7 Hacks for Excellent Homeschool Content from a Laid-back Mom of 15

Have you been effected by homeschool insanity? Sometimes it seems like a test to see how much cranium cramming can be done before lunch. No time for actually enjoying Pachelbel’s Canon in D, it’s just another requirement we hurry through to get to the Latin lesson to get to the history lesson to read aloud today’s poem and on and on and on!

It’s what I like to call “drive-through learning.” We take glances without the opportunity to delve deeply and gain a true understanding. Children come away from such an education just as blank as when they began. Nothing is remembered because nothing is memorable.

(In my mind, learning is split up into two main categories: 1. tools of learning, and 2. content)

Yes, children definitely need discipline (see Proverbs 29:15). The damage happens when we take the rest of education and make it a chore by forgetting the power of its beauty.

Public schooling is adroit at this. The curriculum takes advantage of its captive audience and pushes an agenda so well that its graduates repeat the mantras they have learned like mindless drones (I was once one of those). But there is one thing about this type of learning; it kills. It kills the hunger and thirst within us to find truth; not the truth of the propagandist but the truth of God, the Creator. It creates a sort of mindlessness that cannot be reasoned with and a dullness that would be impenetrable if it were not for the power of the Holy Spirit.

As a homeschool mom, I believe I have a marvelous opportunity. Not only can I give my children the tools they need to be life-long learners, I have the privilege of introducing my children to concepts that will counter the current culture so they can in turn become an influence for truth to the rest of the world. I may not be totally successful, but I believe this is my responsibility before God, so I take it very seriously.

However, if I take it on as a burden, I will sabotage my own efforts through needless anxiety. As in all things, I have learned to give this one to the Lord:

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

1 Peter 5:7

That’s why I try to have a plan, but one that gives me peace of mind with peace of mind, or just a lot of learning with minimal effort on my part. This is both good for me and my kids.

What homeschooling should be is not a cramming, but an imparting:

IMPART: To give, grant or communicate; to bestow on another a share or portion of something; as, to impart a portion of provisions to the poor.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary

Our learning is more like a party than a school. It’s as if we are sitting around a pile of brilliantly-wrapped gifts, and it is in the unwrapping that we experience joy together.

Sometimes we have to deal with basic discipline issues, and not everyone is as gleeful as I am about things such as long division :), but joyful learning is like a contagion; in a short time everyone catches it!

Over the years I have learned a number of ways to go about this. Here are seven that come immediately to mind:

One: Select the best by taking advantage of lists.

There are loads and loads of books and other materials for kids. Sadly, most of everything produced, especially since the last half of the 20th century, has been influenced by a humanistic world-view. This makes it challenging to find books and websites that reflect an understanding of God’s hand in history and the creation.

Why is this important? Consider this:

The result of non-Christian attempts to interpret history apart from the Bible demonstrates their inability to find any meaning and purpose in history…History is now used by many as a tool of manipulation and propaganda. The events of the past are merely occasions for redirecting public opinion in the present. And many secular writers explain historical events as the result merely of geographical, economic, or biological forces. Their secular worldview demonstrates a peculiar prejudice against the role of the Christian faith and the church in history…The Bible teaches that God the Father originated history when He created all things. By His creation of time, and placing man on the earth He set history into motion.

Streams of Civilization, Volume 2, Introduction

Thankfully, there are also loads of resources that are filled with truth, the kind that feeds children in their innermost beings. All you have to do is find places where they are listed so you don’t have to run ragged searching for them yourself.

A favorite source of mine is Bethlehem Books. We’ve been so blessed by many of their titles. Among our besties is The Winged Watchman and The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow.

(Check out their amazing science titles here.)

Yesterday’s Classics is a good starting place for literature from the past that feeds hungry souls.

Sonlight Christian Homeschool Publishers offers huge lists for you to glean from. Lots of their suggestions have been like golden nuggets, but a few I have found a little “iffy.”

Robinson curriculum book list is a great way to find public domain titles.

The Heart of Dakota site has some really terrific suggestions for history and science.

Journey Forth books by BJU Press offers some great titles found nowhere else.

Christian Liberty Press has produced some unique original works, such as American Pioneers and Patriots (we own this one and it is a treat to read aloud). They have also produced one of the most fascinating history texts out there, Streams of Civilization, volumes 1 and 2.

Another good place to find a huge list of good books for children is Christian Book Distributors. This company has been friendly to homeschoolers since before the Internet was the “thang” (I think I made my first order in 1993). You can also find oodles of other good resources there, and you can trust (most of) them to be in line with a Christian world view, which is great.

Of course, the obvious place is Amazon. All you have to do is pull up a really good book such as The Courage of Sarah Noble  or Streams of Civilization and then scroll down to see what other customers ordered along with this book, and you will be off on a great adventure of discovery!

What do you do with these lists? Well, you could:

  • Keep them in mind when planning your next season of learning.
  • Take each title and look it up in your library’s database. This way you could check it out first, then order if you really, really like it.
  • Order the materials new online and keep them as treasures for your children and grandchildren.
  • Purchase the items for your Kindle or other eReader.
  • Take them along with you when you visit your library’s used book sale, or the homeschool book sale, or when you are out garage saling and thrifting.
  • Put them out there out as  “hints” for gifts when it comes ’round to Christmas and birthdays…

Two: Go with the flow of your child’s interests.

Do you worry over a child who loves hunting and fishing with Dad but thinks books are for sissies? Why not open up your curriculum to include books about fish and game? These could include both fiction and non-fiction titles. You could include things written by and about President Teddy Roosevelt, an ardent outdoorsman. This would lead to some history and then, from there, who can tell…

Or what about that girl who loves horses? There is so much to learn about them. My own dearie has an entire notebook dedicated to everything “horse” she can find, with books being checked out from the library on the subject regularly.

A sci-fi guru in your house? How about introducing him to the C.S. Lewis sci-fiction trilogy? You could delve into the humanist philosophy of Gene Roddenberry and discuss the reasons it contradicts Biblical truth. Then you could talk about Jules Verne and the times he lived in (history) and what science fiction looked like from his vantage point.

With the sports enthusiast you could trace back the beginnings of baseball, or football, or the Olympic Games. He could then write biographies on sportsmen of the past, such as Babe Ruth, Arthur Ashe, and the like.

Three: Use good textbooks as your “spine.”

Every once-in-a-while there is a good textbook that sums it all up in a nutshell. One of my favorites is King Alfred’s English by Laurie White. I can’t say enough about how this one book opened up language for us. Her website, The Shorter Word is an amazing resource for doing a full-blown unit study with the entire family.

Another one of my favorite finds is Streams of Civilization, volumes one and two. If you are new to homeschooling, you need to make this part of your personal reading. I guarantee it will change the way you view your entire education. It will not only help you, it will help you teach your children. When they are old enough, have them read it, too. You could take each chapter and do full-blown studies as a family.

We have enjoyed books by John Hudson Tiner to use as our guides through science subjects such as physics and chemistry. While these do not make complete science courses on their own, we take each chapter and make it a starting point from which we branch out, using our various other reference materials, online video, worksheets, etc. to make our learning like a hunt for learning treasure.

Four: Copy the contents to keep track.

When you use a book as an outline for your studies, or if you give a book to a child to read, one way to keep track of everything is to photocopy the contents pages and keep them with you. This way you can:

  • Be clued in as to what your child is studying. I like this because I can help them explore further via reference materials we have on hand or things we can check out of the library or look up online.
  • Plan ahead. For instance, when we are using something such as Streams of Civilization, it would be great if we could have a flick or two ready at the appropriate chapters. If we are studying Ancient Greece we might want to watch an old movie about Alexander the Great.

Five: Talk about it.

The other day I found this quote:

I learned most, not from those who taught me but from those who talked with me.

St. Augustine

Isn’t that so true? Never underestimate the power of a good discussion with your kids.

You could even load up on information on purpose just so you could share it. I often find myself reading some amazing history stories just so I can sit at the lunch table and retell them, and sometimes I even acquaint myself with scientific information so I can explain things such as how an engine works while we are driving or what constellations or types of clouds we are looking at on a long trip.

Six: Read non-fiction aloud.

When we think of reading aloud to our children we often default to some form of fictional narrative. Sure, we all love a good historical novel that uses an engaging story line to inculcate the gist of an important era or event, but there’s something to be said for direct learning via facts conveyed in an interesting manner. There are so many nonfiction titles that are amazingly interesting when read aloud, such as King Alfred’s English or Tiner’s guides for science. We like to take a chapter at a time and explore as far as our interest may lead.

Seven: Fill your house with loads of reference material.

You don’t have to look very hard to find old encyclopedia sets, dictionaries of every type, almanacs, and educational collections of every kind, from histories of the world to histories of art and music, everywhere there are used books. Globes and atlases are important (and readily available), too. If you don’t have a lot of your own, or if you just want to supplement, check out stacks of nonfiction books from the library and keep them in plain view all over the place.

Oh, and never underestimate the power of some good video learning. Netflix often has a few noteworthy series or documentaries, as does Amazon and Hulu, but our favorite source is YouTube. I love the fact that our spontaneous studies, such as the lives of squirrels or beaver, are made more real by video we have watched there. I can’t begin to estimate the amazing help Prager U has been in helping the children understand our current political/cultural challenges.

The learning happening will not be immediately obvious, but over time you will discover your children are sneakily studying behind your back, those crafty creatures!

And this is the point of the entire exercise. Homeschooling is not about turning out “products” all neatly wrapped up and stamped with the approval of society. The goal is to turn loose a million living torches who will go around the world lighting fires for the Kingdom of God.

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4 thoughts on “7 Hacks for Excellent Homeschool Content from a Laid-back Mom of 15

  1. These are such helpful points! I especially appreciated your point that learning shouldn’t be drive-through, but we should take the time to read, talk, and absorb. Thank you so much, I am so thankful for your experience and wisdom .

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