my top ten for home education

As we approach another alluring bend in our road, my little family has been looking back on the choices we've made over the years. One thing that's hearted me especially is that all my worries about homeschooling proved unnecessary. It worked. It gave us what we were hoping for, both in raising a person and a student.

Considering everything, I would have to offer the following as my Definite Top Ten Recommendations for Home Education. Most things on this list have actually featured in similar posts I've done in the past (which at least proves I really do like them!)

1. A Charlotte Mason inspired method, using living books, short lessons, and creating a real relationship between student and subject, is what I advocate. Karen Andreola's book was my guide. Part of this method is also to ensure a lovely atmosphere, and I find that the comfort & coziness possible with home learning really is invaluable. I myself create it with things like tea, flowers, cushions, quilts in winter, really good books, interesting conversation, warmth, fresh air.

2. Support for mother. I couldn't have homeschooled nearly as confidently without the internet. The community, companionship, and advice available to me online in the early years absolutely gave me strength and confidence in the face of my worries and my several pedagogical dilemmas. I also look back on the years when I belonged to a homeschool co-op as heavenly. While we mothers didn't really discuss lessons and methods much, the friendships we shared were so important; the way we made a group which went on tours, visits, picnics, and special events; how we met at each others' homes and watched our children grow up together. I lost all that when I moved away, and miss it greatly.

3. Classic books. Children's books from yesteryear, including folk tales, myths and legends (and then classic novels for teens) may be a bit shaky on scientific fact, but they offer quality language, respect for the reader, and dare I say it, morality. I'm neither a prude nor a fundamentalist, but I don't see why a child needs to read low quality material while their character is being formed. It used to be, years ago, that I could tell a homeschooled child from their elegant and slightly vintage manner of speaking, thanks to all the old books they read. It's less so these days. But at the risk of sounding pompous, I really feel that a beautiful, full-bodied vocabulary is a blessing, and it is learned easily from authors like Nesbit, Kipling, Alcott.

4. A history time line. If at all possible, buy a house with a long hallway so you can put up a continuous vertical timeline! When we moved six years ago, we had to store our timeline away, but still talk about it lovingly even to this day.

5. A solid foundation. I believe spending the first several years mastering the basic skills, reading the good books, learning how to learn, is essential. I personally don't advocate unschooling for young children, although that's just me.

6. Freedom to explore. Once the foundation has been set, that is when I think unschooling can be wonderful, if the child and parents are suited to it.

7. Kindred spirits. Socialisation is not a problem with homeschooling, but socialising can be. I leaned over the years that making friends with people just because they also homeschool isn't necessarily helpful. As adults we wouldn't spend time with people who rubbed us the wrong way, or even bullied us, simply because we felt we should "get along with all kinds" or "toughen up" - so why should we make our children do that?

8. Head, heart, and hands. This was always my basic checklist for the day. If a child has something to think about, something to love and from whom to receive love, and something to do, they are blessed indeed.

9. Time. My greatest resource. Time allowed me to be calm and careful, to think more deeply about what was needed, and to offer more from my own heart. Whenever I felt rushed, that was when things fell apart.

10. Afternoon strolls. This was the soul of our homeschooling. Sometimes with a picnic basket, sometimes with sketchbooks or cameras, always with hearts wide open to beauty, we went out to grow our relationship with nature, and with the peace at the core of all things.

Fellow homeschoolers, what would be your top ten?


  1. I feel honored (and pleasantly surprised this morning) to be mentioned in this gentle, honest list. Your ten "essentials" had to have come from your special time of "calm-and-careful, to think more deeply about what is needed, and to offer more from your own heart."

    As a child's language is mysteriously shaped over time when served up delicious vocabulary, so apparently might be a mother's - thus this post.

    Oh, I agree, too, that the power good old books make more of a contribution to a family's attitude and moral-atmosphere than we can put a finger on.

  2. Sarah, I'm always fascinated by your homeschooling posts. This probably sounds bad, but I've never had any desire to homeschool though I definitely see the benefits of it. It's possible I feel this way because if I had been homeschooled, it would have been a nightmare for a variety of reasons-- school itself was my refuge from a shaky home environment. I have fond memories of even my worst school experiences. My husband is a teacher and we have lots of discussions on the problems with school environments today, yet principally, right now, we learn towards traditional (recent tradition, I suppose) schooling. Yet schooling in your home looks absolutely wonderful!

    I especially love #3 on your list-- and scientific-schmientific, I say. Science is important, but, renovation- in ANY field- necessitates imagination.

  3. Such a lovely gift that you have given your family in home schooling. I do wish i had done that. My son and I did talk about it.... he chose school and i let him.

  4. a fine list indeed. i so agree with the good books for children---very few contemporary titles offer the richness of content or language that the older books do. and i do agree that the sense of a moral compass was intrinsic to most of them in a way that seems lacking now. (although i too am neither a prude nor a fundamentalist!) and setting the foundation for learning is so important, as is the environment. everything you mentioned just makes so much sense. my daughter was in a wonderful alt-ed school for her K-5 years, but sadly had to transfer to public school after that. such a let-down! i wish i had home-schooled her then but never felt confident of my ability to do so, especially with the maths, in those upper grades. she would be a in a better position now if i had, though, i daresay; and we would have missed the horrid bullying etc that came with conventional educational environments.

  5. This is wonderful, Sarah, and speaks to the heart of what education should be (in my opinion). I adopted a more Charlotte Mason approach to our homeschool last year, and we had a much more family-centered, beauty-oriented learning environment as a result. I love reading advice from experienced homeschool mamas, so please keep pondering & writing!

  6. I love this.
    We homeschool and always have. I hope we always will.
    I light the candles, pour the tea, turn on the music and read. And read. And read.
    And they read.
    We talk and talk and talk. We even talk about what we're all reading.
    We love nature walks and exploring everywhere. We are passionately curious about everything. Sometimes it's exhausting. ;)
    We love CM as a framework for both the structure and freedom it provides.
    So far today we've been listening to Beethoven whilst reading Dickens, reading about Colonial Times, reading our Bibles and doing our memory work, reading about Georgia O'Keeffe, and we all sat in the grass in front of the sunflower house in the yard drawing beautiful sunflower pictures in vibrant pastels.
    We decided to have lunch early. (The kids cooked some of their own food.) Now I'm taking a moment to rest while they finish up, reading your delightful blog. Soon we'll break out the math books, read some science, and work on our timelines.
    One son wants to work on writing a comic book this afternoon, the other one will work on building his teepee out of branches in the yard and my daughter will go to her first ballet class.
    Tomorrow we'll continue much in the same manner, but work a bit on our Mandarin and have a baking time together. We've got some Colonial recipes to try out and so other things we want to make.
    Once I learned to relax and enjoy it all, we've learned a lot more and had a lot more fun.