An Individualized Education

One of the most amazing and glorious aspects of home education is that I can tailor each daughter's education to her learning style, personality, gifts, & talents - even while using the same curriculum for all three girls. We just kicked off our 5th year of homeschooling (!!!), and now that we are in the swing of things (our year-round school schedule and our daily schedule) and I've had a few years to become students of my daughters - this year is shaping up to be so much more exciting than the past few years have been.

photo copyright 2012
Molly Viglione Photography
L to R: Abby, Hannah, & Elizabeth -
each incredibly different from the others!

If you are curious about the whole idea of homeschooling, or if you are just starting out and are overwhelmed by the hundreds of options you have, or if you've been at it for a while but find yourself discouraged or frustrated - please keep reading!

If you have a pre-conceived notion that homeschooling families are weird, unfit for society, or are doing their children a fundamental disservice by choosing to educate at home, I encourage you to keep reading, too.

One of the major objections I hear repeatedly is that parents should not be allowed to teach if they are not qualified [have a BA or higher in the subject(s) they are teaching]. Having been both a public school teacher [I earned a BA in Mathematics with a concentration in Secondary Education] and a homeschooling parent, I offer this for your consideration:

Teachers have just 180 (...if that) school days to learn 20-30 (elementary) or 100-150 (middle & high school, if they change classes for each subject) students' learning styles, strengths & weaknesses, home life situations, talents, etc. They know the content of what they are teaching well, but need to go through the process of getting to know a new class of students each year, while likely using the same materials to teach a totally different group of students.

Home educators spend most of every day with their children; they have a pretty good idea of each child's learning styles, gifts, interests, strengths & weaknesses, home life, etc. They just have to be willing to learn the content they are teaching, along with their children.

Of the two, I have found the home education structure to be much more fruitful in raising a passionate learner!

[Before I go too much further with this post, let me say this: I understand that homeschooling is not the only answer, or the best answer, for each child. Only you know your child well enough to make that call! And I know that for some moms, homeschooling would just not work or be pleasant. I'm just trying to share some tips about creating an individualized educational experience for children who are taught at home.]

For the parents who are thinking seriously about homeschooling or who are frustrated/downhearted with their own homeschool, my initial suggestion is this: become a student.
  1. become a student of your student(s). Be observant about how they each like (or need) to learn; jot down their character strengths, their interests, their talents & gifts.
  2. become a student of yourself, in regards to teaching. How are you most comfortable with presenting information? Are you willing to try different ways of teaching if your children are different kinds of learners than you are (...because at least one of them will be!). What are your strengths & talents?
  3. become a student of your family's lifestyle. Do you have a rigid schedule, or are you a spontaneous family? What do you like to do together? Are you a busy or laid-back bunch? Would your kids learn better in early morning, or later on in the day?
These three areas will inform you as to what kind of curriculum, teaching method, & schedule you should be looking for as a good fit for your children. It will narrow down the search quite a bit. Home School Curriculum Advisor is a helpful site to narrow down the curriculum choices.

(A little bit of our homeschooling journey)
We began homeschooling formally when my oldest daughter was 3. I purchased a workbook-based preschool program. I was so excited, because I learned best the traditional way and I wanted my daughter to learn best that way, too.

She. hated. it. Partially, I believe, because she's simply not wired that way. Partially, I know, because SHE WAS 3. After almost 5 years, I still have most of that unused curriculum on the shelf. I can't part with it yet; it serves as a reminder for me to always seek what is best for my daughters' education and not for my own convenience & desires.

Thankfully, we discovered Sonlight and everyone was happy. It has been a perfect fit for our family, because I've been able to adapt it to each of the girls' learning styles while feeding our love of good literature. We do use a different company for our math curriculum that is workbook-based (and Elizabeth still doesn't like it!); I modify the lessons as necessary to account for her need for hands-on learning.

We have learned how to adapt our schedule to meet other family needs, too. E had major surgery almost a year ago. We take care of her medical needs in the morning and leave school until after lunch. She still tires quite easily, as her body is still healing, so I keep the workbook/page load to a manageable number and most of our school time is spent reading, discussing, and following their lead on which activities to try.

Let me briefly introduce you to my daughters:
photo copyright 2012
Molly Viglione Photography
Elizabeth - my oldest. Words & phrases that come to mind when I think of her:
Lively               Needs alone time
Spirited            Natural leader
Creative           Intense emotion
Artistic             Learns by listening
Dancer             Discerning
Musical            Big-picture thinker
Imaginative       Dreamer
Strong-Willed  Hands-on

photo copyright 2012
Molly Viglione Photography
Abigail - my middle daughter. She is:
Compassionate     Animal Lover
Logical                 a Reader
Detailed               Patient
Practical               Eager to please
Servant-hearted   Witty
Focused               Tender-hearted
Bashful                 Loves numbers
Quiet                    Self-Sufficient

photo copyright 2012
Molly Viglione Photography
Hannah - my youngest! She is best described in the following terms:
Impulsive         Loud (LOUD).
Persistent         Fearless
Iron-willed       Tinkerer
Inquisitive        Needs to be noticed
Experimental    Energetic
Risk-taker       Funny
Outdoorsy       Animated expressions

"So", you might be thinking, "how do you handle teaching three different ways for three different girls, and still not spend all day doing school?"

One of the many reasons Sonlight works so well for us is because the Instructor's Guide is full of ideas for learning styles of every kind. And I have the freedom to pick and choose which activities I want to do with the girls. So I may read the same two pages to both girls out of our history book for the day - but then I let them each do a different activity afterward. E loves to learn about the food/culture/dress/art/music of a civilization - so I let her find a piece of art in the book that she wants to try drawing for herself to get a feel for the artistic style. A has a fondness for wildlife, so she'll have the chance to look up a video or photos with me on the computer and do a little report about one or two. They are both learning about the same civilization, each out of their own interest and with their own gifts.

H is only in her first year of the 2-year preschool program (NO workbooks this time! Only classic children's literature, with suggestions for activities to go along with it). Oftentimes, I find that the older girls LOVE to help H by reading the stories to her or getting out the suggested craft items and helping her with a craft. And I let them help as much as they'd like. It gives H her need for quantity & quality time and attention, bonding time with her sisters, and the girls get to teach (which is one of the best ways to reinforce learning!).

There are times when I ask the girls to come out of their comfort zones - for E that might be doing a workbook page straight up, with no modifications (I tend to quiz her orally on most of her math facts because she does much better that way); for A it might be writing a silly poem and standing up in front of the room to recite it for Daddy and the rest of us; for H it means just listening quietly to a story while sitting still in my lap. I don't do these too often, but I'd be putting my girls at a disadvantage if I didn't teach them that once in a while, they'll need to do things they don't necessarily want to do. For the majority of the time, though, I do my best to teach the way they are wired to learn so that they get the most out of the curriculum.

Home education is often neither easy or glamorous. We have our share of bad days and total (perceived) lesson failures, but I get right back at it the next morning because I am confident that an individualized education is one of the greatest gifts I can give my daughters. During the first few years, investing in learning how your children learn and who they are as people will make homeschooling much smoother and more fruitful in the long run. Making the time and effort to individualize each child's experience will go a long way to molding them into the person they were born to be - created specifically by God for a life-changing purpose.

A diligent student of my children,
for their highest good and
for His glory!

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  1. Well done Lisha! Your well organized thots and suggestion here have been a strong voice for homeschoolers and an encouragement and instruction for many others. THANK YOU. With the challenge before you, have a great, God blessed year. <3 BEV

    1. Dear Bev! You are an encouragement to me, as always!

      Love you!

  2. This is something that God has been laying on my heart in the last year or so too. I'm trying hard to forget about my (and others) preconceived notions of what my children should be learning (and when) and work more with their interests. Thank you for sharing! I really enjoyed reading it as it reinforced a lot of what I have been thinking about too!

    I found your post through Momma's Notes @ Splashin' Glory.

    1. What a blessing to hear that this has encouraged you! Reaching out to meet your children where they are at and seek to give them an education tailored to who God made them to be will be a lifelong gift for them and a source of joy for you. (Not always easy, not always appreciated - but worth all of the energy & time invested!)

      Praying that you will keep seeking God's wisdom and His heart for your precious children, and that you will be able to walk in confidence that He will give you the strength equal to the calling :)


  3. You made a really great point about the teacher qualifications. I was a teacher by trade and I have found that the only way it has really helped my in homeschooling my own children is that I know where to look for resources a little easier than some.
    I loved your introduction to your children. It is making me think about my own children's unique strengths and weakness.

    1. I've had conversations with friends & family members who feel better about me homeschooling because I have teacher training, but otherwise look down on moms without a teaching degree...but it's really two very different worlds. I'm not a better homeschool mom because of my teacher training; I'm a better homeschool mom than teacher because I'm able and willing to radically change my approach to give my girls what they need.

      My daughters are really neat people, and I'm amazed that the three of them can be SO different from one another in almost every aspect of how they're wired! :)

      Thanks for stopping by, Angela!
      ~Lisha :)

  4. Lovely post - I especially like the part about pushing each child out of her comfort zone now & then. Self-discipline is such an important thing for kids to learn, and this seems like a great way to do it : )

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Anna! :) It is so important, as I look toward their future, that they understand not only how they are prefer to react and interact but also the areas that they conscientiously need to work on in order to get along well in all kinds of situations.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      ~Lisha :)

  5. I just found your blog...and what a joy it is to read! I also have three girls...7,5,and 3 (and a 1year old boy)...and your descriptions of YOUR girls could have 100% been MY girls...amazing! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. You are so welcome, and thank you for sharing! Having three very (very!) different little ladies has been such a growing experience and so much fun :) I'll bet days are even fuller with a little boy around, too!!

      I'm so blessed that you stopped by - I hope you'll visit again soon!

  6. Amazing Lisha. Thank you so much for sharing this post at the #homeschoollinkup. I am constantly telling my hubby that homeschooling is a different train of thought. You really do have to think about things different. One reason I dislike the institute of public education - because there is 1 right way to do things. With homeschooling there are thousands of right ways and they are all tailored to your children. It's a gift.

    1. You're so welcome, Lisa! The homeschooling link up has been a real blessing to me :) After spending so many years training to be a teacher and then spending time teaching in the public school, I thought I'd inherently be a great homeschool mom...but you're right, it's so different. I have been SO thankful for the chance to teach my girls how to love learning rather than just gaining knowledge.

      Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging words - I appreciate it!
      ~Lisha :)