While homeschooling can be an excellent educational choice for families, it is also an outstanding way to strengthen family bonds. Although homeschooled children have many friends and activities outside their family unit, the nature of homeschooling ensures a child will spend more time with his family than with outsiders, and this creates a greater bond and an increased ability for parents to influence their child’s values and behaviors. It allows for the creation of meaningful family time and shared memories.
Many families teach through a thematic approach. This means most subjects are taught through one theme, such as the Middle Ages, or a favorite book. The parent searches the theme for connections in all the subjects that need to be taught. Each child studies the same theme, but using material meant for their own educational level. A kindergartener will read picture books on the subject and make a craft, while a middle school student will read a book by a noted historian and prepare a research paper. The parents will also study the topic, searching for materials and interesting information to add to the unit study.
Because each person in the family is digging deeply into the same topic, the family is likely to become very interested in it. Although people might be working alone for much of the day, they are all learning the same subject. When they come together for dinner, they share what they’ve learned and have developed a new area of common interest. Often older children help younger children with their work, sharing what they learned at a level the younger child can understand, and assist younger children with projects. Field trips taken as a family to places related to the area of study add to the store of common memories. Over the years, a series of such experiences cause the family to have a larger than usual supply of shared interests and experiences, strengthening the family bond.
Although traditionally schooled children in a family spend their days apart, in separate classrooms, on different playgrounds, and in different schools, homeschooled siblings are together much of the day. Although they may study different material, children who are close in age may have some “classes” together. For instance, the parents may teach a second, fourth, and fifth grader the same history and science. They will do their experiments together and take turns reading a book together. If they read different material at their own reading level, they’ll come back together to share what they’ve learned.
Planning to have siblings work together in their homeschooling day is important in helping children develop strong bonds and shared memories. As often as possible, parents should develop lesson plans that allow siblings to cooperate on a project or to assist younger children. When older children help their younger siblings, they gain teaching skills, self-confidence, and patience. The older child’s relationship with the younger child improves as he begins to know the child as a real person and he develops a sense of responsibility for the child’s growth and well-being. Over the years, homeschooled children who work closely together develop life-long friendships with one another.
It’s important also for parents to participate in the learning, not just as teachers, but as fellow students. Parents need to finger paint with their children, play the funny learning games, struggle over the math problems, and join in the educational discussions. Sometimes they need to step down as teacher and allow the child to teach.
Taking time from the books and papers is critical to making homeschooling memorable. It’s important to read and write, but it is equally important to do. Go on family outings related to the course of study, fix a meal like one King Arthur would have eaten, put on a costume and help your children act out a favorite book. Let go of dignified adulthood and just have fun. All of this creates memories and eternal bonds.
In 1977, Theodore M. Burton, who was a member of the Quorum of the Seventy (a high level leadership position in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) said:
When parents spend time with their family, their children will never forget it. Money and other material blessings soon vanish. Children will not long remember the depth of the carpet pile in the home, the color of the drapes, the size of the color television set, or other luxuries. But when a mother and father take time to share a part of their lives with their family, they will find a depth of love returned again which will be a source of never-ending comfort both to them and their children.
Sharing, then, is the basis for awakening, cultivating, and perfecting love. Material blessings are not the “things” we need to pass on to them. We need to pass on to them spiritual advantages perhaps greater than we had. The things we do together as a family are the things which build family solidarity and love. Such joys will never be forgotten, though they may dim with the passing years (Theodore M. Burton, “The Inspiration of a Family Record,” Ensign, Jan 1977, 13).
Although educational accomplishment is an important part of homeschooling, for many families the most important benefit of homeschooling, and the benefit that lasts the longest, is the increased ability to build solidarity and love within the family, and to create shared memories. A child who grows up in a poor educational environment can make up for it later on with hard work and study. A child who grows up in a poor family environment can never go back and reclaim that lost childhood. Homeschooling helps to reclaim the lost six or seven hours a day that would otherwise be given over to a traditional school, allowing parents that many more hours to build memories and love.
Summary of how to use homeschooling to strengthen families:
1. Consider teaching thematically, so everyone is studying the same topic at his own level.
2. Guide informal discussions on these shared learning experiences when the family is together.
3. Ask older children to help younger children.
4. Have children work together on projects, even if they are different ages.
5. Forget your dignity and join in the fun.
6. What children need most are not material blessings, but loving and memorable ones. They need time.