The following is a guest post written by a woman who I (Chieko) have been friends with since elementary school. She and her family live in the same small town in rural Northern California where both Jessie and I grew up. Regardless of your religious beliefs or preconceived ideas about homeschooling, it is my hope that this account and the one that is to come in part 2 (from a completely different homeschooling perspective) will be read with open minds! Both of these women have a lot of information to offer any parents searching for answers about homeschooling.
The first encounter that I can really recall with homeschooled children happened in 2001. At the time I had one daughter who was about 18 months. My husband and I had moved back to my family’s ranch in Potter Valley, California after graduating from Humboldt State University in 1999.
A new family had moved into the valley next door to one of my good friends. The “new gal” invited us to her oldest child’s birthday party. My friend and I attended and found we were in a sea of big families that all homeschooled. One familiar face was a lady that had been a student teacher when I was in sixth grade, who now schooled her five children. Another was a respected couple that were veterinarians who schooled their six children (now they have eight). And yet another that I recognized were a couple who raised cattle and they had four children they schooled and one was about to graduate. There were more families I didn’t know too. I didn’t have any preconceived notions about homeschooled children. It didn’t seem “anything” to me; it just “was.” As time went on and I was with these families more often, there was “something” about these children that I was drawn to. They were different. They didn’t mind being around adults and looked at adults when they spoke – in the eyes, no less! I didn’t notice any “play ground talk.” Children grouped off more by interests rather than age or grade level. I know I am lacking while putting this into words, but they weren’t so tied up in this world, this pop culture; but more tied up in learning, reading, and happily playing with who and what they had around them, instead of wanting more, more, more. A contentment.
My husband and I welcomed our second child in September 2002. He was a Commercial/Public Works Carpenter and I started to stay home instead of working part time as an Investment Representative. I was raising sheep, as I had done since I was a child, but that wasn’t very much revenue and we didn’t know how to live on one income, so the debt started to pile up. I had become good friends with our Pediatrician, and he encouraged Ecological Breastfeeding and mommy-baby togetherness so I felt very fortunate to be the primary care giver for my daughters, and started to learn how to budget better. I lamented over the two years that I had left our eldest knowing I could never get those precious moments back. I actually still do today.
As I read the Bible more, I found it was hard to understand unless you knew history. Actually it was dangerous to read the Bible with out knowing history, as then scriptures are taken out of context and twisted to suit the readers emotions. It was the first time in my life that I could remember self-learning or self-teaching. In other words, I was doing it because I wanted to (or was lead by God to), and had an interest, not because I had to for a diploma or a degree. Some scriptures (Deuteronomy 6, several Proverbs) stood out and told me it was MY job to raise, train, and teach my children. A peace started to come into my heart.
When our daughter was three, I remember going to a local homeschool store. The owner, Jeanne Mitchell, had schooled seven children and the store, Area 127 , had developed from her experiences. I still don’t know how I ended up there, but I left with two books that would be good for preschool.
In 2004, I bought “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” and began preschool with our daughter and my nephew who was also the same age (4). His big brother was having trouble at the local elementary school because he had “been left behind.” I remember the day his mom told me, “His teacher said she has 20 other kids in the class…” Yes, he needed more attention then one teacher could provide and there just weren’t the resources to help him. This began my first venture into homeschooling. I filled his head with pictures of educational freedom, we filed some papers with the State of California, and we were off. But wait – there were TOO MANY OPTIONS! AHHHH! Thankfully all the ladies I mentioned before offered advice and assistance and we found a curriculum and plan that we thought would work. One of those ladies also told me she thought it was a bad idea to school someone else’s child. Sadly, she was correct. It didn’t end well for my nephew. He was put back in public school, farther behind and never has actually graduated or earned his GED. I also schooled their sister. She and I did well, and little brother is now being schooled by his parents, which is working out much better. I feel it’s important to share this experience because it is certainly different to school someone else’s child than your own, and I wouldn’t do it again. There is just an intimacy and authority that is missing. In school there seems to be an automatic authority for the teacher, but that didn’t translate to home with someone else’s kids.
In 2005 our big girl turned five! She was ready for Kindergarten in the fall. When we had her, I had imagined her going into the same classroom that I had been schooled in. The teacher was a friend that I had gone through school with. How much fun this was going to be! But wait; is that what I wanted anymore? My husband was still on that plan, but I was changing my mind. How could I send our girl away from our family everyday? She was thriving right here. I liked what I saw in the homeschooled children I had been exposed to; could I school her here at home? I had passed the CBEST and had substituted. I knew a lot of people who could help me. My friend, the Kindergarten teacher, stopped by the day after we brought our new baby boy home from the hospital, just one day before school was to start. “I notice Katie isn’t signed up for Kindergarten… I have all the stuff ready though, it will be easy to put her name on it in the morning… are you going to send her?” She left with out an answer from us. Monday came, Katie was still home and so we were homeschooling. Again, I filed the appropriate papers and we were off! It seemed like something that just happened. It just evolved and my husband and I really didn’t discuss it. If I could go back I would make sure we did have a real conversation, as now there are times I can see that he does feel like they are missing out on some things that can only be experienced in school. I had some negative things happen in school that I am glad they are missing out on, and he sees situations when he is working at schools that he’s glad they are avoiding. But, it still would have been good to talk it out together.
Now it is 2012 and we have a sixth, fourth, and first grader, plus a 20 month old. My husband has progressed in his career and is a Superintendent Commercial/Public Works Carpenter and I am home with the children schooling, raising sheep, and helping on my parents’ commercial beef cattle ranch. We’ve adjusted to one income plus the sheep revenue and will be debt free next year. I’ve tried to work from home in various capacities, but now know that there will be a season for that, right now is my season to raise children, and that’s all. We are so busy with schooling and extra curriculars, such as 4-H and sports, there just is not time for one more thing!
The amount of curriculum that is available is enormous, as is the ways you can homeschool. Finding the right program can take awhile. But look around at families that are similar to yours and copy what they are doing and then it is easier to shape your program. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Chances are they’ve already tried a bunch of courses and can share their experiences with you. I am so blessed and encouraged by our local homeschool group, different online groups, as well as The Homeschool Legal Defense Association. Each offers so many people and resources to help you.
I’ve settled on The Robinson Curriculum. It is a self-teaching curriculum that uses unabridged whole books, including wonderful biographies from great historical figures, instead of life-less, watered-down text books. Our fourth grader is a “struggling learner” and after MANY consults, therapies, doctors, programs, etc. a friend recommended The Spalding Method, which is a language arts program. She thought of our daughter when she read about it, and I am so thankful she did. I highly recommend The Spalding Method for anyone considering or already homeschooling. For math, I mix the Mastering Mathematics and Saxon curriculums. I recommend avoiding programs that offer a lot of manipulatives. You already have things that can be used around your house; who needs more clutter? For the arts we currently use “Draw Write Now” and look forward to moving into musical instruments. You can imagine that we encounter a lot of science living on a ranch! We put it all to use, and will do more formal science activities as the children have completed more mathematics. I am also happy that we’ve avoided science texts that teach evolution as a fact rather than a theory. Evolution is a theory of origin that science is changing the script on daily. It is my goal that my children really understand science so that they can test origin theories, verses being spoon fed a “fact.” Yes, I want “hungry” self-teachers who are equipped to find and apply information!
California requires that homeschoolers file an affidavit as a private school and that they “offer instruction in the several branches of study required to be taught in the public schools” for at least 175 days. It is essential to be organized with record keeping! I find it very important to read and know the state’s education standards but to also enjoy the freedom to occasionally stray when a child has a “bent” to study a certain subject more in-depth or at a different time then prescribed in the standard. I also love the freedom to tailor our school calendar to fit our life. When it is lambing season, we take days off. When it is time to help work cattle, market animals, etc, which are all learning experiences, we have the flexibility to participate. When there isn’t much going on in June when it is 100+ degrees outside, we can school.
I’ve had people say to me, “I don’t see how you can do it! I’d never be able to. I’d end up doing… instead.” There is some truth in this statement. There are so many things out there to distract us: play-dates, the computer, the phone, the television, housework, errands. I won’t pretend that these things don’t happen. But because it’s your child’s education, and it comes down to you (there is no one else to blame) you WILL do it! That thought keeps me happily on track and soberly brings me back when I’ve strayed. Because there aren’t the number of students to move from activity to activity, schooling doesn’t take as long, and if we get our constructive work done, there is time to go have some fun!
And speaking of fun, it is possible to be over-sociable when you homeschool! There is just more time to be involved in extra curriculars and it seems you could go on a field trip a day! It’s a good idea to get with your spouse and decide how involved your family will be and practice saying, “no” so you won’t become over-committed.
Oh, and that brings us onto the whole socialization topic. Do you ask homeschooling parents, “What about socialization?” Do you really even know why you ask that? It is the number one thing people say to me. Forgive me if I sound jaded, but I think they must ask it with out really thinking it through or because they don’t know what else to say. Homeschooled children aren’t locked up in the house and never allowed to see others. They are out interacting with people the same amount their parents, and probably you, are: running errands, grocery shopping, meetings, a part time job, clubs, church, sports, parties, and more. I highly recommend looking up “socialize, social, sociable, etc.” in the dictionary and reading a book authored by Gordon Neufeld, “Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.” Socialize actually means to train for social environment. Sociable is the seeking of companionship. Mr. Neufeld points out that if sticking peers with peers led to the best socialized persons, then juvenile halls would be releasing model citizens. It seems we should train our children how to be sociable! I have several family members and close friends who are elementary school teachers and it seems a big frustration when they not only have to meet educational standards, but also have to train the children how to behave with others.
The pros of homeschooling are just too many to list, and I haven’t even experienced them all yet! To be together daily, to train your own child is so fulfilling. The fun, the frustrations, it all combines for one wonderful life. The time to pursue what your child is interested in right then, to relearn the subjects you may have missed out on, is such a joy. Universities are taking notice of the well educated, well rounded homeschooled children and seeking them. For example, Stanford University has special entrance programs for them.
Public, charter, private, and other types of schools produce wonderful, well educated citizens. I hope that I’ve not conveyed that I think they are bad compared to, or not as good as homeschooling, or any other negative sentiment. I’ve just found something wonderful for our family in homeschooling; a very happy, fulfilling, contentment.