The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook

Raymond and Dorothy Moore's The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook has a subtitle: A Creative and Stress-Free Approach to Homeschooling. It's a fairly accurate title—I would say Less-Stress since nothing important is ever stress-free for me--but this is one of those homeschooling books that I can happily re-read, over and over.

Often called the grandparents of homeschooling, the Moores researched and became champions of homeschooling 50 years ago, long before HSLDA, ABeka, or homeschooling blogs came on the scene. Their research and the educational method they subsequently promoted seem almost revolutionary on the face. Yet their logic is sound, and their homeschooling method truly is low-stress, low-cost, and high-success.

I was a teenager when I read my first book by the Moores: Better Late Than Early. (It’s true: I was an odd child who was interested in educational theories even then. Plus, I disliked school intensely and was thrilled to find experts who felt the same way.) The subject of that book was their research on when children should begin their formal educations. The Moores found that, contrary to popular opinion, children do best when formal (sit-down, study by book or lecture) education is delayed until at least age 8-10 or even 12, especially for boys. Academically and socially, in behavior and maturity, the children with late starts on "book learning" did best.

The reason these kids did so well academically is that after 8-12 years of happy exploration in the world, their knowledge base was so wide and their confidence in themselves so high, that formal academics seemed very easy to them. Academically, the delayed children breezed past the kids who began formal study in preschool or kindergarten.

My mom was a piano teacher and she taught me the same principle when I was a child by making me wait until I was 8 to start lessons. Speaking generally and not specifically, of course, it doesn’t matter if you start learning piano at 5 years old or at 8 years old--by 10 years old you will probably have equal ability. The difference lies in the attitude toward the piano at age 10. The early-starter has had to work so hard at it for so long that piano practice might have become a chore instead of a joy. The late-starter has had a much easier time learning to read music and placing his fingers on the right keys at the right time. He quickly moves through the primer level and immediately advances to playing more satisfying "real songs," so he is rewarded with enjoyment and achievement when he sits down to play.

They have the same ability at age 10, but their attitudes are far different. Which one, do you think, will be more advanced in their piano studies at age 15? I believe their attitudes at age 10 will determine their enthusiasm and desire to practice in the future. And in the end, there’s a good chance that the late-starter will not only enjoy the piano more than the early-starter, but will also play with more skill. There are certainly exceptional children who started playing the piano early and go on to great things, but for my mom at least, they were the exceptions rather than the rule. What my mother found to be true with her piano students often holds true for academic subjects also (learning languages is one big exception).

I have used some of the Moores' late-starting method with my children, which really ties in with John Holt's unschooling while the kids are young. My three older kids are anecdotal evidence that waiting works: they sped through the traditional college preparatory subjects in just a few years and were ready for college at 16. (Incidentally, we found that 16 year olds starting college is not necessarily a good thing, but that’s a story for another time.) More important than speeding through academics though, is that the Moores gave us a satisfying way to homeschool, focusing on the big priorities and preparing kids for life, not just for college.

So what is the Moore Method?

Up until kids are at least 8-12 years old, the parent should. . .

  • Read, sing, and play with your children.
  • Identify their interests and help them find real books and experiences to explore those interests. Give them real tools (kitchen, shop, yard or desk), encyclopedias, and magazines.
  • Have them help around the house: "Start your children to work when they start to walk. Add freedom as they accept responsibility."
  • Give them opportunities to serve others.
  • Basically, give your kids an interesting and enriching environment.

When the children are older, there are three parts to the Moore Formula: study, work, and service.

  1. Study. 30-180 minutes per day, using as few boring workbooks or school methods as possible. (Think of all the lovely ideas out there from wonders like Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori). The thing to note here is that the amount of time spent on “school work” is quite short--three hours maximum, and that only for the oldest teenagers.
  2. Work. 30-180 minutes per day. Kids spend at least as long as study time on household chores and running their own businesses. The novelty here is the large amount of time spent on real work, and the emphasis on kids running their own businesses or helping in a family business.
  3. Service. Times will vary--serving at home, in the neighborhood, and in the community. We don’t often see an emphasis on service outside of the church, but the Moores place it front and center, as a major part of the curriculum.

The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook gives a good introduction and explanation of the Moore Method, plus it includes lots of real-life stories from families who have used it. I enjoy reading about other families’ experiences with the study/work/service tripod. They offer lots of food for thought, and they demonstrate the advantages children gain by working and serving throughout their school day. This is an extremely valuable book, and I count it at the top of my homeschooling book list, right next to John Holt's books.

Since I have such a high opinion of both the Moores and John Holt, let me add a side note about the differences between the two methods. The small disparities between the Moore Method and unschooling don't arise until children are older. While the Moores suggest 8-12 as appropriate ages to begin small amounts of formal study, John Holt would say to delay that formal study until (more accurately, unless. . . ) the child requests it. The Moores would have you make certain that your children incorporate work and service into their schedules. And Holt would say that kids will incorporate work and service into their schedules on their own, as they see you modeling those things. Both methods completely agree that most traditional school methods like textbooks, lectures, and tests, are rarely helpful and often harmful.

Because the Moores and John Holt were the first homeschooling advocates, back when homeschoolers were hiding their kids in the daytime, it’s worth our time to see why they thought homeschooling surpassed traditional schooling. They didn’t say to take kids out of school to keep them away from drugs or sex or non-Christian lifestyles, even though those might be appropriate reasons. In the beginning of modern homeschooling, the choice was about educational methods and the very definition of education. So I’ll follow the pattern set for me by the first homeschooler I ever met, and I recommend these authors to everyone interested in homeschooling. I hope they’ll be as much help to you as they have been to me!