But It Looked So Good at the Book Fair

September brings enthusiasm for a new school year. With October come weather changes and new things to explore outdoors. November is filled with thoughts of how blessed we are. December bustles with Christmas energy. So what happens in January? Suddenly, home school moms faced with winter months of seemingly unending days and weeks of schoolwork come to a harsh realization: “We don’t like this curriculum!” What is a mom to do?

First, do not panic! You have not ruined your child for life. Pick and choose the best of what your current curriculum has to offer. Stretch yourself a little and be creative. Hit the library web site and search for books on the topics you are covering. Set out for that helpful resource locale alone, so you can peruse books carefully and choose some to read aloud and others on-level for your child to read alone.

Re-evaluate what you hope to achieve. No, “complete second grade” is not a goal. Think about why you are homeschooling. What do you want to develop in your child? More importantly, how has God designed that child, and how can you provide opportunities for your child to develop those God-given abilities? Moms who have more kids than I have are saying at this point, “Oh, sure, that’s easy for her to say.” So, what is the plan for your family? Think bigger. How can you give all your children the relational abilities they need to develop while building academic skills at the same time?

I must pause here to reflect on an important issue that merits careful thought. School covers two areas—skills and information. Know the difference, and recognize how you are addressing each. Skills are the basics of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Information is all the vast sum of knowledge that exists in the universe (in other words, “everything else except skills”). Somehow, we think that we have to make sure our homeschooled children know everything there is to know about everything there is in order to meet some nebulous standard of being acceptable. Wrong. As a former public school teacher, I can attest to this: No matter how much spit and polish goes into the presentation of public schools, none of the public school graduates come away knowing everything there is to know about everything in the world. Come on. Most of you went to public school. Do you know it all? Neither do I. We do not have to, and neither do our kids. Give yourself, and them, a break.

Now that you know the difference, divide and conquer. Identify strengths and weaknesses in skills areas and develop a plan of action for each one. Modify what your child does with the curriculum in order to achieve the skills he needs. If your math curriculum is not working, consider teaching the skills a different way. Or, if your child gets it but struggles with the workbook, consider reducing the assignments. If he knows how to do ten random problems (you choose, based on what the problems ask him to do), does he really need to do all 100? Enlarge the pages on a copier at your local office supply store if your child has trouble fitting his handwriting onto the lines. Are columns a problem? Write his problems on graph paper. Find ways to modify what you already have in order to make it work (at least until your tax refund comes!).

As for reading, evaluate the problem. Is he having trouble decoding (figuring out the words) or comprehending what he reads? Attack the real issue, and do not beat a dead horse. Reduce assignments that you know he will breeze through and spend extra attention on what is really important. A note about reading: Reading aloud and reading silently are two separate issues. If your child is struggling to read aloud, offer silent reading assignments with comprehension questions following. If your child can do these, he can, indeed, read, but reading aloud is not his strength. Also consider this: Is your child bored by what he is reading?

I had an article about handwriting published in the May 2003 THSC REVIEW. Look at that article again for ideas about handwriting issues. If your child can write and now you want him to compose, offer lots of opportunities for him to write about topics that are important to him. Other topics can come later. After all, how much do you write about, say, quantum physics in an average day?

Enhance the skills work by finding ways to absorb information through fun activities. Books are great, but remember also that opportunities to do make great learning adventures as well. Play and experiment with ways to learn about the world. Make the newspaper a daily (or weekly) guide to exploration. Articles about other countries or science can spark amazing research projects.

Now that you have arranged to survive, heal your bruised self-esteem as a curriculum selector by planning carefully what to do for next year. Consider book purchases for yourself—something to look over and digest during the coming months. Books by Joyce Herzog, Cathy Duffy, and Mary Pride offer advice about curriculum choices. Look into books that cover learning styles so you can understand your child and yourself better before making decisions. Reading about your philosophy of homeschooling might also help you discern truth about why you homeschool and what your goals are and might need to be. Talk with experienced home schoolers, some with older children and others who are only a few years ahead of you in the process. You may not agree with their curriculum choices, but hearing about the materials they use (and maybe looking at them) can give you insight before you walk into a convention hall sparkling with glitzy books.

Remember: “All that glitters is not gold” and “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It is so easy to get overwhelmed and caught up in the sales pitches offered by book fair salesmen whose purpose is to get you to buy a book. These people do not know your children, your home, or your needs. Advance preparation could mean the difference between making it through next year and repeating this year’s frustrations.

Most importantly, teach your children about your Lord and your journey of faith with Him. What they may need to see most is your teachable heart, your willingness to learn from a mistake, and your desire to hear from God about what should happen next in your home school. The lessons they learn about adaptability may be much more critical in years to come than anything they could get out of a book.

In the meantime, enjoy your children. Remember that you are privileged to be with them. They are treasures and gifts, and you are a steward. Nurture and love them. Seek ways to bless your children educationally as you continue this home school journey. Start now, by remembering why you began homeschooling in the first place.