Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How I Homeschool (the Lengthy Self Interview in Which I Try to Sound Like I Know What I'm Doing.)

I'm linking my self interview up with the series "How I Homeschool, hosted by Micaela at California to Korea.  Check out some other fabulous interviews there (most of the moms over there actually know what they're doing!  I'm just an impostor ;) )

How long have you been homeschooling?
We've just finished our third year.  

Why did you start homeschooling?
I was entirely unfamiliar with homeschooling until I was in college.  Several of the professors and employees at the university I attended homeschooled their children.  When I was a senior, and then again a few years later when I was in graduate school, I was hired to give group tutoring to some of their children.  The students were delightful people - they were kind to one another, polite, could look an adult in the eye and carry on a respectable conversation, they were eager to learn and participate in lessons.  That was my first exposure to homeschooling, and it left a good impression on me.

Even after that very positive introduction into the world of homeschooling, I was never the type of mom that felt like we would homeschool no matter what.  When Aaron was four I shopped around for a pre-K program for him but for some reason, I just couldn't enroll him anywhere.  Even to this day, I can't pinpoint why, I just didn't.  The next summer, I took Aaron to a Kindergarten open house at a local Catholic school.  I'll never forget when the teacher said to me, "Oh, we love to celebrate the holidays in the classroom.  Like at Christmas we teach them that Christmas isn't just about getting presents.  It's really about giving."  I pretty much knew then and there that we'd be homeschooling at least for Kindergarten, because even my pre-K kids knew that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus.  

Since then, it's our policy to revisit our school plans year to year.  My husband and I are continually assessing the needs of our family and the needs of our children and basing our decisions for the next year on that.  I like it that way.

In a way, it's weird that we chose homeschooling at all because I always loved school.  Always.  And when I was a young mother I truly looked forward to my kids having the same fabulous school experience that I did.  Now, homeschooling feels "right" and makes sense for us.  I'm so grateful that it's an option for us and I love it.  And I don't think the kids are missing out on too much not being in traditional school :)

How many kids are in your family? How many are homeschooled? Are any schooled in a more traditional way?  

We have five children.  They are 8, 6, 4, 2, and 4 mos.  The oldest two were "in" first and second grade this past year.  Next year, Ruth will be added into the mix, doing some very basic "kindergarten" material.  So far, no one has attended traditional school.  The boys spend two mornings a week at a study center for homeschoolers that follows the Classical program of education.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like this...

What laws, if any, are there in your state regarding homeschooling? How does your family meet compliance?
From what I've read, New York is one of the more hands-on interfering states where homeschooling is concerned.  It's not just homeschooling, though; NY likes to be up in everyone's business.  Here's what a year of interaction with our representative from the city board of education looks like:

Early summer: We send a letter of intent to homeschool, submitting the names/ages of the children.   They write back and say, "got it."

Mid summer: We submit an IHIP (Individual Home Instruction Plan) for each child of (compulsory) school age.  It must include plans for the state-required subjects - which includes all the regulars plus stuff like health and physical education - and must indicate what books, programs, curricula we intend to use.  They write back to inform us whether it's been approved or not.  Mine have always been approved, I'm assuming if it wasn't they'd guide you as to the changes you'd have to make.
End of each quarter: We submit a quarterly report which includes how many hours of lessons were completed, who the instructors were, how much material was covered (I always say 25%) and the student's grades in each subject.  (I just use "S" for satisfactory.)

End of the year: In addition to the fourth quarter report we submit an end of the year assessment.  It can be as simple as "My child has satisfactorily completed the course of education laid out in the IHIP" (I also add, "and will continue appropriate review throughout the summer.")  Starting in fourth grade, however, the annual assessment must be an approved standardized test given every other year.  A student must score above the 33 percentile to continue homeschooling. 

Switching gears here: if you could summarize your homeschool philosophy in one sentence or mission statement, what would that be?

My mission is to sound enough like I know what I doing to convince myself and others that I've got this homeschooling thing down and won't screw up my kids with all the educational experiments I test out on them.  Kidding.  Well, only half kidding...

Seriously though, lofty missions and flowery philosophical language are not my strong suit.  Neither is saying things in just one sentence.  Soooo, that leaves me with this - a list of what I hope we achieve through homeschooling (besides reading, writing, and 'rithmatic):

* they will be exposed to great ideas in history, literature, and the arts and will come to recognize, appreciate, and hopefully seek out beauty and all that is good in our culture and history - to learn to "love those things that are lovely" (St. Augustine via Christopher Perin)
* to know our Faith and to pursue and recognize Truth   
* my children will be able to think independently and critically
* they will become life-long learners
* they will retain the childlike traits of curiosity and wonder throughout their lives
* all of this will prayerfully be ordered toward the glory of God and our growth in holiness as individuals and a family 

It all sounds very grand and pretentious.  It hardly seems like this is what we're doing when the kids are erasing math mistakes in frustration or painfully sounding out three letter words.  Much of the time I'm trying very hard to refrain from banging my head against the table and am not really worrying about beauty, truth, and goodness.  I'm trusting that God's grace will be at work in our school days and that He'll be responsible for a lot of that list :)  

.... and sometimes it looks like this...

What is your homeschooling style?

When we were first getting started, because I had loved "school" so much as I child, I thought we would be the type of family that had a little school room with desks and a chalkboard and wall maps and posters with the parts of speech hanging on the wall.  But we don't have the space in our home for a school room, which turned out to be a good thing, because that's not our style after all.

I'm pretty crafty, so some veteran homeschooling moms thought we'd go the unit study / lapbook route.  Not my style either.  That actually took me by surprise because I could have easily seen me being a crafty, projecty, cutting-and-pasting homeschooling mom.  It's weird, but I'm not.  

Then I read a lot of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophies and fell in love.  Turns out we're not Charlotte-Mason-ers either, though many of her ideas still influence some of what we do.  I think the reading involved in her approach is a little too much for me with babies and toddler in the mix.

We ended up "going" Classical sort of by accident, and it turned out to be the best fit for us.  I love the focus on the classics, the 4-year-cycle approach to history, the emphasis on memorization, and the academic goals of the final "Rhetoric" years : At this point, the high school student learns to write and speak with force and originality. The student of rhetoric applies the rules of logic learned in middle school to the foundational information learned in the early grades and expresses his conclusions in clear, forceful, elegant language. (from "The Well Trained Mind")  

We work on our Classical education at the dining room table, on the couch, on the kitchen floor, and in the car.  We currently have two large wall maps :) 

Do you follow any set curriculum?

We follow Tapestry of Grace for History, Latin, Literature, Writing/Grammar, and everything else I piece together.  A few of the programs I've really liked so far are Math U See and Handwriting Without Tears

What do your best homeschooling moments look like?  What do your not-so-good moments look like?  How do you stay on track?

The best, best, best moments are when the kids are learning and making connections and are excited about it.  Usually this means they're not sitting at the dining room table doing geography multiple choice or re-writing sloppy copy work.  It's when we're reading something for enjoyment or are out in the schoolroom that is the wide, wide world.  

The worst moments are when there are tears.  And yelling.  Both sometimes happen.  At those moments it can be crippling to think, "I am not the right person for this job.  Someone else could teach him to understand solving for the unknown in math equations without making him cry."  But usually I'm pretty confident that I am the right person to teach my children, and part of the reason is because they learn from me even when I lose my temper - they witness me apologize, ask forgiveness, reset my approach, and try again.  When they lose patience with me or with themselves and tear up, I am the right person to comfort them and to offer gentle lessons in perseverance and offering our best to the task at hand.  "Worst" moments are hard, but they don't have to derail the whole homeschooling operation.

Staying on track?  Sometimes it's actually accomplished by taking some time off to recharge and then approach lessons again with a renewed attitude :)

... and sometimes it looks like this...

How do you keep any non-school-aged kids busy?
It's not very helpful if I say I let them tear apart the house as long as they're quiet, is it?  

Ok, for real:  We have a shelf of Toddler/Pre-School-ish activities that are quiet and pseudo-educational.  (I'm hoping to do a post on the contents of that shelf near the end of the summer as we gear up for another year of the toddler and pre-schooler not really using the school shelf activities and just tearing the house part...)  Coloring.  Stickers.  Play-doh.  Playing with the math manipulatives.  Tearing the house apart.  And when all those options have been exhausted, I let them play Starfall.  (Bless you, Starfall creators!  Bless you.)

If you could give any homeschool advice to a new mom starting out, what would it be?

Just starting out and wondering if you're qualified to teach your children?  You are!  I wrote about it last summer...

Don't "do" preschool.  

Read to your children.  Read, read, read.

Find a family with similar values and a similar approach to homeschooling that you can share ideas and support with.  This is key!

Don't compare your kids' academic abilities to each other, or to traditional school children of the same age, or to your best friend's homeschooled children.  It won't end well.  (I know.)

Participate in their education.  It's fun and it provides them with a live and in-person example of a life-long learner.  If they're memorizing Latin vocab or a new poem, join in and let them quiz you.  They'll get a kick out of it!  Keep your own nature journal; use the field guides and the magnifying glass.  Do the art project along side your kiddos.  

Offer up every day to the Father.  It may not go as you had planned, but still give it back to Him.  Re-calibrate your homeschool when it gets off track and has become less about leading souls to Christ and glorifying Him in your efforts, and instead becomes more about counter-productive power struggles and your frenzied attempts to teach them ALL THE THINGS.  (I have to do this re-calibrating often.  I didn't really write that for other moms.  I wrote it for me.) 

...and sometimes it looks like this: "Kids, you get the rest of the morning off so mom can blog about homeschooling!"  :)

Wow.  I'm long-winded.  

Thanks, Micaela for a happy homeschooling link-up!  It's always fun and informative to read what other families are doing!

Want to get in on the fun?  I love to chat about homeschooling, our days, our books and curriculum choices, etc...  I'd love to answer any questions you have or hear about how you homeschool.  Comment here or email me!  Got a blog?  Link up with Micaela!


  1. Theresa, thank you so much for this. As a new homeschooling Mom just starting out, I am finding these posts to be so very helpful. I had no idea that NY was so intrusive. I guess I am just lucky to be on Texas. I was actually homeschooled when I lived in Rochester, 1985-1986. I remember a school person, I believe a principal, visitng us to check on the homeschooling. He sat on the floor and played a Hooked on Phonics board game with me.

  2. You're welcome!
    I've never hear of anyone coming to the home to "check in" on how the homeschooling was going! THAT would be very intrusive. Luckily we don't have to submit to that. It's mostly just a lot of paperwork with the info that they want to see :)

  3. haha, i hadn't even read this post when i called you about the jam, but i think i said some of these same things verbatim. particularly the, "I am not the right person for this job. Someone else could teach him to understand solving for the unknown in math equations without making him cry." Good stuff and glad to know I'm not alone ;)

    1. haha! I know! Our conversation was totally in line with all that I had just written :

  4. I am the same way - I always loved school, and loved learning (in fact, I went into education and was a public school teacher myself, briefly), so in a lot of ways, this is encouraging me to want to homeschool my kids (they are all young still).

    I like that you just give your state the minimum required. I've heard a lot of homeschoolers insist that this is the best way. Just sorta stay under the radar, show what you need and nothing more.

    I love your advice about "doing school" alongside the kids. The other day, my family went on a nature walk along a trail carrying a really well-written trail guide that pointed out all sorts of cool flora and fauna and explained all the natural history of the area. I had all these visions of doing similar walks with the kids in a few more years, but this time stopping to sketch and look up the things we catch little critters in the creek and take the time to observe them...and then rest for a picnic lunch under the trees, while I read aloud to the kids. Can not wait!

    (but I realize that there will be bad parts as well, like making my kids cry. Totally expecting that one...)

  5. Theresa, I loved your first pic with the baby on table. I have memories of doing exactly that. Yes, God bless the makers of starfall! I am enjoying Micaela's series a lot, learning from other moms and getting to know like minded teachers.

  6. That 33% testing thing sounds horrible! Someone's got to be in that bottom 33%! So are one in 3 kids kicked out of homeschooling each year? I'd assume the approved tests aren't taken just by home-schoolers so that wouldn't necessarily be the case.

    1. Right, I think that the 33 percentile is at least state-wide. There are a variety of test to choose from, but since we haven't used any yet, I'm not sure how the grading and rankings work exactly.

  7. Theresa, this is wonderful! Super informative and funny, too. Ick to what NY asks of you, but you sound like you've got it down pat. Thanks for linking up!

    And I know this has nothing to do with homeschooling, but your kiddos are adorable!

  8. Wow Theresa, loved reading your post, getting to know you even more:) You write your 'wishes' like it do! Actually reading what you have to do for NY only sounds slightly more rigorous than how NSW (Australia)is now:(

    1. Thanks, Erin! I've read some of your posts on what you have to do to have your homeschooling approved and I actually thought it sounds really intimidating - having someone come to your home to view and approve your curriculum. I think I'd be a nervous wreck. Here, if any member of the state or city education departments requests to come into our homes we can legally refuse. I take a lot of comfort in that!


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