My homeschool journey (an introduction)

This post was originally featured at http://www.homeschoolchic.com: http://homeschoolchic.com/2012/02/16/featured-homeschool-mom-alysia-humphries/

In this guest post, I shared the answers to 10 questions about my homeschool experience.

1. How many kids? How many homeschool(ed)?

I have 6 kids ages 1- 14. The oldest four are boys and the youngest two are girls. All have been homeschooled from the beginning.

2. Why did you choose to home school? How did you know home school was right for your family?

I am actually a home school grad myself – I was homeschooled from birth until college, along with my siblings. I had a really good experience being homeschooled, in fact I would be pleased if I could say I did half as well as my parents did with us. So I always planned and hoped to home school my own kids, to give them the same opportunities to learn in freedom that I had. It’s a choice that we do re-examine every year and with every child as they develop, because every child is an individual. But it has always been my first choice.
The greatest things about home school, to me, are that we have ample opportunities to build family relationships and share our values with our kids, and that it is versatile. By versatile, I mean that I can respond to the interests and different learning styles and needs of every child and fit the education to the child rather than the other way around. Not to say that I always do that perfectly. Probably every 6 months I have to re-evaluate and see if what I’m doing is effective and tweak some things. But I love that I have freedom to do that, and that we don’t have to stick with a curriculum that isn’t working for us for years or put the brakes on learning because a bell rings.

I actually have a story about that, from when I was 6 years old. I was visiting cousins and they invited me to school for half a day with them. I hadn’t been inside a school before and I was curious. The teacher was nice, and I liked the assignment she gave us during writing time: Finish a sentence that started with, ‘I stepped into the bubble and then…” She gave us each a sheet of wide ruled paper with the dots in between the lines. My imagination was sparked as I thought of all the stories that could go along with that idea, so I started my story on the backside of the paper and created an introduction telling how my imaginary self came to be stepping inside that bubble. I wrote extra small so my words would fit in the margins above and in between the dots and lines. I had just grabbed an extra sheet of paper and was at the part in my story where I actually stepped into the bubble and what happened, when the teacher said it was 5 minutes until recess. I was so stressed that I wouldn’t get to finish my story! I wasn’t done when the bell rang, and I looked around and saw that all the other kids had only written a few words to complete the sentence, and my paper was very messy compared to theirs, with the words crammed in. One leaned over and said, ‘you didn’t have to write a whole story!’ But I wanted to.

I asked to stay in from recess and finish my story. When I was done, the teacher asked if she could keep it to show other kids. I said yes, but I wondered why she seemed so impressed. The other kids hadn’t had time to do as much as I had, they had kept their penmanship neat and letters sized correctly, and they finished before the bell rang like they were ‘supposed to.’ If they had had as much time and space as they wanted, maybe they would have written nice long stories, too. I decided I liked being homeschooled, where I could finish my stories and do my best work without being told when to stop. I also felt like it was fun to visit school for half a day, but I liked being around my parents and siblings and I would miss them if I was gone from 9-3 every day. We had our disagreements, but they were still my favorite people.

3. What reservations did you have initially about homeschooling and how did you overcome them?

My reservations were probably different than those of people who didn’t grow up homeschooling and seeing that it does work, and that homeschooled kids can and do go to college and thrive socially and turn out well. My fears were mostly that I wouldn’t do as well as my parents had. I also had a fear that my kids would ask to go to school someday and I would feel like a failure. Well, the jury is still out on whether I am doing a good job, and we have had our days when they have wanted someone other than mom for a teacher (and days when I have wanted that, too, honestly!). But I know now that it is still worth it. I also know that their success is not all up to me. The things that are up to me are: to provide the environment and opportunity to learn, love and safety, and inspiration (that is the hardest one, but it, to me involves being an example of learning). It is up to them to choose to take those opportunities and invitations to learn. They have agency and some will choose to dig in and be curious and learn. Some days, some kids won’t. That is also true in public school. What I want to do is to help them have a love of learning and desire it so they use their agency to learn for a lifetime, even when I’m not there watching and no one is giving them a grade. That way, even if their right path includes education somewhere other than at home (which it may), they will have the internal drive to continue learning and becoming better.

4. What method(s) do you use?

I study and love the Thomas Jefferson Education, or Leadership Education philosophy. http://www.tjed.org It’s not so much a method as a way of life. It teaches that parents are the experts on their own family, and so within the philosophy there are a lot of variations of application. That is what I love most about it. I feel it teaches true principles of how kids (and adults) learn best in each phase of development, and encourages families to find through inspiration the application that works best for them and their families. It is very similar to the way I was homeschooled, and it teaches how to foster core values, a love of learning, scholarly habits as they get older, and people who grow up with a sense of mission and purpose and who are prepared to think independently and learn all their lives.

5. Favorite resources for homeschooling

The library, the internet, and classics. We are always trying to be frugal so I don’t have a huge budget for buying homeschool supplies. Fortunately, most of the best books are available at the library. We love reading stories aloud for learning everything from history (right now we are loving the Little house on the prairie series and learning about the early settlers) to science (my kids love books about how things work and different animals and astronomy) and there are classics in every subject to be found. Reading the classics together as a family is not only an educational experience but a tender unifying one as well. As a favorite resource for inspiring me in homeschooling, I love to go back to the book, Leadership Education by Demille. Another recent discovery that I think will really help me plan inspirational learning time together is the home-school-coach.com’s homeschool closet ideas.

Specific resources I love to use are Life of Fred math books (totally hilarious and the kids learn a lot while they work through the stories) along with Khan academy, which is free online, for practice, Happy Phonics for the little ones learning to read, and Musical Notebooks for the whole family, because fun music helps you learn and remember things for a lifetime, and it is the way my mother taught us so many things, from the bones of the body to the states of the USA.

6. How do you balance homeschool & your day (schedule examples)?

This is my biggest challenge that I’m always working on, because life and home and school all flow into each other. It can be a big challenge to be consistent with babies up at night and sleep schedules changing all the time. Sometimes we get off track, but we try to have a general routine that we follow. The mantra I try to stick with in planning, that I learned from Leadership Education is, ‘Structure time, not content.’ This applies especially to the younger kids – as they move into the teen years they make more of a solid plan of what they will work on, but there is still freedom to mix it up. My kids know the general rhythm of the day, first comes scriptures, then breakfast, then family cleanup, then devotional, then I can work with them individually if there are things they need help with. I try to plan some specific time when I will have one on one time with the smallest ones to do what they are interested in with me, whether it is playing a reading game, or putting on music and dancing together. The over 8 set generally will set some goals with me periodically about what they want to learn about, and I write them down so later they can go back and see what ideas they had for study and what help they might need.

I give the kids a lot of choice during school time as far as what to work on and in what order, and if they are interested in a certain something we can do it without worry because the schedule says time together learning, not, at this hour we will study math for 30 minutes and then handwriting for 30 minutes. It also helps me to know which times are for me to be focused with them, which times are for preparation, which times are to focus on keeping my house and making meals (and sometimes those double as kid focused times when we get to have a cooking or cleaning lesson together), etc. It’s about intention and routine rather than following an exact plan of what we will do inside it. I also have learned to structure time for me to do my own projects and to keep learning and growing myself. That’s an important example for them and also important to my happiness as a home school mom!

7. Favorite benefit of homeschooling your family

Just experiencing all of life together. Getting to see their breakthroughs in learning, getting to share learning experiences together, weaving God and family love and work in with our lessons and the fact that all of life is learning. Homeschooling is a wonderful way of life.

8. Most surprising thing about homeschooling you’ve found

Homeschooling is such an education for me; it is an intense parenting course! And it gives me many opportunities to learn things about myself and the world that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It makes me grow like nothing else could.

9. What do you wish you would have known when you first started?

Play more and don’t rush academics. (People told me this but it took me a while to listen.) They will catch on to those things quickly, but the first priority is creating that loving relationship, teaching right and wrong, helping them to feel their worth outside of any academic achievement, and just working and playing and savoring life with them. They learn so much just from being with you and if you’re too focused on getting them to read when they are 3 or 4 you might miss some of the preciousness of just discovering how amazing the world is through their eyes, which is some pretty intense learning in itself.

10. Advice to other homeschool moms

Trust yourself. Trust inspiration. And don’t be afraid to take what works for you from a philosophy, a curriculum, a method, etc, and filter out the rest. Trust that your kids have the power to learn and that you are qualified to teach them because you love them and know them better than anyone. Trust that you’ll have help to know how to inspire them. Don’t get caught up in trying to prove to yourself, the neighbors, or the inlaws that the kids are learning enough, fast enough. Trust their abilities enough to let things unfold without pushing and pressure, especially while they are young, and you’ll find that your kids learn more, faster, and more meaningfully.

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