Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A few words about our homeschool life

Someone asked how I manage to homeschool with twins. I will tell you that it is not always (ever?) easy to homeschool, but it often brings great joy and I am certain that it is the right path for my family. Homeschooling does not have to be complicated. I have pulled out two quotes that I find inspirational and supportive:

"The main goal of the early school years is to learn the basic skills of reading, writing and simple arithmetic. These are the first tools for any further learning. The subjects you use to acquire and practice these tool are, in a sense, secondary. This is so much the case that eh mother of a large number of homeschooling children who is able to do only religion, readin, simple arithmetic and basic letter formation with her youngest grades should not worry that they are educationally neglected. The natural stimulation of a busy household will supply for hte other subjects. Once a child can read, he is able to be an independent learner."

-- Laura M. Berquist, "Designing You Own Classical Curriculum"

"Consider, instead of tha model perfect home, one which is bursting with beauty and ideas. It may not be as big and it is almost certainly messier than the House Beautiful home, but there is lots of learning going on there. There is a learning room full of things that foster creativity: Lego building blocks, Playmobil figures, dressup clothes, paints, paper, writing and editing programs on the computer, dolls, blocks, and books, lots and lots of books."

--Elizabeth Foss, "Real Learning"

My family was hesitant when I pulled my 5 year old out of school -- in many ways, so was I, but I knew one thing: school was not working for him. I wanted him to have a living education. He was a child who loved to learn, and I did not want to see that love be snuffed out. Also, he was exhausted. He was getting up early to go to school all day, participating in after school activities, doing homework and going to bed. There was no room in his day for free reading, free thinking, open ended play activities, or family time.

In the year that we have been home, I have found that we do school from about 9-12 most days and we accomplish a lot. We read wonderful living books together, bedtime stories are treasured. We spend lots of time outside. The kids have quiet time after lunch, and PT reads, sometimes things I have assigned him, but mostly things he has chosen. Right now, he is reading the Golden Children's Bible. He loves to come down afterwards and tell me what he has been reading. Yesterday he narrated back all of the dreams that Joseph interpreted in the Old Testament. Also this year, my five year old daughter has learned to read, print her letters and do basic arithmetic, the twins have played and played and been read to and run around and laughed and danced and made messes. The baby has been surrounded by love and family.

When the weather is fair, we get together on Wednesday afternoons with our local homeschooling group. This socialization is wonderful, for me and for the children. We have also done gymnastics in the fall and winter and now we are doing little league. All of the kids did two terms of drop off story time at the library with no separation issues.

It is amazing what kids will invent when there is no TV available -- our time has become so much more productive, since even outside of "school" time they are often choosing school activities, recently pattern blocks have been a popular choice.

Well, there is so much more to say, but now I have to go teach a math lesson...

Edited to add: A link to an old post about my homeschool life, including Q&A from my neighbors and a description of our day and methods which is still surprisingly accurate.


Bethany said...

Mary Alice-

I admire your strength and ability to maintain homeschooling with your ever growing family. Not to mention what I imagine is your fantastic organizational skills (maybe even a little jealous of those). I congratulate you on having the courage to recognize what is in the best interest of your children and fulfilling that need.

However, and again I do not know you or your children or the situation they were in in school, I must say that any child's learning abilities will change with time and with different teachers. Last year when my oldest was in Kindergarten we had a very rough very emotional experience. I even considered pulling him out and homeschooling him. The problem was that he has a unique learning style (one a substitute teacher recognized off the bat) and his teacher was unclear on how to help him. He struggled learning from her, and she struggled teaching him. By the end of the year his reading skills were way below the average, he could barely write his first name legibly and he really didn't like going to school.

This year, in first grade, he has a different teacher, one who is able to help him with his learning style. He is ahead of the class in both reading and math, he soaks up science and social studies like a sponge, and he LOVES going to school "to learn".

The point of this information is not to diminish the homeschooling style, but to remind people that children will have different experiences in school, from year to year and from teacher to teacher. Only you know how your children will learn best and how able you are to provide that exceptional learning. And though it's hard (believe me) try not to get discouraged if your child is in school and is struggling one year when he or she hasn't in the past. Work with them at home, supplement the curriculum their doing, and know that next year with a different teacher things will be different, hopefully for the better.

Katherine said...

Mary Alice,

I am going to homeschool and am in the process of researching curriculum. I was just wondering which you use and why. thx

Right Said Red said...


Thanks for sharing this post. I was very intimidated to get started with homeschooling because of the massive amount of materials/curriculums out there. When you don't have a roadmap, things can seem really overwhelming.

MaryAlice and I have talked this through a lot over the phone and I have a plan for this fall that I am excited about!

Gianna just turned 4, so she will technically be in pre-K next fall. We will work on reading, writing, and basic math skills 3 days per week. My goal is to work on these three subjects for about 1 hour per day 3 times per week. With the rest of our time we will read lots of stories, have a lot of free play time, attend homeschool co-op events and field trips, and do some arts and crafts.

For her age, reading lessons are about 15-20 minutes, and likewise for math and writing. Like all things, you don't have to jump in hard-core all at once, but there is time to gradually get your feet wet.

I also want to add that for us, homeschooling was a gradual decision. Initially I intended to enroll Gianna in preschool. I went to the school and decided that it wasn't for us. I researched some other pre-schools and decided they were not for us. I then decided to do a year of pre-school at home and started getting involved with other homeschooling families. We plan to continue with pre-K at home next year. We will see what works for our family and go from there.

I believe that homeschooling is a vocation. Some are called to it and some are not. I never saw myself as someone who would be called, until I went to enroll my daughter in pre-school. The day I left that pre-school was a real turning point for me. I resisted a bit and even sent in our deposit for the school. But I had the seed planted in my heart and I knew that right now, homeschooling was the right choice for us. I knew that God was asking me to do something different, at least for this year. God may call me to homeschool for certain years and not others, or for certain children and not others. I'm just glad I have MA to hold my hand and help me out along the way ;-)

And as far as curriculum choices, we are not using a full curriculum as Gianna is still a little young. I read the Well-trained mind (highly recommend it!) and we are using their recommended reading/phoenix program, "The Ordinary Parents Guide to teaching Reading." So far I really like it, we do about 3 lessons per week and Gianna is just starting to read.

MA suggested Saxon Math for the fall, so we will give that a try. I'm also going to check out handwriting w/o tears for a writing book.

Elena said...

Mary Alice,

I was the mother who asked for your comments on homeschooling twins. I have 5-year old twins (boy and girl), a 2-year old boy and a 5-month old boy. The twins are in JK and really enjoying it. We realise that we might have to pull them out at some point as the fate of Catholic schools is somewhat precarious here in Ontario, Canada. On the days that they are at home I run a homeschool-like schedule and we all enjoy it. The problem is this: my son is reading voraciously and just "gets it", whereas my daughter is probably where she should be for a five-year old but she is struggling because her brother is so advanced. My basic struggle is that of teaching two children who are the exact same age but entirely different in learning styles and, yes, maturity. Any advice? Thank you.

AWOL Mommy said...

Red, MA,

Yet again, you two are quite the role models. Red, I am fascinated by your referring to homeschooling as a vocation which can be received with reluctance at first. I feel much the same way and, with a 3.5 yr old, I am on the brink of needing to decide. The one thing I have noticed within myself (now I am going to be ├╝ber-candid here) is the healthy emotional shift I experienced just after becoming open to the possibility that I would home school our children. Explicitly- prior to thinking about home schooling- whenever I was frustrated with my 3 year old or even just struggling to keep her occupied on a day with bad weather and no t.v., I would find myself telling myself "just x many years until she is in school". What an unhealthy mentality! Counting down until my child was away for me for precious hours of the day. Nonetheless, planning on homeschooling has totally liberated me from this detrimental countdown mentality and instead prompted me to be more purposeful and organized in my plans for my children's education. This shift alone has nudged me a bit closer to becoming a (dun du dun dun duuuuun) homeschooler. One last question, for Mary Alice and Red: would you two be willing to elaborate on what the major turn-offs were for you in the pre-schools in which you had your kids enrolled?

Mary Alice said...

I could go on for hours about the turn offs of the school that my child was enrolled in, but, there were also lots of great things about that school, even some great things that I am not able to provide at home. I think that homeschooling to avoid schools is somewhat of a last resort, and there may be some situations in which one "has" to homeschool -- foriegn assignments, etc, however, I think that for me the big thing was that my life, with a 4 yo, 3 yo and 1 yo twins was hard, and I thought that having the oldest in school would make it easier. This did not turn out to be the case. Part of this was my child's unique experience in the school, but most of it was due to the fact that parenting is a big, big job, no matter how your child is educated. Active parents in the school he attended were committing as much time, perhaps even more, to supporting the school, helping kids with homework, doing extracurriculars and school related social events, etc, as I spend on homeschooling. There is no "easy way out", you have to do what is right for your family and your children, for me homeschooling is much easier and healthier, allows us to have more balance in our lives. Many people may choose school for just the same reasons.

Mary Alice said...


I don't use any curriculum whole cloth. Currently, I am taking a Charlotte Mason approach, but also including a Classical history cycle. We are very living books oriented. We do use a text for handwriting, math, and spelling, however. For more on my eclectic method, here are a few links to posts on my blog:

lesson plans

Quarterly Report

Living Books

Mary Alice said...

Also, see the link added to the original post.

For Elena,

As to the question about the twins with different interests and abilities, I am sure that I will have similar problems, but my twins are only 3, so you will have to advise me!

For sure, kids learn at different paces, especially with reading. I am going to try to teach my twins at the same time using The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. If they are not on the same pace, I will do what I have done with PT and Merry in Math -- they started out together, but when PT took off I just moved him to a different book and started teaching him at a different time. For example, say you do Math-U-See, have one watch a math lesson while the other does reading with you, then switch. You can still teach most of your curriculum together because at the early stages most of it will be read aloud anyway.

I cannot emphasize enough the joys and wonders of reading aloud to children, especially to boys with independent reading abilities. I am reading The Secret Garden to PT and Merry right now and we are having an outstanding time of it. At first, he thought it was super boring (he told me this tonight), and I don't think he would have stuck with it if he was reading it on his own, but it has gotten exciting now, and we are all really enjoying it together.

I am so glad that your kids love school, I loved school and firmly believe that learning should be joyful, even if it is sometimes hard.

One last thing about twins and reading, one of my brothers learned quickly and easily and one struggled. We still make fun of him for it to this day, but both of them are very smart and big readers, so whether you read at 3,5or 7 makes little difference in the long run!

JStark said...

If the school is not good, put the child in another school. Not all schools are the same.

The number one problem with parent perception of the evil media and evil school system is the lack of involvement. I have a background in both areas.

Get involved parents. Other parents are just as over protective as you are.

Also, homeschooling is not as common in areas where there is a serious working class population.

Mothers and fathers are working to survive and pay for basic needs.

Mary Alice said...

Homeschooling is certainly a privelage, and one that we considered as we were also considering private schools, which are also privelages that are not available to everyone. I am not against the concept of public schools, or of any schools. I was living in New York City, where the cost of private schools is extreme, and even sending 5 children to parochial school would add up fast, so when I consider those costs, I am actually saving my family considerable money.

That said, I am blessed to have a husband who is able to make an income that supports our family, and he works very hard to make it possible for me to stay home, for which I thank him daily.

Katie said...

Hello! I am going to be homeschooling my 5 year old this year and found your blog via the Faith and Family website. I was trying to click on the links included in this post (and responses) and it takes me to a private blog that I cannot access.

We relocate every two years (or less) for my husbands job and we are just getting settled into a new place and I have begun researching homeschooling again (and need all of the advice/encouragement I can get!)!

Please let me know if there is any way I can access these articles!