Home Schooling

Copyright © Nels Tomlinson 2004, 2005, 2006
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Alaskan Homeschooling Resources

I've moved my list of useful links and information to my new Alaskan homeschooling resources page.

Latest attack on the statewide schools

The Department of Education is at it again. You can read the details in a letter from a parent who is being affected, and keep up with the progress on my homeschooling blog.

My Home Schooling

My sister and I were taught at home by my parents. When I started college, I found that I was well prepared, not only academically, but emotionally. At University of Alaska, Fairbanks, I saw several other home schooled people, and, of course, thousands of fellow students who had spent their lives in the warehouse schools. Most of them were not quite ready to be treated as adults: they weren't accustomed to accepting responsibility for doing their work or getting to class. In addition, the warehoused students weren't willing to spend time talking with their instructors when they had difficulties. For the majority of the students who had gone through high school in a warehouse school, this immaturity required some difficult adjustment during their first year of college.

Almost all of us who were homeschooled back them had grown up in the bush, in small villages or in isolated cabins. The students who had gone through school in the small villages should have been more like the home schooled students than the students who'd grown up in the large warehouse schools. Unfortunately, they had a terrible time. Most of them had to adjust to living in a radically different culture, in addition to dealing with the same problems of immaturity which afflicted the warehoused students from the big cities. At UAF, the completion rate for this group was terribly low.

In contrast, those of us who were homeschooled were all mature enough, and adaptable enough, that we were able to function well right from the beginning. Our first year at college wasn't terribly different from our experiences at home. We did have to learn to live near a big city (remember, most of us came from the bush), and we had to learn to deal with homesickness and college bureaucracy, but each of the other two groups I mentioned above had to deal with at least one of those. We didn't have to deal with learning how to be adults, and most of us didn't have much of a cultural adjustment to make. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that our little group got above average grades, and had an above average completion rate.

Home Schooling Our Children Today

After reading my experiences, above, you shouldn't be surprised to learn that we are home schooling our children.

Our Curriculum Choices

Initially, we used the Alyeska Central School's curriculum. We only used their services because that was what my parents had used for me and my sister. My mother ignored the parts of it which she didn't like, but my wife wasn't comfortable with that. Alyeska provides a single, preset, one-size-fits-all curriculum, just like the warehouse schools. It is a ``recreate-school-at-home'' curriculum, but we've since decided that their choices were not bad ones. Still, we've moved on to other resources for almost everything.

We weren't entirely satisfied with Alyeska's program, and decided to use one of the other statewide charter schools. We settled on the Raven Program. They give us a yearly budget of $1,400 per child to buy materials. We can get whatever we feel we need, so long as it is justified by the lesson plans. Since we write the lesson plans (with help from the Raven staff), that isn't much of a constraint. We can teach the kids what we want, and the paperwork burden isn't too great.

We didn't want to recreate the public school at home, so we have tried to steer clear of curricula which do that, such as A Becka and Calvert. Initially we chose to use the Sonlight curriculum, which is based on reading history. Our boy read many historical novels, and learned some American history. He also did some science, and the Singapore math program. Singapore math is heavy on concepts and light on drill. It stresses understanding and application, and doesn't provide a lot of rote learning. That's fine, since it's far easier to provide some routine, boring drill when needed than it is to provide problem-solving insight.

This Year (2004)

This year (Fall 2004) we're moving a bit farther from the recreate-school-at-home trap. We're going to start following the advice in ``Teaching the Trivium'' and ``The Well Trained Mind''. These books describe and advocate a classical Christian education. The distinguishing characteristics of that are: a thorough grounding in the basics while young, followed first by training in thinking, then by applications. Throughout, there is a constant exposure to literature.

The idea is that while children are young, they love to collect facts, as a pack rat collects pretty stones. So, we encourage that tendency by feeding young kids a steady diet of facts: dates and names in history, vocabulary, grammar and spelling in languages, addition and multiplication tables, and so on. The intial emphasis is on facts, rather than understanding. As the kids get older (our oldest is 9.5 as I write this), they will begin to want to connect the facts, and eventually to draw inferences from them. That will be the time to emphasize the connections between historical facts, to emphasize the theory of grammar in language, and algebra and problem-solving in math.

Since Conway is a bright 91/2-year-old, we're going to start him on serious grammar, using a program called The Latin Road to English Grammar. It promises to teach Latin, and to teach English grammar along the way. Neither Susan nor I feel comfortable enough with formal grammmar to try to teach it without a text, and I have it on good authority (that is, from my Mother) that English grammar can only be understood through the aid of an inflected language (such as Latin, which my Mother learned, or German, of which I learned a bit). So, beginning this year, Conway and I will begin learning Latin. I've promised Susan that I will teach him, as long as she will agree to study along with us. We'll put Connie (age 6) to work on a Latin vocabulary program, just so she's not left out.

For both kids, we'll be reading ancient history this year. We'll start with the Middle East, and the period from around 2000 B.C. to around 400 A.D. Susan will probably throw in some Chinese history from that period, just so they know what else was going on in the world. I'm still trying to put together a reading list for the kids. It will be centered around the Bible, read in chronological order. When we get that settled, I'll put it up here.

We'll continue with Conway's Singapore math, since he likes it and it seems to be giving good results. We'll continue to use Sonlight's science curriculum for both of the big kids.


One ``problem'' which worries people who are unfamiliar with the idea of home schooling is socialization: ``How can the children be socialized at home?'' I've written an essay on socialization, to try to explain why that question is misguided, and why children must be socialized at home.


I've started a page about English spelling. It's short.

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