Training children in the way that they should go and giving them a solid foundation of skills in which to make their way in this world is the responsibility of every parent. There are many ways to accomplish this, but no way is more hands on and dependent upon you than home schooling. When my wife and I moved out to Grace Ranch in the Fall of 2015, we had been home schooling our four children since the birth of our oldest in 2005. From the outset, my vision has been to not only give my children the best education possible, but to also share that which we learn with others that all may benefit. Ultimately, I have always seen the end of this process being the creation of a school that offers parents an outstanding education for their children. Three and a half years later, I am beginning to see that vision come to pass.
One of the beauties of home schooling at the ranch is that there not only are other children and their parents, but also a wide array of brothers and sisters in Christ with talents that they are willing to share. The result is an educational experience for the children that greatly exceeds what any of the parents could have provided on their own at a minimal cost. Moreover, through the Internet, we have been able to share that experience with other home schooling families that we know across the country.
To give you an idea of what this looks like, I’ll share a few highlights. First and foremost, you need a sound foundation. My wife Megan Atherton, whose Helpful Homeschooling blog is a fruit of our efforts, calls them the Four Rs – Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and Research. While each family’s daily activities vary, all the children at the ranch are sound readers and are progressing through their math lessons in an orderly fashion. At the parents discretion, the children then join together for certain classes that give them the opportunity to read together, write, demonstrate their math skills and conduct research.
For example, my family has been using the Genevieve Foster horizontal history books for some years. Last year, all the children at the ranch, together with some in our South Carolina fellowship joined together to study George Washington’s World, following a unit study curriculum that my wife prepared with help from some of the other mothers. The children read the book aloud to one another each day, answered questions, learned new vocabulary and spelling, watched movies and/or documentaries relating to the people and times that they studied and researched, wrote and presented to their classmates three reports each covering people, places and things from his time. Special unit studies on music (i.e. Mozart, Bach, Handel, Wesley, Watt and others), the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and the First Great Awakening were included as well. From this study the children emerged with a knowledge not only of American history, but what was going on across the globe and the geography relating thereto. They also got to practice their reading, writing, research and public speaking.
A recent addition to our joint studies has been a very hands-on science curriculum called Supercharged Science. From 7 to 14, the children have been highly engaged for two hours a day, four days a week conducting experiments, making calculations and writing reports relating to their findings. In fact, they have learned their lessons so well that they apply them, sometimes comically, in real life. Just yesterday, my eight year old daughter, who has been practicing her typing, doing homework and writing emails using the Chrome book her uncle supplied each student in their computer class, told her instructor (my brother-in-law and her uncle) and me that she was playing a game on her Chrome book and there was too much friction on her touch screen so she put lotion on her hands to reduce the friction!!! After a good chuckle, we let her know that while that was an effective remedy for her problems with friction it was not good for her computer screen.
While the foundation that the above studies provide is central, where I think the educational experience at the ranch has really set our children’s education apart has been in the area of what some might call electives. It began some years ago, when my wife and I talked with our good friend Karen Hocker about whether she would be interested in teaching our children piano. Since then, all of the children (not just our own) have progressed wonderfully, their recent concert (see below) bearing them out and they have now added a chorus, with the further assistance of Cheryl Eutsler. About the same time we spoke with Karen about piano, we asked my sister Robin Atherton if she would teach the children art. From one point perspective, to two point perspective, to drawing light and various other exercises the children have learned to draw and paint in an organized manner that has been extraordinary.
This past year, my wife’s sister’s family moved out to the ranch. My brother-in-law is a computer consultant, web page designer and video blogger as well as leader of our worship ministry. He has further expanded the children’s world by teaching classes on photography, outfitting the children with and teaching them computers on chrome books and spending three days a week leading physical education. Better yet, he and his wife are just getting started. You can see the impact of his efforts in the Grace Ranch Photography Exposition we held a few months back. I can’t wait to see what happens when the children start doing their own newspaper and videos!
These experiences, when coupled with the lessons children learn performing their part on a working ranch and in the home, cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, traveling into town to buy groceries and supplies, interacting with geology and nature all around the ranch, playing with one another and much much more, it is easy to see that the home schooling experience at Grace Ranch is quite robust. It also means that as more families come out to the ranch to study for the ministry that they can rest assured that their children’s experience will be just as rich as theirs.