Thursday, September 18, 2008

Seven Questions...Homeschool 101

Meet Wendy...a real-life homeschooling mom. She has chosen to educate her children at home and seems to manage the huge responsibility beautifully. I was thrilled when she agreed to answer a few questions about the homeschooling life. Read on...she's remarkable.

1. Tell us a little about your family and your background. Were you always a homeschooling mom? How did you choose this educational option for your family? What are the greatest advantages of raising your family this way?
Homeschooling was never on our radar. We have 4 kids. Maddy is 13, Jack is 10, Erik is 7, and Will is 4. The oldest 3 kids all went to public school through March 2007.

In June 2006, we moved from the Bay Area of California to Utah and found that their new school was about a year behind their old school. I was fed up with the philosophy the public schools have of teaching to the average student. I have four kids, and not one is average. They each have unique strengths and weaknesses. Their needs were not being met. My husband and I weighed our options-- charter schools or private schools, neither of which seemed right.

In the meantime, I had lunch with a friend of mine from California who had moved to Park City. She mentioned she was homeschooling her three kids. In my mind, I was rolling my eyes and thinking, 'How odd. You don't look like you homeschool. I see no denim jumper. You seem perfectly reasonable.' But it peaked my interest enough that I went home and googled "homeschool" out of curiosity and, from that point on, I was hooked. I Instant Messaged my husband to let him know I wanted to start homeschooling. After the initial shock, he was on board. We pulled the kids out of school about a month later.

While I'll be the first to admit there are both pros and cons to this peculiar way of life, so far the pros have outweighed the cons. The most obvious (and the one that can make me loony and want to pull the covers over my head) is the vast amount of time we get to spend together. But I've gotten to know and understand my kids so well this past year. I know what they know and what they don't know and how they learn.

Another considerable advantage to homeschooling is the fact that the actual learning that takes place in 7 hours at school can be done in a fraction of that time at home. That frees up so much time for other things. I love that we aren't confined to the school schedule and we can take off to a park, a museum, or even just a walk in the middle of a weekday without having to answer to anyone.

We spent two weeks last September in Virginia and Pennsylvania traipsing through the history of our founding fathers --without having to deal with missed tests or assignments or attendance records. That has been our favorite field trip yet.

I also believe that by skipping the middle school experience, the kids will preserve much of their self-esteem and, by high school, they'll have a strong sense of who they are and a solid value system for the future.

2. I think most parents are just overwhelmed by the thought of doing this alone. How did you get organized? What resources do you use? Do you follow a set curriculum?
Before starting, I devoured all the books in our county library system on home education. I joined online homeschooling forums, met my local homeschool Mom's Group, and concocted a loose plan.

We started out "de-schooling", the process of undoing the mindset of public schooling. Basically doing nothing that resembles school for a few months. So, we went to museums, read tons, watched educational shows, cooked together, traveled, etc... It helped the kids relax and enjoy time together.

Our curriculum began with unit studies. Our first was a unit study on birds which involved the anatomy of a bird, deciphering bird calls, photographing birds, dissecting bird nests, visiting the aviary, hatching chicken eggs and raising baby chicks, watercolors of birds, bird migration, creative writing, and the anatomy of flight. We also did unit studies on chocolate and Ancient Greece.

After the summer, I panicked that the kids weren't learning what they were "supposed to" so I enrolled them in an online public school. After a few months we all HATED it. So I hit the books again and came up with an eclectic mix of unit studies, workbooks, co-op classes, private lessons, CDs, computer games, board games, and field trips. It's what we're using this year. I've listed it on my blog.

3. What is a "typical" homeschooling day for you? Walk us through your daily routine.
Typical day? What's that? Just like everyone else, there's really no one typical day for us but I can tell you what the ideal day looks like:

  • 5:30 Gym time for me

  • 7:00 home and shower

  • 8:00 breakfast, chores

  • 9:00 kids start preassigned work in whatever order they want. I spend the next 2-3 hours helping where needed.

  • 12:00 Lunch

  • 1:00 History together

  • 2:00 Free time for the kids. Time for me to run errands or check emails or work on projects.

  • 3:30 Take kids to various activities (piano, guitar, volleyball, gymnastics, art, play dates)

  • 6:00 dinner

  • 7:00 family time with Dad or evening church activities

  • 8:30 bedtime for little boys

  • 9:00 bedtime for Jack

  • 9:30 Bedtime for Maddy

  • 11:00 bedtime for us

    • Fridays are spent at co-op where the kids each take 3 classes and I teach art. Of course, everyday looks different but those are the bones that make up our day.

      4. How do your kids like learning at home? Do they ever feel left out or isolated? Would you ever consider sending them to public school?
      When the idea of homeschooling first came up, you could smell panic in the air. My daughter was adamantly against it. She thought if we started homeschooling, I would have to french-braid her hair every day and my husband would start collecting wives. Jack was thrilled with the idea. He was completely bored with school. Erik was game for anything.

      It took about 2 weeks before it dawned on Maddy that sleeping in, working at her own pace, and having no homework might not be all that bad. The boys have all loved it from the beginning.

      When we moved to Idaho this past spring, I gave all the kids the option of public school or homeschool. They all chose to stay home this year. Maddy's in 8th grade and considering going to high school next year. I will always leave the option open. The kids know that I will completely support them, whatever they choose.

      People often wonder about socialization. My kids have opportunities to interact with people of all ages outside of the home. Maddy volunteers at a remedial horseback riding facility where she works with kids and adults alike. She also plays on the middle school volleyball team. The little boys take gymnastics with other kids. Jack plays Pokemon in a local league with people of all ages.

      Everyday after school the kids in the neighborhood are at our door wanting to play with my kids. Between church friends and neighborhood friends, the kids enjoy birthday parties and playdates. Feeling left out hasn't been an issue for them so far.

      5. Have you met with resistance from extended family or friends? Who is your support system.
      Most people support our decision to teach our kids at home. Some agree to disagree. And some just plain think I'm out of my mind. Some days I tend to agree with them. A few people are waiting patiently, hoping that one day I'll wake up and realize the error of my ways.

      At times when I'm tottering on the edge of insanity, I turn to my support system. I have a few fellow moms who are much more experienced and who love to dispense advice. My family is a good source of motivation. And I'm on a handful of homeschool yahoo lists-- priceless resources for advice, ideas, and encouragement.

      6. What are your top three recommendations for families who would like to educate their children at home?
      If you're considering homeschooling I would recommend that you:

    • Find out what your state's homeschool laws are here.

    • Read the Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, Mary Pride's Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling, and Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath- You Can Do This! by Terie Lynn Bittner

    • Join a yahoo group dedicated to homeschooling in your area and find out what your local homeschool community looks like.

      1. 7. What are the most common misconceptions about homeschool families? What would you most like people to understand about your choice?
        Oh where to start? "Homeschooled kids are pasty, socially-awkward brainiacs who eat granola and knit their own bible covers." To be fair, there are a handful of kids that fit that profile. But the majority are just plain good kids whose parents have taken on the responsibility for their education. My kids are only pasty in the middle of February before we take off to bask under the sun somewhere warm. I've never seen them eat paste. (Do they even sell paste anymore?)

        Socially, they're all over the board. I've got some that would host dinner parties every night if they could and some that would rather stay home all day and read. It's more a personality factor than anything else.

        I appreciate a little granola with yogurt for lunch every now and then. But it's not homemade. It comes straight out of the Win-Co bulk food self-serve dispenser.

        And as for knitting, that's one class I'd have to outsource. Handiwork of any kind makes me qualmish.

        My theory is that socially awkward parents begat socially awkward kids. And vice versa. Homeschooling in and of itself does not create bizarro kids.

        " Homeschoolers sit at the kitchen table all day and do worksheets". If that were the case, my kids would be making a beeline to the bus stop ASAP. Most people think that homeschooling is recreating public school at home. Who in their right mind would want to do that???

        Learning takes place everywhere all the time. If you were to visit a hundred homeschools, they would each look and function differently. The beauty of homeschool is that you can tailor life to each child and create opportunities to inspire learning without the rigidity of the public school system.

        In fact, by assuming the responsibility of educating your kids, your job becomes seeking out the best avenues that will give your kids a quality education. You may not necessarily be the teacher at all! Those avenues may come from online, community, public or private classes, mentors, books, educational T.V., travel, hands-on experimenting or an interesting mix of them all.

        Honestly, I think I'm past the point of hoping people understand our decision to live this wacky lifestyle. We chose it because we want our kids to discover and develop their passions while fostering a life-long love of learning and so that we can be the biggest influence in their lives during their childhoods.

        It's a decision that goes against the norm and one that you may find completely insane. Hey, I totally get it! I was there once too. But we're big fans and will continue homeschooling until it doesn't work for us anymore. With more and more people hopping on this bandwagon every year, and with the plight of the public school system, we probably aren't the first, and we certainly won't be the last, homeschooling family you stumble upon.

        Thanks, Wendy for this amazing look at your learning laboratory! What lucky pupils you have...

        Click here for daily glimpses into Wendy's classroom. You'll want to join right in!


        missy said...

        Wow! This is the most down-to-earth discussion of homeschooling I've seen. I've often said I'd homeschool my bunch (6) if things got "bad enough". Somedays I wonder what I'm waiting for. But for now they are thriving in the public school setting and seem to be getting their needs met. Sadly, the kids would not be allowed to participate in any of the extra-curricular activities if we pulled them out and I think that's one of my biggest hang-ups. But I really appreciated the websites and books to read so I can be more informed if I ever take the plunge! Thanks!

        Kara Jayne said...

        Gab- AWESOME POST!!! I have always had a morbid fascination with homeschooling, but deep down wished I was up for the challenge. Maybe I will someday. This post really opened me up to it more though. For now I'm hanging onto my thread of sanity during those school hours. Thanks again!!

        ♥Shally said...

        Great interview! I loved seeing how she does things.

        Kenny and Linsey said...

        This was excellent. Sometimes I worry about what my kids will miss living overseas and putting their education in the hands of foreign institutions. I have thought about Homeschooling, but I have been put off by the stigmas and my own fears. I appreciate knowing that it is not only possible, but a reasonable option and reading this makes me less apprehensive about having to do something like this in the future.

        Hazen5 said...

        I always admire mothers who home school! I think it takes a special person to do it!

        Once again, a great interview with great information.

        diane said...

        I admire Wendy's decision to homeschool. What a huge commitment. I would have to hire someone to homeschool my daughter. I just don't have it in me.

        cami said...

        Great post! What a cute family, too. A lot of moms in our adoption group are homeschooling. I don't know if I'm that organized, but I have certainly thought about it.

        By the way, I would like to sign up for the unit study on chocolate. How fun!

        Great interview, Gabi!

        Britt said...

        As a homeschool graduate, I LOVED this! It was informative, down-to-earth, realistic and honest. So great to see real information out there about homeschooling. We get stuck with a bad rep all too often, usually due to the extremists in our group ;o)

        Thanks so much for this!

        Anonymous said...

        Great post, a lot are successful with home schooling, especially skipping those terrible "Middle School" years! There are so many great resources and groups that help make it succesful!

        Anonymous said...

        Gabi, thanks for having me. That was lots of fun. You know I love your interviews and to be a part of it has been awesome!

        Jessica said...

        I loved this interview. So interesting--I am completely okay with the homeschool decision...I just cannot imagine all my kids all day every day.

        (I frankly feel a little inferior, when I hear about people who can do it.)

        Sally said...

        I loved this post. I have always admired women who homeschool and I've also admired wonderful Wendy, so it was an excellent interview!

        Clair said...

        Go Wendy! I've always kept homeschooling in mind as an option and love to read about those doing it with success.

        I have seen some horrible homeschool situations and some awesome ones. Guess that is just like some schools/teachers are better than others.

        I love that in a good homeschool each child gets a unique curriculum tailored to their interests and abilities. It is frustrating that so many children that are above or below "average" don't get the attention and opportunities they need to thrive in public schools. I feel like it is my responsibility (as the parent) to make up for that! And this post is serving as a grand reminder that I can be doing more!

        Sometimes I think we expect too much of our public schools. Is it really feasible for one classroom to have 10 or more aides for those not "average" children? No. And we all know that character and values are best taught in the home and we can't expect the school to make up for poor training in the home.

        Uh oh, I see I'm getting a little carried away with this comment. There are some topics that just really get me going.

        Anyway, let us be grateful that education is readily available in this country and give a big thank you to those teachers who care and do their best for our kids!

        Gabi- thanks for another inspiring interview!

        Lauren in GA said...

        Gabi, I loved this interview so, so much...You asked all of the questions that I would love to ask a Homeschooling mom, myself. I learned so much from your interview.

        Wendy is truly amazing. I love her sense of humor, too. She had me laughing when she said that the time she talked to her friend she was thinking things like, "I see no denim jumper. You seem perfectly reasonable." She is so witty.
        And...I found her really HONEST...that it isn't easy but, that it is the right thing for their family.
        Great interview, Gabi!

        Holly said...

        This was such an interesting, real-deal discussion about homeschooling. I certainly like the flexibility and various learning styles that can be tailored to best suit the child. The support system seems like a must.

        Another eyes-glued-to-the-screen interview!

        Paige said...

        Nor's blog is not private. Nortorious.blogspot. then you can see pics of shorn baby.

        Paige said...

        I saved this for 3 days because I really wanted to read it, not just glance. Wendy has seriously opened my eyes to homeschooling. Just that it's a good, viable option for some people, and likely even superior in many ways. Too bad I'm too lazy to do it.

        I agree that much time is wasted at school. I get annoyed every time they have a "sell this crap" assembly or their 4 recesses. I mean, no one's going to do more than 1 hour of math and reading a day, what the hell else do they do? I know, assemblies and recess. I'm just grateful to have a little time away from them.

        The Morris Fam said...

        i feel like i'm being home skooled by you every time i visit your blog! great info. i just love learning about so many wonderful people out there. thanks for the dose of inspiration.

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