By Rhonda Barfield
I’m a retired homeschool mom, but definitely not a retired mom. Even as adults my children seem to need lots of support and attention, but in a different way than when they were younger; that part of parenting continues.
By the grace of God, I can say with confidence that, overall, we were successful in our educational journey. True, there was plenty of room for improvement. Elsewhere in this magazine, you can read about my assessment of what I did wrong. Here I want to focus on what, I think, I did right.
I loved my children.
Since I’m not by nature a touchy/feely-type person, I tried to show my love in more practical ways. I spent almost every weekday morning with my children as we worked together on school. I took at least one child, and often all four, with me when running errands. I committed to driving them to extracurricular activities. Our family took a lot of field trips, hosted special celebrations, and enjoyed business trips and vacations together.
I turned them over to my husband, the family principal, when they needed discipline.
Michael and I worked out a system where I was the “bad guy” when implementing daily and weekly school and chore schedules. He was the “good guy,” often rewarding our school-age kids, when they finished their work, with special dad time.
However, Michael was also the final authority if the children gave me trouble. When Mary was a young teenager, she decided that she hated vacuuming. One day she was stuck with it. Hard at work, Mary banged the vacuum cleaner into the walls and complained loudly. She didn’t realize her dad stood nearby. He said her name in a quiet voice and explained, “Looks like somebody’s going to be doing a lot of extra vacuuming for a while.” She did, as punishment, and never complained about it again . . . at least, aloud!
I tried hard to make the homeschool curriculum fun.
Throughout my own sixteen years in school, I made straight “A”s. And yet, when I graduated from college, I knew very little information—I had learned it only for the tests, then forgotten it. This terrible deficiency made me determined to teach in a way that my children found enjoyable.
For most of our studies, we read aloud . . . and read, and read, and read—both together and individually. I stacked a few fascinating books on a living room coffee table and rotated them regularly. We used unit studies rather than textbooks as our guide. We brought home stacks of library materials; so many that I had to make a rule, “No more than you can carry.” This helped to make learning a joy.
I required them to be accountable in their school work.
The Charlotte Mason approach to narration appealed to me, and at least once a week, I required all four kids to “tell back” to their siblings and me what they’d learned that week. This included book reports, Bible verses, catechism answers, history timelines, biographies, and anything else we happened to be studying. We did this for all subjects, except math, in place of multiple-choice quizzes.
Dad also helped with accountability. Sitting with the kids at Burger King enjoying sodas after a two-mile afternoon walk, they played timed educational games together. Through narration with me and relaxed time with their father, we could get a good sense of our children’s growing knowledge.
I taught them how to learn on their own, which resulted in a lifelong love of learning.
When Eric decided that he wanted to learn to play jazz piano, he knew exactly where to find the answer: the library. He arrived home with a two-foot-high stack of books and CDs and started methodically absorbing what he needed to know. Several years later, he discovered he could hold his own when discussing advanced jazz theory with a college professor.
Even today, all four of our young adults love learning. When we get together as a family, each one shares interesting pieces of information they’ve read or heard. I learned how to homeschool my kids and they learned how to learn.
So yes, I did a lot right in homeschooling (I also made some mistakes). I loved my kids and I brought in back-up when needed; Michael and I raised and taught them as a team. I tried to make the homeschool curriculum fun while requiring accountability. Most important, they all discovered how to learn, and to love it. The journey was strenuous and challenging, but immensely rewarding. I’d definitely do it again.
Rhonda Barfield is a professional homemaker, wife to Michael, former homeschool teacher—for twenty years—and mother of four children. She’s authored five books including, Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home (Fireside/Simon & Schuster), and Feed Your Family for $12 a Day. She has also written numerous articles. In addition, Rhonda coaches writing students for WriteAtHome.com.