting ~ daunting during the search, exciting when you realize you have found a great fit. The Internet is a good place to start your search. No single website includes an all-inclusive list of support groups in each state. This is because many sites require the support groups themselves to register on the site in order to be listed. You can begin your search by visiting the following websites:
Your local library is another good place to search for information on homeschool support groups in your area. Many times, local support groups provide information to librarians in order to help seekers more easily find them.
Once you make the decision to homeschool, you will likely hear objections to your decision from well-meaning friends and family members. The objections will include questions like “What about socialization?”; “How will you teach subjects like foreign language and calculus and lab science?”; “How will you get in 6 hours a day of teaching?” A gentle response backed by a firm conviction is your best approach to answering such objections. To be better armed with a ready defense for homeschooling, I refer you to the following articles: