Getting Ready for a New School Year

1 Sep

By Renée Gotcher

It’s August 31, and for whatever reason that makes sense to the Colorado Board of Education, most local children have been in school for two to three weeks now — spending their weekdays in class during a record-breaking August heat wave. Not the Gotchers: We’ve decided to follow a more traditional school schedule (well, the one I grew up with!) and enjoy summer while it’s still very much summer. We’ve been poolside during most of the heat wave, and we’re about to take a final summer family camping trip while the mountain towns are still enjoying sunny hot days without the freezing cold nights.

Summer fun aside, the new school year has been very much on my mind for most of this summer. I have been actively preparing for at least two months to start up again — with a new approach and curriculum — when September 12 arrives. So even though the day-to-day routine of our homeschool has yet to begin, I have spent most of this summer laying the groundwork for what is to come — in my own mind and with the girls.

Last year was our first year of homeschooling. I had interviewed many homeschooling moms, done my due diligence online, and perused lots of curriculum before arriving at the decision to try a multi-age family curriculum with a Christian focus called My Father’s World. And for the most part, we really enjoyed the curriculum — especially the times that we worked together as a family on subjects like Geography and Science.

What didn’t work very well for us was the lesson plan: The day-to-day implementation of the curriculum using the books provided in our package. We would easily get “off track” with the daily agenda, and I was really discouraged that we quickly fell behind the schedule. I felt even worse when I would cut off the girls from side-tracking into activities of interest to them because I wanted to make sure we would stay on track with our lesson plan. I found myself adjusting the lesson plan over and over again — and still not completing everything on our “to do” list by the end of the school year.

Problem is, the lesson plan was one of the key reasons I’d chosen this curriculum. I didn’t want to spent hours preparing for each week on my own, trying to figure out how to map out each day so that we’d cover all the bases and still incorporate some of the freedom and creativity afforded by the homeschool experience. Was there something in between? I wasn’t sure, but I was determined to find out.

It’s interesting how God can use the most mundane things to get our attention and lead us in a completely different direction. What started out as a search for a more flexible, customizable lesson plan turned into a discovery of a teaching approach that forced me to think twice about the reason I was homeschooling the girls in the first place.

During my research, I stumbled across a teaching approach called Heart of Wisdom. It isn’t just a set of books with another recommended lesson plan: It’s an approach to homeschooling that seeks to answer the question, “Did God give us any instructions for teaching our children?” And if so, how do they relate to a modern homeschooling approach?

I poured through the Heart of Wisdom teaching approach with excitement — and reservation. Author Robin Sampson challenges parents to view their homeschooling opportunity as more than just a chance to create the optimal educational environment for our kids. It’s a chance to instruct them the way God’s followers taught their children for centuries before the Greek/Roman classical approach to education arrived on the scene. It’s an opportunity to develop in our children a heart of wisdom — not just an educated mind. After all, isn’t that what really matters most to God and to the future of our children?

This idea really challenged me to examine my motives: I know that the call to homeschool — for me — has always been about more than just giving my kids a “better” education than the public school system or a private school that we can’t afford. But was I ready to give up the idea that the “classic” way might actually not be the best way? That differentiating between knowledge and wisdom in our approach to education was more important than I could have ever imagined?

I can’t put into better words than the author herself as to what the answers to these questions might be, or why the Heart of Wisdom teaching approach is different from simply adding a Christian worldview to your homeschool approach. So if you’re curious, I’ll defer to author Robin Sampson herself for an explanation in her own blog.

What I can say is that after much prayer and discussion with my husband, we came to the conclusion that this approach made a lot of sense to us. The truth is, I don’t just want my girls to be smart, successful and impressive to the world. I want them to know their Creator even more intimately than I do, and to make choices influenced by His wisdom, not simply by acquired knowledge. I want them to be more divinely instrumental to God’s plans than I have been for most of my life. If there’s any way I can better prepare them for this journey, I am more than willing to do it.

So we made our choice. And I know it’s quite different from what many of my homeschooling friends are doing, but variety is one of the key characteristics of homeschoolers: We do what we do because we feel that it fits us (and our kids, lifestyle, values) best. And because I think God was answering my prayers when I found Heart of Wisdom, I am willing to give it a try and see how it fits our family and our homeschooling mission. Also, I have learned (often the hard way!) that when God moves you to do something, you’re better off just being obedient.

Even though we’ve really been enjoying this summer — especially those opportunities to get up close and personal with God’s glorious creations — I am very excited about starting our new school year. I have our new, more flexible, weekly lesson plans printed out. I have purchased or borrowed most of the books we’ll use during the course of this year. And I’ve already started implementing some of the Heart of Wisdom approach methodology in our daily discussions, so that the girls will be familiar with this new way of approaching our school subjects.

Most important, I have thrown out the old measuring stick by which to judge my effectiveness as a homeschooling teacher. This year, I’m not going to live and die by the lesson plan, by the “what your X-grader should know by now” standards. Instead, I will remind myself daily why I’m doing what I do. I will stop talking so much and listen to the Holy Spirit. I will expect to make adjustments along the way, because God’s way is always a process — a step-by-step journey in a direction you might not expect. And I will let God do the rest.

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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8 Responses to “Getting Ready for a New School Year”

  1. Rosanna Ward September 1, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    While we don”t use Heart of Wisdom I do have and regularly refer to Robin Sampson’s book, “What Your Child Needs to Know When”. We use an eclectic and unit study approach so I like to be able to refer to this book to make sure I don’t have any major learning gaps. I loved doing Unit Studies centered around Historical eras with the girls and with Liz’s girls a couple of years ago.

    • Renee Gotcher September 1, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

      It’s interesting that Robin started out her homeschool publishing career with the “What Your Child Needs to Know When” books, because in some ways Heart of Wisdom is a big departure from that way of thinking (as a sole focus). She talks about how Heart of Wisdom has affected her suggestions now on how to use her previous books, and I think she’s revised them too since starting Heart of Wisdom. I agree that it’s definitely helpful to keep an eye on the learning/development stages and make sure you’re not leaving anything out. But I also thought it was important (for me) to break out of the rigid “rules” of school based on standardized education and just not let it be my focus. Heart of Wisdom is very unit-study driven as well and employs the four different learning styles within each unit study, which I really like. We’ll see how it goes!

      • Rosanna Ward September 1, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

        Yes, I have a new edition where she explains her philosophy and Biblical teaching. The standards are pretty general but useful for me because I fly without curriculum many times and need to make sure I cover things like ordinal numbers and bar graphs (things I don’t really think about). I would love to do unit studies with Joel but I am wondering how it will work with 1 student.

  2. Brigit September 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, ideas and struggles with last school year. I too can relate so very much with knowing now in my heart that God’s plan for us to homeschool is so much more than a “better” education. I struggled with that for a while being a school teacher for several years 😉 I look forward to hearing more about your journey with your new approach and am interested in checking it out.

    • Renee Gotcher September 1, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

      Thanks for sharing too Brigit! I can imagine that it would be a struggle having been a teacher yourself before not to take the exact same approach with your kids, only try to do it better. I am looking forward to seeing how this new approach works in practice — it sounds great in the book, but don’t they all? 😉 I will keep you posted on how it goes, and I’ll definitely be sharing about it on the blog too!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What Textbooks or Curriculum Do You Use? « nextgenhomeschool - January 17, 2012

    […] I also didn’t feel like I’d hit the mark with my personal mission for homeschooling: For me, it wasn’t enough to just add a Christian spin to our curriculum. God had been challenging me to center my entire educational plan — from the method to the content and context — around His Word. That our focus on Him would radiate out into everything we do as a family — not just at Bible time, during school hours, or at church. (See my previous post on Getting Ready for a New School Year.) […]

  2. NextGen Homeschool: My, How Times Have Changed! « A New Chapter - October 11, 2012

    […] year, a switch in curriculum was my first step to get my homeschool back on track. At the same time, I wholeheartedly appreciate […]

  3. Oops, I did it again! Changing curriculum again… and again « nextgenhomeschool - November 1, 2012

    […] First Year: My Father’s World and why it didn’t work for us […]

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