a day in the life... / family life / homeschooling

a homeschool interview

Peering into the lives of other homeschoolers is just plain interesting. It also gives us ideas for our own homeschools, our own children and families. It leaves us with a feeling of pride: this is our community, this is who we rub shoulders with, these are the benefits to homeschooling.

I have the pleasure of introducing you to a lovely family that puts their own stamp on the words homeschool family. Meet Tanya, husband, and their two children, N and T.

Tell me about your children.

Two boys, fourteen and eleven years old.

N (14) loves learning independently from books. “Teaching” him is as easy as supplying him with a steady stream of books on his chosen topics. He reads voraciously, with impressive speed and retention. He also plays trumpet (he won first place in BC provincials in Junior Brass.) He uses Khan Academy for his math studies, takes Concert Band at the local high school, and is involved in a variety of group homeschooling activities (theatre, choir, parkour, skiing, pottery). He has completed two university courses online (Intro Chem from Duke University and Ancient Greeks from Wesleyan). He is also using on line high school courses. He wants to be a writer and loves blogging at http://www.sparkdragonblog.wordpress.com

T (11) loves making things, drawing, building and design. He is a skilled woodworker and has been using power tools since the age of nine. He loves turning wooden bowls on his lathe. He wants to be a carpenter and a wood turner. T is a great help on the farm, always part of everything that is happening on our farm, from milking to making hay, and, of course, construction. He plays piano, baseball, in choir, theatre, parkour, skiing, and pottery.

Both boys love performing (music, choir, theatre) and are on the lookout for business opportunities. They earn money doing extra tasks on the farm (on top of their chores), busking in the downtown during the summer, selling woodworking at markets. N has won monetary prizes in musical competitions and T mows lawns. They invest their savings into the family homestead and agri-tourism business.

What brought you to homeschooling?

I remember reading extracts from the works of John Taylor Gatto, John Holt and Charlotte Mason in my course of undergraduate studies. Even though their writing resonated with me, I did not think I would homeschool my own children. After all, I myself had survived, and even succeeded, within the constraints of a public school system, so it must have been adequate. These were my thoughts before I had children, of course.

Homeschooling crept up on us. It made no sense to send our children to daycare to be cared for by strangers, so we didn’t. We treasured the time together, the learning that was happening was fascinating, so preschool held no attraction either. We didn’t have a long term vision of homeschooling ‘forever’. We were just assessing it as we went, and at each point, homeschooling made more sense than sending them away to school.

We waivered once, when N was 7. He was a very early reader, and by age 7, reading was becoming all consuming. I had not expected early literacy. In fact, I was opposed to it, so we decided that Waldorf might be the best environment, as they didn’t have books in grade 1. At Waldorf, N learned to carpet stitch, raise his hand to ask a question, and met his best friend. He also experienced bullying and boredom for the first time in his life. The school devoured inordinate amounts of our time and energy, so we went back to homeschooling the next year and never looked back.

What was your educational background?

BC/BEd, MEd, teaching English for Academic Purposes at Lethbridge College.

What are your goals for your children?

Discovering who they are and what they love/were meant to do, being able to do meaningful work, and have access to resources.

How do you see an education? 

I see it as stoking a fire. Just as in tending a fire, we need to provide fuel and air; in tending to our children’s learning, we need to ensure their access to both substance (information, courses, facts, curriculum, etc) and free time. Pile up too much and you risk smothering the flame. The ‘air’, the free time to get hungry, is something that is most commonly missing in school children’s lives. Time in front of the screen doesn’t count as free time, in my opinion.

What challenges have you faced?

Self-doubt and worry. It is not always easy for me to trust seasonal rhythms and stay content with slower times when the boys spend days seemingly doing ‘nothing’–reading novels and playing Lego. Educationally, I have been ‘institutionalized’ for most of my life, so ebb and flow is not my forte. I excelled at continuous striving. Too bad it involved too much cramming for tests and other such wastes of time. Unfortunately, it is a deeply ingrained habit and the totally natural rest periods do worry me at times.

How have you approached or overcome them?

At my worst, I panic and doubt and try to take over. In my best moments, I trust and inspire. Most of the time, I am somewhere in between.

How does location affect your experience of home education?

The term ‘home education’ hardly fits anymore, as N and T spend more and more time learning away from home. “Open source learning” is a more accurate term and Nelson is an amazing place for it.

We are fortunate to live in a beautiful place: the mountains, the lakes, the river, the town itself. That means a lot to our family.

The concentration of talent in this community is astounding and I am in a state of daily wonder and gratitude that our children can be involved with so many remarkable teachers (whether it is their job title or not). The choir alone would be worth the move to Nelson, in my opinion.

We are part of the like minded community here. With all our quirks, we are rather mainstream for Nelson, and I like it this way. We don’t have to go it alone and we don’t need to endlessly explain ourselves or defend our choices. There are plenty of other families involved in some form of alternative schooling, so the offerings for homeschoolers are plenty, and the company is wonderful.

N and T have amazing mentors, participate in authentic and brilliantly directed group activities. We even make good use of the public school system–there are some great offerings as long as it is not an ‘all or nothing ‘ proposition.

Wow, all I have to say is wow. This gal inspires me. I went on to ask her to share a few of her resources, but though I’m certain her resources are stellar, I can see that it isn’t the resources that supply her children with a rounded, individualized education, it is her approach, her willingness to watch and learn her kids, to enable them and ‘fuel their fire’.

Still, I ask her to give me a few of her favourite books. 

The Story of Science books by Joy Hakim

Elements and Molecules by Theodore Gray

The World of Augustus Caesar by Genevieve Foster and all her other books

Wonderful Life with the Elements by Byunpei Yorifuji

The Secret Life of the Period Table by Ben Still

and presently, she is reading John Taylor Gatto’s “Weapons of Mass Instruction” for herself, and she is inspired.

What are your favourite on-line resources?

Coursera, Khan Academy, chesskids.com, Rosetta Stone

What would you say are your favourite top five resources?

Books, mentors, internet, community, museums.

Thank you for sharing your world with us Tanya! We are inspired.

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