Let's Get Started: An Interview with Vicki Bentley

January 5–9, 2015   |   Vol. 122, Week 1

Wondering how to tackle the upcoming school year? This week on Home School Heartbeat, HSLDA Early Years Consultant Vicki Bentley shares tips for creating an organized yet flexible homeschool program.

“Be excited about being with your children as they learn, because your enthusiasm can rub off on them.”—Vicki Bentley

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Mike Smith: I’m excited to have Vicki Bentley, HSLDA’s early years consultant and longtime homeschool mom, here on the program this week. Vicki, thank you so much for joining us!

Vicki Bentley: Thanks for having me, Mike!

Mike: Vicki, facing the huge pile of curriculum for a new school year can be daunting. Do you have some good tips for keeping yourself together as you organize your upcoming homeschool year?

Vicki: Well, first, take a deep breath, because that pile of material is just your toolbox. It’s not a test. Outline a plan for the year. You may take some detours along the way, but at least you had a route planned, and you can be headed in the right direction.

So for each subject, decide what you want to accomplish and remember that nothing says it has to be every page of every book. Then divide that roughly among your nine months and jot down those chapters or topics or units. Now, while I’d have a basic overview for the year, I’d actually lesson plan only about eight weeks at a time at the most—and be sure it’s in pencil, because it’s bound to need some adjustment!

The first year I homeschooled, when the box of materials arrived, I was so overwhelmed, I just sat down on the kitchen floor and cried. But the year went relatively smoothly, and by the end of the year, homeschooling was just a natural way of life for us. Just remember that God gives you the grace that you need.

Mike: But what if it’s motivation, not organization, that’s lacking?

Vicki: Well Mike, subjects are always more interesting when they’re relevant to us, or can be tied to something that we’re passionate about. So knowing our children’s interests can help us as parents get more excited about presenting a topic.

For example, your roller coaster enthusiast might become more interested in physics introduced in the context of amusement park rides and the science behind them. Maybe a budding novelist learns editing and revision, literary style, word processing, and keyboarding as he actually writes. In a room makeover, the child can pick his own paint, calculate the room square footage, the amount of paint needed, and then he can even total up the cost of the project.

Now if it’s the parent feeling overwhelmed, check out the curriculum section at Early Years. There are lots of materials written specifically for homeschoolers. Literally scripted, some are lesson planned out for you—something out there is bound to be a good fit for your family!

You can also dangle the occasional carrot of a fun family project for closure, such as a medieval feast to finish a Middle Ages unit, or an off-the-wall holiday celebration, such as Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Keep things light for everybody in the family with fun and games in your homeschool.

Mike: Vicki, what can Mom or Dad do to help motivate the children for another year?

Vicki: I often ask parents, “What does your child do, when he’s not doing schoolwork?” Look at his interests, his passions, and find a way to capitalize on those. For example, a friend of mine taught her son to alphabetize in one afternoon by teaching him how to organize his favorite baseball cards alphabetically. It would have taken her weeks using her standard language arts lessons after he’d slithered to the floor from his chair.

Some of the motivation factor depends on the age of the child, Mike. For an older child, I’d consider including him in some of the decisions. What science or history topics does he want to know more about? Would he prefer to write a report, or do an end-of-section project? What foreign language sounds interesting or useful to him? Even a younger child can tell you what he knows and what he’s wondering about a topic.

Read up a bit on learning styles. Try to include some work that’s up his alley, so to speak. Depending on the child’s interest, you could toss in an occasional game day or a pick-your-own-topic unit study, or maybe celebrate some holidays as homeschool curriculum. We have some ideas for you in the curriculum section at HSLDA.org/EarlyYears.

But most importantly, parents, be excited about being with your children as they learn, because your enthusiasm can rub off on them.

Mike: Well, Vicki, thank you for yourenthusiasm and encouragement today!

In merging homeschooling with family life, it can seem like nothing ever gets finished. How can we start the school year with reasonable expectations for day-to-day homeschooling—and more consistently meet those expectations?

Vicki: It helped me to rough out a routine for the day, allocating certain amounts of time to different tasks or school subjects to be sure I wasn’t trying to cram more into our day than was humanly possible. I really like Renee Mosiman’s encouragement in The Smarter Preschooler. She encourages us to create an intellectually stimulating environment, not an intellectually demanding one.

Be realistic—you don’t have to be Superwoman! Build in some downtime. If math’s a tough subject for your kids, try math lessons on four days, then math games on Friday, so if they’re done with the week’s math lessons, they can play math games! For us, that was anything with points or money. If they were behind for that week, they’d use that day to catch up.

On catch-up-the-house days, let the kids sort the Legos and the Matchbox cars and the puzzle pieces. Classification and organization are science, math, and language arts skills. If it drives you bananas, Mom, to have dishes in the sink and the beds unmade, take care of those quickly in the morning, before you start. When you feel that your homemaking is somewhat in order, then you can have hope for another day of language arts, and math, and science.

Mike: Vicki, sometimes it’s hard to keep our eyes on the long-term goal of homeschooling. It’s so easy to get bogged down in daily life! How can we start the year with an eye to enduring and finishing well?

Vicki: Well Mike, sometimes the road block is that we don’t have a finish line for the day, or for the year. So set attainable—and most importantly, measurable—goals. Break those long-term goals into smaller chunks that you can actually check off your to-do list. For example, a long-term goal such as “teach Suzy to read” can be broken down into baby steps, such as “add 20 minutes of read-aloud time to each day.”

One of our Early Years newsletters recently included a “Lessons Learned” worksheet for parents to determine very specifically how the year had gone, to help determine what to do the same and what to adjust for next year.

The definition of finishing well will certainly vary by household. For us, finishing well means we’ve not only made academic progress, but more importantly, spiritual progress and character development. I’ve heard it said, “What good does it do for our children to make it into Harvard but not into Heaven?”

Finally, Mike, we need to ask God to continually renew in us His vision for our families. Working in my own power is so overwhelming, but I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Mike: Vicki, it’s been great to have you with us this week and profit from what you’ve learned as a homeschooling mom over all these years. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Vicki Bentley

Vicki Bentley is the mother of eight daughters, foster mom of over 50, and grandma to 17 wonderful grandbabies (so far). Vicki has homeschooled 17 children since 1988, alongside her husband Jim, and led a local support group of over 250 families for 14 years. She has served on the executive board and convention committee of the Home Educators Association of Virginia and has addressed state and national conventions, university teacher organizations, and many mothers’ groups. She is the author of My Homeschool Planner, Everyday Cooking, The Everyday Family Chore System, Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers, High School 101: Blueprint for Success, and other homeschool and homemaking helps, and coordinates HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens and Group Services programs. Vicki has a heart for moms, with practical wisdom and encouraging words.

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