Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Forum: Alternative Schooling Options (Part Two--Home School)

The past few weeks at Bloom, we've been discussing education options for our children. (See here and here to catch up.)

At Bloom, we don't take any specific stance on this issue, but we feel it vitally important for parents to glean all the information they can on all of their options, and choose what's best for each child.

Today we have the privilege of hearing from our friend, Wendy--a mother of six home-schooled children. There are a few reasons we sought her opinions for our Bloom readers.
1. She has a lot of experience on this topic--about 11 years worth, in fact.
2. She is very enthusiastic about home school, but she keeps it real and tells it like it is.
3. Her children (ranging in age from seven to nineteen) are outstanding. Smart, confident, capable, fun, and exceptionally socially adept.

Welcome, Wendy. Thank you so much for being here!

Reading with Tanner, Madi & Janelle. This really sums up what the sweet moments feel like.

Bloom: How did you decide that home school was right for your family?

Wendy: When my children were beginning elementary school I began to investigate options for middle school. (Stories of happenings at the middle school (drug use, bullies, immodesty, lack of morals) can be fairly frightening when your kiddos are such little cherubs!)

As I studied more about home schooling, I was intrigued by the benefits of home schooling. Most of the books I studied concluded that:
1) Home schooled children tend to accept their parent’s belief system because they value their parents more than their peers.
2) Home schooling families are tightly bonded because of all the experiences they have shared.
3) Home schooled children have the advantage of one on one tutoring, and the flexibility to explore topics more deeply.
4) Home schooled children are able to fluidly socialize with younger children and older children or adults. They are not of the mindset that they can only “hang with kids their own age.”
5) The entire family takes on a “love of learning.” The atmosphere of the family becomes such that education is a priority and a treasure.

I was captivated by these benefits and wanted each of them in my own family.

Simultaneously, one of my elementary school kiddos was struggling…academically (was easily distracted and would rather have been playing legos)… and socially (was a complete follower of the gutter behavior happening around him.) I had dreams of this child growing up to be a strong, moral, well educated MAN and I couldn’t bear to stand by and watch him erode. I knew I could make a difference in his life, so the “mamma bear” in me rose up and we began our home schooling journey. I now have 11 years of home schooling under my belt, and it will be a total of 16 years when this experiment is over.

During that time we have added 2 new babies to our family and moved 4 times. Throughout each of these major events, I was amazed at how smoothly the transition happened. There might have been a week where the school kids only did a math lesson & practiced reading, but we made up their other lessons in the following weeks and they have not been hurt in the least.

Bloom: What are good reasons for home schooling vs. not so good ones?

Wendy: If you choose to Home school, understand that there will be dark, frustrating times everyday. There will also be joys and deeply satisfying moments everyday. (Sounds like parenting, right?)

Home schooling requires 100% commitment and a sacrifice of hobbies, crafts, answering the telephone during the day, and often friend time (especially if you have “Mom friends” who call you daily or meet up with you for play dates and hours of chatting.) To do it right, you must be willing to give up these things in order to focus on the education of your kiddos. If you are unable to commit at this level, or you have a part-time job or other matters that demand your attention, then don’t even consider home schooling. It might push you over the edge.
(Editor's note--keep in mind that this is the perspective of a mother of six!)

Finally, a wise home schooler once said to me, “Before you decide to home school, you’d better pray about it and make certain God is behind your decision. Then, when the difficult times come (and they will come) you will be able to lean on the knowledge that God is behind your decision.”

Bloom: What do you do with younger children during school time?

Wendy: Newborns are the easiest because they just lie in your arms. It is the 18 month to 3 years olds that will drive you crazy! They are at a high maintenance age, throwing tantrums, then climbing on the table to mimic the older kids and scribbling in the math books, etc. (When this happened, we would write the child’s name and age next to the scribbles. Several years later that same child will be working in the math book and come to a page with their childhood scribbles! It is quite sweet now.)

For several years, I assigned the four older kiddos to each teach a 30 minute preschool lesson twice a week to their younger sisters. The little girls loved the attention and the older kids loved the teaching. I have also had older siblings read aloud to younger kids or teach simple subjects like handwriting, phonics or spelling. This worked well when my time was in high demand with other kids.

Bloom: How did you choose a curriculum?

Wendy: There are so many curriculums that you could change every year and never run out! Resources for homeschoolers are incredibly abundant.

Understand that there are two extreme views of homeschooling:
1. You must bring the public school to your kitchen table, providing your child with 6 textbooks and 6 workbooks…one for each subject.
2. The “unschooling” method, where curriculum is guided by the child’s interest.

I chose an approach right in the middle which focuses on unit studies. These are units with lots of ‘hands on’ learning and are well suited to all of us, (especially pencil-resistant kids who would rather be playing legos.)

This hands-on activity turned into a first aid lesson!

My unit studies are on a 4 year rotation. For instance, in science our rotation is as follows:

1. Geology/Astronomy (1/2 a year each)
2. Chemistry
3. Biology (1/2 year about the human body systems, ½ year about the plant & animal kingdoms)
4. Physics (properties of light, color, electricity, magnets, batteries, laws of motion, etc.)

The child who is a 1st grader when we studied Geology, will have it again in 5th grade. Each subject will be taught twice by the time they have finished 8th grade.

Our history book is called The Story of the World; History for the Classical Child by Susan Wise Bauer. Over 4 years it covers history from the beginning of time to the present. (I love this book!) I supplement the stories with additional books/videos from the public library and hands on activities.
Aunt Stacy teaching about Egypt

Bloom: How do you manage teaching kids of various ages/grade levels at the same time?

Wendy: My kids each have their own math, reading, writing, spelling and music levels. They do these assignments first thing in the morning and independent from one another. But our afternoons are spent together learning the same things. This has always been our favorite part of the day! We are learning together, as one family, and making memories as we bring our learning to life.

Bloom: What curriculum do you use? How do you have time to plan?

Wendy: My best training came from the KONOS curriculum. This is a unit study approach which incorporates history, science, social studies, geography, and more. KONOS is easy to use and it taught me how to bring our learning to life! After 4 years I have am now following the previously described History/Science rotation, but I use everything KONOS taught me to create my own lessons. (Through KONOS, I taught these subjects already. It is very easy to apply the activities to my new outlines.)

writing the Declaration of Independence with quill feathers

Making root beer in honor of Samuel Adams, whose father wanted him to be a brewer. (Had he become a brewer, the colonists probably wouldn’t have been stirred to action in Declaring Independence.)

KONOS is well suited to teaching children of different ages. For example, when studying the senses, we learn how the eye works. We dissect a cow’s eyeball (very cool experience). We also compare the human eye to a camera. Younger children are required to tell you how the two compare, while older children would be assigned to write a comparison/contrast paper. Do you see how the family is learning the same things, yet each child is being challenged at their own level? It is beautiful.

Dissecting frogs!

Bloom: What about 'you' time? When do you fit that in?

Wendy: My alone time tends to be shopping at the grocery store or Walmart….and usually happens between 9:30 and 11:30pm.

But my days have a deeper satisfaction that comes from sharing sweet, magical learning moments with my children. And my mind is being stimulated all the time…I have literally learned more because of home schooling than I ever learned growing up.

Bloom: How do you get your kids to treat you like a teacher instead of 'just Mom?'

This has never been a problem. The Mom in this house just happens to be a teacher, as well as a cook, nurse, maid, laundress, etc.

…Well, I must admit that in our house you can also be punished for what I call “lazy learning.” This means if your attitude stinks, you have earned the privilege of cleaning the bathroom. Something magical happens then…the child works through their grumpiness and Mom’s nerves are also calmed as she begins to smell Lysol wafting through the house.

Bloom: What do you think about co-ops?

Wendy: Co-ops can be a fantastic enrichment to your homeschool. I treat them like “icing on the cupcake,” preferring to meet only once a week. This adds excitement to our normal schedule, but allows me to have 4 solid days of regular, core teaching.

A co-op lesson: Eating Greek foods while reclining on soft cushions, & learning Greek root words.

But even without a formal co-op group, don’t be afraid to create your own gathering. While learning about the revolutionary war we called EVERY boy we knew to help us re-enact the Battle at Bunker Hill. They came wearing red sweatshirts and we put white wigs on them. My kiddos taught their friends what happened at Bunker Hill, then we role-played it. We even had a drummer boy! It was terrific fun!

Red Coats storming Bunker Hill, and the patriots defending their position.

Bloom: Do your kids feel isolated or different? Do they ever wish they could go to school?

Wendy: There are certainly times when the “grass looks greener” and my children say they wish they were in public school. But those times are usually when they hear about a skiing field trip, a costume parade/class party, or some fun assembly their friends are talking about.

However, when we are making Sedimentary Pudding Desserts (complete with gummy worm fossils), or when we are taking advantage of a suddenly spring-like day with a bike ride and picnic, I usually say, “How does home school feel today?”

Bloom: A lot of people think all home school kids are weird. How have you helped your kids function so well socially, without sending them to school?

Wendy: I believe a child’s social skills are a reflection of their parents. If parents are shy and terrified to meet new people, their children tend to exhibit those same qualities. On the other hand, if parents model meeting strangers, striking up conversations with people they don’t know, their children will follow that example.

I have also taught my children to look adults in the eyes when they talk to them, and I praise them for answering questions from adults we meet at the grocery store, as well as being able to show kindness and gentleness to younger children. Home schooled children have been labeled as social misfits, but in reality they are some of the nicest young people around! They can talk with and relate to both adults and children.

In my 11 years, I have yet to see a home schooled child who isn’t the first to approach a new child at a park and ask them to play. Most home schooled kiddos are so secure that they believe everyone in the world is just waiting to be their friend.

In these playground situations, I often tease my children by whispering in their ear… “Don’t you know that you are homeschooled and you’re not supposed to be able to make friends?”

Bloom: Do you feel different from others in your community?

Wendy: I tell my children, “People think we are strange for 3 reasons: we have a large family, we are LDS (Mormons), and we home school. They are going to stare, so just get used to it.”

When people ask me prying, judgmental questions about my homeschooling, I smile and simply reply, “It will be clear in 10-15 years if it was a good idea or not!”

But there are incredible families who are home schooling; families who completely enrich your life! So we may be weird…but we’re not alone!

Madi and Janelle dissecting a wasp nest

Bloom: Do you homeschool through high school?

Wendy: Our homeschooling has evolved into this….our children are homeschooled through 8th grade. At that time they are given an option to attend public high school. However, high school is a “privilege.” If they stay morally strong and academically focused, they may stay there and enjoy the experience. They know if they begin to mess around, they will be yanked out of public school.

So far, this has been terrific. By 8th grade, my kiddos have naturally begun to pull away from “mommy.” They seem to sense there is a bigger world out there and they are ready for a piece of it.

Four of our children have made this leap now, and they have each flourished.

Their experience in high school has also given them a place to practice surviving in a world so different from the values they are being raised with. They are learning to combat foul language, immodesty, cheating, etc. while still under the influence of their parents. I have watched them become stronger people and I have complete confidence in the decisions they will make when they launch off to college.

Bloom: How do you do it all? Cooking, cleaning, laundry, teaching…

Wendy: “When my load becomes too heavy…I share the work.”

After the 6th baby, (born in September…lousy planning for a school teacher)… my mornings were chaotic. It would take me two hours to make breakfast, nurse & care for the baby, dress the toddler, and try to run a brush though my own hair…all on a disrupted night’s sleep). I quickly made a chart which gave most of those responsibilities to the older 4 kiddos (ages 6-11). Two kids cooked and cleaned up breakfast, one kiddo dressed the toddler, and the other was the “baby lover.” (This was the coveted job, because they just sat on the couch and loved on the newborn after I nursed her.) The jobs rotated every day. Sharing the work load completely eased my burden.

I have applied a similar approach to laundry. I never do laundry by myself. Over the course of a few days, I will run several loads through the wash as I pass by. When we have 4-6 loads of clean laundry built up, I dump it on my bed (knowing that it must be put away in order for me to sleep). I call all the children to my bed and instruct them to “pick out your laundry.” Literally, within 15 minutes, a mountain of laundry is gone.

As you can imagine, with all of us at home (eating, learning, moving & creating), our house can get messy quickly. I have learned that we make bigger messes, but working together, we can clean them up faster. With 4 or 5 able bodies working, we can literally take a house from “trashed” to “respectable” in 15 minutes. We always do a quick clean up at the end of our school day.

I have also learned to let go of a few things:

I have let go of laundry in my children’s drawers being folded (just put it away!).

My husband helped me let go of insisting my kids wear pajamas. (I don’t care what you are wearing…brush your teeth and lie down!) And I now buy canned spaghetti sauce & instant pancake mix rather than making them from scratch. Silly things, but letting them go has eased my world a bit.

Now, if you aren’t turned off of homeschooling by now, I suggest you read The Well-trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (most libraries have a copy). But WATCH OUT! This book is dangerously inspiring and just might change your life!

Thanks so much, Wendy, for helping us get a concrete understanding of what home school looks and feels like.


Vicky said...

Thankyou for such a great post.
What a inspiring lady you are Wendy.. 6 kids all homeschooled... you should get a medal!
I thought about homeschooling for a while, but decided it wasn't for me. Instead we moved house to a nicer area with a small rural school and my 2 girls that are currently attending are flourishing.
But I'm glad I did the research into homeschooling first as it gave me a better understanding of the system and what I can do if the situation ever changes.

Rachael said...

This was so great to read! It answered a lot of the questions I had--this is something I've been thinking about as our oldest child is turning 5.

Joan said...

Wendy, I admire you. Wow. I am in awe of what you accomplish with your children. Well done.
I feel like homeschooling is such an inspiring, bond creating, adventure and I see the many benefits of the program. But quite honestly, I just don't feel like I could do it. Not that I'm not smart enough or capable but I'm just too selfish, I think? I feel awful admitting that but I just don't know that I could devote every waking hour to my children and still maintain my own sanity.
I have seriously considered homeschooling during middle school years (worst years of my life!) but other than that I feel like I would lose it on so many levels if I had all my children home all the time.
I sincerely admire you for jumping into homeschooling headfirst. It's impressive and inspiring. I'm interested in reading the book you recommended but I'm afraid I might like it?! haha.
Anyway, after all my ramblings: thank you again for shedding light on this subject. You're a rare woman to give every ounce of yourself to your children like you do.

LJ said...

Wendy, thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like you are doing a beautiful job of homeschooling your children! You are right about sacrificing pretty much your own life in order to do it right. Unfortunately, I've seen the other side of homeschooling. Several of my relatives undertook that responsibility and were completely overwhelmed. Let's just say it wasn't a positive experience for anyone involved.

I've read the book you suggested by Susan Wise Bauer and it is inspiring. But what I love about her is that she suggests that we don't have to do either public school or homeschooling; we can do a little of both. And, that's what I plan to do. We'll be sending our oldest, Anders, to Kindergarten next year, but we plan on supplementing his education with lots of learning at home! I love public schools (I think they're the bedrock of a true democracy). And I also love the idea of my children having many wonderful teachers. Anders attended an amazing preschool this year and we've both learned so much from his very wise and experienced teacher, Ms. Kim. Both of our lives have been enriched by being part of the preschool community.

oh, and I have to add that Anders is always the first to go and make friends at the playground, too. So, I don't think that behavior only applies to home schooled kids!

Michelle's Messages said...

Wow, what great insights. Thank you SO much for sharing, Wendy!! I think all of us want these benefits for our children. How we achieve them, is of course, different for every family.

I am seriously considering homeschooling my children (ages 3 and 1). I think it is something we all consider as we think about the best interests of our children.

I also teach part time for an online public school - which is also a home school in that the instruction is given by the parent in the home. Our school provides the curriculum for FREE as well as teacher support if you need it. It's perfect for families just starting the home school journey. The children are required to attend the end of level testing (spring CRTs that all the local public schools give) - that's the public school part of the exchange. (if you're interested, and you live in Utah, you can check it out at

We have many families who only have 1 child enrolled in our school (pulled from the local public school for many of the same reasons stated in this post). The nice thing is - you choose which courses you want to teach your child. There are no requirements for "what you must teach your child" (giving the teacher/mother, ALL of the control - isn't that another reason we choose to homeschool? We can somewhat control what our children learn and are exposed to)

I think as we consider each of our children individually - we realize that ALL of their needs are different. One might really thrive in the public school setting, while another might need to be home schooled. I also think this would be a lot more manageable for me since I don't have to keep all of my children home for school, just the one(s) that need that extra support/comfort/freedom/etc.

Thanks Bloom for starting this discussion on our schooling options!

Katie said...

Very inspiring. But I feel exhausted just thinking about it! Talk about super mom!

Nikki Douglas said...

I totally identify with Joan...As I've commented before, I have a first-grader struggling in public school who is not feeling validated enough at school which has led to some disruptive attention seeking, and because there are no charter school around I feel like home school is the only other choice. But I feel so selfish because I really need that break from this overly dramatic and full-of-life child. I feel like I can give more of myself when she gets home from school because I had that time for to shower and get dressed during the other child's naps, reading a book, and much calmer grocery shopping with only one child in tow. And I REALLY like being able to have the bonding time with my other child during the day.

Once, though, last month, when she was not really sick but just getting over something (and had to wait had 24 hours before going back) I knew this child would go crazy without a schedule. So I did one. I did one day of home school. And you know what? It was amazing. My child was engaged and busy and felt loved. Her behavior was appropriate. And when "school" was over she was done with me, went off to play by herself and I could make dinner pretty easily. And she got ready for bed without a fight too, when that time came. It was an uplifting day for us both.

So what have I learned? I still am not ready to commit to full-time home school, I'm still not wanting to give up my day time--yes that sounds really bad. But it's something I am seeing that I can do if I really think it through. (I realize, though, that every home school day wouldn't always be so perfect.) And I know it doesn't have to be an all or nothing. I struggle with the idea of doing both public school and home school since kids are maxed out at the end of the day. But here is what I am thinking...

I am planning on doing a trial run during part of the summer. Maybe she just needs that extra attention and learning for a few months and then she'll be better adjusted to being a part of a large class. Maybe her teacher next year will be just what she needs. I can just take it a few months at a time.

Dani said...

Kudos to you Wendy. Homeschooling is something that we have been forced to consider since our recent move. I have always been opposed to it, but I have to admit that recent events have led me to change my opinion. I'm still not sure that it's right for me or my daughter yet, but I am considering it. I do think that it's a very individual choice and the well-being of everyone in the family needs to be taken into consideration.

I also think that we need to be careful here. This is such an individual choice. What may work for one family could be a disaster for another. One need not feel guilty for sending her children to public school. I think we're all trying to do our best and our "best" is all we can ask of ourselves.

Valerie said...

Very good post, and very helpful for anyone looking to home school.

I honestly think the first decision has to come back to YOU as the mother. Do you know, or at least have a good idea of who you really are? I think if you know your limits and what you can and can't handle, making such a big decision would be much easier. I know for me, personally, I would fail at homeschooling. I know I wouldn't follow through, even if I tried really really hard, I wouldn't be able to handle all what homeschooling entails. So by knowing this, I can save myself the sorrow and grief of setting myself up for a failure. I admire any one who home schools and Wendy you do it AMAZING! But I think it comes down to really knowing what YOU, as an individual, mother, wife, neighbor (so forth) can handle.

Jana said...

While I don't think homeschooling is the right choice for every family, I have to say that we have had so much fun (and a few tears) homeschooling our 2 sons. We started our journey when thye were in 3rd and 5th grade. They are now 16 and 18 and I look back without any regrets.

They are both, happy, social, well adjusted, compassionate human beings. They are this way not just because we home schooled but primarily because we valued these things in our home.

Sally said...

Well, even though I never plan on homeschooling any of my kids (I'm another one of those selfish moms) I do appreciate your post. You really cleared up a lot of questions I had about homeschooling and why I feel so negative about it. And I really like that you give your kids the option of going to high school.

Between You and Me said...

loved this post...we are a home school family...I read A Well Trained Mind...and it changed my life!

We school using the classical approach...and absolutely love it!

thanks for letting her share the wisdom that her life has given to her!

emily said...

i loved reading this and appreciated the candor, insight and vision shared by this amazing mama!
we started homeschooling our (now) 10 yr old daughter this year and have not regretted it once. it has been the most incredible decision; such a fit for our family. as wendy shared, there is something indescribably special about sharing all of life with our children; those we are given for such a short time to raise, train up, disciple and nurture. time passes so quickly!
thank you for this great post ... love this blog! =)

Abbie said...

Wendy! THANK YOU SO MUCH for this amazing post! You are amazing! I am so inspired by all the mommas I know that home school. I felt so much peace about our decision to home school as I read this post.

I was dreading the home school option when I first started looking into schooling options for our son (almost 4), but now I'm just excited and feel so much peace about it! At first I felt like we HAD to home school, like I was being forced (because our public schools are horrible! and I didn't feel good about testing him to get into a loads-of-homework-crazy-rigorous-conditioning-for-Ivy-League school). Now I feel like I GET to home school. And as I've been teaching him things at home and seeing his progression, I get so excited. He's learning things and I get to see him grasp these things - it awesome. I know it won't be sunshine and lollipops all the time, but as I was reading this post I had a vision of what our life will be like: a house of learning and fun with amazingly abundant field-trips. I love learning and it's cool that I'll continue to learn as I teach my children and they will (hopefully) love learning too (did that make sense).

Also, another mom I talk to a lot said that she has been amazed at how much she has learned in the process. She feels like she has developed so many talents that she never thought she had just as she been teaching her children. That makes me so excited! (how many times have I said the word excited?). I, too, have felt like I might be too selfish to do this, but it sounds like (from all the moms I've talked to and emailed) that I'm going to get a lot out of it too (not the reason I'm doing it, OF COURSE, but ya know, that's pretty cool).

I'm not sure how long we'll do home school (I guess it depends on how long we live in the city and other things), but the idea of doing it through 8th grade doesn't scare me anymore. One step at a time, right?

Thanks again! The more I research home school the more it just feels right and the more peace I feel about it. It may be hard, but parenting is hard and it's so rewarding!

And that's another looooong comment brought to you by Abbie:) I love Bloom!

Tamara Jacobs said...

i just discovered your blog today, and i LOVE it!!! can't wait to catch up on some of your past posts, and read it weekly. just thought i would say hi:)

Mary said...

wendy! you are my hero!! you were my hero as a 5 year old little girl and now my hero all over again as i read about your life as a mother. i loved your post and only wish i could visit you and see your family in action. i love your perspective, your humor and your "keeping it real" attitude! Love to you and your family.

m. baird porter

Astyn said...

Question: Do you have a dedicated space for 'school' or does it just happen in all of the normal gathering areas of your home. Is it helpful to have a 'school space' separate from the kitchen and family room?

Mrs. Blimes said...

Wonderful and inspiring! Thank you thank you thank you!

The Shumway Family said...

Having the freedom to MOVE around the house works best for us.

Most of our core work is done at the kitchen table, but if a kiddo is having trouble concentrating, they move to the library room, or a desk upstairs.

And if they want to do their "cozy reading" time curled up in a bean bag near the heater vent, they are free to do that too.

I love you too, Mary!

Anita Haldar said...


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