Ruth Beechick 101

I like to pay attention to the wisdom of experienced homeschoolers. I’m drawn to tried-and-true methods, to success stories that are all the way written. I have a strong desire to learn from those who have walked this path and can shed light on my own.

Sane and simple tips for homeschooling well.

Over time, I have noticed that many experienced homeschoolers- regardless of their educational philosophy- recommend Ruth Beechick’s books. I’ve read a couple of them before, but when I picked them up last week, I was looking for something else- why are her books so highly recommended? 

It didn’t take me long to figure it out. She has a common sense approach to education that puts a big emphasis on natural and frustration-free learning.

Her books are short and easy to read — and they’ve taken a load off my shoulders.

The books that I read (and highly recommend) are:


Below I’ve compiled a list of the ideas from Ruth’s books that are making a big difference in how I’m thinking about home education.

1. Do what works

Ruth says that “Good teachers are independent souls and they do what works for them.” If what you are currently doing is working for you, then stop changing it. The educational giants wrote in generalities, and they don’t know your child as well as you do. Do what works, regardless of what the experts say.

2. What to do when it’s not working

Burnout occurs when days are filled with unsuitable work, mindless busywork, or work above the child’s present ability. If school has become drudgery, the problem is not with you or your children. The problem is with the curriculum. Healthy children are not lazy and will not resist learning if it is introduced at the right time. If your kids aren’t “getting it” and schoolwork has become frustrating, rethink the materials you are using.

3. Curriculum is to be used, not followed

Published curriculum can be helpful, but only if it is used and not followed. Our task is to know when to use it and when to drop it.
When curriculum is servant, you can easily drop it anytime something better is happening… If you are wearing yourself out trying to work up exciting units or projects, then reconsider. It might be time for published curriculum again. Remember that if curriculum is a servant, not only can you drop it when that seems best, but you can use it when that seems best. If your family has been caught up in reading and talking about books on ancient Egypt or some other topic and now the interest is waning, you need not dive immediately into another intense study. And if you need something to do during ‘school’ hours, just use a textbook for a while. The next topic and mental challenge will present itself when the mind is ready.”

Ruth believes that children often benefit from the ideas presented to them in published curriculum, but she also advocates dropping the curriculum and running with a child’s interest when it is sparked. There is an ebb and flow (that cannot be preplanned) when considering published curriculum vs. delight-directed learning.

4. First learn to read, then read to learn

The primary task for 1st-3rd grade students is learning to read and doing some basic work with numbers. Content is not the focus. Don’t worry about teaching your child about specifics in history, science, or social studies. Teach them the mechanics of reading in 1st and 2nd grade, and let them read-read-read as many easy books as you can find in 2nd and 3rd grade. They will encounter enough of all the other subjects through real life during these early grades. When they are reading fluently (usually about 4th grade), they can begin to gain knowledge in the other subjects through their reading. Don’t fuss with content-based subjects until then.

5. Homeschooling should be easy

If it’s not, then you’re working too hard, and you’re probably taking on too much. If you find yourself wondering how you can fit it all in, see where you can simplify. Focus on doing a few things really well. “You parents naturally know how to relate to each of your children and help them learn. Your biggest problem is that so many of you are afraid that teachers or society or somebody out there will frown on your way of teaching. You feel safer if you stick closely to a book or series of books, because that is somebody else’s plan, that is in print, that must be right.”

6. When to teach reading

Wait till the optimum time, and that’s probably a lot later than most of us are starting. Dr. Beechick says that a good average age for girls to start reading is six-and-a-half; for boys, seven-and-a-half. That’s average, so it means some will be ready earlier than that, some later. Other well-known educators have been preaching this for decades (Raymond Moore and David Elkind come to mind), but most mothers are too anxious to listen. If you start teaching a few sounds and your student doesn’t catch on right away, then it’s too early. Wait. There is absolutely no benefit to teaching reading early– but there is tremendous benefit in waiting until the optimum time.

7. Optimum time

Optimum time is the period in which the child is fully ready to learn a particular skill. Each child’s optimum time is different from another’s — but it’s almost always later than you think it will be. For example, Beechick says that it should only take about three weeks to learn cursive. If we teach before the optimum time, kids labor over cursive for up to a year. If we wait for the optimum time, they can learn it in less than a month. Once they’re 13, who cares when they learned it, as long as they can do it well. This takes much of the drudgery and frustration out of learning, and it respects each child’s God-given developmental level. There is an optimum time for every skill under the sun- reading, handwriting, math concepts, you name it– and every child’s optimum time will be unique to him or her.

8. Preschool & Kindergarten

Homeschoolers do not need to “do” preschool or kindergarten at all. In the Answer Book, she wrote this at least four or five times. Instead, we should go about our days with young children as if we had never heard the term ‘homeschooling’.

9. Language Arts: thoughts on grammar, comprehension and spelling

Reading is comprehension. Homeschoolers need not concern themselves with comprehension workbooks or any other such exercise. Spelling can (and should) wait until the 4th grade, except for perhaps some common useful words which can be approached in the context of the child’s writing before then. Formal grammar is best learned in 7th grade and thereafter, when the student is already writing well. It is not burdensome at that age, and can be learned quickly and well. There is no need to rush these skills.

10. Unit studies: not necessarily for all ages

Many people tout the benefits of using unit studies to work with multiple age levels. This can indeed be a good way to combine children’s studies, Ruth says, but too often unit studies are used with primary aged children. The primary task for a child 3rd grade and younger is to learn to read, not to learn subject content. Particulars in science, history, art appreciation, etc can come later. Schoolwork in the primary grades should focus on the 3 R skills. The rest of the subjects are adequately approached through real life. Unit studies are best saved for 4th grade and thereafter, when a child is developmentally equipped to read for information.

11. Ignore grade levels

Shoot for balance over a large chunk of time, not necessarily year to year. You need not try to balance every subject every year. There is no harm in skipping science for a year to focus more heavily on history. The following year, a science focus may be in order. Think of your child’s education in terms of a whole. This does much in terms of relieving the teacher and student from unrealistic expectations. It takes away the need to cram many subjects into a day or even a week. The goal here is deep, rich, real learning– quality over quantity.

12. Take heart

Well-meaning friends and family may consistently question our methods and doubt a relaxed approach to home education– even doubt home learning as a proper means of education at all. This is more draining that most non-homeschoolers can ever imagine. Instead of constantly defending ourselves, however, Ruth tells us, “Quietly go about your own family work, don’t argue too much, and patiently wait for the time when your success will argue for itself.”

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  1. Anonymous says

    Is should not be in front of the computer now but I just HAD to read your post and I am glad I did.

    I can’t wait to have some more time with it to mull it over more.

    Thanks for taking the time to condense all of this into a wonderful post!


  2. says

    I have read some of the books you mentioned. Sometimes we (read I)think too much about grade levels and is my child on par with others her age that we forget every child is an individual and will learn at his/her own pace and in their own way. I homeschooled my older three daughters, who are now grown, but my little 5 year old just went to kindergarten. She definitely has her own learning style so I am using the watchful waiting techniqe to see if she may also be homeschooled one day.

  3. says

    Sarah – I just reread this and I really have to say these are wonderful points. I have seen several proven absolutely in our own home and I especially have to applaud the idea of “optimum time” – so true (and it took my daughter exactly 3 weeks to learn cursive – that made me laugh!).

    Thanks for all your hard work to distill this – brilliant stuff.

  4. says

    Sarah — thanks for the reminder … I love Beechick’s thoughts and need to remember to stop trying to make it so hard for myself!


  5. says

    I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful post. It has helped me to relax and redefine my expectations. I have blogged about my language arts difficulties with a link back to your post.

  6. says

    Great, great post! As a perspective homeschooler I found it really helpful. I hope you don’t mind that I am linking to your post…I think it is too good not to be shared!

  7. sonrisemom says

    I enjoyed reading your views on theese books. I have only homeschooled for 2 yrs. Being new to homeschooling I didn’t know where to start, & thought I needed to teach everything from the get-go! I wish I would have read this a couple of years ago, it would have saved me & my children alot of frustration. God bless you & your family, & thanks for sharing with us. :)

  8. says

    So happy I read this! I can already feel myself relaxing a bit. I’ve been concerned I haven’t been doing enough with my 3 and 5 yo’s, but there’s also that part of me that just felt they were too young regardless of typical pre-k / k ages. I feel more ready now to listen to myself :)

  9. says

    I needed this today! Years ago a dear friend and homeschool mentor introduced me to Dr. beechick’s teaching methods, but I’ve gone off track in recent years and onto the crazy treadmill of trying to do it all, which has resulted in chaos and frustration for all of us. I lost that deep, rich, real quality we so loved early on, and now I remember why. Thank you for the reminder!

  10. says

    I just heard of Ruth Beechick today and am glad to have come across your post, particularly since my library doesn’t carry any of the books you mentioned! Thank you so much for giving us the ‘low-down’ on her. Sounds like solid advice.

  11. says

    Thank you so much for posting this. I have pinned it for when I need encouragement. I have some of her books, and I think I need to actually read them now. :)

  12. says

    Sarah, thanks for the reminders. Always helpful even after I’ve read it many times. Now that my oldest is nearly ready for “kindergarten” I am getting more anxious as to what I should be doing. I read number eight, but I wonder, should I be teaching him to read this year or doing basic math facts to 10? He knows his letters and most sounds. I guess I feel pressure to do more since we are bucking the trend of public school, like I need to prove my abilities. I know that sounds like a terrible motivation. Advice for kindergarten learning?

    • says

      I’m working on a kindergarten post right now! My short answer is: if I had a kindergartener, I would go outside every day, read stacks of picture books, grow things, go places, sing songs and recite poems and nursery rhymes, play with numbers (but I’d hold off on the math curriculum for another year), memorize tons (poems, songs, verses, math facts- anything fun and exciting that your child memorizes easily and with pleasure). I’d work very hard to help my child be pleasant to be around, to teach him how to do chores well, and I would do the best I could to provide a cozy, relaxed, and consistent home.

      I wouldn’t use a curriculum or get out the phonics or do a math curriculum or anything.

      Does that help at all? :)

  13. Kristi says

    Hi again, Sarah, you just sent me to this post from your “early years” post, and it is SOOO helpful. No need to reply; I just wanted to express my gratitude once more! :) Thank you!

  14. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for compiling this list of ideas! I feel like a huge weight has been removed, that is the pressure I put on myself to homeschool it all! Your blog is a blessing!