Originally published: September 2002
by Clea Stout Fennemore
As I’m sure most readers know, this column is normally written by Kathryn Stout, author of the Design-A-Study books and veteran homeschool mom. However, as someone on the receiving end of her methods, she asked me to write a column or two for her to give readers my perspective. Kathryn (Mom to me) took me out of public school after first grade, much to my relief. It wasn’t that I hated school exactly—I did well, had friends, and my teachers all liked me—but for some reason I just dreaded going. I specifically remember being upset when the teacher’s having to relearn things I already knew.
Staying home did not, of course, mean that I lost all interaction with other kids. In fact, I was a gymnast for eight years and took music lessons almost as long. (I should mention that I wasn’t thrilled with all of these lessons at the time, but am now extremely grateful for them. And, when I have kids, they will probably be annoyed with me for signing them up for so many activities.) Staying home also did not mean that the work was always easy or that it was a never-ending party (as some of my friends seemed to think). But, looking back, I now can see how many advantages I had and how my preparation helped me throughout both college and law school.
As I said, lessons in things like gymnastics and music (and ceramics, and ballet, and synchronized swimming, and weaving, and . . .) were more helpful than I realized at the time, but there was much more. Learning became fun. For example, we were able to learn history in a different way than a school would be able to teach it. We chose a chronological approach that helped me see an order to real events with real people instead of thinking of them as a jumble of names and dates. We made timelines, watched movies, read writings from the period, played games, and went on field trips to museums and historical sites like Williamsburg, Virginia and Plymouth Plantation. History came alive to me, which probably explains why I majored in it in college.
History also served as a springboard for much of our other course work. We often read literature relevant to the period we studied, wrote compositions reflective of the time (our insights about a book, an important figure, which side of an issue we’d support, and so on), and studied the art, science, and religion of that period. One of my favorite activities was when my cousin came over and we dressed up like Greek gods and goddesses and did a videotaped interview show on what our views (as Zeus, Athena, etc.) were of the Trojan War.
While I was the type of learner that could sit down with a workbook and do fine, I don’t think I would have remembered much or done as well in higher education. One reason is that as we learned, the emphasis wasn’t on whether or not we could pass a test, but, rather, on making sure that we actually understood the concepts we were being taught. If we didn’t get it, we’d stay there a while and focus. If we understood something quickly, we’d move on. This helped me in both college and law school. When other students asked me for help, they invariably seemed amazed by the fact that I actually understood what I was talking about and didn’t just spit out memorized answers.
By being taught to love learning, to think things through logically, to seek understanding, and to study effectively, I didn’t go into college with any fears that I might be incapable of the work ahead of me. I had no problem making the transition from homeschool to college, and I did well. Although my husband aced his way through public high school with little effort, he did have difficulty with college courses. He had been able to do well on high school tests without ever learning how to study. Once in college, his grades took a hit. Now that he’s beginning seminary, I’m trying to teach him some of the skills I learned long ago. Although I don’t quite remember how or when I picked up these study skills, Mom tells me she taught me the methods presented in her Critical Conditioning and Comprehensive Composition.
It also should be remembered that you have to find what works well for each individual. My husband needs everything to be as neat and orderly as possible and typed up on the computer. I, on the other hand, while still trying to make things orderly, need a pen in my hand. I need to write as I listen to a lecture to see the lesson visually. I rewrite notes in a more condensed fashion again before a test. This allows me to use writing to recall past discussions and my thoughts during previous note-taking sessions.
My study skills helped a great deal, but the flexibility of our curriculum was also a great benefit. My brother and I have different learning styles, but were often able to work on a project together and enjoy it (while also cutting down Mom’s work load). We also learned in a way that encouraged research. We often spent time finding out about an event or person and then taught Mom, which was especially fun. We were encouraged to delve into subjects and topics that interested us, while Mom made sure no gaps were left in our education. Not only that, our studies were as interrelated as possible. We learned how subjects fit together and how they were useful in everyday life. My husband mentioned that in high school he took American History and British Literature the same year, but as unrelated courses. How much better to study British history and literature together or incorporate British literature into a study of early American history in order to see how what was being read influenced people’s actions.
As Mom tries not to make these columns too long, I should probably end here for now. But my advice as a homeschooled kid would be, be flexible. Make sure your kids aren’t missing things they need to learn, but if one style of teaching isn’t working, try a different approach. Don’t be afraid to do things differently than a classroom teacher would. If the kids seem to be burnt out, intersperse lessons with educational games, sports, music lessons and movies (not just the obviously educational ones, but movies that will show them a time period, an invention or something else that can be related to the objectives that they should be learning). Pretty much anything can be educational if you can find a way to relate it. Sometimes your kids won’t even know they’re learning, but they’ll certainly appreciate it later. I know I do.