Over the years, I’ve been interviewed numerous times for various online and print publications about our homeschooling journey. I recently pooled together my responses from several different interviews because people kept asking for “my story” about how we homeschooled and why.
So, for those of you who were curious, here you go. 🙂
1) What was your first impression of the concept of homeschooling?
I first heard about homeschooling in the early 1980’s. I worked with a man whose family was homeschooling. I’d never heard of the concept and my first knee-jerk response was, “Oh my gosh! How horrible!” I valued education so highly that I thought it was bordering on serious negligence to not send kids to school. Silly me. At the time, I was equating school with education. But I learned otherwise soon enough.
2) Why did you decide to home educate your children?
The story of my homeschooling co-worker and his family continued. I grilled that poor guy almost non-stop whenever we had time at work just to chat. Fortunately, he was calm and incredibly reasonable about all my questions. Almost before I knew it, I had an “Ah ha!” moment and realized that one-on-one tutoring was the single best style of educating someone and that tutoring was essentially what homeschooled students would get everyday of their lives throughout their educational career.
With that one sudden flash of insight, I became a dyed-in-the-wool home education believer. And this was before my husband and I even had children of our own! It would be another four years before we had our first baby. I feel I can honestly say we’ve homeschooled from birth because we knew long before we even had kids that we would home educate, and I started researching educational methods way back then.
3) What is your family situation (married, single, how many kids, working mom, etc) and how does this affect your homeschooling?
I’ve been married to my husband for 35 years, although he had to move out ten years ago when he was diagnosed with a fatal degenerative brain disorder (Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia) and it became unsafe for him to remain in the home with us. I’m essentially the single (though still married) mom of three adults (28, 25, and 20). All three children lived at home after graduating high school in order to save money while they were in college. My oldest daughter is now married, my son moved out last year, and now it’s just my youngest daughter and I at home (plus our beloved cats and bunnies). I work as much as I can from home doing freelance writing and promoting my books and web-resources. I also pick up hours as I can at local businesses. I worked full-time through the holidays at the REI Call Center, for example.
While the kids were young, I was a stay-at-home mom. Homeschooling was easy back then, but difficult, too, because money was super tight. I learned to keep our homeschooling expenses as low as possible, and even ended up writing several books on living frugally as a result of our family’s lean financial times.
After my husband’s diagnoses and the subsequent loss of the majority of our family’s income, I’ve never stopped the whole frugal thing. I found my kids were always willing to do odd jobs and find part-time work to provide for their own spending money — which was probably an education in itself for them. They have a great appreciation for the simple things in life, and never take for granted even the most normal things.
4) What method or approach to homeschooling do you use?
We’ve used a combination of Charlotte Mason’s methods and unschooling. I was inspired early on by the books Homeschooling for Excellence by the Colfax family (unschooling), For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer MaCaulay (Charlotte Mason), and Better Late Than Early by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. We usually did our Charlotte Mason studies in the morning and unschooled in the afternoon (although there was a lot of overlap).
I returned to college to finish my degree, and in one of my classes, I wrote a research paper about which homeschooling methods are most effective depending on what results you want to see in your children. You can read my paper online at:
5) Have you always used this approach?
The only time I ever tried anything different was the very first year of Kindergarten for my oldest daughter. I guess I was feeling insecure about teaching my own kids, so I purchased the complete Kindergarten package from Calvert School. I felt it was the program that best fit with Charlotte Mason ideals at the time (there weren’t a lot of curriculum options back then). Much to my surprise, my daughter had already learned EVERYTHING in the entire Kindergarten curriculum just through us living our lives naturally and educating organically. Rather than feeling I’d wasted my money on that year’s curriculum, I always felt it was the best money I ever spent on homeschooling because it bought me confidence in my abilities to teach my own. Never bought another box of curriculum again.
6) What are the advantages of this method you’ve seen in your family’s homeschooling?
As I was already committed to home education when I first read For the Children’s Sake (my introduction to Charlotte Mason), the book helped to cement my dreams and visions for our family, and gave me reassurance that I, as my children’s mother, could provide — not just an adequate education — but a rich and full educational experience for my children.
I remembered all too well the long hours spent idly during my own childhood sitting in school reading dry-as-dust textbooks, studying only to pass the test, learning to play the “game” of pleasing the teacher, and always feeling that there was so much more out there in life to learn about, ponder and experience. I wanted so much more for my own children. I wanted them to feast their hearts, souls and minds on fine literature, awe-inspiring art, majestic music and great thoughts. I wanted them to learn how to think—not just learn to pass a test. I wanted them to be prepared spiritually, intellectually, morally and academically to pursue wholeheartedly whatever passions were in their hearts for the future, whether in the fields of academia, medicine, art, missions, or whatever.
I can honestly say my children have grown into thoughtful, strong, self-assured, ethical adults. They’re well-prepared for college. Critical thinking is second nature to them. They’re not peer-dependent. They’ve each been able to pursue their individual passions fully (social sciences, philosophy, art) which is something they probably wouldn’t have had time for in a regular school setting or even in a more traditional textbook and heavy curriculum-based home school.
7) What has been your homeschooling philosophy or objective?
I’ve always been a big fan of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophies and have attempted to apply them to our homeschooling efforts. Charlotte Mason developed a lifetime love of learning in her students by engaging the children firsthand with nature, literature, science, history, art, music, and avoiding dumbed-down materials as much as possible. The main focus of Mason’s educational ideas and philosophy was having the students read top quality literature—real books rather than textbooks—and delving into a wide variety of serious topics throughout childhood. Mason described most literature written to children as “twaddle” and felt that childish materials should be avoided at all costs.
8.) For those who don’t know, who was Charlotte Mason?
Charlotte Mason was a British educator from the early part of the last century. Her methods and philosophies have recently experienced a resurgence—especially among American homeschooling families. Her emphasis on developing a lifetime love of learning was in stark contrast to the almost anti-child climate of her time. According to a World Wide Education Service (WES), pamphlet, she lived in an era when “they practised reading, writing and arithmetic, sitting bolt upright on hard chairs (no slouching was allowed!) and writing on a piece of slate which could be wiped clean and used again. They were often given long lists to learn by heart, such as capital cities or dates from history or hard spellings. If they did not learn their work they were punished, sometimes by caning…”
In response to her own experience and education, she conducted lectures, wrote numerous books on educational topics, founded a school for training governesses and others working with children in her methods, and published a monthly periodical called The Parents’ Review which allowed her to stay in touch with her followers throughout the country (and the world). Eventually the Parents’ Union Schools based on her philosophies sprung up throughout England and her training school became a college to supply teachers for the Parents’ Union Schools.
9) Are Charlotte Mason’s philosophies still relevant today, in the 21st Century?
I believe Charlotte Mason’s basic philosophies are timeless. Developing a lifetime love of learning is something that’s never out of date. The mission of my website, A Charlotte Mason Home, is to bring Charlotte Mason’s ideals and methods to modern families. I believe that Mason’s teachings are timeless, and I’m definitely not afraid to move those ideas out of the past and into the modern age. While I enjoy Victorian decor as much as the next person, I believe Charlotte Mason would’ve made use of every modern convenience, development, and scientific method available. She was considered a bit avant garde in her day and surely would have today, as well.
10) When starting to home educate the Charlotte Mason way, what do you think should be the focus?
For someone new to Charlotte Mason’s methods and philosophies, I would recommend that they start by focusing on finding good twaddle-free books to read.
Charlotte Mason also had much to say on establishing good habits in children. She believed that habits (good or bad) are like the ruts in a path from a wheelbarrow going down the same trail again and again. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to run the wheelbarrow outside the rut, but the wheel will always run smoothly down the well-worn rut in the path. By training children in good habits, the school day (and home life in general) goes more smoothly. Focus on one habit at a time for 4-6 weeks rather than attempting to implement a long list of new habits all at once.
I would also focus on Nature Study. For some easy ideas of how to easily add nature study into your home school, read my article on Natural Nature Learning.
One thing I’ve discovered with homeschoolers in general, is that we tend to be a pretty independent-minded group. Since each family is made up of a group of unique individuals, it makes sense that my applications of these ideas in our home would be different from someone else’s applications. As Catherine Levison (author of A Charlotte Mason Education) so humorously states in her seminars, the Charlotte Mason “police” won’t be showing up on anyone’s doorstep, so I feel the freedom to educate my children with the combination of methods and philosophies that we decide are best for our home.
If someone has only just recently been introduced to Charlotte Mason’s ideas but have already purchased this year’s books or curriculum, don’t fret or worry. You really don’t have to throw out your entire curriculum or all of those expensive textbooks (at least not yet). Here’s a brief description of what I recommend for people just starting out with CM: Where to Begin?
11) How did you spend most of your homeschooling time?
While we were actively homeschooling, we spent the most time reading aloud together from books (classic literature, history, philosophy, geography, etc.), doing Nature Study (taking nature walks, keeping nature notebooks, visiting zoos, etc.), and we were also actively engaged in our local community.
We also continually practiced Narration, which is essentially just retelling what you’ve heard, seen or experienced—thus cementing the learning process. The whole idea of narration made sense to me right away because I saw how natural it was to want to tell someone about a good book or a fun movie, and then in the retelling, the story seemed to come alive all over again, living in the memory in a new way because of the retelling. I also saw clearly that if someone knew they would have to retell something they’ve read or seen, they’d listen intently.
For a number of years, we followed a schedule that really helped to keep us on track. You can find our schedule at: Debi’s Schedule
As my children launched into their college studies, I would say that their intensive experience with narrating throughout their homeschooling years was the single best thing we did to prepare them for college-level reading, writing, and thinking. My children never thought of narration as some sort of official school thing we did. They’ve often told me that they just thought of narration as “Mom’s funny game” we’d play every day.
12) What types books or curriculum did you use in your home school?
We didn’t use a lot of actual curriculum per se, but pieced together our own from books in our home (we have 2,000+ books on our shelves now!), from free book texts online, and from our local public library.
Rather than purchasing a curriculum or teacher’s manual of some sort, I’ve used the What Your First Grader Needs to Know (and others in the series) as our basic scope-and-sequence of what to learn and when from Kindergarten through sixth grade. I supplemented the readings and information in those books with twaddle-free “living” whole books.
- Twaddle is what parents and educators today might call “dumbed down” literature. It’s serving your children intellectual happy meals, rather than healthy, substantive mind- and soul-building foods. Charlotte Mason advocated avoiding twaddle and feasting children’s hearts and minds on the best literary works available.
- Living books are the opposite of dull, dry textbooks. The people, places and events come alive as you read a living book. The stories touch your mind and heart. They are timeless.
- Whole books are the entirety of the books the author actually wrote. If the author wrote a book, read the whole book. The opposite of this would be anthologies that include only snippets from other works—maybe a chapter from Dickens, a couple of paragraphs from Tolstoy, etc.
13) What types of activities were your children involved with outside your home school?
Over the years my children were involved in both formal and informal cooperative types of groups and classes with other homeschoolers (science, history, Moms/kids groups, camps). They were involved with writing, editing and publishing a newsletter with a group of unschoolers from our community for several years. We studied a number of short stories with some friends. My kids all took ballet. There have been music lessons, a neighborhood 4-H Club, nature camps, Vacation Bible School, and the list goes on and on. Who says homeschoolers aren’t socialized? Sometimes I felt I needed to guard against too much socializing!
I usually limited my kids to one activity of their own each season so I wasn’t driving all over town all the time. I wanted to homeschool, not car school. A lot of the outside things we did were things everyone could be involved in at the same time. For example, when my younger two were attending a local nature camp, my oldest daughter and I volunteered as camp leaders.
Other than a science/history co-op we did with four other families for a year, I never really liked using the local homeschooling cooperatives that were springing up. I found that the other parents really didn’t understand the direction I was going with my homeschooling. It seemed to me they were basically recreating a traditional classroom setting for their kids (which was actually what I was trying to avoid through homeschooling).
I wasn’t motivated to homeschool from a desire to shelter my kids like many of the other homeschooling parents I was meeting back then. I was motivated mainly by educational and philosophical goals which sometimes put me at odds with the powers-that-be in local homeschooling support groups who focused mainly on textbooks, co-ops, and curriculum. So I usually just ended up forming my own groups, usually pretty casual and easy-going groups, with other like-minded home educators. I guess I’ve always been a bit of a rebel and willing to forge my own path and avoid going-with-the-crowd.
14) What was your biggest challenge of homeschooling high school students?
Probably the biggest challenge of homeschooling high school students for me was letting go of the fear of whether or not they were learning what they need to be learning. With my first high school student, we used the fairly free-form version of Clonlara School’s home study program. Clonlara can work with any style of study (from textbooks to unschooling) and the student comes out of it all with an official high school diploma. It was a great program and I highly recommend it, especially if you need an official diploma for some reason. It’s also a great option if you have extended family members who are concerned about your ability to educate your older kids. Just being able to say my daughter was enrolled in a “real” school and that we were in contact with a “real” teacher seemed to set all the naysayers at ease.
Also, by using the Clonlara program with one child, it had a similar effect as buying that Calvert curriculum for Kindergarten years before. My confidence grew by leaps and bounds, and I also learned a lot about record keeping and what constitutes a solid high school education.
My younger two kiddos both graduated from our home school without using Clonlara — a testimony to my increased confidence as a teacher, but also a result of becoming essentially a single mom and having to survive on a super limited income after it became necessary for my husband to live separately from us. There was just no money for paying for a program like Clonlara anymore. But that was okay. I’m glad I had Clonlara for one student so my confidence level was prepared for the difficult next stage of life in our family.
15) What has homeschooling taught you about yourself and your children?
I’ve learned that even though my kids all have the same biological and social background, they’re each very much individuals. I’m so glad they were home educated so they were able to bloom into their full potential without someone trying to place them into an educational or social box that wouldn’t have fit any of them.
I’ve also learned that I can trust my own instincts. Sometimes I would find myself comparing my laid back, casual homeschooling approach to some of my textbook and curriculum friends and wonder if my kids were missing something. But I kept reminding myself that it didn’t matter what other people were doing. What mattered was what I was doing, and if it was successfully working out with my children and our family.
I also noticed that many of my more traditional homeschooling friends were burning out by high school, and sending their kids off to the local public or private school, even if they personally didn’t believe in sending their kids away to school. I thought that was sad. I can honestly say I never felt burnt out.
Not only did my children develop a lifetime love of learning, I developed a lifetime love of teaching. I returned to college at the same time as my oldest daughter and completed my BA (Interdisciplinary Arts & Science: “Arts, Media & Culture” — Literature focus), and then I began Grad School in September 2014 (Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Poetics). My long term goal is to teach at a community college or university and to start a writing center and tutoring service for elementary through high school students based on Charlotte Mason principles.
16) Finish this sentence: “Homeschooling is …”
Homeschooling is … the single greatest choice I’ve made in my life and has allowed my children (and me, too!) to grow and flourish, even in the midst of some incredibly difficult life challenges.