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Homeschooling Style:
How Much Structure Should You Have?

Should you homeschool with a completely structured, pre-planned, boxed curriculum? Would child-led learning with no particular learning goals be more your style? From structured teaching to unschooling, homeschoolers can find success by seeking what works best for each family and child. The ideas below were posted on the HomeschoolChristian.com message boards.

Lorinda: I have seven children ages 30 to 11. We began using a boxed curriculum, but have changed over time. I have found that if you follow the children's interest they retain what they learn. As they get older and begin to make a career choice they become motivated to learn what they need to know for that career. They feel that they have learned how to make decisions about their lives. Not one of them tries to "blame" someone else when they make poor choices. When we began homeschooling my dh and I made a short list of goals.

  • Retain the love of learning that in innate in all of us.
  • Learn HOW to learn.
  • Learn to take responsibility for themselves.
  • Know who God is. (Most important goal.)

We believe that they have all accomplished those goals. The academics were secondary to us. Yes, I believe in education - I have a master's degree and my ex-husband has a college degree, but in the long run academics are the least important thing we teach our children.

Shelly: My kids like the structure and couldn't work any other way. I guess they get that from the parents. They like to do things on their own and use it more as a hobby.

Cathe: I knocked myself out making sure my son was academically trained to match his intelligence - so he's an engineer in the army, stationed in Seoul and HATING it because he wants to be in the woods. Sure he makes more money and has a future. But would he have been happier if I had encouraged him to do things that he WANTED to do - maybe a career in construction, timber, or something else he could have done to have the lifestyle he wanted? We can't undo things, but I will say that while I expect a LOT academically from my boys, I am trying to be more sensitive to the hearts of my other two boys. God doesn't think a doctor is of more "value" than a logger.

Certain methods of education work better with certain people - for teacher and student. I don't try to put them in tidy little boxes like some do, but I can tell which things work for us and which don't. You know and love your children. I know you can listen to them and find what works for all of you.

I do think that elementary school is a good time to read and write and learn your math facts and basic fractions and decimals. Most of the science, history, etc. that is learned then is re-learned in the upper grades anyhow - and at a faster speed and more thorough comprehension.

Laurajean: I tend to be rather structured myself. I think that they need a knowledge base to build upon. How else will they know what their interests are if they don't stretch themselves? I also want to raise my children so that they can "take on" the next generation. I think it is of extreme importance these days for Christians to present themselves academically and intellectually. If we don't, then we won't be respected, nor will we be taken seriously. And boy, do we need to be taken seriously! Spouting off feelings and emotions just don't cut it out there in the world. I want my children to be able to pursue their interests, but I feel that is best served by laying a firm foundation.

Jamie: I think it all depends on the kind of people you are. I tend to be a very organized, structure based person. While this does NOT mean that I use a canned curriculum, it does mean that I design and use a curriculum. I want my son to be educated in the most he can be. We do Bible, math, English, history, science every day. We also do physical education, music, art, computer, and 3 foreign languages (Latin, Japanese, Spanish). When he expresses an interest in a topic, we pursue that. He has to commit to it for a year (this is how we got the foreign languages in there). At age 10, I consider him to be a pleasant, well-educated, well-rounded boy. Within our subjects, I feel free to pick and choose those materials that best suit us. Because of the kind of person I am, I would not feel as if I were meeting my goals for homeschooling if I didn't maintain a high level of organization and structure.

However, I will also say that homeschooling is about educational freedom. I have a goal that my child will be educated in the Word of God first, and then exhibit academic superiority in the other subjects so that he will have the freedom to pursue college and whatever job or life that the Lord calls him to. I don't want him to have any limitations.

Other homeschoolers don't have this goal. They are raising their children differently and may have a different focus on where they would like to see them end up. For some people, college isn't a necessity at all. I know many parents of girls who are raising future moms and are more concerned with home-based skills than I am because of their educational goals. And that's fine.

God has called us all to this life, and has put us in it for different reasons. So, I wouldn't worry about comparing yourself to others and I wouldn't let them put you down either. Just be comfortable and happy with your own choices and pursue them as you like. If something doesn't work, change it. make a commitment to pray for your homeschooling friends, and God will bind you all together regardless of how you pursue the educational part of it!

Karla: I'm a mix. After years of pulling everything together myself and being a very "relaxed homeschooler", this year I went back to a workbook curriculum. Of course all my relaxed homeschool friends thought I was crazy. They were wrong. I've grown and come to the realization that it's as much how you use your material as it is what material you use. Now I use the workbooks to get the basics covered. I give at least as much emphasis toward learning through doing.

I believe in lifelong learning and my husband and I model that belief in our own lives. We also believe that developing a personal relationship with Christ is the most important thing anyone can do with their lives. I believe that plays a much bigger role in helping our children have successful lives than what kind of curriculum I use.

Kim: We unschool and we are enjoying it very much. I am a very relaxed homeschooler and allow the children to pick and choose most of what they want to do. I don't use the unit study approach, but they do! If they are interested in it I find as many things as I can on it, give it to them and let them pick and choose what they would like to use, and what to drop.

I do occasionally require things, (such as asking my 14 year old daughter to read Teenage Liberation Handbook) and I try and read to them every single day. We work together in a family business, and I use a curriculum as a base for math, but as often as not we don't do it during the day. Right now I'm introducing adding fractions with uncommon denominators and the two younger ones are not getting it, so I'm going to let it go for the summer and maybe see how they respond to it in the fall.

Reese: Less structure! Some of you need to lax up as my son says. Decide first what is really most important in your child's life? Is it really academics? Or could it be a heart for the Lord? I have said this before on this forum, but it is worth saying again. When my daughter walks down that graduation aisle, I don't want to hear whispers of how she made straight A's...how intelligent she is...I want to hear what a Godly lady she has turned out to be. That is my mission. If you study your Bible, you know God tells us to train up a child, now do you think he means algebra, social studies and art? No, he gave them to us to raise for Him...to follow Him...to serve Him...and to love Him. I don't know about you, but that is what I am trying to instill in my children. If you get their characters aligned with God's then the academics will come easy.

Life is not a schedule to adhere to. Just be a loving Mom to your kids, read to them, talk with them, learn together, and above all be a spiritual Christian example to them. They will be as you are. (Now that will make you be a better Christian knowing they will be like you.)

This might be as good a time as any to say this too. If you are running short of time during school one day, what subject is always dropped? Yep, Bible. The majority of us can say that. If time is running short, it should be the only subject you teach that day. Just take some time and think about it. Some of you might be ready to free yourself of the chains of structured school. After that first 2 years of my imprisonment to it, I felt like a real mother and not a teacher to my children. Not to mention how much more they enjoyed being around me and not a schoolmarm.

I just felt led to make a few of these statements especially to those of you who are new to homeschooling. It is truly wonderful, but you will have to make it that way, if it isn't truly wonderful, make the changes necessary to fulfill your desires. If I can do it with the Lord's help, then I know you can. What can be more important than this investment in your child's future? I don't mean by investment money in their curriculum either. It is your love and time you give them in training them up in the admonition of the Lord.

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