Friday, December 17, 2010

Guest Writer on Homeschooling

I asked a dear friend of mine to write this, because I often wonder how she does it - homeschooling. It is something I have thought of taking on, but worry I would fail miserably. I love reading of others' experiences that differ so greatly from mine - thank you to Jessica for writing this and opening my eyes to something of which she has great passion!

Hello! My friend Heather asked me to write something about homeschooling for her blog. Here it goes.

I’ve been homeschooling for almost four years now. If you had asked me exactly four years ago today what I thought about homeschoolers, I’d tell you they were crazy religious nut jobs and control freaks over their kids. I would tell you homeschoolers were weird and with an authority I simply did not have, I would tell you their kids were social rejects. You see exactly four years ago today, I was happy and content with my children’s education. I was a teacher at a wonderful little Catholic school in a small city in the mid-west. This Catholic school was wonderful! It was small-everyone knew everyone else. There was a great deal of love expressed between the kids and faculty and the parents and the faculty. Our school had fabulous support from our parents and grandparents! And year after year, our test scores proved we were a terrific school and that our children were getting the best education in the city! Having all that, I questioned why anyone in the city would homeschool his or her children.

Then one day my hubby came home from work and announced that he had a job offer in Oklahoma City with a Fortune 100 company. It was the exact type of job he wanted and it was too good to turn down. Fine, I thought, we’ll move in May when the school year is over. No. The company wanted us there in two weeks.

My world was turned upside down.

There were three options: hubby could move to OKC and we could stay until the school year was done, hubby could get an apartment in OKC and visit us on weekends, or we all move to OKC. I did not want to be away from my husband, so option “we all move” was the one we chose.

We moved on Valentine’s Day. We moved into an amazing apartment in the center of OKC, began to enjoy city life and started homeschooling, sort of. I was going to homeschool until May, finish up 180 days of schooling as the law requires. Then I was going to get a job at the local Catholic school and the girls would attend that same school. Homeschooling was just going to be a temporary thing.

My wonderful Catholic school let me take all my children’s schoolbooks and their teachers e-mailed me their lesson plans. The Monday following our move, we started homeschooling.

The entire day, two kids, two different grades, took from 8:15am until just before 11 am. On that first day, I sat down with a schedule: prayer and pledge 8:15-8:25, Math 8:30-9:30, Science 9:30-10:00, Language 10:00-10:30, etc. I was shocked at all we could complete in about three hours. I thought it was maybe an “easy” day.

Tuesday, same thing. Yep, done an hour before lunch (scheduled at 11:45 and noon respectively).

Wednesday, yep. You understand.

I began to do something I hadn’t done before as a teacher. I began to look for more things to teach my children. Things to supplement what I was teaching. I began to look for field trip locations, movies, and programs on TV that would help support what I was teaching from their textbooks. Experiments that I’ve always wanted to do came to my mind. To say I haven’t done it before probably makes me look like a bad schoolteacher. But to tell you the truth, there simply isn’t enough time to teach those extra things during the school year. That’s so sad for me to acknowledge now.

From February until May, we finished our Catholic school year. All 180 days. School never went beyond 11:30 am. We did field trips 2-3 times a week to add to our school year.

The girls loved it.

I loved it.

We moved out of the apartment and into a lovely home. We quickly learned our neighbor homeschooled. And the neighbor across the street. And another neighbor the next street over. I joined two on-line local homeschool support groups, both with over 2000 families. And I decided in August 2007, that I was a homeschooler. I wasn’t a religious freak. I wasn’t a control freak. My girls weren’t weird. My girls weren’t anti-social. We weren’t weirdoes.

Fast forward to November 2010. We have a classroom in the house (I turned our mother-in-law suite into a classroom after WAY too many of my hubby’s mooching friends camped out at our new house). It has a computer, lots of maps and posters plastered on the walls, a bookshelf full of a variety of books, a large table and three business chairs. We start school at 10am, which is usually about 15 minutes after my girls wake up. We have breakfast in the classroom, usually milk with fruit,cheese, and something crunchy like pretzels or pita chips or nuts. We work for 2-
2.5 hours straight, then break for lunch. Tuesday afternoon is for piano, Friday afternoon is from drama, and there is usually one afternoon during the week spent on a field trip with our local homeschool group or at a social gathering. The social gatherings range from paintball or laser quest to board game day to Wii challenges to just girls getting together at the park, mall or someone’s house. At night, the girls must spend at least half an hour reading. And by 4 pm on Friday, all the week’s work must be done or we’ll have Saturday school.

What do I teach? My curriculum varies each year. There are hundreds of public school and homeschool curriculum companies to choose from. And if I wanted to, I could literally get school in a box-order a box for seventh grade and a box for eighth grade that would include everything I need: lesson plans, worksheets, textbooks, tests and answer booklets. But I like to pick and choose my own curriculum. Sometimes I use Saxon Math (like many schools) or Sonlight History and Science (like many homeschoolers). I also like to pick my own curriculum from various companies because my girls’ abilities vary with each subject. Sophie, an “8th” grader, is doing high school Algebra II, tenth grade language and vocabulary, Japanese (I) and Spanish III on Rosetta and a wonderful history program. Since she completed her middle school history requirements I created a history course just for her-studying amazing women in history that aren’t in many textbooks. She’s studying Hatshepsut, Boudicca, Mary Magdalene, Hypatia, Empress Wu, Joan of Arc and Marie Currie just to name a few of the dozen she’ll study. My “7th” grader, Ashley, is doing high school Algebra I, ninth grade language and vocabulary, French
I, Spanish III, and a history program that bases much of history in story and a lot of art (her favorite). If you were to ask my youngest who is Napoleon III? She’d likely give you a blank stare (as I’m guessing many others would, too). But if I were to ask about art in Paris 1820-1880, she’d then remember “that guy” and what he did, along with numerous artists. By the end of this school year, Ashley will have completed her middle school requirements, too. As a reward, I will let her choose any time or people in history to study and I will create a history program for thatchoice. Instead of allowing this 8th grade year history choice, I could have pushed towards high school history programs, but I decided to do something special for them. It has been fun for Sophie and me this year and I look forward to my yearwith Ashley.

Both my girls receive health and science lessons largely via television programs. There, I wrote it. I use the TV to educate my girls. I use many of the amazing programs on the Science, History, National Geographic, and Travel channels for our health and science requirements THIS YEAR. We’ve done intro to Chemistry, Physics and Biology with the use of textbooks and home labs (per middle school requirements). The next step will be science with larger labs, which I will likely use a co-op for that. Back to my previous statement, the TV can be an incredibly valuable tool. In fact today, we watched a fascinating program on Mt. Vesuvius, which lead to a lengthy discussion about Pompeii, weather and earthquakes.

What’s a co-op? It’s a large group of homeschoolers that meet once or twice a week at a local facility (often a church) and the children attend classes taught by homeschool parents. It’s a great way for your kids to get together with other kids. It’s also a wonderful help to parents that might be weak in one subject matter and would prefer to have another parent teach their child. Co-ops are also beneficial forclasses that are best taught in larger groups like P.E., dance or a science with lab. I might even use a co-op next semester for math for my girls since it’s not a strong subject for me and I find them far outpacing my skills.

And the question running through everyone’s mind right now…do I test? Not really, nope. As far as typical testing goes, I only test in math. For our other subjects, to acknowledge their learning, I require small essays or oral examinations. Why do teachers test in schools? Because testing lets them know who is learning, how they are learning, and how she/he may teach the material in the future. Teachers have to test also because they simply don’t have the time to personally explore if every child is learning. The test explains that for her.

Will we homeschool through high school graduation? I don’t know. I question the girls twice a year if they want to continue with homeschooling. So far they still want to be homeschooled. Sophie thinks she wants to try out high school, but she’s not sure. Ashley loves doing school in her PJs and nothing is going to change that for her! I want to continue to homeschool through high school with a hope to have them in some college classes before graduation. My husband wants them to “experience” high school. Just for the record, hubby loved high school-he was
king of the hill. Me? Ugh! Those are four years I want to bury in the back of my memory. However, I will leave the choice in the hands of my girls.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my book on homeschooling. In closing, I’d like to add that I’m not against public schools (or private). I think America is the best country in the world to be educated in, especially if you are born female. “So, why aren’t your kids in public school?” Because putting them into public school would just be like moving them again-making it another time during their childhood when they’d have to say good-bye to friends and make new friends. And it’s not necessary. We’re happy, it works, and it’s legal.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Jessica,

    I loved reading this! I am so jealous of how involved you can become in the process of learning with your children and how in-depth they get to delve into a subject. We've talked about this before, and I know that you take homeschooling very seriously and are aware of the different learning styles of your girls, something that can be honored through the homeschooling process.

    I actually offered to homeschool Sophie here, but she said she wanted to stay in public school to make friends, so that is what we are doing, but trying to supplement. What is tough is that she is in school for 7 hours everyday, so by the end of that she is worn out. I agree with you - the material can be covered in a few hours and I love that your girls can then take music classes or acting classes or just hang out with friends!

    You are also obviously open to other options for your girls, I think that is key - a lot of homeschoolers seem too fanatic and like they are trying to shield their children, but I don't get that vibe from you - instead you are opening up a whole new world for your children!

    I love the co-op too, I think that is what I would do, because I know I would not effectively teach Sophie science and math. Our communities already have experts in them and we should be utilizing these people in our schools as well!

    I admit to having biases regarding homeschooling, but whenever I read your thoughts on it all I want to do is jump onboard!

  2. I have had internal debates about this. I am such a believer in public education. I love my job, I love having a class and being able to interact with so many different personalities. I went through public education from kindergarden on up. Growing up we always had the option to be home schooled and all of my siblings at one point or another chose it. I never did, but when I have my own children I feel like I would want to give them that option as well. As much as I love my class, I love the idea of teaching only my own kids. I feel like I could be a better teacher to them than I could to a class of 20 to 30. I would be a more effective teacher and they would be getting an education tailor made for them. I read about your experiences and I was so envious. You get to do all the fun parts of teaching that (you're right) I don't have time for as a regular classroom teacher. But then I go back to thinking . . . so I believe in public education, but I abandon it because I don't think it's good enough for my own kids? I feel so conflicted about this, it's ridiculous. Especially since I don't even have kids yet!

    I loved reading about your experiences. Thanks Heather for getting your friend to post this.


  3. Jess,

    I'm with you - I believe in public education too, it's something we should constantly be striving to improve and to find involvement in helping everyone's children - and yet, I do wish my daughter could have experiences that I know she won't get in a public classroom.

    I know that teachers like you need to be in the public school, because you bring the love of learning to your students and that is something all children need! I think that's what gets me in the public schools - if a child is excited about something they are on a schedule and may have to set aside enthusiasm so they can move on to the next subject, because there are 29 other students in the room. Wouldn't it be wonderful to keep going with a subject if your child showed an interest?! be able to educate without the strict guidelines, schedules, grades, tests, etc.