Homeschooling ABC’s: M, N, and O

Sweet candy font M N O letters

I hope you enjoyed last month’s post on “Stealth Homeschooling.”  This month I’m getting back to my “Homeschooling ABC’s” series.  It’s full of practical advice and homeschooling encouragement, so I hope you’ll read it and let me know what you think!

M is for Multi-Level Teaching – While it’s not always the case, it’s not exactly a secret that homeschooling families tend to have more children than the average family.  So it’s not unusual for a homeschooling parent to be educating two, three, or more children at a time, and multi-level teaching can be key to enabling you, if you are that parent, to spend less time planning and teaching and more time enjoying the process.

Multi-level teaching is just what it sounds like, i.e. you teach more than one grade level at a time.  Just about any subject can be accommodated to multi-level teaching and if you use unit studies, you can actually teach more than one subject while you also teach more than one grade level.

There are two subjects that don’t lend themselves well to multi-level teaching.  Math is a subject that requires more of a sequential learning process, so you generally need to teach this subject individually, though some families with children very close in age have found it possible to teach two children at one grade level.  If you are teaching a child to read you will also need to teach phonics on an individual basis. But other than math and phonics, at least until your children reach their high school years, it is possible to teach any subject at multiple grade levels.

I used multi-level teaching for years with my older children.  Besides unit studies, I also taught history as a multi-level subject using Greenleaf Press.  In fact, I used everything from the Greenleaf Guide to Old Testament History, to the Greenleaf Guide to Famous Men of the Renaissance and the Reformation, and I’m still using Greenleaf with my youngest son!  One of the advantages of Greenleaf Press is that they utilize  the “living books” approach, which makes it particularly suited to multi-level teaching.

The Five in a Row curriculum is also an excellent choice for multi-level teaching, particularly if you have several young “stair-step” children.  Though I didn’t use it myself, I know many other families have had great success with this program and enjoyed its ease of use.

If you are homeschooling more than one child and haven’t yet given multi-level teaching a try, I suggest you do.  Multi-level teaching can not only make your life easier, but it also strengthens family bonds and builds lasting memories.

N is for “No Such Thing As Failure!” – Something that has been emphasized to me lately is the understanding that just because something doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that it was a failure – or to put it even more succinctly, it doesn’t mean you have failed.

I can still clearly remember the frustration that both my oldest son and I felt when I was teaching him to read.  I had decided to use the same phonics program that my daughter had used – it had worked for her, so why not?

My daughter had attended a small, private Christian school for kindergarten and that was where she essentially learned to read.  By the end of kindergarten she was already reading at a second grade level, so when I started homeschooling her in first grade, I merely spent a few months on some phonics review and then we jumped right into a reading curriculum.

When I started homeschooling my son three years later I made the erroneous assumption that the phonics program that had worked with my daughter would work just as well for my son.  This phonics program was published by a company that is very popular among Christian schools, and at the time many homeschoolers were also using their materials simply because there was so little available to us.

It may not occur to homeschoolers who have begun to homeschool in the last decade or so that the plethora of materials available now were nowhere to be found when I (and others of my generation) started homeschooling in 1990.  Moreover, finding the resources that were available was not as easy as jumping online and doing a search on Amazon or Google.  Much of the information was word-of-mouth from one homeschooler to another.  There were a few catalogs and the annual homeschool conference, if you could get there, but that was it.

So I used the curriculum that I had and that I knew and that I thought would work.

My son actually did “learn” phonics, but he hated this program and I came to hate it too.  Yes, he could decode words, but by the end of second grade he could still not read fluently and we were both frustrated.  Moreover, he emphatically declared that he “hated reading.”

Fortunately, I ran into a homeschooling friend and shared my story.  She recommended the “Explode the Code” phonics program.  She gave it such high praise that I decided to buy it for my son to use in third grade.  It actually only took three months of using “Explode the Code” for my son to begin reading fluently.  And best of all, he now declared that he “loved to read.”  In fact, he began bringing along a book with him everywhere we went.  He’s 25 years old now (yikes!) and still an avid reader.

I share this story to make a point: sometimes we stick with something because we feel that to ditch this curriculum, or discontinue that activity, means we have failed.  As homeschoolers, how often do we think we need to plow through a curriculum that our kids (and we) hate, simply because we spent the money, we’ve already used it for six months, and to get rid of it would mean that we had somehow failed?

Am I striking a nerve here, or is this just me?

I believe that, at least for some of us, there’s a tendency to equate something not working, with failure.  One illustration to demonstrate the fallacy of this perspective is that of the scientist who formulates an experiment to test a hypothesis.  If it turns out his hypothesis is incorrect, does he throw up his hands, declare himself a failure and begin looking for another career?  Of course not.  He understands that part of the scientific method is finding out what works – and what doesn’t.

If you’ve felt like a failure lately because something in your homeschool isn’t working, stop.  Stop telling yourself you’re a failure.  Stop blaming yourself.  Stop trying to do something that is simply not working for you and your family.

Put that curriculum aside for a while, or get rid of it altogether, whichever you think is best.  But whatever you do, do not say that you have failed.  The fact is, you’ve simply found something that didn’t work…for you, right now.

Accept it and move on.  While there will be hard times as we homeschool, and not all schoolwork should necessarily be “fun,” it shouldn’t be a constant struggle either.  With the incredible amount of resources available to homeschoolers today, there is certainly something out there that will work for you and your child.

Oh, by the way, when I started homeschooling my middle son in 1999, I used “Explode the Code” to teach him phonics from the get-go.  It was so easy I couldn’t believe it!  Since then it’s the only phonics program I recommend.  And from the feedback I’ve gotten on previous posts, many other homeschoolers have had great success with it as well.  Another plus?  It’s very easy on the homeschooling budget!

O is for Overcoming Obstacles– I’ve talked about overcoming obstacles here at Homeschooling911 before.  In fact, I have an entire category dedicated to it (you can read those posts by clicking on the link in the right sidebar under “Topics.”)

The problem I encountered teaching my oldest son to read is just one example of the innumerable challenges I’ve faced as a homeschooler.  In fact, while it was certainly frustrating at the time, I’d have to say it was one of the more minor challenges when you consider that I’ve homeschooled while dealing with the tragic deaths of close family members, health issues, and several moves, among other things.

Throughout your homeschooling journey you will have obstacles to overcome because that’s just part of life.  You don’t get a pass because you homeschool.  And in some cases, you will have additional obstacles to overcome such as complete strangers asking you, “But what about socialization?!”

Yes, I realize that’s not such a big deal in the whole scheme of things, but it does get tiresome.

In any case, I hope you will take heart from my experiences and those of other homeschoolers who have homeschooled, and done so quite successfully, in spite of what would seem to be overwhelming obstacles.  I believe that one of the most important factors in overcoming these obstacles is keeping the endgame in mind.  As a Christian, I have an eternal perspective.  I know that I’m not just preparing my children for a career, for marriage, or for being parents themselves, though I certainly have those things in mind.

Far more important, however, is the fact that I am preparing my children for eternity.   I want them to love and serve their Creator.  I view my homeschooling journey as one of discipleship, not just academics.  When you realize that homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint, and when you have an eternal perspective in mind, it gives you the strength to “keep on keeping on.”

I hope this post has helped you to realize that there are many ways to effectively homeschool – using multi-level teaching, for instance.  I hope it has helped you to realize that just because a particular curriculum or activity didn’t work for you, that’s not a sign that homeschooling won’t work for your family, or that you are a failure.  And I hope that you realize that you can overcome obstacles if you will keep the bigger picture in mind.

I’d like to ask you to consider sharing this post with others, and if you want to make sure not to miss new posts (which I publish on a monthly basis, roughly speaking) don’t forget to sign up for my e-mail newsletter or follow Homeschooling911 on Facebook.  You can do either, or both, in the right sidebar.  Finally, thanks for reading and if you have a thought to add, please share it in the comments!