Today I’m thrilled to introduce Jan from The Nerdy Farm Wife to all of you as part of my Homeschooling Made Simple series! She is the third blogger who has shared with us how her family homeschools – last week Joell from Red Van Ramblings stopped by, and the week before it was Thaleia from Something 2 Offer. Not only is Jan a homeschooling mom, she has a fantastic blog where she posts all kinds of green living recipes and articles like I do, so I’m sure many of you will enjoy her website as well. In the meantime, it is a treat to hear from Jan as she fills us in on her rather unconventional, almost unschooling type of homeschooling and her struggles and triumphs with a child who is on the Autism spectrum.
Here is Jan, from The Nerdy Farm Wife, in her own words.
Homeschool Journey Beginnings: A Preschool Teacher and Elementary School Tutor
Before I had children, I was a preschool teacher in a small, private school. It was a job that I thoroughly loved! The principal of the school was easy to work with and as long as I covered the basic curriculum, I was free to do fun things with the kids such as: treasure hunts, weekly cooking projects, painting with our fingers and toes, going outside and finding shapes in the clouds and of course, lots and lots of picnics! The children were happy, excited to come to school and seemed to revel in learning new things day after day.
During the same time frame, I tutored elementary students who needed help with reading and phonics. I began to notice what a difference a few years at school made in the attitude of some of these children. The joy of learning had been smothered by long lists of words and meaningless dates to memorize, by hours of busy work, by having every second of their day scheduled for them. These kids were burnt out and they were only in the third or fourth grade! It was a sad and sobering observation that I never quite forgot.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I quit teaching and stayed home with her, and then her brother who was born almost two and a half years later. I didn’t really know the term for it then, but I practiced attachment parenting. I kept the babies in our bedroom at night, nursed on demand and carried them around in a sling during the day. Because I was there, I was able to follow my daughter’s learning cues. She learned to read right after she turned four & quickly progressed to higher level books. Kindergarten was creeping closer and closer, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of sending her off to school!
One fateful day, someone gave us a copy of the book Bringing Up Boys by Dr James Dobson. In one chapter, he briefly talks about homeschool. Something about that stirred my interest and I mentioned it to my husband. To my surprise, he was supportive of the idea and told me to research it further.
Kindergarten Homeschool Was A Huge Success, But My Son Needs Help
After a lot of contemplation, we finally decided to try kindergarten at home, on a trial basis. I sat right down and ordered the exact curriculum that my daughter would’ve learned had she gone to the private school at which I had taught. Of course, once it arrived and we dove into it, I realized the ridiculousness of it all. Here I had a few hundred dollars worth of pointless worksheets, drilling basic phonics rules to a kid that was already reading books like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. I thought that it was necessary to have a curriculum. I still didn’t trust my instincts or know to work with a child’s natural abilities.
Kindergarten went so well, that when began first grade at home, we were completely convinced that we were on the right path. However, at the same time, I was becoming increasingly preoccupied with my son’s chronic health problems. A bad reaction to a vaccine when he was six months old, followed by a series of non-stop ear infections requiring round after round of antibiotics, had left him a hyper, highly allergic and a sick little guy. Because of his auditory processing disorder and severe speech delay, he had to take speech therapy through our local public school system. His behavior was becoming difficult to handle; when we first switched to a new pediatrician, she told us that he was likely somewhere on the autism spectrum or at least ADHD and immediately put him on a gluten-free, dairy free, soy free diet in an effort to help his various health issues while she ran a battery of tests. When markers for celiac came back positive in both children, I had to learn to cook in a completely different manner than we were used to and it was a steep and painful learning curve. One day, at my son’s speech therapy, my daughter, who was normally so easy-going, threw the mother of all tantrums in front of everyone, including the principal of the school. I was embarrassed and at a loss at how to handle this new twist of behavior. I called my husband in tears, he saw I was over my head and by the end of that week, my daughter was in private school. I cried and mourned, but it was what I needed at the time, in order to come to terms with the significant lifestyle changes that had to be made in our family.
I Learned To Trust My Instincts as a Mom
I’ll skip past the very long story of how I reclaimed my son’s health over that year and the following year of traditional school for the both of them to get to the part where we returned to homeschooling for my daughter’s third and my son’s first grade years. This time though, I was older and wiser. All of the things I had gone through with my son had made me stronger and more confident about trusting my instincts as a mom. I knew my children like no other person could and gosh darn it, I was going to stop listening to what I was “supposed” to do and do what I felt was right, for them and for us.
For starters, I tossed all idea of purchased curriculum out the window. The thought of making my own was appealing, but when it came down to it, was a lot of work. I decided to do some go-with-the-flow type schooling. For instance, I knew Columbus Day was coming up, so we started studying explorers. We made a big boat out of a cardboard box, we read a giant stack of library books on the likes of “Erik the Red and Magellan” and “Ponce de Leon”, we drew ships and labeled the parts of them. We cut circles out of cardboard, painted them gold and silver and had a great time counting out our treasure! We dyed several pages of plain paper with a weak solution of tea, folded them in half, I made a quick straight seam down the middle with my sewing machine and ended up with “Captain’s Journals” in which they wrote down the going-ons of the day (sneaky writing practice!) None of these things required a curriculum, but at the same time they were learning spelling, writing, math, history and best of all, creativity. We liked that way of learning so much, we stuck with it!
Homeschooling Allows My Kids to Study Each Subject At Their Own Pace
Currently, I have a sixth and eighth grader. I’ve kept them on the same math level and learning the same topics from the start. My son is advanced in math but weak in spelling and handwriting. My daughter excels at all things verbal, but has a harder time grasping math concepts. If they were in school, both would find parts of their studies extremely easy and boring, while other classes would be frustrating and difficult. Here, at home, I keep in mind which skills need practice and which don’t. For instance, my daughter, the speed reader with a semi-photographic memory, can spell almost any word that you throw at her. Why does she need to study spelling as a subject? She doesn’t and it’s not a concern to me that she ever needs to.
The only thing that I am strict about covering each day is math. If they weren’t such fluent readers, I’d likely be concerned about working on that subject also. I feel that if you can read well and do math well, then you can pretty much teach yourself anything you want for the rest of your life. That’s not to say that subjects such as history and science are not important. They are and should be studied in great depth with lots of hands-on-activities and outstanding literature to really make the subjects come to life. However, there’s a lot of leeway in what you study and when you study it.
I am fortunate in that my sister has her master’s degree in curriculum development and is also a certified master teacher. Every so often, I start to feel like the kids may be missing out on some important concept that they could only get from traditional school. She evaluates their progress for me and inevitably tells me that they are doing great! (Trust me, she would certainly let me know if she felt like they weren’t!) That and the fact that they score in the 90th percentile on their achievement tests (required by our state each year) helps reassure me that we’re on the right track.
Our Typical Homeschooling Day
A typical day in our homeschool goes something like this: I get up about thirty minutes before the kids and do a quick email and blog comment check. Around 9:00 a.m., I wake them up and have a list of the day’s tasks ready and waiting. I’ve found that having a list they can check off makes them move faster plus I’m not having to constantly repeat what I need for them to have done before lunch. I try not to ever nag so that my words actually mean something when they hear a specific request from me. When they were younger, this checklist was a simple pictorial chore chart. They make their own breakfast, brush their teeth, clean their rooms, unload the dishwasher, wash and hang up a load of laundry, help feed the farm animals, and work on a math paper or copy math rules we’re learning into their notebook. (We use a large, spiral bound sketch pad to keep all of our school work in, so that it forms a type of scrapbook by the year’s end. You can read more about that in a post - Homeschooling for (Almost) Free.
After they’ve done that, they read or play outside for a while depending on the weather. Once they’re wide awake, but not too hungry for lunch, I know they are at their peak attention span for the day so I gather them around me on our couch. At that time, we’ll look at library books pertaining to the period of time we’re studying, read through whatever math we’re working on & do a few math problems together. Recently, we’ve been working through The Fallacy Detective (learning logic), Apologia’s Exploring Creation Through Botany and Knights & Castles, 50 Hands on Activities to Experience the Middle Ages. I may have a little printable lapbook style booklet for them to make & glue in their school scrapbook or I may have them draw a little diagram of a cell or a castle. Many times though, we just read and laugh a lot (I can get pretty silly when reading a book; especially if I think it will help them remember a point!)
By that time, it’s lunch, which they usually fix for themselves. We don’t have TV outside of the 3-DVDs-at-a-time Netflix plan, but they are allowed to play video and computer games for a few hours every afternoon. My son is currently enrolled in a Harvard Computer Science online class offered through EdX, so he usually works on his class projects instead of playing games. During this free time, I work like mad on a blog post (or more often, get sidetracked by Facebook and Youtube!) After that, the kids wander off to do their own things such as: climbing trees, knitting, hitting rocks together, playing ball with the dog, riding bikes next door to grandma’s, and so forth until we gather back together for dinner time with Daddy. The evenings are free to spend however they like until about 10:00 when they have to settle in their rooms. They usually read an hour or so before bed, then fall asleep.
While there are multiple opportunities to join homeschool groups and co-ops in towns surrounding us, and we have participated in the past, due to our rural location and the condition of our car, it’s not feasible for us to easily do so this year. Something I’ve been contemplating is having our own little meet-up here at my house with some local homeschoolers, perhaps this spring when the weather turns warm again! My son plays soccer and a few years ago, my daughter took ballet and gymnastics. One of the goals I have for my Etsy shop is to make enough money so that I can afford karate classes for my son (and me!). We’ll see how that goes! The point is, that there are tons of homeschool groups and activities out there, simply ask around at your local library or strike up a conversation with the next friendly looking homeschool mom that you happen to meet. Trust me, we’d love to talk to you!
Jan blogs at The Nerdy Farm Wife where she describes herself as nerdy and awkward (smile), who loves chemistry and doing science experiments with her kids. She lives on a seven-acre “hobby farm” where they care for chickens, ducks, bunnies, goats, dogs and one cat and is the perfect classroom for her family. Check out her new Etsy Store where she sells things like Homemade Rose Cream, Peppermint Elderberry Lip Balm, and All-Purpose Herbal Salve.