What prompts a family to make the decision to homeschool their children, and then to start producing home school products for sale? I can't speak for anyone else, because every homeschooling family does so for different reasons and in different ways. If you are interested in knowing more about my family and its history, please read my biography. Perhaps by telling you our family's homeschooling story I can help you spot points to look for in your own journey. You will probably be able to identify with these vignettes. If not now then one day--you will recall these stories and chuckle!
I will never forget the day our (newly married) life took a major turn. Mike had just gotten home from Bible college and I was sitting on his lap. I told him the big news, "I'm pregnant!" His instinctive reaction was, "You mean I won't get to finish school?" I chuckled and said that he, of course, could finish school--we'd manage somehow. Little did we know that not only would he finish school, but that we would take on a lifestyle of schooling--homeschooling, that is.
In the early days of our marriage we had to walk everywhere, or take a bus. We spent hours getting to and from everywhere, and that gave us time to think and talk (and to count our pennies and figure out if we could afford this or that). One day while walking, we got to talking about educating the child I was expecting. I said "Well, I don't want him in the public school system; that's for sure!" "Well, then, what will we do?" Mike wanted to know. I told him that I had read about something called "homeschooling" in a magazine. Wow; who knew? Twenty-three years ago people were homeschooling, but there was not much publicity about it. Finding that magazine article was just a stroke of...divine providence! Although I would like to think so, we were not really pioneers. Others had blazed a way through their own educational wildernesses, but we still hadn't found the map--we had our work cut out for us. It is very good that the Creator doesn't tell us everything in the beginning!
From this point on, we began to notice things that could prove useful to us as a homeschooling family. If we saw a bin of math workbooks, we counted the pennies to see if we could buy one (and if not, I read it carefully so I could duplicate what was in it). Strange as it may sound now, we really thought that if we didn't buy it now we'd never see it again--that there was a scarcity of curriculum! If we were in the library's arts and crafts section, we wrote down the names of books that were sure to turn our kids into skilled artists. If we heard the word "homeschool" in the media, we put down everything and turned up the volume. We scoured garage sales and used book stores. We wanted to be ready when it was time for our child to "do school!" By the time he was four (and Jennifer was two), Jonathan's parents had quite a collection of cheap educational stuff for him to use!
Always mindful of our lack of pennies, I tried diligently to produce as much as possible myself. But I soon discovered that the fact that I was a voracious reader and writer didn't mean that I automatically knew how to teach my son how to do it. I can still remember the utter humiliation I felt when I failed to engage my son's interest in doing the reading lesson I had worked so hard on. He didn't want to do it, and time wouldn't stand still while I figured out why--this kid needed to learn to read now! With the advantage of hindsight, I realize today that it's not necessary to rush a child into reading; s/he will learn to read when s/he is ready...and not a moment before! It's not uncommon for children to postpone reading skill development until they're 8 or 9 years old! But at the time I thought that I had to push my own agenda, and Jonathan didn't like that. In fact, he dragged his heels the whole time we homeschooled--because it was my agenda, not his. If I were to do it over again I'd try to be less anxious and more trusting, let Jonathan's interests guide me more, and apply more consistent, loving discipline where necessary.
We were so "green" that we didn't realize there was a lot more to homeschooling than having a bunch of materials in the house. Those math workbooks, for example, were marketed by a variety of publishers with different agendas and using different methods. Who knew there were so many ways to do arithmetic? Accumulating an assortment of math workbooks from different venders is like buying your dishes one at a time at garage sales, never managing to collect one complete matching set--but we didn't know it at the time! We also needed to know a lot more about how children learn in order to make wise decisions about the materials we should use. We made such silly mistakes because we were unaware that there was a whole industry surrounding homeschooling--made up of a huge variety of curriculum developers and suppliers, writers and speakers, parents and children. Check here for a few of the links I have collected.
I remember the day I discovered resources! The Creator had come to my rescue again, this time through an interview on a Christian TV station. When I heard the topic was homeschooling, my ears perked up. I was riveted! For the first time I was able to attach a face to the homeschooling concept. This lady was actually doing it, and very successfully! Still basking in the warm glow of her enthusiasm long after the interview was over, I phoned the support group number on the screen. I had all kinds of questions for the nice lady, and she had all kinds of answers for me, but not enough. She pointed out that she was a member of a home school support group in New York where the laws were different than those of Ontario, Canada. She said I needed to find a local home school support group but was unable to provide any contact information. However, she did recommend that I subscribe to The Teaching Home magazine. Mindful of the pennies again, I asked her if it was worth the money. "Yes, yes, yes!" she said, and I subscribed. Thus began my voyage of discovery into the amazing world of curriculum suppliers.
...what? Oh, sorry, I got lost there for a moment leafing through my old copies... These are keepers, folks! I have four binders full of Teaching Home magazines, plus a number of articles that I printed off their website. This magazine and website is inarguably the best homeschooling resource you will ever find--and there are a lot of resources out there! When my first magazine arrived, I spent hours poring over every page. My new TV friend had wisely suggested I purchase a supply of postcards, because I would need them for requesting catalogs and samples. Oy! Did I go through stamps that month! If I had been a coffee drinker, I would have been buzzed, too. There was so much to read and I couldn't put the magazine down. Receiving this gift was like air to a drowning man...
Reading through The Teaching Home magazine was a real eye-opener. There was something here for everybody! Everything looked so good, and so right for us. Well, maybe not immediately, some of it would have to wait about 9 or 10 years, but here's the point: where I once had almost no information, I now had too much!
How does one make a decision when there is so much to choose from, and too few dollars with which to pay for it? Well, the first thing we did was figure out what my preferred teaching style was. Did I want to use workbooks? No. CD's and videos? No. Textbooks? No. I am a reader and writer, so I gravitated to the advertisements promoting literature as the primary resources. I was so jazzed from reading about the variety of material that was available that I decided I could write my own curriculum, too! I planned to design our program around a living books approach (now that I knew what that was), and had a skeleton outline in my head. Then I read through a catalog from "The Weaver Curriculum" and felt impressed by the Creator that this is what I should use. Whew! It would be a whole lot easier than writing my own stuff. It wasn't a living books approach, but it seemed like a good one--unit studies based on the Bible.
I definitely wanted to teach my children from a biblical perspective and as the wife of a student I needed to keep costs to a minimum. In addition to being based on the Bible, The Weaver could be used more than once (I even charted out a schedule that would carry us through high school once I added the 7-12 Supplements) and could be sold off when no longer needed.
It was a tremendous relief to have the decision made regarding what basic curriculum to use with our children; but it was a let-down, too--because now the field was narrowed considerably and looking at other curriculum advertisements would be like checking out replacement husbands. Counterproductive. One needs to be committed to the choices one has made. Still, for four years I devoured Teaching Home magazines like steak dinners and didn't overlook a single mushroom, er, advertisement.
There is lots of excitement when some brand spanking-new curriculum is on its way but is there any way to explain what it's like when the box finally arrives? When you dig through the styrofoam peanuts and your fingers touch glossy surfaces? Oh, happy day! Now we can finally get on with it...
On this occasion, the box contained a real phonics program--the Weaver's "1-2-3 READ" program. With its puppets and songs, this engaged my son (and my daughter when her time came). Obviously, it had been created by someone who knew her stuff. Years later I still remember vividly the fun we had learning the alphabet and making "K is for kangaroo" puppets. Those are times you never forget; times of bonding with your child. There is nothing in this world like watching the light go on in your child's eyes when s/he finally "gets it!" That's why we homeschool! It is so sad that most parents and children in our culture miss out on such opportunities.
We were fortunate to have discovered homeschooling before our children were born, which enabled us to start them off at the beginning of The Weaver experience--with "The Interlock Program," a study of Genesis 1-10 for kindergarten age children. Between Interlock and 1-2-3 READ, we had lots to do and all the information we needed in order to do it.
When Jonathan graduated to grade 1 we purchased the first Weaver volume, and things got a bit more complicated. For a couple of years, until Jennifer was old enough for The Weaver volumes, I prepared and taught lessons from two different guides--which meant wrapping my head around two different sets of subject material at the same time. This gave me a huge appreciation for those homeschoolers who always prepared different lessons for numerous children! How in the world did they do it?
Now a chart-form lesson planner became my steady companion and best friend. The one provided by The Weaver for Volume I didn't suit me, so I created my own. (Over the years I have tweaked this until I got it just right. You can find this Home Educator's Lesson Planner/Student Record for sale in my store.) I also saved myself a lot of time and aggravation by using Jonathan's old student records as my guide when it came time to schedule the same phonics, math, and handwriting lessons for Jennifer. You might find my article "Weaver Curriculum Lesson Planning" interesting because it shows the steps I followed while planning our days.
One of the reasons we chose The Weaver Curriculum for our family is that it has parallel lesson objectives for grades K-6. This means that you can teach all the children the same subject matter at the same time, but at different levels, giving each of them appropriate age-related assignments. For the most part, The Weaver is activity-oriented with everyone joining in to do projects. Making volcanoes that really spewed "lava" was the favorite activity of all time! So when Jennifer was old enough to join Jonathan in the volumes, I only had to prepare separate lessons for the usual suspects (math, phonics, handwriting), which made life immensely easier.
At this point I discovered something that changed my life--it wasn't as easy to adapt The Weaver Curriculum for my (Canadian, if you didn't already catch that) kids as I had thought! The Weaver was written by an American homeschooling mom (Becky Avery) for her own kids. It hadn't occurred to me that the curriculum would be so... um... American! Also, each chapter in The Weaver listed numerous books and resources that one could pick up at the library to flesh out the information provided in the study guide, but they weren't all available here. So we developed a routine of visiting the library (which was fortunately only a couple of blocks from our house) and coming home with basketsful of newer and Canadian books. This meant I had to read each one thoroughly to weed out any that contained evolutionary and other eroneous bias, and it took lots of time! Still, this was the kind of thing I really enjoyed doing, so I went cheerfully along inserting neatly pencilled notes into my Volume. It wasn't so bad for Volume I, because it was mostly general knowledge. All I had to do was find the highest Canadian mountain or the Canadian terms for law enforcement personnel, etc.
However, I soon realized that my pencilled notes were getting larger and larger (and I dislike disorganization) so I began typing documents to insert into my binder. Then it occurred to me that other people might benefit from what I was doing, so I re-typed those pages in the Volume format for publication. Mrs. Avery had written a "7-12 supplement," so I called my work a "Canadian Supplement." When Volume I's Canadian Supplement was ready, I contacted Mrs. Avery and asked if she would like to trade it for the next volume, and then prayed like crazy. After awhile she contacted me and said "Yes. Would you like to have the resource materials that go with it?" I was so excited! This launched me into the world of writing curriculum material for homeschoolers.
Since that went so well (and because I value consistency above almost every other virtue) I decided there needed to be Canadian Supplements for all the rest of The Weaver volumes, as well. Over the next few years I wrote supplements for Volumes II and III and began working on Volume IV, but then the roof caved in: Mrs. Avery sold The Weaver to Alpha Omega Publications and my services were no longer required.
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