Monday, January 06, 2014

My One Room Schoolhouse

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"One Room Schoolhouse Americana" by William Ladd Taylor
I've been doing a lot of studying and pondering over our "Winter Break." (And by "Break", I mean the month of time we give ourselves before we start our homeschool group classes up again.)

With two little "birdies" having flown from the nest, one set to "graduate" this semester, and a bunch of fledglings of various sizes left to continue to teach at home, I am taking a good look at where we've been successful in our homeschooling efforts, and where we need to improve.

In case you were wondering, this self-examination is NOT easy or fun. My weaknesses and failures stand out so garishly, and our little victories are quiet and unassuming.

I have a firm, strong testimony that I have been called by God to teach my children. Every so often, I get back on my knees to double check that fact, but so far, I have received solid, strong, YES answers. (I read an AWESOME LDS conference talk this morning that inspired me today. Here's the link.)

Now that we have that out of the way, I'm going to be brave and brutally honest about what our homeschool efforts have accomplished...


We have been trying to use the principles of A Thomas Jefferson Education for thirteen years in our homeschool, and while I understand most of the concepts, I know that there are things I have misunderstood and areas in which I have fallen short. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE TJED, and through personal revelation, I know that its principles are the right ones for our family to follow. I just want to do better at following them!

We have succeeded at our homeschool in many areas:
  1. Our kids love learning, and they are not afraid to try new things. They are really quick at picking up new concepts.
  2. Our children love to read and do it for hours and hours a day!
  3. They appreciate classics in their many forms: literature, art, music, people, etc.
  4. Our children have close relationships with each other and with their parents.
  5. Our children know how to care for a home, cook meals, do laundry, and care for little ones.
  6. Our children want to do what's right, and value the teachings of the Church. Most of them have testimonies of their own, and are truly converted to the Gospel.
  7. They have a strong sense of self-worth and confidence in themselves.
  8. Our children understand very complex concepts like government, history, and math and science theories that I know they would not grasp if they had attended regular school. I believe that this is because they have time to ponder on great ideas and philosophies for hours at a time, uninterrupted. 
  9. Some of our children are strong leaders that rally their peers for activities or causes. (I don't expect this of ALL my children, because of autism for some, and simple personality differences in others.)
  10. Our children value their family relationships above all others, and enjoy being together.
  11. Each of the older children have created, worked on, and finished large, difficult projects that have helped them grow in character and knowledge.
  12. Our kids ALL love our group learning time together, where we learn about history and science.
Now that I see that list typed out, it makes me very happy! We really have accomplished a LOT of good! It's very cool to see that.

Now for the shortcomings. (And YES, I know they are flaws!):
  1. Our older kids do not drive. Yes, we could have enrolled them in some kind of driver's ed. course, and one did get his driver's permit, but frankly, we don't have the money for the added car insurance, and we don't really have a car that they can drive regularly, anyway. (Russell needs to take his little Honda in to work every day, and the other car is our fifteen passenger van. Anyone WANT to learn to drive-- or especially PARK-- that beast?)
  2. There are some gaps in our older kids' math education. I have an allergy for math textbooks. I will confess that honestly. And so, we have used online math programs and other things to teach math. While our kids understand most math concepts, they have not been drilled on math facts very much. I blame my own inconsistency and fear of math for this. But I DO, however, think my kids will be fine in the real world. As I said above, they learn quickly, and when they have a reason to learn things like factoring numbers, they will pick it up quickly.
  3. They never took music lessons. Oh, I have the skills to teach both piano and voice lessons, but with everything else going on, the lessons have never happened. My autistic daughter always started crying if ever I tried giving her music instruction, and I think it made me give up on everyone else, as well. I have tried to find teachers over the years, but like the insurance, we just could not afford it. (Our 15 year old daughter has always paid for her own ballet lessons. She wants them that badly, and works hard to pay for them.) The idea of no music lessons breaks my heart more than theirs, but it was something I always wanted and was never able to pull off. Luckily, I did get one son enrolled in a FABULOUS choir, since they do award scholarships. He has loved it! I hope to be able to enroll more kids in the choir next Fall, but we'll see how that goes. We are now paying for a missionary, after all...
  4. Our kids are fiercely independent. This is both a weakness AND a strength. It's great that they feel so strong and capable in their own destinies, but at the same time, they have a hard time submitting to mentors. I love that they don't cave in to the opinions of others, but they sometimes don't recognize that they still have things they need to learn and understand. Like I said, this is a flaw AND a virtue.
  5. We have let too much social media in our home. This horse is out of the barn and has been running ever since. We have been able to rein it in, somewhat, but any problems with interrupted study time, with temptations and worldiness, with relationships, with stunted educational growth, and with neglected studies and lack of consistency, all have their roots in too much social media. Whether it's me setting a bad example of wasting time on Facebook, or friends trying to chat online while a child is working on math, the effects have been felt strongly in our family culture and in our learning environment. It's a battle that is ongoing.
  6. ME and my inconsistency. This is not fun for me to admit. I hate schedules, and I am easily distracted. I don't like sticking to plans, and I am often forgetful. Because of this, our mentor meetings have not been consistent, and I know they really would have helped my older kids stay on task. My flightiness is a CONSTANT struggle for me, and though I have improved over the years, I know I still have a long way to go before I am strong in this area. The good news is, my kids have learned in spite of this weakness of mine! Of course, this does not excuse me from trying to become better. I'm still working on it.
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"The Country School" by Winslow Homer


As I said at the beginning of this post, I've been pondering and praying quite a lot. I can see where I have failed, AND where I have succeeded. 

I do need to be careful not to destroy the successes while I attempt to fix the weaknesses.

As part of all this pondering, I have taken another look at the school system of EARLY American history. Before compulsory attendance, before age and grade separation, before national testing and teacher evaluations, and before thousands of dollars were spent on each child per year for their "education."

In all my studying, (I've been reading about this in classic literature for years, so it's almost a life-long pursuit!) here's what I have learned:

  • The supplies were simple and the format uncomplicated. Each child had a slate and a slate pencil for writing. And each child had a reading book and a math text.
  • Students learned to read, write, and figure their math facts on a consistent, daily basis.
  • They memorized scriptures and poetry, and recited them before the rest of the students. 
  • They prayed every day as a class, and religion was freely taught and discussed. 
  • Their parents housed, hired-- and fired-- the teachers, and decided what was taught. 
  • Children of all ages were in one classroom together, working on their own studies, with occasional help from the teacher.
  • Subjects like science and history were taught together with all ages combined, as a group.
  • Parents also taught children at home in the evenings, checking them on what they knew, and making sure their religious teaching was correct.
  • The school year was shorter, because children helped with the family work growing, harvesting, and "putting up" their own food. Every person was needed at home for much of the year.
So how does this change my methods?

Well, I have decided that it doesn't change a lot for me, but in one area, I will be changing things quite significantly. 


Though I have never lived on a farm, I know that if a cow, fresh in milk, doesn't get milked every morning, and every night, two things happen. The cow will be miserably engorged with milk, and if the milking is neglected too long, the cow's milk will dry up, and no more milk will be available to drink.

A similar thing happens to a garden that is neglected. If it is not cared for, watered, weeded, and nurtured each day, the plants will not grow as they should, and the family depending on the crop for its food will go hungry.

And so, in an effort to improve in the areas we are lacking, I will be instituting a "Milking the Cows" list for my children to complete EVERY day (Except Sundays) before any online or in-person socializing.

Here it is:
Milking the Cows”
1. Personal Scripture Study & Prayer (Personal Devotion)
2. Family Morning Devotional and Planning Time
3. Arithmetic (Drilling math facts)
4. Reading (The older kids will be reading on their own during this time.)
a. Reading aloud of a classic by Mom
b. D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Time
c. Phonics instruction (Fun School for those learning to read)
5. Writing
a. Handwriting Practice
b. Journal writing
6. Music
a. Weekly group/private instruction with Mom
b. Daily practice
7. Family Scriptures and Prayer (Family Devotion)
Quite earth-shattering, isn't it? 

I know it doesn't look like a big deal for most people, but for MY kids, it really will be.

Because of my difficulty in being consistent, one more thing I'm not sure my kids understand is the "Law of the Harvest."

Goodness, I'm not sure I understand it! As a person raised in a modern society, where almost everything and anything is readily and conveniently available at any time, anywhere, I don't personally know what it means to depend on the crop coming in so that I can eat in the winter!

This is a CORE lesson our entire family is missing. THIS is where my focus will be in the new year.

Luckily, I do know what it means to struggle to learn to play an instrument, and then what kind of progress daily, regular practicing gives a musician. THAT, I can-- and will-- share with my kids this year.

I think that learning this Core lesson will help our entire family. It will help my children learn that there is a time to submit to instruction. It can help me to be more consistent. It will give the kids a chance to have that music instruction I feel they need. It will help the kids be stronger in their memorized math facts.

And no one will be allowed on the computer for socializing until everyone has "Milked Their Cows."

(It really won't help anybody get a driver's license, however. That's a whole different problem I'm going to need to still address...)

Of course, I am the queen of making plans. I make GORGEOUS, organized, lovely plans! The trick will be following through.

And that's why I wrote about all of this on my blog today. It's an effort to create some accountability for myself.

Of course, we will continue our success in learning science and history together as a family. That's another strength we have, and I don't want to discontinue it! And we will also continue to read classics aloud as a family. I wouldn't trade that family time for anything!

Thank you for listening, and for being my "accountability partner" for my educational goals for this new year. We will begin next week!

Love, Mama Rachel


  1. I really hope I get to meet you when you come out my way. It sounds like your kids are getting along beautifully! We have similar weaknesses and strengths even though I have mainly done public schools. Currently most of my kids are in a Charter school that follows TJED pretty closely, which I like. But we have the same issues with too much media, not good at getting our kids driving, and no good at music lessons and honestly, I think money is the main problem for those sorts of things.

  2. Oh so refreshing, thank you. Keep up the good work and as for those weaknesses I truly do believe through them we are made strong.
    Our family grouped a few subjects together this last August and the results have been wonderful. Seeing the lights come on in their eyes, the enthusiasm to learn, asking questions and the big smiles sure are rewarding.

  3. Thanks for putting these strengths and weaknesses out here. In reading your blog I've come to put you on a pedestal--unfairly to you or to me. The best part of this post is seeing where we are weak together (music lessons) and seeing where my weaknesses are your strengths (your kids love group learning) and vice versa (we already "milk the cows" each day)! I truly wish you well in your "Milking the Cows" plans.

    And I really, really liked your bullet points about one-room schools of yesteryear. Those are good food for thought.

  4. Great post, Rachel! I love your "Milking the Cows" analogy and plan...I can apply it not only to my kids but to myself as I have my own distractions get in the way of sitting down with my kids. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great post Rachel! As far as learning to drive, we had similar experience. My oldest never got drivers training, so when she turned 17 she drove a few times with her father out in the country, studied the drivers manual, and passed both the practical and written tests without having to take drivers ed. My second daughter however didn't want to wait until she was 17, so we ended up paying the $300.00 for private instruction. The private may have been more thorough but it was very fear based instruction. The waiting until 17 seemed more natural and family friendly approach.

  6. I love the time you took to look into your homeschool days!
    I can relate to the driving thing. All our kids get to get their permit when they want, but they are not allowed to get the driver's license until they have a job to pay for the insurance. One of my boys willingly waited in lieu of playing some high level soccer even. I don't think this is a flaw at all. ;^)
    I love your "milking the cows" list. well done.

  7. Hello! I just wanted to tell you - thank you! You dont know how much you have given to me. What an inspiration you are! I live in Estonia, here is not much church members and I am the only one of the two (in chuch) who homeschool. My third kid, a 12 year old boy has Asperger and that makes life even more complicated. You and your children example really gives me a lot of hope and I know that with God everything is possible. Maila


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