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A Few Lessons from 30 Years of Homeschooling

June 15–19, 2015   |   Vol. 123, Week 10

Do you ever feel bogged down by the pressure to cover every fact and subject when teaching your kids? How can you get it all done? Find focus on today’s Home School Heartbeat as Mike Farris shares some important lessons he learned from three decades of homeschooling.

“Dads, your goal is to ensure that your wife knows from your actions that you are as committed to homeschooling as she is. You accomplish this by taking items off of her to-do list and getting them onto yours.”—Mike Farris

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What are the key ingredients to a productive homeschooling day? Today on Home School Heartbeat, Mike Farris shares important lessons that his family learned from over 30 years of homeschooling.

Mike Farris: To achieve 30 years, you must have either a very large family or very slow learners. (We have the former!)

This week I’m going to be sharing a list of lessons our family has learned in the past three decades. Since they are not in any particular order, I’m going to start with an intensely practical lesson: let your phone calls go to voicemail.

The proper use of voicemail in the homeschooling context begins with the greeting. I recommend a Bible verse. Job 5:1 is a good choice: “Call if you will, but who will answer you?” Or, if you are worried about people coming over after you refuse to answer the phone, then you could use Proverbs 1:28. It says: “Then they will call me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.”

Well, okay. Here’s the serious point: You can’t homeschool when you’re on the phone. And as unfair as this may sound, even if you are giving advice to a caller interested in homeschooling, it still doesn’t count as homeschooling.

And the new version of this maxim—I know it may sound like heresy to some—is that you can’t be on Facebook and be homeschooling.

Homeschooling requires that you focus all available attention on your children. Prioritize your homeschool schedule. It’ll make all the difference.

Mike: This week, I’m sharing some of the lessons our family has learned while homeschooling over the past 30 years. Today’s lesson is one that may be tough for hard-working parents to hear and it’s simply this: don’t fall into the trap of perfectionism.

You’ve all heard the stories—you know, the family who has 12 children, all under age 9. Their 6-year-old has learned to solve three-variable algebra problems by studying the number of Hebrew syllables in the Pentateuch. Their 9-year-old has fully funded his college education by selling organic muffins door-to-door, using the ingredients his 7-year-old sister grew in the 40-acre herb garden she operates. This is like a stunt on television or a car commercial: Do not try this at home.

Don’t believe for a second that you can teach every subject you would desire, or engage in every activity you would like to have your children pursue. This is not to say that you cannot engage in a lot of good things. You can. And this is not to say that you cannot find a wonderful variety of choices for your children’s activities. You can. But do not drive yourself crazy with the lie that you must do it all.

Do well. Be great. But forget this perfectionism nonsense! It’s not worth it.

Mike: All knowledge uses one of two languages—either the language of words or the language of numbers. With this fact in mind, the lesson I’d like to share with you today is this: strive for mastery in just two areas—language and math.

Your children are not going to master chemistry. That requires a PhD—for them, not you. Your children will not master American history, or the Constitution, or the great artists of the Renaissance.

A good academic education will provide a well-rounded exposure in a broad variety of disciplines that we call the arts and sciences. But your emphasis at this stage should be in mastery of the two languages. I say this because I fear that homeschooling parents have become sidetracked and forgotten some of the basics.

I have taught several thousand homeschooled teenagers a course in constitutional law. However, a disturbing number of students seem to get the concepts quite well, but cannot express themselves appropriately. Every time I grade papers, I find far too many homeschoolers with unacceptable spelling, grammar, and penmanship.

Teach your children to read and write to a level of mastery. Math skills should also reach a level of basic mastery. Emphasize these basics, and all the rest will be added unto you.

Mike: As I’m sharing a list of lessons our family has learned, today’s lesson hits home for fathers: Dads, we need to be both protective and cooperative when it comes to our wives and our homeschooling.

What do I mean by this? Well, first, don’t let other people invade your wife’s generosity and steal her time. Some women in church might say, “We’re having a Bible study and you have four children here already. Can you watch ours as well while we study the Word?” Dad, do not let people invade your wife’s time and energy in this way.

Also, make sure your wife gets a break. My wife has taken a long walk (usually four miles) nearly every day for the past 40 years. This has been incredibly important to Vickie. It has been my job to help protect that time and to cooperate with her to make all of this possible.

Dad, you also must take as much of the load as you can in one of two areas: either the academics of homeschooling, or the care of the home. These areas form the bulk of your wife’s to-do list. Your goal is to ensure that your wife knows from your actions that you are as committed to homeschooling as she is. You accomplish this by taking items off of her to-do list and getting them onto yours.

Mike: Since our family has been actively homeschooling for 30 years, this week I’m sharing a list of lessons that we have learned in the past three decades. Today’s lesson is one that you may think goes without saying. But I believe that homeschool parents tend to underestimate its importance. The lesson is simply this: tell your kids why you are homeschooling them.

If you want your children to share any of your convictions—biblical convictions, political convictions, or homeschooling convictions—it’s not sufficient to just model these things or to teach them the facts in these areas. You must explain why.

When your kids are 6, they rarely need to know why. By the time they are 11 or 12, the process of explaining why you believe what you believe should be a regular part of your conversation. And by the time they are teenagers, they should thoroughly understand the “why” behind the things that are important to you—including homeschooling.

Children will be convinced of what you believe by the way you act. Children will share your beliefs when they understand the reasons that underlie those beliefs.

I’m Mike Farris.

Mike FarrisMike Farris

Michael Farris is the Chancellor of Patrick Henry College and Chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He was the founding president of each organization.At Patrick Henry College, Farris teaches constitutional law, public international law, and coaches PHC’s Moot Court team which has won eight national championships.

Farris is a constitutional appellate litigator who has served as lead counsel in the United States Supreme Court, eight federal circuit courts, and the appellate courts of 13 states. He has been a leader on Capitol Hill for over 30 years and is widely known for his leadership on homeschooling, religious freedom, and the preservation of American sovereignty.

A prolific author, Farris has been recognized with a number of awards including the Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship by the Heritage Foundation and as one of the “Top 100 Faces in Education for the 20th Century” by Education Week magazine.

Mike and Vickie Farris have ten children and 18 grandchildren.

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