Homeschool Conference 2009: Take-Away Thoughts

For the past 3 days, I've been fortunate to attend a homeschool conference held here where we live (what a blessing!). The speakers hailed from all around the world, having educated their children and students in a variety of countries, methods, and situations. While I didn't have anything like a ground-shaking experience of feeling like I learned something revolutionary (which is actually a blessing because that means that a lot of the conference confirmed many of the choices we've made!), I did come across a few noteworthy ideas.

Here are some of the things I learned or was reminded of that I hope to implement/include in our homeschool:
  • I want to investigate these recommended resources more specifically: The Treasure Tree- by John Trent, Learning Styles- by MD LeFever, Jolly Phonics board books with tactile letters to supplement language, Apologia Sciences.
  • Post a pictoral daily routine chart for our younger children... so that they have a visual to help them understand the general flows/patterns/habits of daily life.
  • Use dice & dominoes to do early math in a fun way (i.e., add the two dice, subtract the smaller from the larger, multiply, etc.).
  • Stop overcorrecting beginning writing! This was a REALLY GOOD POINT for me to hear... the presenter said, "we praise our children's scribbles to high heavens when they begin drawing... and then as soon as they start making genuine effort to write words that look familiar to our eyes, misspelled and misformed, our natural tendency is to rip their work apart by pointing out errors, making corrections, etc. It's OK to find one or two things for them to work on, but our first response should be something akin to, 'Well done!' rather than jumping into a critique. Would you want to write anymore if your honest efforts were met with a load of criticism?" (ouch! Good point!)
  • The #1 thing I walked away with-- Doug & I need to pray about, collaborate, write, and prominently post (i.e., on the fridge or wall) a set of our specific homeschool goals. I believe we've discussed these enough that we both could likely articulate these things in broad terms now, but having specifics, with scriptural references to support each aim, is something that could be tremendously beneficial when decisions need to be made concerning education, timing, opportunities that arise, etc.
Here is a list of questions she offered as potential conversation starters and indicators of deeper foundational beliefs as a Christian family considers what the goals of their homeschool might be. Perhaps these will be helpful for you:
  • What is the nature of God?
  • What is the nature of man?
  • Who or what is in control?
  • Who owns my child?
  • Who is responsible for my child?
  • Why do we educate?
  • What is our motivation for education?
  • What is the ultimate goal of education?
  • What's the purpose of life?
  • What is man's relationship to God?
  • For what am I preparing my child?
I'm looking forward to talking through these things with Doug over the next few weeks and months as we solidify some of the short- and long-term aims of our homeschool. What an incredible blessing it is to be able to speak into and shape the lives of our children each day... and I want to do it well, with every bit of wisdom God will pour out on me.

Sometimes I really stink at the living out the details of daily life in a way that matches up to our long-term aims. Ruts of poor interaction, where the distractions of routine and daily needs swallow up the larger goals (spiritual, emotional, interpersonal, etc.) we have for our family, can take hold and it can be difficult to shake loose of those bad habits.

So for me, a weekend spent focused on getting further training, remembering the big picture, assessing the past, and gearing up for the future has been three days well-spent. If you're a young homeschool mom, I'd encourage you to do something similar if you can.


Heather said...

great tips! i really hope a conference comes around this way but i haven't come across one yet. i could certainly benefit from going!

Diana said...

Jess, I'm glad you had a good time at your homeschool conference. I too find them refreshing and encouraging.

An excellent resource for teaching beginning writers is "6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades" by Ruth Culham. That book is for those teaching kids writing at a K-2 level, and there is a second book for kids 3rd and up. They are written to classroom teachers, but are usable by the homeschool parent, especially as it gives you the tools to evaluate writing in a constructive way.

I was a writer/editor before I had kids and I have found it very hard to break down writing to my own children--it's just been too long since I was taking those baby steps. Plus the editor in me wants to focus on those errors of convention rather than praise what is good about the writing. The above book is helping me give my kids and the kids I teach in our co-op the tools to write and to believe that they are good writers.

BT and Jessica said...

Fantastic thoughts!!!
Thanks so much for sharing!

Alice said...

I just eat up any posts you make about homeschooling! Well, ALL your posts are great and inspiring, but I need input on the homeschooling.

My children are 4yrs 4mths, 2yrs 9mths, and 14 months, and I'm 24 weeks pregnant. I'm really just about to start out with homeschooling, with lots of little ones at the same time. I live in the UK, where it's not done much, and I'm nervous! I don't know how to do it, or how to start, or how on earth to fit it in when I'm barely keeping the house/day together as it is! Also, I'm naturally NOT organised at all, so I am worried that I can't do it, if I can't schedule or make a proper routine to make homeschooling possible. I have had time to think about this - I've felt God calling me to homeschool my children since my first child was about 15 months old. But I am still not sure what I'm doing and since my eldest would normally be starting public school in September this year, I'm starting to feel the pressure!

I really appreciate you posting about the things you've learned re. homeschooling. Any thoughts like that help me so much!

SouthAsiaRocks said...

Sounds like it was a good time! Just wondering, what of curriculum do you use? I'd also be interested in seeing your specific homeschool goals when you write them :) Thanks :)

Jess said...

Hey there Andrea.
We use Sonlight with some modifications... generally, though, Sonlight. I highly recommend it... please check it out:

Singapore Math is the program we've chosen from their options, and I'm happy with it. (That program is known for mental math.)

And this year, we've begun using Mystery of History for our basic history program.

I have all of our basic homeschool curriculum choices near the bottom of the sidebar, with links, so you can check out more information about it if you like.

thecitycradle said...

Thanks for sharing your insight. I have attended a few education option events the past few weeks and have begun to think about homeschooling when my babies are at that age.

The list of questions was a great starting point to have a family discussion about the issue.

Oh, also- I just started to read your blog and I am blessed by many of the topics you write about here, thanks!

SouthAsiaRocks said...

Cool! Thanks! That Mystery History sounds really fun!! I'll definitely check out those links! Starting to think about schooling stuff makes my brain hurt! Those links will help :) haha! Thanks!

Oh, and I meant to say before, that dominoes and dice math thing sounds like it could be really fun!!

Kim said...

A lot of this sounds like stuff that good educators are doing in schools. (I don't mean this as an attack at homeschooling - read on.) Which is confirming to me as well. I think the bottom line is wherever your child is being educated, good parents should know what that looks like. (Obviously, especially if they ARE the educators! :) ) And a lot of this stems from differentiated instruction and special education - a field which I am blessed enough to be a part of every day.

The writing thing is an excellent point - I have a kiddo in my class with a goal of writing his first and last name with upper and lowercase letters. (He currently writes his first name only and with mostly uppercase letters.) While I have seen him use lowercase and know he can do it, it is still always important to praise a genuine effort for something (their best work at whatever level they are at) and then say, "I'd like to see it like this...can you try that?" Because if all they hear is, "Now Jimmy, I asked you to do it this way and you did not, you need to correct it," they will eventually shut down. Evidence? Every guy our age that has terrible handwriting, I think! :)

Interesting information - thanks for passing it along!

a woman found said...

Those resources sound great... thanks! I'm going to look into them too!

laytonfamily said...

new to your blog this week - and enjoying it greatly. Thanks for posting this, great ideas - especially about being critical with new writing skills. My son is 6yrs old and we can praise all his drawings but when he writes letters I'm on his back. Thank you for opening my eyes!

Jill said...


I'm sure this was mentioned at the conference but keep your goals/vision very very simple. Prepare for the bad days...the days where "nothing" gets done. I have those days every single week. This is my 19th year of homeschooling and with a three year old as my youngest I have many many more years to go! My goal/vision is simply "Keep the HOME in homeschool". I don't want my children to grow up and say, "Wow, such happy memories of great curriculum and teaching moments!" but rather, I want them to love their memories of HOME and all that entails.

Also, about writing. I am a writer and I, too, have struggled with teaching it. Number One: have them WRITE! Words, sentences, stories, letters etc. Number Two: realize that writing is a sophisticated language process; it comes after hearing, thinking, speaking, etc. Even "gifted" children may not show their giftedness until the high school years. And, yes, any child who can write or speak can develop as a writer. Foundational truth: Read, read, read, great quality literature. A writer is only as good as his thoughts and dreams and imagination. Develop his brain by reading aloud into adulthood!


Anonymous said...

I agree with Kim about the importance of giving kids credit for real effort--not just in writing, but whenever they are trying to master a new skill (like buttoning a shirt, pouring out their own milk). They may not do it perfectly, but you can still praise their effort and hard work.

Jess, I have a question for you about playing games with your children. What is your opinion on letting children win some of the time? My mother used to let me win at card games and board games almost all of the time. My father believed kids never learn if you let them win--so he beat me at chess every time throughout my childhood, never letting me take moves back either.

I've tried to take a middle path, so that my kids will learn to deal with small disappointments like losing a card game or a matching game or checkers or chess, but I also don't always try my hardest to win. (Of course they sometimes win even when I am trying, which is great!) My six-year-old is just learning chess, and I sometimes help him by advising him on what move I would make if I were in his position.

If you've read any words of wisdom about handling this issue, I'd be interested to hear them.

Laurie B

Word Warrior said...

Hey Jess,

I nominated you for Sisterhood award...good work!

Jess said...

I haven't read anything, perse, but I have talked with other moms about it, and here's what we do:

* If it's a skill-game (for example, Settlers of Catan, or maybe Chess), we spend the first couple of years playing with an eye towards teaching them our strategies, showing them what we do and why... we play and have a good time, and they often lose, but it's OK, cause they feel "big" playing a game with mom and dad, and are learning strategy. Pretty soon, they start to win, which is fun to see.

* If it's a score-based game (Blokus, Spades, or something like), we use a handicap system. For example, with Blokus, we used to add 10 to our score to give our 4 year old more of a chance to win, and add 5 to our score for our 6 year old. Now, our almost-5 year old often beats me outright, without the handicap, but in the beginning, it gave him a real shot at winning-- and was actually quite fair because of the advanced spacial reasoning and decision-making involved in the game.

I hope that makes sense. We phase out the handicaps as their skill levels improve.

That's what we do... I'd be interested to hear from others how they handle game playing?

Sheila said...

I appreciate what Jill shared. I think too many times we view homeschooling as "school at home". To have a definitive list of your goals is certainly helpful to keep the focus - but, of course, it will often vary from home to home (sometimes student to student!).
Thanks for the "checklist"!

Ashley said...

jess, would you email me or do a post on homeschool "curriculum"? i hear talk of it all the time, but don't know anything about it. i am kind of overwhelmed and don't know where to start. i don't even know basic philosophies. but since my oldest is about to turn 3, i am wondering if i should have a "curriculum" since others his age are now in "pre-school". it seems like most homeschool moms i've met use "sonlight". is this what you use or something else, and why? if you've already written about this, please direct me to it.

Jess said...

Sure, I'll do a curriculum post soon... that sounds like fun and I just got a reminder of all the other options out there at this recent conference-- so maybe I can tackle that in the next 2 weeks?

In the meantime, here are some of the pieces I've written specifically about homeschooling:

Thoughts on History & Homeschooling (tells a bit about our preference for Sonlight)

Early Homeschooling (what we do with toddlers/preschoolers)

A book review with good overall homeschool advice

A funny bit about socialization

A big reason why we and many others choose to homeschool

And here's a post about our specific reasons for homeschooling

Hope this helps, and hopefully I can write that other summary piece soon.

Jessica Rae said...

Those are GREAT questions! You could/should do a post on each one...or at least some of them. Great discussion topics!

Ticia said...

What a great opportunity to get new incite and information. I have homeschooled ten years without ever having attend a single group or conference. I am a correcter-fix that and that and that! So one of the things I did was have them circle their favorite word or letter and I would circle my favorite too.