Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Our One Room Schoolhouse

(aka...the dining room)

Painting of Indian Rock Schoolhouse by Louise McCutcheon
After meeting an online friend in real life and spending some time talking about what life is really like, beyond the digital medium, it was apparent to me that for a homeschooling mom, I don't spend much time sharing what our one room schoolhouse feels like. I'm not sure why that is other than I guess I didn't think anyone would be very interested, but that's silly because I am always interested to hear what has worked and what hasn't for other people. Maybe it's because I would hate to think that someone would read what I write as some kind of expert speak on the topic.

So let me just put that right out there... I am no expert. I am certainly not a guru, nor do I have anything figured out except for what works for us right now and that has only taken 8+ years of homeschooling to decipher and is subject to change from year to year and child to child. I don't follow a particular philosophy because I find that locking myself into a philosophy only limits me and I want to be free to change my philosophy to suit each child. I would hate for my child to think that they were on the outside of my ideal educational method looking in and feeling inadequate. To me, the beauty of homeschooling is the ability to change to suit the child. It's what the teachers in the big, brick box down the road long for... to free their hands from the bureaucratic ties that bind them and really help each and every child in the way that suits them best! Well, that and... better pay, smaller classes, a decent cafeteria, etc, etc....

Anyway, what I was attempting to do on my blog "break" is to get our materials organized for the current school year and in that I was successful for the most part. As you know, we like to start early, mostly because of the weather, but also, it allows us to take more breaks during the year, too. We also continue with some lessons in the summer, but these are minimally invasive and usually only serve the purpose of offering a little more practice or reinforcement of a skill. Plus, summertime in Texas is so blistering hot that it helps to have something to distract them from the fact that the outside is trying to kill us all!

So, here is a peek into our home educational experience thus far...

The Professor (7th grade) has been a relatively easy child to educate. He does most of it himself. I discovered he could read at the age of four when I sat down to begin his reading lessons and he blew through the whole book in an hour. That is not an exaggeration. I truly didn't teach this child to read, I think he was born knowing. He also loves being an independent learner and as the oldest child of a mother who actually took a class called Independent Study in high school so that she could learn about Art Restoration (God bless you, Mrs. Siegfried) and a father who independently studied his way through homeschooled high school. This particular study style is not a problem in this family!

He recently had to have his eyes rechecked because of his previously diagnosed vision problems and on his usual post-eye doctor trip to the book store he turned down a whole host of fictional wonders in favor of this book: World War II - The Events and Their Impact on Real People. When he gets interested in a subject, he wants to know everything about it. So my job as his educator has been to facilitate those healthy obsessions on topics ranging from trains to tornadoes.

But in the interest of full disclosure, it's been my experience that whenever a mom tells you all about her child's genius sounding capabilities, you can be sure there is an area where their performance has been less than stellar. For The Professor, that is writing. He hates to write. He would rather pull his hair out strand by strand than sit down and write a page worth even if it was about his most favorite fascination du jour. So we have limped along in that area all the while racing to keep up with him in the reading department. I know there are those of you out there who understand exactly what kind of person this young man of mine is because you probably have your own versions at home!

Sunshine (5th grade) is very different and much more evenly paced in her learning. She learned to read at just the right speed and at just the right time. She is a very visual child but has a hard time understanding concepts. Her visual tendencies have given her a more artistic outlook on life, but I wouldn't say she has a naturally artistic vision. Her artistic eye is still something to be cultivated. That is what we have tried to do most with her while at the same time, encouraging her to think about concepts and ideas and focus on making connections between them.

Her artistic eye still surprises me sometimes. I recently purchased a beautiful three dimensional fairytale theater book at the bookstore about Snow White (which is a steal on Amazon right now!) and as soon as we brought it home she pulled a book that isn't one we look at regularly, Let There Be Light, off the shelf recognizing by the pictures that it was drawn by the same illustrator. Because of her incredible interest in all things artistic, we have to encourage her to give things like science, math and grammar a fair shake. Life is not all yarn balls and embroidery hoops, my dear!

Shortcake (4th grade) is a good smush of the older two. She likes to study independently when it comes to subjects like dogs, dogs and dogs and she surprises me with how well she does at math, even though she would freely admit that it's her least favorite subject. She has those same healthy obsessions The Professor does, but the are very tightly focused only on a few areas, so I have to push her to think outside the dog kennel, I mean, box. She is really excited about some science experiments in her science book this year, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if she turns out to have a really good head for science.

BigBoy is just starting first grade this year so it's hard to tell what his learning style will be. Like his brother, he was born knowing how to read and struggles a little with writing, but he is much more willing to attempt it than The Professor was at the same age. Maybe that's because I learned after working with The Professor for those many stressful years to not make a big deal out of it, so he is more inclined to give it a shot.

If this seems like a random post, it's probably because I started it a while back and then I wasn't sure I was going to publish it. Husband encouraged me to because I want to save this for my kids to look back on someday. That is what I try to do here more than anything else.

Updated to add: Barbara reminded me to add that part of what allows us to be so free with our homeschooling is that we live in the *second most homeschooling friendly state. Texans truly treasure their freedoms and recognize homeschools as private schools with no regulation. There are some curriculum "requirements" like good citizenship which we cover in our religion studies and a few others, but for the most part, homeschools are allowed to operate independently of the state government/ local school districts and as they see fit.

*ALSO: Michelle's comment made me realize that my information might be out of date. I remember looking up the information back before we started homeschooling and seeing Alaska listed as #1 with Texas as #2. That was based on state requirements/regulations and compulsory age requirements by an organization which believes that parents should be able to homeschool without any state regulation, interference, or compulsion.

I just found this information from 2001 which ranks states based on homeschooling options and Texas ranks NUMBER ONE (whoo hoo!!!) along with Idaho, Missouri, New Jersey and Oklahoma.


  1. Charlotte, do you follow a particular curriculum or do you make up your own? I have a few years yet before our son is old enough to be homeschooled, but it's something we definitely want to do, and something I feel like I know NOTHING about! If you have any recommendations, I'd be so grateful!

  2. Wait! Who says life is not all yarn balls?! huh? Thems fightin' words, them are, me dear! ;)

    I love reading about the differences in your children and their learning.

  3. This was very interesting, Charlotte. Thanks for sharing. While I currently don't homeschool my children, it is something I will be prayerfully considering for the future. But, in all honesty, I feel like Carrie: I know NOTHING about what I would do and how I would do it. Do you recommend something to read as a "discernment-phase" book? Or even a "starting out" book? I like what you said about your teaching philosophy, how you don't stick to just one. I think that makes sense. And I'm sure it took you awhile to figure out your children's different learning styles. I can tell my kids are different, but how would I adapt a curriculum to suit each of them? Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but it seems overwhelming ... and at the same time fascinating and exciting to know my children's strengths and weaknesses so well and to nurture and encourage them along the way.

  4. Carrie,
    We have always put together our own curriculum instead of going with a packaged one. For me, it all goes back to freedom. When I was teaching (Drama) in a public school, I remember feeling so tied down to the district chosen curriculum that worked well for some of my students, but not all.

    I completely understand the desire for structure and accountability that a packaged curriculum can provide for some families, because putting together my own has always meant that I have struggled with those issues. Look, everyone is going to struggle with whether or not a course of study is the best choice. If you choose an eclectic curriculum, you are going to worry that your child is going to have huge gaping holes in their knowledge. If you choose a prepackaged curriculum, you are going to worry that the program isn't targeting your child's best learning style or that you have lost some of the freedoms that homeschooling provides. You have to decide which worries you can deal with and which ones will weigh on you and cause you too much stress.

    My best advice is to try to realize that no one method is right and there is so much opportunity to catch up on anything you think you might miss in these early educational years.

    For little ones, here is what I recommend...keep them close to you through out your day but don't be afraid to teach them to enjoy some alone time, talk to them, read to them, teach them to read and ask questions, but most of all, have fun.

  5. Sarah,

    I guess what might have saved me the most is that I didn't read too much about educational philosophies or strategies outside of my Philosophy of Education class in college. I have read bits and pieces of some homeschooling "guides" and have talked to a lot of people about what works for them in real life. I have two homeschooling sisters-in-law and a homeschooling mom-in-law who was still teaching up until 2 years ago and live in a community where there are a lot of homeschoolers around. Don't be afraid to talk to people about how a particular curriculum or method actually plays out in practice and be sure to take into consideration learning styles.

    And also, don't believe someone when they say that one method has worked perfectly for each and every child without any tailoring.:) Every child is different. I remember talking to a friend about how wonderful a certain writing curriculum was. They couldn't rave enough about it. When we tried it, it was a colossal failure. Looking back, my friend's child was a very natural writer and so was her mom. My son was an incredibly reluctant writer and so was I at that age so I could sympathize with him. Now, there wasn't anything wrong with the program, it just didn't suit us. I should have asked more about what kind of writer her child was naturally, rather than just listening to her rave reviews of the program.

    I also think one of the biggest pitfalls for some people is choosing curriculum based on the kind of homeschool you want to have more than the kind of homeschool your children need. If both of those things happen to line up, well then, that's fabulous! It hasn't always worked here.

    I think I stayed away from the homeschool philosophy books mostly because I am more of a practical person not an idealist by nature. I try to be flexible to their needs, but also strict in the disciplines I think they need. It did take me a while to "figure them out" and I am still learning every day. I used to stress out about missing something important when they were little until I realized how much repetition there is in those early years. It's never too late to learn something as long as the foundations are there and frankly, some things are better learned and retained when learned at an older age.

    When I started homeschooling, I didn't have a clue what to do either. A lot of it was trial and error with my first two children. By the time Shortcake came along, I started to feel like maybe I kind of sort of knew what I was doing. I am more confident now since I have known my children longer, but I still struggle sometimes. But I really treasure having the flexibility to make changes when I feel like I need to.

  6. Thanks for sharing. You are fortunate down in Texas to have the flexibility to pull together your own plans and have no one to account to (or so I have heard). It's a little more difficult in Ohio (and many other states). This year I am switching Faith to a curriculum that does not come with report cards and I may have to be more accountable for. I'm a little nervous. But, like you said, she needs something different than the boys did, so we're doing it.

  7. Sarah,
    I highly recommend Catholic Homeschooling by Mary Kay Clark just to learn the "whys" of homeschooling. It's very enlightening.

  8. Oh, thank you for reminding my Barbara! I am VERY fortunate to be teaching in the second most friendly homeschooling state. I remember being shocked and horrified when I learned what some states require from homeschoolers and thinking that I didn't know if I could do it, if we lived in a state with more regulation.

  9. Thank you for sharing, Charlotte!

  10. Charlotte - thanks for sharing. My eldest is the same as the Professor. She’s a dream but I’m afraid that she has spoiled me for the others.

    To Sarah and all the other moms who say, "I could never do that (homeschool)." I recently read a post by Melody – Blossoming Joy who writes about the homeschooling journey. “It is not my intention to try and convince every person to homeschool; simply to point out that if a person truly wants to homeschool, most objections are not as big as they think they are.”

    Pax Christi - Lena

  11. Thanks for sharing, Charlotte. I always enjoy what others are doing in their classrooms.

    When I first began, I recalled the pain and agony of lesson plans from teaching Language Arts to 6-th graders. Ugh!

    Personally, for me, I did not want that stress of creating my own lesson plans. I chose one curriculum and have slowly branched off depending on the child's needs.

    That is the beauty of homeschooling. Each family, each parent/child relationship is different and we can create and grow along the way.

    Best wishes to all this year!

  12. I chose one curriculum and have slowly branched off depending on the child's needs.

    I totally see the wisdom in this approach as well and in fact, have discussed with Sean the idea that our high school curriculum might come prepared for us with the option to customize. I have seen that model work so well for my friends who have tried it.

  13. Just curious- you say Texas is the 2nd most friendly homeschooling state... So which state
    isthe first!!
    Michelle p

  14. It just occurred to me that my information might be out of date. I remember looking up the information back before we started homeschooling and seeing Alaska listed as #1 with Texas as #2. That was based on state requirements and regulations by an organization which believes that parents should be able to homeschool without any state regulation or interference.

    I just found this information from 2001 which ranks states based on homeschooling options and Texas ranks NUMBER ONE (whoo hoo!!!) along with Idaho, Missouri, New Jersey and Oklahoma.

  15. Thank you, Charlotte, for taking the time to share a bit more of your journey. I really, really appreciate it. And thanks for the book recommendation, Barbara! It was very insightful to read the other comments, too. I'm just beginning to seriously consider this. I think the thing that "scares" me the most is that I (will) have 6 children, all so young. I am in awe of how moms teach multiple kids, close in age, with little ones running around!

    Anyway, I have no idea where I will end up. I just know that I need to discern this, and I trust with all my heart that the Holy Spirit will guide our family to a peaceful decision.

    God bless!

  16. Charlotte, I came to your blog by way of Red Cardigan. Even though I am not Catholic, nor a mother, I enjoy it. The food you and Jessica have come up with for the Good Shepherd Garden Parties is so creative, and I love your children's birthday party themes.

    I am curious, though, how your school days are structured, since you have 4 children at 4 different levels. If you have ever explained this in a post, please point me to it. Thanks!

  17. Your Professor and mine would get along great :) They sound just like each other. I love how flexible we can be in our homeschooling. Though at 37, Florida isn't as friendly as Texas;)

  18. Great post, Charlotte! You know I have my own 'Professor' as well - right down to the WWII obsession. I remember how he used to rattle off all the Presidents when he was four...This past year he read Churchill's own account of the war (about 3,000 pages worth). Sounds like you and I have a lot in common 'philosophically' as well. But we sure don't live in similar states!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and yourself!