how we homeschool: Jane

Even though Jane and I live only six miles apart, we often go months without seeing each other. But then! One of us sends an email — “Tea?” — and soon we’re curled up in one of our living rooms, or on a front porch, or at an actual tea shop, talking, talking, talking. It’s the best. She’s the best.

Hi Jane! Tell us a little about your family!
We are a family of six. My husband works full time (normal work hours) in the medical field. Before kids, I was a clinical social worker at a state psychiatric hospital for children, but I’ve been at home full time since our oldest was born — he just turned 18. We also have two daughters, ages 15 and 11, and a five-year-old son. 

Why’d you decide to try homeschooling?
I knew I had it in me to teach. Growing up, many people told me I’d be a good teacher — mostly because I liked children and had nice handwriting, I think — and education had been my initial major in college, so I had some confidence in my abilities, even if it wasn’t based on a whole lot.

But what made more of an impact was when I agreed to be the assistant Sunday school superintendent at our church and ended up spending a lot of time working with the head superintendent who happened to homeschool her three boys. Even though our oldest was only a toddler at that point, I peppered her with questions about homeschooling: how it worked day-in and day-out, what she did if they didn’t want to do work, etc. She was very patient and answered honestly. And then she invited me to go with her to our state’s homeschool convention where I attended the sessions for those thinking about homeschooling. I was hooked. I liked the idea of spending time with our son, helping him learn at his own pace, incorporating faith into our learning, and having some control over his exposure to things like video games, bullying, etc. 

My husband came on board pretty quickly. It helped that both my friend and her husband held advanced degrees in the sciences which was my husband’s field as well. No one else in our families had homeschooled, so we knew in some ways we were stepping into uncharted waters, but we were okay with that.

So did the reality of homeschooling live up to the idea?
I think, overall, it did. I felt so positive in those early years of homeschooling. We believed play was so important, and since the kindergartener’s studies took only about an hour — and then in first grade only about two hours — the kids had plenty of time to play and to just be. When one child became an early, voracious reader, I was able to meet his needs and keep him interested. When another had trouble with certain math concepts, we slowed way down until they built confidence and were in a place to move on. A structured school setting wouldn’t have been able to flex with their needs like homeschooling could (and did).

As they got older, how did your homeschooling methods change?
As the kids approached middle school, the benefits of learning with peers and under the instruction of trusted teachers and tutors (that were not me) led us to explore Classical Conversations’ Challenge, a homeschool hybrid program where, one day a week, the kids joined a handful of other students to attend classes taught by a trained tutor. As much as I felt confident in our homeschooling choice and successes in the early years, I began to realize the importance of hearing sincere input from our teenagers. Soon they would be making big, life-altering decisions and we wanted them to be able to flex those muscles. 

How did the kids respond?
Each child has been different. One child did Challenge for four years and then decided that, since he loved the peer-setting and classroom instruction so much, he wanted to try school away from home full time. Another child did one year of Challenge but felt stifled by not having time to do the things she wanted — to babysit and learn sign language — so she returned to homeschooling and we tailored her subjects to meet her interests and support her future plans. One child chose not to try Challenge at all and instead headed into full time school right at the start of middle school. Our youngest will go to school next year for kindergarten, and will likely continue on in school.

Too busy watching the construction workers to break for lunch.

So for your family homeschooling is a way of life that includes schooling, yes?
I guess what I want to stress most is that while I do believe we know what’s best for our kids overall, this can look very different from child to child, and it can change from one age to the next. I don’t advocate riding the wind of our children’s whims and changing their schooling plans accordingly — our kids often said they wanted to go to school while homeschooling, and sometimes vice versa — but I’ve come to believe that I can serve my children best while steering them when they’re young and then, as they get older, teaming up with them to help them steer, as they prepare for their future solo driving. For each child, this drive through education looks different.

This makes total sense and it underscores how in-tune with your kids you are.
I am a planner, and I feel passionately about what I believe, so I credit my flexibility in this area to the grace of God. He softened my grip, and, as a result, this process has felt more natural — liberating for me and empowering for our kids. I entered homeschooling with one vision of what it would be, and then learned that it is more than a one-time choice. It’s a wonderful option all along the way.

What has been your husband’s role through all of this?
I keep referring to myself as the one making the homeschooling decisions but all along my husband has been a supporter. He helps with science fair projects and studying for advanced science tests, but I’ve done the daily teaching. It used to be that sometimes when I heard of other dads doing read alouds with their kids in the evenings, I would get envious, but then I would remember that my husband falls asleep when he reads (even if he’s reading out loud), and I enjoy reading the read alouds too much to hand them over anyway.

You sound like such a chill, relaxed person. Are you?
I am what some people call a Type A personality. Or at least I used to be. Age, experience, and a health crisis have chilled me out significantly. At the beginning of our homeschool journey, I was pretty uptight and paranoid about my choice of curriculum and my kids’ performance. But with experience, I was able to relax and breathe. I began to feel confident in my choices, and I realized that no single choice is perfect, so why sweat it?  I still follow a curriculum and we’ve always had our days scheduled out, but now I am better able to go with the flow and not internalize the hiccups — both behavioral and academic — as failures.

Can you say more about the health crisis? 
In 2017, I suffered from a rare type of heart attack called a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection due to an arterial disorder called Fibromuscular Dysplasia. It’s a long and (from my perspective) traumatic story, but what I’ve gleaned from it three years out is: Life is too short and too precious to allow myself to freak out and be uptight about things that don’t matter as much as I thought. 

Now I take each day as a gift and try to focus even more on creating a safe and loving environment for my family. Since I don’t know what the future brings, stressing only robs me of today. This may sound cliche but it’s real. The beta blocker I take to protect my heart and arteries has the brilliant side effect of keeping me calm (physiologically), which also aids in my chill attitude. I am grateful for the extra nudge in this healthier direction.

Cake made by my younger daughter.

How is life actually physically (and emotionally) different?
There was a time when I thought we needed to accomplish all the work that was listed in the teacher’s guide each day. It took me awhile to realize that even the writers of Sonlight did not expect us to do all of it. It was okay to pick and choose what worked for each child and what fit into our day. Over time, I became the queen of ditching this or that as I saw fit. Some of this is just a byproduct of years of homeschooling experience, but a lot of it, for me, centered around letting go of expectations and giving myself permission to make changes.

I also began to realize that my relationships with my kids were more important than whether or not their work was done perfectly. Early on, I think I strained our relationships sometimes because I was pushing for what I thought needed to be achieved: perfect spelling, solid study habits, neat handwriting, a gracious and cheery demeanor (wink), etc. It is helpful if you can write legibly when you graduate highschool, but our connections are precious and deserve to be high on the priority list. 

Time really does fly and I wish I had loved on them and praised them more. There is such a balance here that is really hard to get right. Thankfully, my kids showed me grace as I learned to extend it back to them.

A few years ago, you decided to become foster parents. How did your homeschooling shapeshift to accommodate this major life event?
The first infant placement came to us seven years ago in the summer, so by the fall we were in a good routine and began school as normal. The Department of Social Services was willing to pay for daycare since they considered my homeschooling a full time job (which it is!), but after our foster child picked up a nasty cold at daycare, the birth mom and I decided not to send him back; she was thrilled that we wanted him home with us, and he fit right in to our school day. I had homeschooled with my own infants before and, while they do cause interruptions, homeschool lends itself to flexibility. Eventually, he returned to his birth mom; they are doing wonderfully and we’re still in close contact.

Our second infant placement — a preemie with special needs — came to us as in the middle of the school year. He needed a lot of care and there were TONS of medical appointments, in-home nurse visits, etc, so we took three months off from schooling. Our oldest worked on his own (he was in Challenge then), and the girls learned all kinds of life lessons during this time, such as specialized baby care, increased empathy, medical terminology, and, via our foster child’s birth family, they were introduced to a new language. 

I’ll be honest: it was stressful. But being able to set the schooling aside for a spell was huge.  When things calmed down, we resumed our studies and worked into the summer until we caught up. The girls loved the break, and they loved caring for the little guy . . . who later became their brother!

Do you have any favorite homeschool resources to share?
When I first started out, two books I found helpful were A Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, and When Children Love to Learn by Elaine Cooper

Curriculum we’ve loved:
Sonlight’s literature and history read alouds and readers.
All About Spelling: I think we tried five spelling programs and this one, hands down, is the best.
Teaching Textbooks: for math, especially as they get older and checking their work becomes a momentous task.
Geography Songs: these songs STICK, although some of the geography is a little outdated (you can correct as you go).

What advice do you have for parents who might be considering homeschooling their children?
Deciding to homeschool can be tough at first — you can feel lonely, even crazy sometimes. Reach out to any homeschool family you might know, or even just know of. Even if you don’t become good friends, you will still get a peek into how others do it and this will help you refine your goals. You may learn a new trick or technique, or you may just learn that other homeschool parents also sometimes feel like pulling their hair out. Some families may (inadvertently) teach you to chill and others may encourage you to make time for art or work a little harder on math. It can also be really helpful for your kids to learn to know other homeschool children — they, too, will feel less alone and different and may even appreciate you more, like when they find out other moms make their kids learn Greek and you don’t. My experience has been that these connections ebb and flow and that’s okay. 

Any final words of wisdom?
No matter what your homeschool journey looks like, you will make mistakes and learn from them. I think this is one of the most beautiful parts of it all — having the chance to start each year, month, or day over again. This might mean switching curriculum, slowing way down, skipping over easy lessons, laughing at each others’ mistakes (when everyone is laughing, of course), learning to be more gentle with each other, sleeping in until nine just because, or taking a teacher work day because the tomatoes need processing RIGHT NOW. 

Another bonus to homeschooling that I wasn’t expecting was that, over the summers, I discovered I missed my children. Oh, they were right at home with me like usual, but I missed the one-on-one time that comes with homeschooling. Thanks to homeschooling, I have a front row seat to watch them grow and learn. I witness the a-ha moments when they learn to read or a new algebra skill clicks. And the cuddles on the couch during read alouds are pretty special, too. So just as I yearn for summer at the end of every spring, by mid-summer, I’m eager to get back to focusing on the kids again.

Thank you so much, Jane! To the rest of you, be sure to check out her blog — she’s no longer posting regularly, but it’s still a weath of all sorts of useful information related to gardening, beekeeping, homeschooling, and parenting, as well as loads of recipes.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.30.20), Asian slaw, for-real serious, the art of human rights, the quotidian (3.30.15), the quotidian (3.31.14), Good Friday fun, braided bread, baby love, grape kuchen with lemon glaze, coconut brownies.


Leave a Comment