Monday, March 12, 2012

"Who Home Schools?" Interview Week 2

It is my goal that this weekly feature will allow us to see the face of home schooling.  I hope that it answers the questions - Who homeschools and why?

This week's interview is from Theresa of Red Oak Lane.  Theresa is a former pre-school teacher who now works part-time as a reference/assistant children's librarian.  In 2010, she and her husband, Jason made the decision to homeschool their daughters, Allie and Piper.  Theresa lives in New Jersey with her husband, daughters and their cairn terrier, Oliver. 

I really enjoyed getting to know Theresa through this interview, and I hope that you will take a moment at the end of this post and click on the link to her blog.  What a cool home schooling family!

  • How did you end up deciding to teach your children at home?  Have they always been home schooled or did they attend school outside the home, at one point?  
My youngest attended school through 2nd grade and my oldest through 4th grade.  We were not really happy with school beginning when our oldest was in 1st grade.  We had issues with a bully.  We were upset about the focus on standardized testing.  School changed our entire family dynamic in a very negative way.  Over the summer I would work with the girls and they advanced more reading levels over 3 summer months than 10 months in school!  That was what convinced us that we could do this.  It still took me two years to get up the courage to sort of "go against the grain" and pull them out of school.
  • Summarize how you reached this decision.
I did a lot of research.  Reading blogs was probably the single biggest factor--reading the real-life day-to-day experiences of real families was incredibly helpful.  Also, joining a local yahoo homeschool group and meeting real life homeschool moms.  

Although I am an adult, I still like to get my parents' permission and they were not really happy about homeschooling.  Eventually, through a lot of prayer and discussion with my husband, I realized that we had to do what we felt was best, regardless of my parents' opinion.

  • What is your goal in home educating your children?
My goal is for them to be self-motivated and successful and confident.  I would like them to be their own person and not worry about what others are doing.  

  • Do your children have extra curricular activities?  If so, what are they?
Yes, my girls both want to be fashion designers or interior designers (depending on the day of the week).  They take sewing classes on Monday; they are in church choir and youth group on Tuesday; they have art on Wednesday and we have a homeschool book club one Thursday a month, homeschool knitting twice a month and homeschool nature play twice a month.
  • Have you ever hired someone to teach a subject to your children?  If so, why?

  • Have you graduated a child?  Do you plan to teach through high school?
Not yet.

  • Do you have a defined style of instruction such as Classical, montessori, unschooling,  or Charlotte Mason?  Are you willing to share how you decided to use this method?
We are pretty eclectic, though we lean more toward Classical than any other style.  I agree with creating a foundation in the elementary years and then building on that with critical thinking skills as children get older.  But the basis needs to be there before kids can think critically.  I like the way memorization exercises the brain and feel that it is important.

  • What does your schedule look like?  Do you start early and finish just after lunch?  Or do you start later in the day?  Do you teach through the summer? And if so, why?
Well, I am a reference librarian and I work part-time.  I work a full day Monday and the girls are with my mom (who has come around on the homeschool idea and is now a huge homeschool champion).  I assign Math, grammar, geography, maybe some writing or other projects on Monday and the girls have sewing.  I work Tuesday afternoon while the girls are at church for choir and youth group, but am off the rest of the week, so Tuesday through Friday we start in the morning with our "together" work: Latin, map skills, games or puzzles, journaling, art; we do History two days and Science two days.  We do an artist study on Friday afternoons.  We also follow LOTS of rabbit trails when something interests us, right now we have been reading all about Norse myths after being introduced to them in Story of the World, Volume 2.
  • Do you home school for religious reasons?  If so what religion are you?
We don't homeschool for religious reasons, but I do appreciate that we can instill certain values that may have been lost if the girls went to school.  We have been reading Children's Bible stories for our read-alouds.  

I was raised Roman Catholic, but we are active members of a Presbyterian church now.
  • Do you have a vision statement for your home school?  If so, what is it?
Still working on one.
  • If you were to recommend a book(s) to a new or prospective home school parent, what would you choose?
Teach Your Own or How Children Learn by John Holt and The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise

I would tell a prospective home school parent to read blogs to gain insight into the daily lives of homeschool families and to join a local group (check yahoo for local groups if you don't know of any).  

  • What was your number one concern or worry when you started out on this endeavor?  Has it continued to be your main issue?  Why has it changed?
My number one concern was that my kids would not have any friends and would be weird.  It's kind of funny now.  We are fortunate to have neighbors who also homeschool.  We were not friends before we started homeschooling, but now the 4 girls are inseparable.  Even if we didn't have that, there are a lot of "arranged" activities like park meetups, co-ops, our knitting group, our nature group, our book club.  The kids are not at all concerned with being popular, they just like each other based on mutual interests or they find they don't have a lot in common and they won't be friends.  But I think removing the whole "wearing the right clothes and being perceived as cool or popular" thing really helps homeschool children to THRIVE socially.

  • What aspect of home schooling do you enjoy the most?  What part do you greatly dislike?
I enjoy every aspect EXCEPT grading.  I only really "grade" math and grammar and that is just a matter of marking things right or wrong and going over the incorrect answers with the child.  I find the whole "marking things" part to just be tedious.  

I go over their writing with them and make suggestions on how to improve it, for some reason I enjoy this much, much more than marking answers wrong in math or grammar.
  • Are/Were there any subjects that you felt incapable of adequately teaching?  Have you overcome this?  If so can you explain how you have achieved this?
YES!  I felt incapable of teaching science and I have COMPLETELY overcome this.  I am saddened that my own science experience was so unlike my girls' experience.  I can probably count on one hand how many times I actually did a science experiment in school - that is including high school and college lab sciences!   I am a visual learner (as is my oldest daughter) and I could not picture a lot of scientific concepts; having a teacher or professor conduct an experiment 20 feet away was not very helpful.  My girls and I do science experiments ALL THE TIME.  We do TONS of experiments.  I love them.  I love the Janice van Cleave Science books because they teach a concept and then give two or three experiments.  We couple these books with science kits.  Now I love science because it is so hands-on and it makes sense!

  • Is there anything that you would like others to know about your home schooling or home education in general?  

Three things: 

There is a common stereotype that homeschoolers are "weird".  I will be honest.  Some are.  But there are also some kids in traditional school settings that are also "weird". I think the ratio is about the same.  Those kids would have been "weird" even if they went to school.  And that is fine, it takes all kinds and kids need to be exposed to all kinds of people.

The second thing is, after you make the decision to homeschool, be careful with the blogs you follow.  Realize that everyone does things differently and just because something works for one family, doesn't mean it will work for yours.  Realize that just because another mom has kids your kids' ages and is teaching quantum physics doesn't mean that you should.  Just because a bunch of blog families jump on the "interest-led unschooling" bandwagon doesn't mean that you have to.  With real-life friends you get a sense that maybe they are teaching metaphysics but their kids can't multiply.  It's much harder in the blog world to realize that maybe a family is gifted in one area but lacking in another.  Go with your gut and what works well for you.  Some bloggers can really come across as superior and that their way is the right way, realize blogs are opinion based and that what may work for one family may not be consistent with your goals and values.  It's very hard to be confident and feel like you know what you are doing in something as uncharted as homeschooling, but don't let anyone make you feel that you are not doing a good job.  I have seen bloggers who act like they have all the answers comment on other blogs that they are considering putting their kids back in school!  Do what works for you.  As long as you show your children love, provide a rich environment (books, educational toys, outings) and spend a little time everyday working with them, they will be fine.  

The third thing, if you start feeling overwhelmed or like you just don't feel like homeschooling for a few days in a row: take a break.  Take a day or two or three off...I guarantee you that before the week is out, you will be excited again about learning with your child!

Balance is key in our homeschool.  We balance the girls' interests with things that we feel they should know, such as world history and human biology.  When I first started researching homeschooling, most of the blogs I followed were interest-led unschooling blogs.  When we started homeschooling I had a concrete idea for math and language arts, but was wide open for history and science.  I am not sure if my girls are just not that inquisitive or if it is because they were in school, but if given the opportunity they would not pursue history or science, but rather youtube videos on making things with clay or how to make American Girl doll furniture.  While I know many parents who subscribe to the philosophy that they are learning by watching those videos and they will learn everything they need to learn, I do want my girls to know who Julius Caesar was and the function of the endocrine system.  I do pick curriculum and I do tell them it's time to sit down together.  I understand the idea of better retention when you are interested in something, but I also think we have a responsibility to our children to instill good work and life values and sometimes in life you have to do things that you may not want to.  You have to learn how to discipline yourself and motivate yourself even when you really just feel like laying in bed and watching a fly buzz around your room.  I balance my girls' creative interests with what I want them to know by making sure there is plenty of time in our schedule to watch youtube videos and plenty of materials on hand to make things they see on youtube.  Also, when the girls are really interested in something, we may take a two month detour from our curriculum to pursue an independent study on the topic.  If I see the girls are interested in poetry or creative writing, I am open to changing our writing program.  In our homeschool curriculum is a guide, but I feel that it's important to my girls' development that we follow something.

Theresa blogs at Red Oak Lane about parenting, homemaking, homeschooling and family life.  You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.  She loves meeting new people, so be sure to stop by and say hello!

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