When I began my own homeschooling journey in the late 1980s, I didn’t know anything about how it worked and certainly didn’t know anyone who was homeschooling. This meant I had to get creative in the ways that I did my research. I began talking to local support group leaders, visiting the state homeschooling conference, and flipping through endless curriculums, textbooks, and materials. Based on the information I gathered, I chose typical, commonly used textbooks. As a former public school teacher, I felt driven by grade level material, standards, and test scores and wanted to prove to my skeptical extended family that my kids were indeed learning.

In the first week of school, I quickly realized my sons and I were experiencing the monotony of excessive drills and repetitive practice of concepts they had already mastered. Yikes! This was going to be a very long year if I didn’t come up with a better plan, since I certainly couldn’t afford to purchase more curriculum. Out of necessity, I invented (or so I thought) the ‘cut and slash’ method. To begin, we went over the new math concept each day and chose about 5 problems with which to practice the new material. Afterward, I would take a pencil and cross out the other 20 repetitious equations.  On Fridays, as teachers often do, I administered the end-of-chapter tests. About 6 weeks into this process, I decided to give my sons the end-of-chapter math test on Monday, analyze it, and carefully pick out the few problems they didn’t answer correctly. With precision, I taught the skills they needed to learn. Consequently, we finished an entire math curriculum by Christmas. Years later, while working on my master’s degree, I discovered this isn’t called “cut and slash,” but rather “curriculum compacting.” Hmmm!

We followed a similar pattern with grammar and spelling, which simplified our mornings and opened up our afternoons to enjoy learning the things my children were naturally interested in. We spent more time exploring science, history, geography, literature, civics, and art. I purchased a book that delineated what a child should accomplish in each grade and used that as my guide, moving away from textbooks and creating personalized learning experiences. From this guide, I learned that American history was typically covered in my oldest son’s grade. I decided to teach both children all subjects together (except for math) since they were only a grade apart. 

We enjoyed every second as we implemented a year’s worth of projects – literature, movies, and music – all centered around American history. The grand finale was a trip to Colonial Williamsburg in the spring to actually see the places about which we had studied. Science was based on experimental discovery, and the way it correlated with history made all subjects integrated and connected. For example, when we studied Native Americans, the boys built different types of dwellings out of mud, straw, homemade bricks, and other messy items. Literature was a mixture of grade-level historical fiction and authentic history that we enjoyed reading aloud to each other. For our civics credit, we visited and observed local government in action, and for geography we mapped out our land, our community, and the local town. 

As we discovered in our first year of homeschooling, interest-based learning isn’t confined to a rigid set of school hours, but carries through in the way we live life as a family. Wherever we went, whatever we were doing, we were all more attuned to our environment. I will always treasure those memories when I think on how easily we formed meaningful connections with God’s creation.

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Welcome to our “First Glance” blog series written by Trudy Abel! Over the next few weeks we will be featuring different Special Needs topics – introducing you to each concept through the lens of Trudy’s initial experiences with various diagnoses.

Trudy Abel holds a M.A.Ed. in Gifted Education and a Ph.D. in Special Education from University of Southern Mississippi. She has taught students of all ages within general, gifted, and special education in public, private and homeschool settings. She has also served as a special education professor in four different universities, recently retiring from University of North Alabama.

She homeschooled her two sons at different points in their education to accommodate their learning differences (dyslexia, ADHD, and giftedness); homeschooled two nieces for a couple of years; and taught history in a homeschool cooperative. Before homeschooling was widely accepted, Trudy opened a consulting business for homeschooling families to provide academic support, testing and accountability. Later, she co-founded a non-profit school for children with dyslexia.

Most of her career has focused on educating future teachers and parents about special needs. Her passion in working with families of children with special needs is to increase understanding, provide support, and equip with needed resources to ensure success.