Over time, I have noticed that many experienced homeschoolers- regardless of their educational philosophy- recommend Ruth Beechick's books. I've read a couple of them before, but when I picked them up last week, I was looking for something else- why are her books so highly recommended? It didn't take me long to figure it out. She has a common sense approach to education that puts a big emphasis on natural and frustration-free learning.
Her books are short and easy to read -- and they've taken a load off my shoulders. One quick disclaimer- Ruth Beechick and I have differing views on how the world began and the how history has unfolded since then. Although she's written many books and articles about these topics, I don't read them, so I can't properly review them for you here. I do think her views on curriculum, educational theory and the primary years of learning are priceless, and that is what I'm discussing here.The books that I read (and highly recommend) are:
- The Three R's
- Dr. Beechick's Homeschool Answer Book
- The Language Wars ( the good stuff is in Part I)
1. Do what works
Ruth says that "Good teachers are independent souls and they do what works for them." If what you are currently doing is working for you, then stop changing it. The educational giants wrote in generalities, and they don't know your child as well as you do. Do what works, regardless of what the experts say.
2. What to do when it's not working
Burnout occurs when days are filled with unsuitable work, mindless busywork, or work above the child's present ability. If school has become drudgery, the problem is not with you or your children. The problem is with the curriculum. Healthy children are not lazy and will not resist learning if it is introduced at the right time. If your kids aren't "getting it" and schoolwork has become frustrating, rethink the materials you are using.
3. Curriculum is to be used, not followed
Published curriculum can be helpful, but only if it is used and not followed. Our task is to know when to use it and when to drop it.
"When curriculum is servant, you can easily drop it anytime something better is happening... If you are wearing yourself out trying to work up exciting units or projects, then reconsider. It might be time for published curriculum again. Remember that if curriculum is a servant, not only can you drop it when that seems best, but you can use it when that seems best. If your family has been caught up in reading and talking about books on ancient Egypt or some other topic and now the interest is waning, you need not dive immediately into another intense study. And if you need something to do during 'school' hours, just use a textbook for a while. The next topic and mental challenge will present itself when the mind is ready."
Ruth believes that children often benefit from the ideas presented to them in published curriculum, but she also advocates dropping the curriculum and running with a child's interest when it is sparked. There is an ebb and flow (that cannot be preplanned) when considering published curriculum vs. delight-directed learning.
4. First learn to read, then read to learn
The primary task for 1st-3rd grade students is learning to read and doing some basic work with numbers. Content is not the focus. Don't worry about teaching your child about specifics in history, science, or social studies. Teach them the mechanics of reading in 1st and 2nd grade, and let them read-read-read as many easy books as you can find in 2nd and 3rd grade. They will encounter enough of all the other subjects through real life during these early grades. When they are reading fluently (usually about 4th grade), they can begin to gain knowledge in the other subjects through their reading. Don't fuss with content-based subjects until then.
5. Homeschooling should be easy
If it's not, then you're working too hard, and you're probably taking on too much. If you find yourself wondering how you can fit it all in, see where you can simplify. Focus on doing a few things really well. "You parents naturally know how to relate to each of your children and help them learn. Your biggest problem is that so many of you are afraid that teachers or society or somebody out there will frown on your way of teaching. You feel safer if you stick closely to a book or series of books, because that is somebody else's plan, that is in print, that must be right."
6. When to teach reading
Wait till the optimum time, and that's probably a lot later than most of us are starting. Dr. Beechick says that a good average age for girls to start reading is six-and-a-half; for boys, seven-and-a-half. That's average, so it means some will be ready earlier than that, some later. Other well-known educators have been preaching this for decades (Raymond Moore and David Elkind come to mind), but most mothers are too anxious to listen. If you start teaching a few sounds and your student doesn't catch on right away, then it's too early. Wait. There is absolutely no benefit to teaching reading early-- but there is tremendous benefit in waiting until the optimum time.
7. Optimum time
Optimum time is the period in which the child is fully ready to learn a particular skill. Each child's optimum time is different from another's -- but it's almost always later than you think it will be. For example, Beechick says that it should only take about three weeks to learn cursive. If we teach before the optimum time, kids labor over cursive for up to a year. If we wait for the optimum time, they can learn it in less than a month. Once they're 13, who cares when they learned it, as long as they can do it well. This takes much of the drudgery and frustration out of learning, and it respects each child's God-given developmental level. There is an optimum time for every skill under the sun- reading, handwriting, math concepts, you name it-- and every child's optimum time will be unique to him or her.
8. Preschool & Kindergarten
Homeschoolers do not need to "do" preschool or kindergarten at all. In the Answer Book, she wrote this at least four or five times. Instead, we should go about our days with young children as if we had never heard the term 'homeschooling'.
9. Language Arts: thoughts on grammar, comprehension and spelling
Reading is comprehension. Homeschoolers need not concern themselves with comprehension workbooks or any other such exercise. Spelling can (and should) wait until the 4th grade, except for perhaps some common useful words which can be approached in the context of the child's writing before then. Formal grammar is best learned in 7th grade and thereafter, when the student is already writing well. It is not burdensome at that age, and can be learned quickly and well. There is no need to rush these skills.
10. Unit studies: not necessarily for all ages
Many people tout the benefits of using unit studies to work with multiple age levels. This can indeed be a good way to combine children's studies, Ruth says, but too often unit studies are used with primary aged children. The primary task for a child 3rd grade and younger is to learn to read, not to learn subject content. Particulars in science, history, art appreciation, etc can come later. Schoolwork in the primary grades should focus on the 3 R skills. The rest of the subjects are adequately approached through real life. Unit studies are best saved for 4th grade and thereafter, when a child is developmentally equipped to read for information.
11. Ignore grade levels
Shoot for balance over a large chunk of time, not necessarily year to year. You need not try to balance every subject every year. There is no harm in skipping science for a year to focus more heavily on history. The following year, a science focus may be in order. Think of your child's education in terms of a whole. This does much in terms of relieving the teacher and student from unrealistic expectations. It takes away the need to cram many subjects into a day or even a week. The goal here is deep, rich, real learning-- quality over quantity.
12. Take heart
Well-meaning friends and family may consistently question our methods and doubt a relaxed approach to home education-- even doubt home learning as a proper means of education at all. This is more draining that most non-homeschoolers can ever imagine. Instead of constantly defending ourselves, however, Ruth tells us to"Quietly go about your own family work, don't argue too much, and patiently wait for the time when your success will argue for itself."
Remember, these aren't my ideas- they're hers. But I'm happy to have stumbled upon them, and I can see myself implementing many of these in our homeschool right away. I haven't read You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully, because it's geared for parents teaching grades 4-8, but I'm sure I'll be digging up good stuff there in the future.