3 years ago this week, “The Dalton School” was born. Frequently I am asked why and how we homeschool. Here is our explanation:
The Dalton School- Why and How??
A few summers ago I sat in our beach cottage in Huntington and read The Well Trained Mind which had found its way into our enormous pile of library books for that week. I had no idea that it was a book about homeschooling. In fact, I didn’t even really know what homeschooling was and I had certainly never considered it as an option for my family. Wasn’t homeschooling what hippie parents did when they wanted to shun society? Weren’t homeschoolers those “weird” kids with glasses that knew all the answers to the jeopardy quiz, but couldn’t interact in social venues? As I read the text the impression came to my mind that this was something I could and should do for my children. I ignored it. Surely, the glorious sunshine and intoxicating ocean breezes were dulling my senses. Homeschooling?? Nah…..
Fortunately, the impression to bring our kids home did not go away. However, I continued to ignore it (discounting it to pure exhaustion—I had a newborn) and sent my kids back to school and me back to the gym. Rapidly, small warning lights seemed to be going off. Jake didn’t feel like he was learning anything. They couldn’t get Taylor’s schedule to sync. Nothing drastic, just small things—little reminders that I was to follow my instinct. We prayed, we fasted, we decided and we did it—the next day! I expected the kids to balk, after all they had never complained about going to school, but they were thrilled. Mike was supportive and all of a sudden I had four kids home all day and I had no idea what I was doing!
I read everything. I experimented. I failed. I succeeded. Mike and I thought we were bringing the kids home to give them a quality classical education and to give them time to be kids. We thought we were going to push them farther up the educational ladder with exponential speed. We were rookies.
If you were to ask us now, three years later, why we homeschool the response would be simple. We brought them home to focus on what matters most. For our family we can keep our priorities in order easier when we have our children home. Perhaps this is because we overschedule our afternoons or perhaps this is because Mike works long hours and gets more time with the kids this way. In any case, for us it has allowed us to have time. Time for scripture study. Time to read good books aloud. Time to practice the piano. Time to fall in love with learning. Time to fail. Time to learn to work. Time to play with the neighborhood kids after school. Time to be involved with scouts. Time to travel.
But, what about that scholastic ladder? How do they compare with other kids their age? How do you know if they are behind in some subjects? Do you really teach all the subjects to all your kids? Which standardized tests to you have them take? How do you know if you are reaching all the state standards? The answers to all these quandries are simple and yet complex. We have found a different ladder that we want our kids to climb. Yes, we still want them to learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but we want them to learn them for different reasons. We want them to dive into them because they love to learn and are passionate about it. Last week I asked Taylor, age 12, in the midst of his chosen math lesson, what his favorite subject was. He replied, “Mom, I couldn’t chose one. They are all connected and I love them all.”
The next question (people that know our children have stopped asking how they are going to be socialized) that we are usually asked is how do you do it all? Usually, this is asked simply to be reassured that they themselves could not do it. However, occasionally, someone truly wants to know. I should pause here to mention that at this point in the process we do not advocate homeschooling to others. It is a lot of hard work and the results are unknown. For our family it is the right thing, but for your family another path may be superior. But I digress– to the question of how, I usually respond that we put first things first (family scriptures, family values, family work, personal scriptures, and music) and then we try to expose our children to all the greatness there is to be had in our own community. In order to make this effective the TV, the video consules and the other electronics of necessity must be removed. That void is then filled with the best music, books, artwork, poetry and theater that we can find. From there we have found nature to be a superb teacher and have found nature journals and hiking to be essential.
Of course, it is important to find out what the homeschooling laws are in your area and make sure that you meet those. Once those are met the sky is the limit. We have used a conglomerate of the scriptures, the talk “Our Refined Heavenly Home”, “A Thomas Jefferson Education”, “The Well Trained Mind”, “The Seven Habits”, “Anatomy of Peace”, “Teaching your Children Joy” and some of the philosphosies of Charlotte Mason, Marie Montessori, and the Waldorf schools. There is not one perfect method for our family, but rather a variety of tools that allow us to create something that works for us. I trust that the same would be true for you and your family.
Another key for us has been exposure. Again, as mentioned above this has to do with exposing your family to all the great things that are available in your community from art exhibits to Shakespeare to bird watching. For us it is also foundational that we travel to expose our kids to greatness not available in our own area. This may not be feasible for all families, but for us it has been an essential that we have planned and budgeted for.
So where does one start? I would start by praying, reading the books and articles mentioned above, praying, pondering, praying and writing down your goal and mission for your family. What do you want it to look like? Then I would go about creating that. I would fill my home with the best books, teach my children to work, memorize scriptures and poetry with them, read history (I love the audio of The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer) , let them draw and write, and read to them anything that you or your spouse is writing or presenting so that they can be inspired by you. I would find out what they want to learn and use that as a spring board. If they don’t have any ideas then I would start with the first year of The Story of the World and begin exposing them to the great writers, leaders and philosophers of the world from the beginning.
If I could do it again, I would smile and laugh more and worry less. I would trust my gut and I would enjoy my children more. I would continue to travel and listen to classics on tape. I would continue to teach them to read by reading the Book of Mormon one painful verse at a time with them until they are completely proficient and confident (we encourage our children to read the Book of Mormon in its entirety before they make the decision to be baptized and then to read it each calendar year after that). And I would enjoy the journey…….