woman pointing one fingerby Nada Rothgaber

“You have it so easy…You homeschool only one.” That is what I heard for many years as a homeschool mom. As my friends who had many children got to the point where they were homeschooling their last child, they realized that homeschooling “only one” is not any easier than homeschooling many. It is just different. God can provide the answers whether we homeschool one or more.

For some of us, homeschooling only one is the home education path that God has us travel for the entire 12 years of schooling. For other homeschool parents, it might be a path they are on for just a few years as the baby of the family completes the family’s homeschool journey. That old adage of “hindsight is 20/20” is so true. This homeschool mom has completed her in-the-trenches homeschool journey. Our son (and we) survived the homeschool journey. I hope these few words of experience might impart some wisdom to the moms who are still plugging away in those trenches. God knows where you are and He will meet you there.

I was a professional educator before I was a homeschool mom. I taught all levels from kindergarten through college before I retired and came home when God blessed us with a son. All of my professional training and experience did not prepare me for teaching our son. I never had an educational course on learning styles or determining the “bent” of a child. In a government school setting there is no need for such information since the teaching is done to such a large group of students utilizing, at best, one or two methods of learning.

I found it was vital for me as a teaching parent to know my own learning style as well as the learning style of my child. Why? The first reason was because we tend to choose curriculum that appeals to our own personal way of learning. Most of the time it seems God blesses us with a child who learns in a different way, so it makes for frustration if you are trying to teach to your own learning style. Second, if teaching more than one child, what works for one may not work for the others. Third, effectiveness of communication and learning is enhanced when new or complicated information is presented in the manner the receiver learns best.

There is also the factor of the God-given “bent” which leads to special interests, hobbies, and life-long professions. All these factors influence how we learn and how we learn best, but learning styles and bents are a discussion for another time. Our focus in this article is home educating just one child and how to take advantage of the strengths of teaching just one.

As I stated previously, I never learned about the different ways children learn in my training to get my teaching degree. I believe the main reason for that is because our schools are only able to instruct to one kind of learning style because of the sheer number of students they are teaching in a class. The visual learner usually excels in a school classroom because the information is delivered in a visual format: blackboard, reading books and papers, and computer work (all visual) with a little auditory learning thrown in with teacher lectures. I didn’t know any of this as a professional educator.

When I became a homeschooling mom, I started searching for answers as to why the curriculum and teaching aids I bought for our son were not working as I thought they should. It was through an all-day workshop I attended that I learned I was a visual learner and my son was a mix of a kinetic/auditory learner. All those cute little workbooks and writing lessons I had bought at my first state homeschool convention were for someone who learns like I do, not someone with the learning style of my son. So my husband sent me to the next homeschool convention with these directions: “Buy only what you think will not work and anything you like, don’t buy.”

So whether teaching one or ten, we homeschool moms have the opportunity and blessing to teach our children in the format that is best for them to learn. One homeschool mom that I know said it best by saying we teach the hard stuff in their God-given learning style and review it in the other learning styles to give them that experience and stretch them out of their comfort learning method. So how is teaching one different than teaching a whole bunch of children? As I started thinking about this topic when asked to do a workshop on this topic at a state homeschool convention, I discovered there aren’t really that many negatives but a whole bunch of positives. Naturally, I NOW think the positives outweigh the negatives. I didn’t think that at first when I was starting this journey. God had to show me the light. I found myself approaching the organizational and social aspects of homeschooling very differently than my multi-child friends, but the actual teaching aspects were the same.

First, let me list a few of the challenges I found homeschooling only one. I had to look for social situations for my son to be involved in to enhance his learning. My friends limited social situations because there were lots of opportunities at home to interact. I looked for temporary siblings – My friends had built in siblings and playmates of good character and with complimentary interests. As a mom of one, you must look for opportunities for the child to learn to “give and take.” Siblings are great teachers in this area, but if you don’t have siblings, then you must improvise so your child does not feel things are always done their way. I looked for beneficial ways to occupy my son’s time while I did my planning, cooking – My friends had siblings who fulfilled this role. You can’t say, “Go play with your brother or sister” while Mom does some planning, cooking, or household jobs because there are no siblings. You are always the other player in games. You are the audience for “productions,” readings, home music presentations, etc. You don’t have the opportunity for younger children to learn from the older ones. We’ve had many homeschooling friends where the toddler learned to read just from playing at the feet of mom and the child who was a little older and learning phonics.

The positive aspects of teaching only one I found far out-weighed the challenges. I must admit I didn’t always think so positively while traveling this journey of homeschooling only one. Throughout history, a private tutor has been the most successful form of learning. We are blessed to be in that category and have success already on our side. Teaching from one adult to one child allows for socialization across generations where wisdom can be transferred along with knowledge.

Our group schools impart knowledge but do they impart wisdom? We have the ability to tailor the learning to the needs of the child and to incorporate practical applications into the course of study. We are not controlled by a group time schedule. One-on-one teaching allows efficiency of time for both teacher and student. Your teaching is able to meet the student where they are and take them further along the path of learning. Teaching one allows you to personalize the learning for your child’s individual needs. I am going to use our family as an example of how it might be personalized, but our experiences may not be what God has planned for you. One of the major blessings of teaching one is that real life experiences can be incorporated into the schedule.

We were blessed to travel quite a lot during our homeschooling years, both with my husband’s job and also as we attended the national conferences for homeschool leaders throughout the country. I even wrote a column in our state homeschool organization’s magazine for about seven years, documenting how God provided trip after trip of real life learning situations. I called the column Trips to the Field–God’s Educational Classroom because it was exactly that: learning in God’s classroom of life. Learning does not take place reading a book, that is knowledge. Wisdom comes from experiencing real life situations and applying God’s principles to those situations. In our homeschool journey, God provided so many learning situations which “just happened” to coincide with our unit studies. Like when we were studying the circulation system, my father had a heart attack: That made our studies REALLY come to life.

As we traveled down the homeschool path, we were able to incorporate many hands-on learning situations which complemented our book learning. Our son experienced apprenticeships of various lengths learning multiple trades. He worked with a roofer and assisted Christian friends in many trades, running large equipment and working on neighboring farms and construction sites. When we added an addition on to our house he assisted in every area of the construction from running a backhoe for the foundation the whole way through to doing all the finish molding work and laying the stone for a stone fireplace. During the two years before his graduation, he apprenticed at a diesel mechanic garage three afternoons a week. Right after his graduation, he spent a winter in southern New Mexico apprenticing as a plumber with a homeschool dad.

I could go on and on with this list. The point is all these situations were real life learning experiences. Many of them led to in-depth learning from books and instruction manuals in order to complete the responsibilities of the situation. For example the Blueprints for Geometry course, which he completed while working on the addition to our home, brought in all the details a contractor must know (like knowing the local codes, where electric boxes can be placed, permits which must be filed, etc.). All these real life experiences prepared our son. He gained a vast amount of experience in a variety of fields. He found jobs he loved doing but just didn’t love doing them for eight hours/five days per week. Auto mechanics was one of those.

He is what he self-describes as a “motorhead.” He is always working on someone’s vehicle or machine. Most kids buy a working car when they are old enough. Not my kinetic kid. When he was over a year from being old enough to drive, he bought a Chevy pickup truck with a blown engine. After figuring out the engine was beyond repair, he replaced it with a Camaro engine, and took out the good automatic transmission and replaced it with a standard transmission. All these variables caused a domino effect of problems which needed to be solved. Once solved, he got the engine to turn over, but decided it wasn’t what he wanted. He took everything apart and sold the various components on Ebay. What learning experiences. They included building shipping crates for the engine and transmissions to be shipped to other states. He then bought a second vehicle; this one had been in a wreck. In two days, he had it repaired and running. He did all the documentation for a salvage license–a real learning experience in government bureaucracy.

Why am I mentioning all this? It is to open your mind to various possibilities of learning, teaching, and guiding the child God has entrusted to you. You might have a child whose bent is more academic than my situation. There are options available for those who are more academically oriented than apprenticeship oriented. There are so many other learning opportunities such as a space or science camp, an art course, Internet, correspondence courses, and courses at a community college in an area of interest.

Going on a short-term missions trip is a way one can sample multiple fields–missions, education, medical, construction, media–to name a few, depending on the focus of the trip and the interest of the child. Many professionals will allow a teen to “shadow” them in their job if an interest is expressed. We know many young adults who were homeschooled whose parents realized the bent of the child and channeled that bent through institutions of higher learning rather than through apprenticeships like we did. They are now doctors, attorneys, property managers, computer programmers/software designers, graphic designers, etc.

While some aspects of home educating “only one” seem harder than the homeschool journey of large families, we both have the advantage of utilizing the tutor method. The one-on-one relationship of the tutorial method has for centuries been considered superior to the classroom teacher model. Centuries ago it was the method of education reserved for the elite. As Christian homeschool parents, we can even expand the success because we have the opportunity to not only be the teacher imparting knowledge, but to be in the role of a mentor, a more intimate relationship than a tutor. As we mentor our child, we impart God’s wisdom in a personal way. Is it any wonder that homeschooling enjoys such a success rate, whether it is a one-child or multi-child family.

Copyright 2009. Used by permission of the author. Originally published in Arizona Home Education Journal

Nada Rothgaber has been happily married to her husband, Doug, for more than 41 years. Both were trained and worked as professional educators. When they first heard about homeschooling, they thought it would never work. Nada taught for 13 years in both the public schools and at the college level. They had one son, Joshua, a homeschool graduate. He was tragically killed at age 26 in a traffic accident 3 years ago on the night he found out he was going to be a first-time father.  Doug and Nada have continued to serve with the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP) since 1995 in various capacities including being longterm board members and several years as convention coordinator. Since Doug’s early retirement from Penn State University in 2007, they have been traveling in their motorhome as they continue to serve homeschoolers in Pennsylvania and across the USA. They spend warm winters in the southwest and summers in the north. You can reach Nada at [email protected] or follow their travel blog at http://rothgabertravels.blogspot.com.