The Washington Times
September 19, 2000

Course work for six forces juggling act

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
September 19, 2000

We had to do something different. Even though this is our 19th year in home-schooling, and even though we already have graduated three of our 10 children, this year my wife, Vickie, faced her biggest challenge ever. She has never had to teach six children at one time before. (Our youngest is not old enough yet for formal classes.)

Last year, our grown daughter Jayme taught Jon and Joe, our first- and second-graders. But Jayme got married in June, and so that wonderful source of assistance had been called to a new phase of life.

We did a quick calculation. Six children. Five subjects each. That was 30 lessons a day for Vickie to teach, at 30 minutes per lesson. Vickie and I just shook our heads. No way. Absolutely no way.

After hours of conversation on our late-night walks, Vickie and I gradually came to a proposed plan of attack. Elements of our plan are familiar — things we have done in the past and will resurrect but one new element is significantly different (for us at least).

In today’s column, I want to share our new plan for teaching multiple children, but more important, I intend periodically to devote this column to updates, telling you what has worked and what hasn’t worked quite as well.

Our three oldest children at home are Jessica (16 real soon), Angie (13) and Michael (12). To reduce Vickie’s load with Jessica, we have found ways to teach three major subjects that do not require my wife to do anything.

Although I have not taught regularly for the past few years, in the past, I taught some courses for our older girls after they reached middle school age. This year I am teaching Jessica a combined unit in history and literature.

We are starting off with a several-week series based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Paul Revere and the World He Lived In,” by Esther Forbes (author of the well-known children’s classic “Johnny Tremain”). Unlike her prize-winning children’s fiction, “Paul Revere” is a history text written in the style of a novelist who is skilled in telling a story. It is completely factual but written in cohesive chunks that keep the story moving in an extremely interesting way.

My goal for the next several weeks is to use the book as a jumping-off place for many other studies into history and literature. For example, Paul Revere’s father immigrated to the United States from France because of the harsh persecution the French Protestant Huguenots faced from the Roman Catholic Church. This history is mentioned in a page or two in the text. Jessica will be researching the issue in depth and writing a short report on this important piece of the history of religious freedom.

Throughout the book, when we find interesting places to delve a little deeper, we will do so to learn through enriched exploration.

Jessica also will be taking college algebra and rhetoric (speech, debate and persuasive writing) as a part-time student at Patrick Henry College. Our third daughter, Katie, previously took business, French and calculus at Northern Virginia Community College, so part-time enrollment in a local college for the past couple of years of high school is a tried-and-true path for us.

I also am teaching Angie and Michael a combined history and literature class. We are starting with “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” by Jules Verne. Our family is going on a home-school cruise up the New England coast in October (I will one of the speakers), and so we are doing a lot of ocean-based study for the next few weeks.

When other events and topics are suggested by the plot of Verne’s classic tale, we will stop and do interest-based enrichment for these two as well. Literature with Dad has been done before in our home, but the enrichment plans are new.

However, the most innovative approach overall (for us at least) is a couple of slots in the day we are devoting to a plan we are calling home-school potpourri. For potpourri, Vickie will be teaching five or six of our children (depending on the days Jessica goes to college) all together at one time.

Her morning slot for this eclectic course is devoted to world geography for the next few weeks, with a special emphasis on the East Coast of the United States and Canada because that is our water-bound itinerary with the children in about a month.

The afternoon potpourri slot is a science course for now. The entire group will be studying marine wildlife, including the ever-popular topics of sharks and whales for the first few weeks. We have a variety of history, science and literature topics planned for the next several months.

Each child still receives personal instruction in math, reading, grammar and spelling. I am teaching math to Michael. By all of these methods, we have been able to reduce Vickie’s load to the same number of preparations she has carried for the past several years, when she taught four children all of their courses individually.

Whether they have two, three or six home-schooled students, lots of moms feel the pressure of having more course preparation than they have time. You have seen the highlights of our plan to relieve the pressure. I’ll keep you up to date.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

Copyright 2000 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit our web site at http://www.washtimes.com.