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    • Welcome to today’s interview with amacbean.  I’m excited to chat with her about her experiences in homeschooling her five children and to share some of the tips she’s learned in the process.

      Whether you are a homeschooling parent, a prospective one, or are just curious what education looks like without a school bus involved, I think you will find our discussion interesting.

      Before we begin, I should remind everyone of an interesting twist to our conversation:

      Due to scheduling issues, we are extending the timeframe for our interview exchanges from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.

      To avoid missing out on any of the conversation, please make sure to click the blue FOLLOW button at the top of this thread.

      So let’s get started.

      Anne, I’ve followed your homeschooling conversations on Cake, but I don’t get the sense that you were homeschooled yourself.  Can you talk about your background and your family’s path to homeschooling?

    • Thanks, apm!

      My husband and I both attended public school.  After college, he went on to medical school and I opted out of pursuing graduate school for chemistry in favor of being a stay at home mother.  I was working full time from home for SmugMug and the long-term plan was to get an advanced degree and teach high school chemistry.

      I excelled in school and while I had a few awful teachers, many were wonderful and their classes were formative. 

      My husband, on the other hand, had a less positive experience at school. He was teased for being intelligent starting in elementary school.  He really chafed at the idea of jumping through hoops and doing busy work of any kind, and he coasted through high school doing the bare minimum. He didn’t really hit his stride academically until he had more autonomy in college. 

      I hardly knew any homeschoolers growing up and my impression of them was that they were socially awkward. Of course I had a very small dataset and there were plenty of awkward kids in high school also, but that didn’t occur to me then.  

      In medical school we met our first adults who were homeschooled and they were such awesome people that we couldn’t believe it.  I laugh now but I was genuinely shocked at the time. 

      At around the same time, I was teaching our oldest daughter to read. She had just turned 3 but she already loved books and took off reading very quickly.  Math also seemed to come intuitively to her. Before she would normally start kindergarten, she was reading Roald Dahl and doing multiplication. 

      My husband and I had a decision to make, and I had three key data points to consider:

      1) Our daughter was well above kindergarten level. 

      2) I absolutely loved teaching her and watching the world open up as she learned.

      3) Homeschooling could produce well-adjusted, wonderful people.

      Knowing we wanted a large family and this was a big decision, I went to a homeschooling convention to test the waters. I was quickly hooked! It’s so much more mainstream than it was when I was growing up.  There are tremendous amounts of resources out there and all kinds of people are doing it successfully.

      Now I homeschool 3 kids (ages 6, 8, and 11), each at many different levels, all while cuddling a baby and teaching a new 3 year old to read.  

    • Interesting.  I had no idea that gifted education for your daughter played a part in your decision to homeschool.

      I have worked with several gifted students in the public schools, even creating a gifted math club, and it is extremely difficult to provide a challenging and enriching gifted education in all subjects and all grades within the current public school system.

      Thirty years ago, before the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) was passed, the disabilities community tried to collaborate with the gifted organizations to advance legislation that would provide for the educational needs of all exceptional students.  The gifted organizations chose not to partner and, as a result, the funding for gifted education is lacking or inadequate in many public schools.

      On Creating Moments

      Your children’s grandfather was kind enough to share a video of your family watching the Solar Eclipse two summers ago.  I remember where I was on that day and it was a moment that will stay with me for a long time.

      With homeschooling, do you feel that you’re able to create moments with your kids that probably wouldn’t happen if they were instead in public school?

      Are there any special moments or memories that come to mind?

    • Oh definitely. I think homeschooling naturally lends itself to creating at least three varieties of those special moments and memories. 

      I know parents whose kids go to public school, though, who experience something similar because of some deliberate choices they’ve made. I’ll explain. 

      The first type of memorable moment is when you and your child experience delightful learning together. For us, this doesn’t ever look like a Pinterest-worthy craft. It’s much more likely to look like an event in our community that we have a deeper appreciation for because of what we’ve been learning. 

      The eclipse was a great example because I knew about it long in advance and I decided to study astronomy in preparation. We all got curious together reading astronomy books like this one: , attending the eclipse event at the local library, listening to a NASA scientist present at a homeschool friend’s house, star gazing late at night (what a treat for kids!) with high powered telescopes and a guide from the local enthusiast club, etc. Aside from buying the book, I mainly just kept my eyes open for opportunities and jumped on them. 

      I was genuinely interested, which led to my kids’ being interested.  Of course it can go the other direction when you jump into what your kids’ are interested in as well. 

      We’ve followed a similar pattern to study a composer and then see the orchestra perform their works, study one of Shakespeare’s plays then watch a performance, study rocks and then go to a local rock show, etc. 

    • When learning isn’t something you do TO a child, but you do alongside them, it’s a pretty beautiful thing. Homeschoolers definitely don’t have the monopoly on this but it’s easier because you direct the curriculum.  Anyone could find out what their child is learning at school, though, or choose one thing to do/learn in the summer together. 

      ... and sometimes you just plain get lucky. We’d been studying ancient Egypt and reading a great adventure novel set in that time (The Golden Goblet), when we went to our local children’s museum to play. We found out they were doing a special jaw-dropping exhibit on the discover of King Tut’s tomb. Usually I don’t pay extra for special exhibits but I recognized this as a golden opportunity. Every one of us (except the toddler) happily spent hours wide-eyed over that exhibit. I’ll remember the wonder on my kids’ faces over this coffin a long time.

    • The next type of memory I alluded to is at least as significant to me: learning done in the margins. 

      I try to leave plenty of margin in our day for our kids to be just kids. That means even my 5th grader who is passionate about math is doing 30 minutes of math a day and when the timer beeps she’s done. My goal is to put a limit on formal schooling, so my kids have adequate time to be bored and learn how to fix that by being interested in stuff. 

      I have to continually check myself on this because it’s so tempting to sneak in more good academics and “educational opportunities” but I’m continually amazed by the cool stuff my kids come up with all on their own given enough time and brain space. 

      Again, homeschooling generally gives lots more free time in the day but any parent can protect their child’s free time and cut back on scheduled activities to allow more unstructured time. Doing less is more when it comes to childhood I think. Sprinkle some interesting books around the house, give the kids access to the recycling pile and see what they come up with.

      Excuse the poor picture quality, but this was a fun memory for me. I walked into the bathroom to find these girls learning about bats (I think?) and giggling like crazy in the bathtub.

    • Last one... promise! The most special memories for me are probably the everyday ones of just being together as a family. The older siblings snuggling the new baby in the morning because they aren't rushing anywhere. The 8 year old helping the 6 year old with spelling very authoritatively and making atrocious mistakes while the 11 year old and I have tears rolling down our cheeks from suppressed laughter.

      Again, homeschool doesn't have a monopoly on these moments. I think we just plain spend more time together, which helps.

      It does seem to be more common among homeschoolers to have kids really play with and appreciate all ages. There's no eye-rolling about spending time with the younger ones.

      By the way, you asked for "special" moments and I took the positive spin on that word. But homeschooling is definitely not all roses and there are plenty of especially tough and messy memories I could have shared as well!

    • One of the participants in last month’s “How do you Make Maths Fun?” panel makes an interesting point about the current state of mathematics in public education: there are so many standards and concepts to cover that students miss out on the opportunity to spend an entire class period on one truly challenging and engaging problem.  

      It’s clear from the handful of moments you’ve shared that your children have opportunities to delve deeply into areas of genuine interest.

      At the same time, you mentioned that homeschooling wasn’t all roses and that there were messy moments.  Can you share what you meant by that?

      On not raising socially awkward children

      What do your neighbors think of your homeschooling?  Is it more difficult for your kids to make friends? To get involved in team sports or after school activities?

    • Messy moments? Oh there are so very, very many. First, the actual physical mess. Papers and books and forts, oh my! I need to interview a panel of minimalist homeschoolers because we are definitely not when it comes to school supplies.

      Plus, the kids are constantly at home and my attention is divided between them so if I don't have a plan for the toddler when I'm immersed in pre-algebra, I may discover a scene like this when the math timer beeps. Someone had been "making it snow" with the flour bin in the garage.

    • The messy moments I was referring to, though, were more along the lines of personality conflict, power struggles, and strong emotions.

      If you ever experience pushback when asking your kids to do their chores and despair that they will ever learn to just do what needs to be done, imagine the feeling of their entire education resting on them doing what you ask them to do. I have one child who is extremely strong-willed and unless she is "bought in," she won't do an assignment. (She gets this from her father. ;) )

      Some days it feels like I'm trying to spin plates while everyone does their schoolwork. I'll start one plate spinning but as soon as I reach over for another plate, the first plate has a meltdown over Latin or has started bugging her brother.

      Even just among the three kids I'm homeschooling so far, we have some awfully strong personalities represented and it turns out that being family and loving each other doesn't make getting along easy.

      Most days I feel like we're learning a little about historical events and dividing fractions and a lot about patience, diligence, forgiveness and human nature. And I'm of course not talking just about my children. When I'm the single biggest influence on their lives, they'll pick up on my impatience, my distraction and my laziness and model that back for me. Homeschooling is a refiner's fire in many ways. It magnifies relationship issues, but it also provides a path for strengthening those relationships through shared work and play.

    • What do your neighbors think of your homeschooling?  Is it more difficult for your kids to make friends? To get involved in team sports or after school activities?

      If you ask most homeschoolers about socialization, they'll either laugh or get huffy. The general consensus is that it is *not* a problem based on the following:

      1) Only associating with children your own age all day is not real socialization. With only 20 minutes of recess at some schools, this is far from a perfect avenue for learning to work and play well with others.

      2) Homeschoolers are often out in the community taking classes, at a a co-op, or playing with other kids at the park. They interact with people of a range of ages in a variety of settings.

      3) There are plenty of kids at school who are awkward as well, so obviously even traditional school doesn't automatically yield a well-adjusted populace.

    • I think movies like this help to perpetuate the social isolation myth of homeschooling.

      At the same time, I would imagine the socialization challenges and solutions could look quite differently for homeschooling families with only one child.  Perhaps that could be the basis for a future conversation or panel of homeschooling parents.

      Everybody’s favorite subject

      Let’s talk about maths.  You have a background in math and science, which I could see as beneficial as a homeschooling educator.  However, I can tell you from personal experience, as the child of an aerospace engineer, that just because a parent knows math doesn’t mean that they are going to be a good teacher of it.

      What’s your approach to teaching math?  What do you find most challenging about it?  Do you use tutors? And do you think you’ll be able to continue to teach math—or homeschooling in general—when your kids reach high school age?

    • My experience with socialization has been a bit different. I think traditional schooling provides a few key things that are more difficult to come by for homeschoolers.

      Let me say first, though, that I am glad that my kids' model for healthy interactions is primarily their parents. We try to be calm, clear and kind in our interactions with others and I'm glad our kids have that as a baseline (rather than the example of their peers).

      Also, my first two kids are wildly different in terms of social interactions and they are the product of the same schooling. So there's a major component of nature here as well.

      Three things homeschoolers may need to work harder for?

      1) Opportunities to take direction from other adults. My strong-willed child and I have an understanding and rarely have power struggles anymore because I know how to avoid them. However, I actively seek opportunities for her to respond to other adults so she can practice handling what she views as unreasonable requests/demands. They're a part of life, after all. Likewise, not every adult is fascinated by what my 6 year old has to say. Lots of adults would just like him to sit still and listen, and he needs to learn that as well.

      2) The critical eye of peers. Bullying is no good, but homeschoolers tend to be extra polite and accommodating so some negative behaviors needlessly persist. Sometimes having a peer "check" an inappropriate behavior is far more effective than a parent's efforts. One kid your age telling you your breath smells might be all it takes to start paying attention. My daughter has a blunt friend (not homeschooled) who will matter-of-factly tell her when she's being too loud or overwhelming. It's awesome.

      3) Cultural competence. This was really lacking in the homeschooled kids I knew growing up, and I know my kids will struggle in this area as well. We don't watch tv and they spend most of their time with their family so they are mostly clueless about the latest toys, music, movies, etc. This is obviously by choice to a large degree, but I recognize it can make making friends a little trickier at least during later elementary school and junior high.

    • Math! I love it. I am in the minority among homeschool moms, though. I think most find it a difficult subject to teach because either they don't feel confident in their own math skills, or they struggle wanting to make it "fun" for their kids and it turns into a battleground.

      I haven't had any kids who don't love math so far, and I wonder if it's because they pick up on my attitude or because I try to pick up on their learning style. I have one kid who thrives on challenge and one who thrives on an incremental, confidence-building approach and shuts down if we take too big of a leap. So with her I make sure we're doing plenty of review. With the other I still do essential review but I take care to avoid unnecessary repetition so they don't get burnt out. (My third is more typical and would go with any kind of math flow.) Another key is that I teach to mastery, so my kids get the satisfaction of knowing something really well and applying it to interesting problems before we move on.

      I focus a lot on number sense when they're young, favoring concrete tools like an abacus and a ten frame to visualize addition and subtraction and base 10 blocks to show place value. I love making other mathy things available as well: pattern blocks, tangrams, logic puzzles, brain teasers, etc. because we all really enjoy those things.

      In terms of curriculum, we use Primary Mathematics for levels 1 and 2 and then transition to Beast Academy for levels 2-5. I teach them myself with occasional backup from my husband or Sal Khan (Khan Academy) if my explanations aren't clicking. I wouldn't hesitate to use a tutor or an online course for teaching math though, if I felt like I wasn't able to muster up passion for the subject. We use DVDs to learn Latin around here for just that reason!

    • I've been asked about homeschooling high school since my oldest was 5, and I've always answered that I have no idea.

      Just recently I've started to think that I would like my kids to go to high school, so we'll see in a few years if I still feel the same. I would honestly be sending them mostly for opportunity to navigate some of those social things I talked about earlier while still living at home, so they don't encounter them for the first time in college.

      Still though, it seems so far off! I know it'll happen in a blink but for now I'm just taking it one crazy year at a time with this crew.

    • Another key is that I teach to mastery, so my kids get the satisfaction of knowing something really well and applying it to interesting problems before we move on.

      Wait!  You don’t give them a math test on an arbitrary date but instead continue to teach and practice to mastery?!

      What an incredible world if all students were allowed to stay with a concept until they achieved mastery.  

      In sharp contrast to your children’s  experiences learning math, I remember a freshman math class I once taught where we spent the first three weeks of class reviewing fractions, decimals and assorted other concepts that they should have learned in elementary school but were still struggling with four years later.  

      One of the bright spots in public education is the self-paced learning systems where struggling learners practice to mastery and where teachers provide encouragement, motivation and reteaching as needed.  I have taught in such a classroom environment: it is a humanizing experience for students who thought they were incapable of learning math.

      Final thoughts

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights.  You’ve shared some helpful tips during the interview. Any final thoughts or suggestions for our audience?

    • Thanks for the fun interview.

      Hmm, I would just encourage anyone who is interested in their child’s education to think of it in its entirety. It’s more than a worksheet. Even if they’re in a traditional school setting, the things we do in the margins matter. Protecting playtime, allowing kids to experience boredom instead of constant entertainment, reading aloud great books, pointing out the beauty of math... we can do so much help our kids learn.

      Of course if you’re reading this and at all interested in homeschooling, know that it’s simpler than it sounds! It can be tailored to fit just about any circumstance. I’m familiar with someone who was homeschooled for just one year because his parents were concerned he didn’t yet love reading. He spent the year immersed in great books, went back to school and eventually became a great author himself.