Category Archives: Ideas and Tips for Tapestry

Ideas and helps for using Tapestry

Do You Want to Win a Historical Minifigure?

As you know, we love history and anything that helps bring history to life. We also love Minifigures and all those little plastic blocks, so we wanted to find a way to combine the two!

After showing them off at conferences all year, we know how much kids and adults enjoy these sets. So we wanted to do a giveaway to help enrich your homeschool in the beginning of October.

There will be four winners, each winner getting one of these sets*:

We love history and fun activities that will enrich your child's schooling.

  1. Greece and Roman minifigure accessories*
  2. Vikings and Knights minifigure accessories*
  3. Patriot and Medic minifigure accessories*
  4. World War II American and German soldier minifigure accessories*

(*Note: these are only the accessories, no mini figures are included)

Also, the viking helmet historically did not have horns. When we put the set together, we debated whether or not we should include the horns. We decided to keep them since children tend to associate horns with vikings. But, if your children have studied the vikings and know that they should not have horns, the horns are removable.

To enter this giveaway, leave a comment telling us which is your favorite accessory pack, then enter your name and email into the Rafflecopter giveaway. We will be contacting the winners on October 9th, as well as posting the announcements on social media.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Helping Homeschool Families Affected by Hurricane Harvey

Mike and I have been so encouraged to see how homeschoolers are rallying around each other during this tragic storm and flooding. It will take a long time for these people to rebuild, and as a homeschooling family ourselves, we are aware of how hard it will be to try to continue to homeschool. So often the insurance helps these families take care of the necessities, but being able to continue to educate their children is something dear to all of our hearts.

Let us know if you lost curriculum due to Harvey! We want to help you recover. If you want to donate towards Tapestry families see the post to donate.

A Tapestry co-op mom posted on Facebook asking for help for Tapestry families in her co-op whose homes were flooded with anywhere from 3-5 feet of water. Many of you jumped in with curriculum that you could help them out with, but others asked if there was a way for them to donate money to help these families get the books and curriculum they need.

For those who want to contribute we will be putting a special product in our store, which will be a Harvey gift certificate. All proceeds from the sale of these gift certificates will be given to Tapestry families affected by hurricane Harvey to buy the Tapestry curriculum they need. We will be contributing the curriculum to them at cost, so that the donations can go as far as possible.

If there are more funds than families who need them, we will donate the rest to a charity organization helping the affected states that can disburse the funds to an even wider group.

If you or other families you know have lost homeschool curriculum due to hurricane Harvey, please fill out this google document, so we can help you get the homeschooling curriculum you need. We will either ship it to where you are staying, or can hold it for you until you are in stable housing again.

Two other ways to give:

One of the Tapestry co-ops affected have set up a fundraiser to help raise money to replace all the school supplies they need to replace. Please see the link here.

HSLDA is collecting donations for those affected by the hurricane. You can find out more information here.

It is wonderful to see our community of homeschoolers rally around each other!

Pin It! Maps Review

Have you ever discovered a product that answers a need SO perfectly, you just can’t help raving about it? I have wanted to enrich our geography a little more, and I am thrilled to have discovered Pin It! Maps. These maps have added so much fun to our geography, and they are both beautiful and fun to use! My kids and I love combining our Tapestry geography with Pin It! Maps!Using pins to label beautiful maps makes geography so much fun! Read all about Pin It! Maps!

I enjoy geography, and I delight in teaching it to my kids through our Tapestry studies. It enriches their history, and gives them a wonderful understanding of the world. But over the past school year, I have wanted something to enrich Map Aids. My kids benefit from the focus that Map Aids gives during their history studies. But as I have gotten more comfortable as a teacher, I started to look for something that would broaden their understanding of geography without distracting from the focus of our Tapestry geography.

I kept my eyes on different geography supplements over the school year, in case something stood out. Then I heard about Pin It! Maps. Pin It! Maps are large, glossy maps with flag pins that allows your child to label countries, capitals, landforms, or putting country flags on the respective countries. Each category of flags are color coded so you can easily focus on one topic or another.We love using these pin maps to make geography fun!

I received a review copy when we were beginning to study Ancient Greece and Rome in our Tapestry studies. I pulled out the Pin It! Map that focused on Europe, and separated the flags that I wanted my girls to know. Then I tried to have them pin the map weekly, so not only would they know the places they were studying in that particular week, but also they would have a feel for the Mediterranean area. For example, while we were studying Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius for one week, and used Map Aids to focus on those places, the kids had also been spending the whole unit labeling a map of the Mediterranean. My kids now have a better understanding of what happened in Pompeii because they have consistently seen the geography of Greece and Rome.My girls love doing Pin It! maps!

This has been the perfect fit with our Tapestry studies. It allows me to keep our geography studies focused on what we are studying in history, but it also enlarges the scope of the map. It will give them a good understanding of world geography as we move through our Tapestry studies, because although history continues to move on, geography mostly stays the same!

Pin It! Maps has a number of wonderful maps to choose from, but one of my favorites is their Early America’s maps. They are their historical maps, and would have been so much fun to use when we studied the American Civil War last year! I am glad we will cycle through that time period again and I can put those maps to good use.

The Tactile nature of using Pin It! Maps delights all three of my children. It gave them something unique to do, that was unlike any of our other subjects. As a teacher, I liked that I could simply add or remove pins if I wanted to make it more challenging or easier for each of my students. Using these maps could be used for all grades of school, and even I like labeling those maps with the fun pin flags!These Pin it! Maps are so beautiful and fun to use!

I cannot stop raving about the quality of Pin It! Maps. They are so beautiful I want to fill them in!  You will be able to use it for all your homeschool career, and then share it with your grandchildren! The maps are beautiful, large and glossy. They feel thick in your hand. This is not something you can create at home using your printer and laminator. I was honestly surprised how inexpensive they are given the quality of the product! All my homeschooling friends and family will tell you that I pull out the maps when they come over because I have to tell them how amazing these maps are!

I find geography fascinating and I want to pass that love along to my children. I want my children to not just look at a past time in history and judge it according to their worldview. I want them to understand what factors influenced people’s decisions. Geography often plays a much bigger part than we give it credit. Pin It! Maps gives you those tools to understand geography, while having fun learning it!

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy for my use. All comments and thoughts are my own.

Summer Teacher Training

Every year at Tapestry we offer some wonderful summer classes just for homeschool parents. This is a time to encourage you, give you training that you might need to teach some of the harder classes you may be adding this year, and to give you fresh tools and encouragement for the next school year.

These online classes will help you learn alongside other Tapestry parents, while you share tips and advice. Through taking these classes you will get practical help to become a better classical teacher!Would you like some help to be an even better homeschool teacher? Check out our summer online classes!

Some of the classes we are offering this summer:

Read the class descriptions and sign up for one or more classes here!

The Geography Guessing Game

Here in our home, we love simple games that you can play while everyone finishes dinner. It allows us to linger together around the table and our girls love any challenge where they might be able to stump Daddy! We have developed different guessing games that are wonderful to play on long car trips or while waiting at the dentist office. It makes learning fun, rather than seat work.
We love playing games as a family, and simple guessing games are one of our favorites!

When they were little we played a game with our girls that we coined, “The Animal Guessing Game”. One person would think of an animal and everyone would have to figure out which one it was. The girls learned basic animal categories, like mammal and reptile, and loved the challenge of coming up with something that would take a long time to guess.

We have enjoyed this game so much, so we have expanded it as the girls have gotten older and have started them on the “Geography Guessing Game”. As you would expect, this game is much more challenging for everyone, including the adults! The other day at dinner, I asked that we please allow the globe at the table. I needed help figuring out some of these places!

We start by allowing one person to pick a place that they want everyone to guess. It can be any land-form, city, country or body of water. We allow them to pick anything they can think of that is a place on the globe. So far we have not narrowed the field any closer than that, but over time it would be fun to focus on the areas that we are learning about in our Tapestry studies. Mike almost stumped me last time when he picked a place that he said was connected to a large body of water. I forgot the Nile River dumps into the Mediterranean Sea!

We help our girls to narrow down the possible places to guess by teaching them to start by asking the broad questions. This also allows us to teach them basic geography categories.

Here is a graphic that will help explain how we narrow down the place on the map: We love playing games as a family, and simple guessing games are one of our favorites!

It is a wonderfully simple game that promotes learning about places and having fun as a family!

These are some other questions we have helped the kids come up with as they are trying to solve the place a person is thinking about:

  • Is it on a continent?
  • Is it an island?
  • Is it man made or God made? (i.e. city or land-form)
  • Is it a mountain?
  • Does it border an ocean?
  • Does it have four seasons?
  • Is it hot and sandy?
  • Is it mostly ice?
  • Did explorers travel to it or around it?
  • Does it have mountains around it?
  • Have we ever been there?
  • Would we have to fly on an airplane to get there?
  • Is it something we learned about recently in history?

Not only do these questions help the game, but they help the kids think about all the details of the place they are guessing. Instead of geography being purely about looking at a map, it becomes a fun framework to play with as kids have to evaluate a globe and guess what someone else is thinking. For the person who has the place in their head, they have to know enough to answer any question posed to them! It allows them to show their knowledge about a place on a map, which still keeping the family stumped.

We are enjoying playing this game together. I am learning so much myself by having to remember all the countries, and water ways. We hope you enjoy playing this game with your family!

Check out how we include geography with our history studies in our three week sample here!

Be Encouraged: This too Shall Pass

Some seasons are so challenging. God will bring us through these seasons and strengthen us in them.

Learning Together in Your Homeschool

The longer I homeschool, the more benefits and delights I find come along with this choice. I cherish all the time my kids play games they made up, because they have the time to imagine. I love watching the near constant clay, painting, and sewing projects that happen around the house with all the “free time” they have. Little do they know that this is actually learning! Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

I love that my oldest daughter can get up at 5:30am to start her school, just because she likes getting done early. (I, on the other hand, have a rule that I don’t help with school until 8 am!) But the thing I treasure the most is the closeness my children share with one another. My children could not be more different from each other. They have opposite passions and interests. One loves to read and writes papers for fun. She is the perfect rule follower who needs to be taught to think creatively. The other wants to do everything her own way. She feels stifled by following directions, but can create the most amazing crafts just by looking at a picture.  These two both drive each other crazy in one moment, and then in the next beg each other to play a new imaginative game they created. If they went their separate ways, to different classrooms all day every day, I know they would not be close. They wouldn’t have the chance to build relationships, and be forced to compromise their ideas day in and day out.Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

I see so many benefits that living life together gives us. But it also leads me to value unity in our homeschool. Just as I don’t want each child to go his or her separate way to a classroom, I want to keep my homeschool on the same topics to get all the benefits of the kids learning the same things together. I want to hear my kids share the cool things they discovered in their history books, or joining together to admire each one’s science experiments. Although homeschooling doesn’t have to be this way, I love seeing our home atmosphere be one of learning together.

Although some subjects, like math, needs to be done at specific grade levels, the humanities provides a perfect opportunity to bring our homeschool into the same topics. When you learn history, literature, geography and write reports on the same time period it makes learning fascinating. This also gives me, as the teacher, a much simpler task of only preparing for one topic, rather than many!

Envision the delight that comes with having everyone on the same historical topic, while combining subjects. The older student gets to go in depth on the reasons behind the Revolutionary war, while reading a literature book from that era, and writing a paper based in those topics. Meanwhile, the younger ones are reading age appropriate books and doing lots of fun revolutionary war crafts. The third grader is learning to write paragraphs, while writing about the Boston Tea Party. The discussion around the dinner table is lively, as even the first grader eagerly adds the things she learned this week. The third grader feels quite pleased with himself when he shares a fact his older sister didn’t know about the Revolutionary war.Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

With all the kids on the same time period, you only have to prepare once to keep up with everyone. You will no longer feels pulled in so many different directions, but can simply direct your focus on keeping everyone on their appropriate learning level. Another benefit is that this kind of plan works no matter the age gap between your kids. If you have a high schooler and a kindergartner, they can learn the same topics at their own learning level. It simplifies homeschooling without sacrificing the quality for the older ones. It inspires the younger ones to work toward what their older siblings are doing. Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

With the simplicity of this way of homeschooling, Dad can even join in the discussions. There are wonderful resources that provide a history overview on audio for Dad to listen to on the way to work. We love Pop Quiz, Story of the World, and many others. Dad just has to listen to the time period the family is studying and he is will be included in what the kids are learning. This also enables him to lead conversations around the dinner table and check on how well his kids are retaining what they have learned. When Dad is engaged in homeschooling, the children benefit so much.

I have loved to see the wonderful benefits that have come from keeping all my kids on the same time period! The benefits our family receives from homeschooling only increases when everyone is learning subjects together.

If you are interested in homeschooling together, check out Tapestry of Grace. This curriculum provides all that you need to bring a unified approach to teaching the humanities in your family. We love how Tapestry of Grace gives you the tools you need to keep the whole family together in the humanities.

Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.
Learning humanities together as a family, while each child learns at his or her level is a wonderful way to create unity in your homeschool.

8 Simple Ways to Make History Come Alive

History is a perfect subject to help take school from something your child has to do every day, to showing him the delights of learning. Because it is a subject based on stories, it is a easy subject to help bring fun to learning and schoolwork. Here are some wonderful ways to make History come alive for your students

  1. Read great books. Don’t just settle for any work based on history, aim for quality. Read wonderful biographies, beautiful picture books, and well written historical fiction. A wonderful story brings characters and settings to life. A well-written history book should do that as well. our family loves books like the “choose your own adventure” type book, or the beautifully illustrated stories by the D’Aulaire’s. We love well written biographies, and classics like Laura Ingalls Wilder. There are so many wonderful choices!
  1. Study people who intrigue your child. Encourage your child to learn more about a character who interests them, even if it does not follow your school schedule. My oldest has fallen in love with the stories about Florence Nightingale. She will read any book about her she can find. Although for school time I have assigned history reading that helps her learn history chronologically, I also encourage her to pursue people that interest her to help make history even more exciting.
  1. Allow them to pursue aspects of history that excite them most. Does your child get super excited about fashion or machinery? Help him look at the history of those things while they study events and places. Boys often get excited about history when they reach the battles or weapons of each time period.  Looking at history through a specific lens can help students develop a deep love of learning. That love will naturally lead to learning other subjects, like science, engineering, or math. All this leads from being drawn into a true story.
  1. Combine your history study with geography. Understanding where things happen, and how the geography plays a part helps bring to life the time period you are studying. I have learned about the battle of Gettysburg for most of my life, but when I went there and got to see the actual lay of the land, so many details that I had learned made so much more sense to me.  Which leads to number 5….
  1. Visit historical places. I think every homeschool parent knows the value of field trips. But I think that we can make it more complicated than it needs to be. Kids learn so much just from a simple field trip. Last year at our county fair, we watched a local blacksmith work with metal. This was a wonderful teaching moment to talk about colonial life. When we visit a farm, we talk to them about how people used to grow their food for hundreds of years. National Parks have a wonderful Junior Rangers program that you can sign up for at the welcome desk that gives your kids questions to answer and things to look for. This helps them learn more from the displays at a national park. If you think creatively, you will be amazed at what you can come up with for good field trips!
  1. Watch documentaries or historically based movies. For the older students, there are so many high quality documentaries that expand the things they have read. A well done movie set in a particular time period (think a movie like Pride and Prejudice), typically hires a historian to make sure the setting and costumes are accurate to the time period. Ask your kids about what they notice. For younger kids, cartoon stories like Liberty Kids can teach them a lot about a time period. In addition to a well told story, movie time is usually a treat and a great option on a sick day!
  1. Reenact scenes from history. Kids love pretend play. They love to inject themselves into a story and act out the characters. The fun of telling the story forces the students to think about what they are reenacting. They will notice details or ask different questions than they will when they are just reading from a book. For an older student, have them write a play or fiction story based in that time period. Using different learning styles helps implant those stories in their heads.
  1. Make crafts that show different parts of life from history. Some of our favorite crafts have shown the differences between the time period we are studying and modern day. To ensure we actually do them, another mom and I get together once a week to do a co-op. One week, the kids made a model of the Nile river and then flooded it to show how crops would grow. Another time, they made quill pens and the kids had to try to write with them using ink. They discovered how difficult it was to write with a feather and not smudge the paper! Another time, the kids “panned for gold” in a large tub of water to show what the Gold Rush of California really meant. Sometimes the activities don’t work though. One week we made hard tack to show how tasteless the food was for the Civil War soldiers…The kids loved it and requested it for a snack!

Helping your kids love to learn is about finding that thing that will spark their interest. When they have that interest it is so exciting to see them pursue learning on their own! I personally love Tapestry of Grace because it weaves all these elements together. If you want to see how Tapestry of Grace works, see our samples here.

In Homeschooling, Who We Are Matters Most

As a homeschooling parent, who you are as a person matters more than the curriculum you choose.It occurred to me that one role I have as an older women is to share encouragement and perspective (dare I call it wisdom?) with those coming after me. I am privileged to have completed the homeschool journey with six children who are now adults, and have made me the grandmother of ten (so far). As such, I am able to look back on the road from a bit of a height, and with hindsight. And you know what they say about hindsight–20/20 vision is much clearer! So, this post is meant as encouragement from an older woman, who looks back and is able to get above the fray and pick out some major milestones that might be hard to see when you’re in the middle of the journey with only the headlights on your car to guide you through the fog.

Permit me to start with an analogy of how I feel that all of life (including homeschooling) works. Imagine with me a virgin forest: the kind with lots of tall, deciduous trees and not much thorny underbrush. Year after year, this forest is undisturbed by man. Year after year, each spring, leaves appear on the trees. The sun warms them; the rain waters them. They grow. The fall comes; they whither and fall to the ground. The rains come; the snow falls. The sun beats down; the winds blow. In the spring, new leaves appear, and the cycle starts again. After about 70 years of undisturbed cycles, what would you find on the forest floor? Usually, deep, rich humus: fertile, dark soil that has “naturally” occurred. But, what if a forest fire has ripped through about 10 years ago? Then the soil would have evidence of that event. What if humans had come through and done some logging? Their tire tracks and felled trees would have left their mark. Places where animals have wintered would have soils enriched by animal wastes, but also compression from where they had made their homes and laid down, night after night, to sleep. Etc.

Now, you can’t hurry the natural processes outlined above; nor can you hope to exactly duplicate them. Each spring, summer, winter, and fall contribute different characteristics to the overall quality and makeup of the soil that formed. Some winters were brutally cold; others mild. Some falls were wet; some summers brought drought. That fertile soil took decades to form, yet one could say that it was formed by individual leaves, by sticks, by animals, by weather, and by the grand design of God’s creation working silently, at His direction, year in and year out. Change any of these contributing elements or conditions, and the soil would be different. Each of these has a role, but you wouldn’t say that any of them was determinative. The soil is what it is, at its broadest level, because God caused it to be that way.

I think that our lives are like that forest. Season by season, year by year, we have thoughts, we have interactions with people, we have experiences, we make efforts, we read books, we make decisions, and we hear persuasive words. Some memories are clearly etched in our minds; other things that happened to us–and shaped us–are not things we clearly remember at all. Yet, taken together, these influences and the general gene pool (and spiritual gifts) that we were given form us–almost imperceptibly–year by year. They make up the soil into which the gospel seeds fall, and either flourish, or merely survive, or fail the thrive altogether.

Who can say what makes one soul’s “soil” more fertile than anothers’? Well, there really are basic elements. Loving environments during childhood, educational opportunities, mentorship, opportunities for advancement, and the people who alternately teach us, cheer us on, or trip us up. These all play a part, certainly. But, could any human being duplicate the complex set of factors (inbred and external) that go into shaping a human life?

Americans are “can do” people. We love self help books, lists of steps to success, and the joy of individual achievement. When we homeschool moms start thinking about homeschooling, we naturally ask, “What must I do to be successful?” Seeing the daunting amount of work involved, we naturally want to know, “What do I do in order to journey well?” When looking into curricula, we ask, “Will this one make me a successful teacher, and my child a successful student?”

Here’s the thing that I want to say, in a nutshell: you were not formed by any one influence, and neither will your child be. What I see, looking back, is that my children remember so little of the day to day, nitty-gritty of the academics that we did in our homeschools. That nitty-gritty, daily teaching and learning mattered, but, at the same time, it was just one of the factors that shaped them–and to my way of seeing with 20/20 vision, a minor one. So many other little things were almost as life-changing as were the academic pursuits–things I couldn’t control, like an emotionally painful encounter with neighbor kids, or becoming lost in a grocery store, or winning an important sports match and becoming puffed up with pride. As homeschoolers, my husband and I —who we were and, thus, how we reacted to life’s situations, great and small, happy or sad, challenging or easy–were the biggest single influencers in our homeschooled children’s lives. Our characters, passions, hopes, and dreams have translated, in various forms and in various degrees, to all of our six (very different) children. The things that we did not value, esteem, or promote have secondary places in our adult children’s affections to this day.

So, as you consider homeschooling academic things (like curricula, outside classes, hobbies and electives) consider yourself as well. To begin with, your soul’s “soil” is still forming. God is not done with you yet. Embrace this fact, and put your growth moments on full display. The best single thing you can do for your child is to grow yourself. Grow in godliness. Grow in humility. Grow in servanthood. Grow as a helpmeet to your husband. Grow in repentance, and in forgiveness. Grow in kindness. Grow in trusting God. Certainly, grow in diligence as you learn to teach academic subjects.  Of course, actively instruct your child as you rise up, and as you sit at home, and as you lie down. Do make the effort to find the best fit for this season for curricula. I’m not making a plea for unschooling here! But, looking back, it was how Scott and I grew in all these things, not the content of spoken or written lessons that most shaped my homeschooled children. As a disciple (and homeschooling teacher) it is not required that you present a perfect picture of a Christian to your child, but you do want to present a passionate, pursuing, growing, changing, and ever-more-lovely (meaning, of course, more Christlike) one! If you are growing, believe me, your child will grow likewise! If you are stagnant, your instruction will lack that life-giving spark of authenticity that children need to be inspired to imitate you. “Do as I say, not as I do” has never produced good results as a pedagogical philosophy!

Before you get overwhelmed, let me just say this: God is already at work on this project! God uses your experiences in the season of journeying with your children into homeschooling as part of the mix of your unique soul soil. You aren’t finished yet, and as He equips you to meet and greet the challenges of the homeschool journey, the hills and valleys are all part of God’s rain and wind and drought and sunshine–the elements that He beautifully orchestrates to bring forth the varying expressions of Himself in you and in your children. Like that forest, the process is full of so many imperceptible moments and elements that no one but an omniscient, loving God could ever orchestrate it. But we do have such a God, and He really is at work! Be of good cheer, for, with Paul I can say with certainty that “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

How to Define your Homeschooling Goals: Start with the End in Mind

In homeschooling, you must determine where you want your children to end up before you decide what curriculum to use.

In my last post I wrote about the confusion that most newcomers feel when first confronted with the “night sky” of the homeschooling world.  The starry array has its beauty, its darkness, its bright stars, its moving comets and its constellations, with an occasional passing plane soaring overhead, just to confuse things. In the next few posts, I hope to help those considering homeschooling to make sense of what now seems like a bewildering multiplicity of choices.

Like any new star gazer, to make sense of the night sky and get any use out of it as a guide for your journey, you must learn to see the patterns of stars in the sky above. There are two broad ways to pattern choices between homeschooling resources. One can group them by educational philosophy or by methodological approach.  Let me define these simply.

  • Educational philosophy expresses the “why” or the “where” of education. It asks, “Why do we teach?” and “Where we’re trying to end up?” It is focused on the meaning and goals of the educational journey.
  • Educational methods are the means that we adopt to get to the philosophical ends that we’ve defined. What content do we teach? What delivery options do we choose? How do we measure success as defined by our educational philosophy?” Etc.

All homeschooling resources have a guiding educational philosophy as their basis. Some vendors are clear about theirs and explain it to the new buyer.  In others it’s either assumed (doesn’t everybody already know that this is the goal?) or it’s so underlying as to be invisible to the newbie. Many newcomers get caught up in the details of the methodology as a first step. I’d direct you to consider the “why” of homeschooling before even beginning to look at the “how.”

Since all resources have as their starting point their view of education, if we’re talking about picking a star to head for, I posit that job #1 is to figure out your educational philosophy for your unique family. Start with your direction, then choose a star in a constellation that rises in that direction.

Now, before you get overwhelmed (or stuck) let’s remember that we’re on a journey here, so our educational goals (and often our methods) will change with the different stages of the journey.  I mean, if you were taking a trip from east to west across America in the pioneer days, your first, short-term goal would be getting across the Appalachians (needing light loads and some warm clothing). Next, you’d need to truck across the flat lands to the Mississippi (via horses, by stage coaches) or even get there by water. Then you’d need to cross the prairies to get to the Rockie Mountains (time for a covered wagon full of supplies for this phase). Finally, you’d need to get over or around those imposing Rockies (mules are good for this!).

Each stage of the journey would have shorter-term goals (just to the other side of the mountain, that’s all) and equipment specific to that phase of the journey. You can might even decide to stop along the way and settle down just after crossing the Mississippi because you find that, hey, after all you like the flat lands of the Mid-West! You might veer north to Canada! While change and in-course corrections are always possible, having a long-term goal for which you are heading means that each leg of the journey, each short-term goal achieved, should also get you further down the road towards your overall goal of reaching the West Coast, as long as that’s still your direction.

So, with education we also have short- and long-term goals, and must try to start with the end in mind. But again: Where are we headed? Why are we going there? Once we know that, we can pick a guiding star to steer in that direction. I believe that you’ll best find your educational star to steer by if you sit down with your spouse and ask a series of questions, some of which have little to do with education, but everything to do with direction. Here you go:

  • What are we, as a couple and as individuals, most passionate about regarding God’s glory and Kingdom?
  • What are immovable constraints that will shape our family? (Such things as vocational choices, regional conditions, and money issues)
  • What is most important to us as parents? Finish this sentence, “My parenting would be a success if ___________.”
  • What do we value in life that we most want to pass on to our kids?
  • How big a family do we plan to have? How does that limit our time, energy, and financial resources?
  • Who will primarily do the teaching, and what kinds of gifts, talents, passions, and weaknesses does this person bring to the endeavor?
  • Where are we today? (How old are our kids, what jobs do we have, where do we live, etc.? All the stuff above.)
  • Where do we think we might be in 5 years? 10 years? 25 years? (Chart this one on paper, noting ages of kids, career, location, etc.)
  • What gifts, talents, and drives do we already notice in each of our children? (On one piece of paper per kid: profile them academically, spiritually, and socially as they now are.)
  • Which of the above gifts, talents, and drives do we think God wants us to steward and promote? What weaknesses have we identified, and how do we want to help strengthen each child over time, with God’s help? (Again, record these on the child-specific profiles.)
  • If we had to boil our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our children down into a couple or three theologically-informed sentences, what might they be?

Below are some examples that, while different, all have validity.

  • Example #1: Bill was an Olympic athlete who won a silver medal, and Judy was, before kids, a triathlon competitor, first in her state. As this couple talks and prays, they realize that glorifying God in the public arena through stewarding carefully the gifts and talents of each family member is most important to them as a family value. Given this focus, a small family is planned so that there will be enough time, financial resources, and mobility to carefully steward the development of each child to his or her fullest potential.Now: we start with longest term goals and work down to today:
    • One supportive, educational, long-term goal to the above could be to work towards attaining a sports scholarship to a university, for the purposes of making the most of gifts and talents that their 5 yo has early demonstrated as a gymnast.
    • To this end, this talented first child will need a flexible academic program that leaves plenty of room for practices and meets throughout junior and senior high school years.  Since gymnastics is an individual sport, he doesn’t need a school setting in order to further his goals, and homeschooling gives us the flexibility to control his schedule and provide Christ-centered tutoring.
    • However, we all know that injuries happen, and there is life after sports fame, so Bill and Judy also want to prepare their children to serve God in other sports-related industries, such as becoming a sports therapist, or journalist,.
    • Since their eldest child is now five (but showing clear talent in gymnastics even at this tender age) they should probably choose curricula that will serve God’s purposes as they now understand them by allowing them to build a solid foundation in the 3 R’s while still giving time for abundant gymnastics lessons and practices.

    Please note that, so far in this process, no curriculum decision has been made. What has been established is clarity about the why of a couple’s homeschool journey. This kind of guiding star enables this couple to pick a point and begin to head for it.  I chose this as my first example because of the obvious (perhaps over simplistic), clear direction that this couple has. Not all couples have this.

    But, also notice that such sports-oriented plans are sometimes more subject to change because of injuries or lack of enough talent to make the cut. These wise parents have a two-part approach: they plan to give their kids a solid education and Christian values that back up a possible failure of the ambitious desire to have their student excel in the sports world to the glory of God.

  • Example #2: Bob and Sue both grew up in the same Mid-western, farming country. Bob’s dad owned the regional tractor dealership and farmed. Bob had seven siblings; five still live close by. Sue grew up in the town near Bob’s farm, but she was an only child. As they talk, Bob and Sue realize that their central focus is family unity and generational discipleship. Bob and Sue both envision having a large family, being involved with both sides of a muli-generational family that lives nearby and comes from a strong Christian background.
    • As they talk and pray, the defining, long-term goal for this couple becomes the hard work of developing a family business so that Bob can be a hands-on dad, much more available than in many other vocational contexts. A secondary benefit that they see in this is that involvement in the business can both train kids in valuable skills and bring generations together as they work together to the glory of God.
    • To this end, the general academic direction of the children will include not only basic academic subjects, but a strong emphasis for each one on some aspect of the family business, determined by their emerging, God-given gifts and talents.
    • There will need to be some time left in each day for Sue and the kids to assist Bob in the business, especially during its early years of development.
    • As they talk, they realize that between business demands and the number of planned children, their curriculum will need to be pretty simple to execute: open, point, and shoot. Academics are not the focus for Bob and Sue right now: they are the means to the greater end of family unity and business success.
    • Since Sue’s eldest child is now five, with a 3 yo brother and 1 yo sister, and Sue plans to be pregnant next year again, the curriculum and methodology they choose will be very basic and easily accomplished in short lessons.
  • Example #3: In a third family, John has chosen a military career to the glory of God, so he and Martha have chosen to homeschool knowing that frequent moves will otherwise disrupt the social and academic courses of the children.
    • As they talk about their future, they realize that Martha is going to have to be the prime mover in homeschooling and discipleship of the children, since John is going to be deployed overseas, sometimes for a year or two on end.***May I stop this hypothetical example to say THANK YOU to all the heroic military families reading this? THANK YOU for serving so selflessly so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have!***
    • There will definitely be some times when this family will enjoy sweet fellowship and support on military bases, but also the couple can anticipate periods where Martha will be isolated from real-life support. One long-term goal that they identify is to make computer technologies and long-distance communications a budget priority from the get-go.
    • The curriculum and other family rhythms are going to need to be comfortable for Martha, who will function as a single parent for significant portions of the children’s upbringing. But, they are looking hard at ways that John can actively lead his family, and help and support his wife and growing children as the years unfold.
    • Besides academic lessons, this couple is going to need to determine how their kids’ social needs are going to be met. Will the curriculum, the Internet, the social media outlets, or local church attendance be means of grace or avenues of sin to such kids? For instance, do they want to promote Internet relationships so that moves don’t disrupt them, or limit these in favor of a series of short-term, local friendships whose longevity or not are seen as part of God’s sovereign plan for each of their kids’ shaping and ministries?
    • The vocational choice here doesn’t really dictate curricula choices as clearly. Martha’s personal learning style, degree of personal discipline, strengths and weaknesses academically, and personal passions have much more influence for the choices that this couple makes.
    • As they look at their eldest, a 5 yo daughter, they plan to be in their current duty another three years, with John home for at least the next two years. This means that they can now go on to learn about the diverse array of homeschooling resources out there (which I’ll try to profile in my next post). What they now know more clearly, though, is that Martha will be the “lead duck” in choosing the curricula that she is most in faith for as they start out.
  • Example #4: In this last example, Paul and Sarah grew up in (different areas of) East-Coast affluent suburbia and are comfortable in that lifestyle. Paul has a good job as a white-collar administrator for a large, stable firm, and Sarah enjoys cooking, home making, crafts and girlie stuff. Since they met at college and decided to settle in the same area, their parents don’t live close. Both are Christians and go regularly to a Bible-believing church, but it’s not the center of their world. Neither of them have have discovered driving passions to help them define unique long-term goals, since their life has fallen neatly into relatively easy, predictable paths. But, all of a sudden, they’ve realized two things: their son’s Kindergarten teacher is atrocious, and they themselves didn’t get a very strong education. In fact, they’ve never really thought about education much at all.  Having been educated in the public school system, they’ve always assumed that their children would do likewise. Now, this curve ball in their otherwise placid life has them scrambling.
    • The motive for this couple to homeschool is circumstantial: they cannot in good conscience leave their son in his current educational setting, and it is mid-year, which is the wrong time to attempt entry into a Christian private school. The seek a quick answer to the burning question, “How do I homeschool? Where do I start? What do I buy to use to teach?”
    • Paul and Sarah have advantages in this crisis that some other families lack. They have money and Sarah has availability. Their eldest child is not very far into the school years. There is time for them to learn all that they need to know. What they lack is an overall understanding of their choices, and the places that those choices will lead them. Given the tight time constraints, the best single thing that they can do is to look around their church family or friends for a mentor who knows the homeschooling world well. (Actually, even if their kids were much older, this would be the wisest course for someone who had a sudden need to homeschool, for whatever reason!)
    • Paul and Sarah can take their mentor’s curriculum recommendation and purchase a program that will finish out the school year. With that mentor’s help, Sarah can begin to set up her daily rhythms and begin to learn to teach their son. They should, however, realize that just because they have begun at the short-term end of the stick doesn’t mean that they won’t need to set those long-range goals if they are to succeed in homeschooling (and I would add: in life!).
    • After the crisis is answered, Paul and Sarah can begin to pray and talk about their long-range and short-term goals.
      • Shorter-range questions are like these: Should they continue to homeschool after this year? If so, why will they be doing so? (There are options! Christian private school is one; secular private school is another, or they could continue to homeschool.)
      • The bigger, more far reaching question awaiting this couple is, “Where are you headed?” To answer that, they will need to work through that starter list of probing questions above. The good news is that the crisis will have clarified certain boundaries, and the catapult into homeschooling will have at least acquainted them with a mentor and some homeschooling jargon!

Before you go, let me flesh out for you what I mean in that last starting question above: “If we had to boil our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our children down into a couple or three theologically-informed sentences, what might they be?”

I’ve actually given you examples in the profiles above. Did you catch them?

  • Bill and Judy’s crystallized vision for their family might be stated as: “We want to glorify God in the public arena through stewarding carefully the gifts and talents of each family member.”
  • Bob and Sue might say, “Our vision is to build family unity and generational discipleship, expressed through the means of a successful family business, run on Christian principles, to impact our community and serve our neighbors to the glory of God.”
  • John and Martha believe that God has called John to the military. They would say, “We believe that serving and supporting John as he serves his country to the glory of God is the primary calling for our family. Secondarily, we believe that God provides grace and help for those in need, and as the father of this family, I (John) believe that I should diligently seek God’s will in supporting and loving my wife, and children, even when my vocation takes me away from home.”

Here are some other family visions that I have heard over the years:

  • Our family is an outpost of the Kingdom of God. We want to build a loving, warm, stable family into which the world may come when invited, on our terms, so that our children may learn to recognize evil, minister to the hurting people of this world with compassion, and become equipped to answer the enemies of God in the gate of the city when they become adults.
  • Our family lives in the inner city because we feel a call from God to minister to broken people. We live conscious of the fact that not a single sparrow falls to earth without God’s permission, and so we trust Him for provision, for protection, and for the souls of our children as we function as His ambassadors here.
  • Our family is called to be overseas missionaries. As such, we homeschool so that we may instruct our children academically fulfilling our call to minister on the front lines of God’s ongoing battle for the souls of men and women in this place, where Christian witness is practically non-existent.

Inspiring, aren’t they? If you are just beginning this process, or if you’ve been in it for awhile, I would LOVE to see: what is God calling your family to? What’s your guiding star? What is the end that you have in mind as you begin (or are working through) your homeschool journey? Do share!