Ask the Grad, Homeschool
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Ask the Grad – Amy Bell

from the archives, a homeschool graduate worth another look …

This week’s homeschool graduate is a second generation home educator.  I strongly believe in the contributions of those who are continuing the tradition of parental instruction.  Homeschool graduates like Amy who choose to build upon the godly foundation laid by their parents exemplify the biblical mandate to pass on our faith.

Ask the Grad

by Amy Lee Bell

What is home education?

I believe that home education is the agreement to take full responsibility for the lives that we have brought into the world. It is the action that accompanies the belief that our children are more important than our finances, our careers, and our time.

Why do people home educate?

We believe that we know what is best for our children as opposed to strangers knowing what is best for them. Generally, this involves raising children in an atmosphere that is conducive to a godly lifestyle.

My background

Over the course of my school career, I attended public schools, private schools, and

Amy Bell

homeschool. My mom started by homeschooling me, and that is where her heart always was. At times, however, due to threats from family members who didn’t approve of homeschooling, my parents believed it was best to put us into a more conventional school. At first, these were Christian schools. The first private school I attended only had three students, all in different grades. I was in second grade, so I don’t remember why I was switched to a larger Christian school the following year. After a while, Christian education became too expensive, and my parents put my little sister and me into a public school. That lasted through Halloween. We homeschooled the remainder of that year and the entire next year because of the persecution that my 6-year-old sister was suffering. (Her teacher would not let her leave class to visit the restroom, which resulted in some terrible and embarrassing incidents, and her classmates teased her because she took her Bible to school.) However, threats cropped up once again, and my parents felt compelled to put us back into school. My mother took a job working at a Christian daycare (my youngest sibling was about 7 months old at the time), and my parents placed their now three school-aged children back into a Christian school. Our life followed this pattern for a while. Homeschool, private school, public school. Finally, when I was in the middle of tenth grade, my parents brought me home for good. I was pretty adept at managing my time by then, and I oversaw my own studies.

We weren’t the perfect homeschooling family (if there even is such a thing). There were six people in our household, and of course, we didn’t always get along. We didn’t consistently start school on time, and there were some days that we stayed in our pajamas until noon (especially in the winter). Yet however relaxed we may have been at times, we were always well aware that we had to finish our subjects by the end of the year. Eventually we learned to plan ahead and do the required amount of work per week. To balance out our lazy days, there were times when we would do much more work than normal in an effort to finish early and have a longer summer break. In high school, I became extremely efficient at planning and organizing my life to make room for everything I wanted to do. I trained myself to do my homework before working on hobbies, etc. I still use this method of setting goals for myself today. For instance, I try not to do anything before my Bible study in the mornings. I will make sure the house is clean before picking up a book or magazine that I really want to read. I will force myself to help my son finish his homework before working on something that I want to write. It works really well for me, and when I do finally get around to relaxing, I usually don’t have any nagging worries in the back of my mind. Everything is done!

Life skills learned

My father absorbs everything he reads – and he reads a lot! I remember growing up how fascinated he was with science and math. It always amazed him that everything made so much sense when you broke it down into very small components. Sometimes it seemed that we should have known the information without having to be told – because it was just so logical! Chemistry, biology, geometry, algebra, physics – each of these subjects captivated him. As a result, his curiosity and enthusiasm spilled over onto me. It’s hard not to get excited when your father has this look of utter amazement on his face! God’s design truly was perfect before sin came along, and His excellence manifests itself in all of the sciences. The single greatest contribution that my father made to my education (in my humble opinion) was the love of learning for the sake of understanding God’s world.

My mother was an extremely creative person. We would sometimes get involved in projects that would last for days or even weeks! When we decided to do something, we did it all the way. Most of the projects that come to mind weren’t school related – I mostly remember planning and producing things such as birthday parties and homemade Christmas musicals, but the creativity and total concentration on one project spilled over into other areas of my life. In college, I generally produced the most creative and complete projects in my class.

My mother’s creative attitude, combined with my dad’s insatiable thirst for knowledge, created an “I Can Do” attitude that has lasted into my adulthood. For instance, just before Christmas break, I decided to write a play for my elementary homeschool choir to perform in the spring. I researched playwriting (I can learn how to do anything I want to do, right?), and less than two weeks later I was ready to pass out parts in class. It won’t be a masterpiece, but I knew it was going to be a hit when the other adult in my classroom laughed out loud as the kids were reading through the script together. Aside from research, I only had about twenty-four hours into the creation of the play, but those hours were crammed mostly into three or four days. The downside to this total immersion attitude is that sometimes I will put off other, less interesting things that need to be done (such as laundry). That’s when I have to set rules for myself – life before project.

As a homeschooling mom, I have been able to invent many activities myself. My son started reading when he was three, so I had to be very creative in coming up with ways to teach him “the rules.” I searched unsuccessfully for a reading curriculum written at that level. Cognitively, his brain wasn’t ready for the books geared toward first graders or even kindergarteners. I had to make things very simple, and stress one rule at a time. I explained the rules to him, but it was more important that he saw the rules in action. For instance, when teaching him about the silent e, I made up little flash cards: one said hop; one said hope. When I first began, I printed the silent e in a different color, so he could see the difference between the two words at a glance. I made tons of these flashcards to reinforce the rule. Piaget believed that children had to reach a certain cognitive level before they could learn certain things. This is true in a sense, but I believe that many concepts can be brought down to the child’s current level of understanding. We can reinvent them to fit within the cognitive framework that is at the child’s disposal. We cannot become stuck thinking that there is only one possible way to teach a concept or skill.

My biggest problem as homeschool grad lies in having too many interests: Playing and teaching piano, conducting, writing, composing/arranging music, etc. I find myself wanting to try my hand at every new thing I learn. I go into “create mode.” Music History I & II were the hardest classes I ever took. Every time I learned about a new form of music, I wanted to try it. However, I was so busy studying, I never had time! Now, with two homeschool choirs of my own, I’m hoping to finally get around to writing counterpoint and hocket and a few other projects that I’ve been dying to try.

Parting advice to parents

I came out of middle school with a very high opinion of myself. Throughout high school, I had to teach myself not to answer every question that the teacher directed at the class in general. By the time I finished college, I learned to only answer a question when the teacher seemed desperate for a response. Teach your children that God loves everyone the same. Your child is not the most important person in the world (except to you) and he isn’t better than anyone. If your child’s intelligence is higher than average, teach him that those who serve God and trust Him in spite of their limitations (such as Christians with Down’s Syndrome) are very precious to Him, and sometimes lead the most pleasing Christian lifestyles.

Because of my book-based education, I am mostly a visual learner. It’s difficult for me to learn new things with my hands or body that require any real coordination. When I took basic conducting in college, I think I made an A by the skin of my teeth. The whole time, we did nothing but conduct. I couldn’t just study for a test or nail a project and make everything better. Try to use several different approaches when you teach. Your child will undoubtedly run across many kinds of teachers in college, and they need to be prepared for classes that aren’t graded solely on academic achievement.

Even though I would like to think otherwise, I’m not sure that I would have been able to set deadlines for myself had I not learned in the school system. Make sure that you give deadlines to your children when you assign daily material, reports, presentations, etc.

Finally, live the life you envision for your children. Do you want them to be happy adults? Work at leading a fulfilled life yourself. Take time to learn new things and do the things that are important to you. Find something productive that relaxes you. Become a lifelong learner, and your children just may follow in your footsteps.

Amy Bell grew up in a homeschool family of six. She and her husband have one son in first grade. This is their second “official” homeschool year, although they consider their son homeschooled from birth. Amy currently teaches two homeschool choirs: elementary and junior high/high school. You can contact her by email or on facebook. Read more from her on her blog, Full Circle Homeschooling.

6 Comments

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  3. gideonstudycenter says

    Amy,
    Thank you for sharing about your family’s homeschooling adventure. When I began homeschooling my oldest, who is now 21, a new school board had just been voted in in our district, one that was friendly to homeschooling. This was a 180-degree change from the previous, when many parents were jailed for contributing to the “delinquency” of their own children, and their stories sound very much like yours. I particularly appreciate your parting advice to parents. Now, with my younger children, we run a tutorial service for homeschoolers, and I believe a number of students could benefit from the lesson to allow others to answer questions in class — and I include my own over-achieving son in that category!

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  4. Thanks for your feedback. Many homeschooled children have above-average skills, and they generally have the egos to go with it. I know that high self-esteem is healthier than low self-esteem, and I want my son to believe in himself, but I don’t ever want him to think that he is better than anyone else. I was trying to pass this advice on to my homeschool choir the other day. Many of them will be attending college very soon, and I want them to be ready for the culture shock. I don’t want them to think back on their college years and feel shame at their own behavior, the way I do. It seems to me that I answered most of the questions merely because I wanted everyone to know that I knew the answers. What a waste of oxygen! As Christians, our purpose is to lift others up and point them to Christ.

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    • I appreciate this sentiment, Amy. I wonder if part of the problem stems from our generation of homeschoolers being pushed to “prove” we were “the best” in so many areas: academics, music, sports, leadership, all in defense of the homeschool method itself. Constantly being told to “be the best” and then “look, homeschoolers are the best!” can develop a big head.

      But most of all, it is our own sin nature that gives rise to pride. Reclaiming our true purpose – to glorify God – will help us as grads and our children especially to live Christlike in an ungodly world.

      Thank you, Amy, for bringing out this important thought.

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