How We Do School: A Guest Post from Jena

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My brain is slowly shifting into school gear. I love back to school. I’m all about getting a fresh start! This week I’ve been busily searching the web for our homeschool resources for next year. (More on that in August.)

One of the things that helps me move in that schooling direction is to read these stories from other moms and how they do school in their families. It awakes enthusiasm in me to do the best I can for my own children.

Today’s story if from Jena, a fellow contributor on Simple Homeschool. Jena’s story is unique in that she has already graduated two students and her youngest has opted for public high school. While Jena may have “retired” from formal homeschooling, her passion for home educating resonates with me.

— Describe your family (# of children, boys, girls, ages, grades)

We are a family of five, plus two dogs, six hamsters, and one rabbit. Our oldest is Peter, who is almost 21 and a second year student at the University of Chicago. Meg is 18 and will be starting college this fall, and Melissa is 16.

— What state do you live in? Illinois

— What’s your educational background (yours and spouse)?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, and he has a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in bassoon. Yes, you can get a “PhD” in bassoon. His undergrad degree was music theory and composition.

— What were “must haves” for your children’s education?

We had very definite goals for our kids. We wanted them to be independent thinkers who would be wiling to stand up for what is right, no matter what. And if they became leaders one day, we wanted them to have the character and credentials that would give them a platform of credibility. I guess it boils down to the idea that we believe our kids are uniquely created to make a contribution in the world, and we don’t know what that is yet. Giving them the chance to develop their talents and build their self confidence would bring out who they were meant to be.

— How did you research your decision?

I started in kindergarten, watching my teachers and planning how I was going to do it better. I have always been very opinionated about education, but I never thought I’d homeschool until I met some homeschoolers and realized the whole thing was legal. It was a dream come true–running my own school district with my favorite students.

— How did you come to that conclusion?

Deciding to homeschool was easy, but my philosophy of education was radical at the time. This was the very early 1990’s, and I was following an unschooling or interest-led model. No one in my universe was doing that, and I didn’t have the Internet to connect with people. When I finally found material by John Holt, I realized I was not alone.

Based on my teacher training, interest-led learning made sense. My psychology and education classes taught me that a motivated learner is the key to success, and every topic can be expanded across the curriculum. So if your child likes airplanes, let that be the basis for all the subjects (like reading, science, art, math, etc). Then move on to another interest.

I believe learning is as natural as breathing, and the more we force it on kids, the more they learn to hate it. My goal from the very beginning was to maintain the joy of learning and the joy of childhood.

— What benefits are you now reaping from your decision?

Peter was the type of kid who wanted to read all the time, and traditional schooling (whether at home or in an institution) would have cramped his style. He grew up to be a National Merit Scholar and is on a full ride scholarship at the University of Chicago, majoring in the History and Philosophy of Science. He just won the Crerar Science Writing Prize. But most importantly, he still loves learning and is a delightful young man. Peter wrote a guest post on my blog, looking back at his schooling.

Meg had a hard time learning to read. She was 10 before it “clicked.” That would have set her back in the school system, labeled her, and devastated her self esteem. Instead, she grew up feeling great about herself, has pursued music theater all through high school, loves to read, and is ready to tackle college.

Melissa is a non-stop creative who would have been one of those kids jumping around the classroom. Instead, she got to play outside, create costumes to her heart’s content, raise various animals, and just be silly. Her homeschooling ended in 8th grade because she wanted to participate in public school sports. So now I have a public schooler in the house. She is doing great, with all A’s and B’s, and has the self-confidence to handle all the junk that goes on at a high school.

Best of all, because we homeschooled, we know each other very well, have great memories of things we did together, and have close relationships. That is priceless.

— What advice would you give to families considering or reconsidering this decision?

If you want to homeschool, you have to be willing to be around your kids 24/7 and to take on the responsibility of their education. It’s not as hard as it sounds. You probably started educating your child as soon as he was born. Home education is just a continuation of the toddler years. Keep teaching them things; keep showing them how interesting the world is.

As a result, you’ll get to see the wonder in their eyes, hear the excitement in their voice, and watch them develop into who they were meant to be. I’d hate to miss a minute of it.

— Jena is an education philosopher at heart, so homeschooling gave her the opportunity to live out her idea of the perfect education. And now that she’s at the end of that road, she loves looking back and writing about it at Yarns of the Heart.

How can we help our kids maintain the joy of learning and the joy of childhood?

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  1. So, so beautifully written! I love reading “success” stories of education… be it homeschool, private, or public. It is a lovely thing when we see children emerge strong, confident, educated, and ready to face the world. Thanks so much for sharing your journey, Jena.

  2. This is perfect timing for me.

    Mom of five boys- two are school age, one of which is dyslexic. We have gone from seeing the public school system as an amazing place to learn, to now seeing it as a place for manufactored educations. The view is very different when your child has a learning difference.

    But still, this is such a hard decision for me. I am not 100% sure I can homeschool and never get a break. One day I have my mind made up and I am 100% confident I can and will do it. By the next day all I can think is … what am I thinking… am I crazy?

    Totally on the fence. For your daughter who struggled with reading did you use a specific curriculum, or just free reading? I would love to know.

    1. @Crystal & Co, Thanks for your comments!

      We tried lots of things with Meg to help her learn to read–every reading curriculum I could get my hands on. And I tried to make it as low-stress as possible, but often she’d end a session crying. When she was 10, it just “clicked” and she could read. I kept reminding myself that the US president Woodrow Wilson couldn’t read until he was 12. I think we tend to rush reading because it’s so hard on teachers to have a child in the classroom who can’t read. But when it’s one-on-one, you can take the time and focus on all the other things your child CAN do.

      Be sure to have a doctor check your child for any unusual things, but if it’s just a matter of maturation, I say don’t make a big deal out of it.

      And about being around your kids 24/7, remember the goal is to get them to be independent, self-motivated learners. I tried to step back and not hover very much. Once you get used to it, it’s very freeing. Being on the public school schedule, on the other hand, is suffocating!

    2. @Crystal & Co,

      All 3 of our school age children attend public school I love having my children at home, but I know they need to interact and learn from other people. Public school isn’t perfect, but neither is homeschooling.
      Our middle child is our most challenging. Public school has been the best decision. She is very creative, learns quickly, but is very stubborn and rules do not apply to her. Her kingergarten teacher was the beginning of an on going change. So loving, understanding, but insistent on respect and rules (just like my huband and me). Try as we have at home, Homeschooling would not have gotten through to her.

      Our oldest child loves to learn, read, and be with other people as well as his family. He loves getting to the bus on his own and back home again on his own. He loves all the hands on science projects. His teachers love having him in class. We are partial, but it’s so nice to hear from his teachers “he is the ideal student.”

      Our youngest daugher is very loving, thoughtful, learns quickly, and loves life. Her teacher this year has had some unfortunate personal tragedies.. I volunteer in the classroom twice a week and have noticed changes. Moms of the other children in class have expressed concern and thoughts of homeschooling their child for the rest of the year. Despite the challenges, this teacher has not given up on her students so neither am I. I want my children to face challenges and learn life long lessons from them.

      Best advice I can offer is listen to the people closest to you. They know you better than you know yourself. If a family member is telling you homeschooling isn’t right for your children, don’t get defensive. Be a responsible adult and evaluate what is being said.

  3. So well said! School labels kids and zaps their self esteem when allowing them to explore the world around them is all they want to do and they will learn from it! I love how you said you wouldn’t want to miss a minute of it!

    I observe families sometimes and it seems that they thought the child was just the cutest most wonderful thing when they were a baby…but as the child got older…oh boy! Watch out! Difficult!…wonder why that is? What if those parents went back and celebrated each of that child’s milestones and explored with them and tried to see the world through their eyes again…I think they would think that child was just as awesome as when they were a baby!

  4. Thanks Jena. It’s so reassuring to hear this journey from someone who has been there. Lots of us homeschooling moms with younger children have these dreams and goals as well but we’re still laying the foundation and trusting it will work out all right.

    I was especially encouraged to read about your daughter’s slow reading progress. My very nature intelligent and inquisitive 9 yr old son is slow to read. We have not pressured him but work with him gently in this area. He now really wants to read because there is so much he, well, wants to read! The motivation is now there but it’s difficult because his intelligence and understanding of concepts is so beyond his reading level (ie: 2 sentences per page) but we’re working through it. I just really appreciated knowing that not all your children were precocious readers.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience with us Jena.

  5. Thank you so much for this! I have 2 daughters–a 13yo who has always been in public school and an 8yo who has always been homeschooled. (I always say that I never knew much about homeschooling and thought was a horrible idea–until I met my younger daughter!) I love hearing from people who are further along on the journey, so I really enjoyed this post.

  6. So inspiring! I just got done reading Grace Llewellyn’s “Teenage Liberation” book and “Guerrilla Learning”, both of which really challenged me to reflect on my own public school education, and college, and what of my learning I actually use in my daily life. Very eye-opening!

    I am researching homeschooling in preparation to start with my kids: ages 14, 7 and five. We are moving from Ohio to California in a few months and I plan to start then. I waver from being excited to overwhelmed and wondering what I’m thinking! Especially with the 14yo; I know there are so many options that homeschooling offers with its flexibility in time and focus, but I get daunted when I think how I am Responsible for his high school “degree”.

    Any tips you could offer on record-keeping, transcripts, community college courses as high school credit, etc. I would SOOOO appreciate it.

    One more note: A major consideration for me to go ahead and homeschool my high schooler along with his younger siblings — even though it would be so much easier and convenient to just let him finish up his “schooling” in a public high school! — is my frustration observing how he comes home from school and switches off his brain from learning to vegging: as though the former only takes place inside a certain building. I feel like these next couple of years are my chance to help him (re-?)discover a love of learning and the ability to stretch himself for the sake of a passion in knowledge and not just for a “grade” from a random teacher.

    Whew. Thanks for your timely post!

    1. @[email protected] are the New Black, Hi Jolyn, I have a few posts about transcripts and college courses, including printable transcript blanks:

      Just view community college courses as a class to put on the high school transcript. And you will have the additional benefit of an outside transcript for your child’s portfolio. In other words, the class shows up on his homeschool transcript, AND the official college transcript. Then, hopefully, he’ll get credit for that class when he enters college full time.

      And don’t forget about AP and CLEP exams–a high score on those can translate into college credit.

      For general record keeping, I have a post about it here:

      I admire your desire to help your son regain his love of learning! He’s a lucky kid and will thank you later. 🙂

  7. This has been the best “How We Do School” yet! Something about the passion and the kindness in this post makes it stick out as great. I also love the fact she let her youngest choose public school. Talk about practicing what you preach! You want to create children that can think for themselves and stand in the midst of a crazy world, and when her daughter chose something different, mom and dad allowed it! I am the type of student that would have gone bonkers as a home schooled student, so I am glad for my public education. My elder brother, on the other hand, would have excelled, had he been given that option. It is nice to read of a family that allowed for the differences in personalities between children to be expressed. I love too the correlation between toddlers and growing children and how we are really just teaching them more about the world and how it works, even as their bodies grow larger. Super!

  8. Great interview Jena, you and your family have been such a wonderful inspiration to me. Especially when it comes to not worrying about if my children will get something like the reading. My son is 7 and had been fighting me on learning to read, but after reading some of your other posts on reading you have helped me to just let go and not worry he will get it when he is ready. No pressure from me and keeping it fun has helped a lot.

  9. Thank you! I’ve visited Jena several times; it’s a nice encouragement when I’m feeling overwhelmed homeschooling 2 teens and 2 pre-teens.

  10. I will be starting the fifth year of home schooling our daughter this year. This was such a good interview with Jena, whose blog I’ve been reading for some time now. I’m so glad to have the opportunity to read this blog as well, and have added you to my RSS feeds.

  11. Thank you. This has been very encouraging to me. We have decided to homeschool our son who is 12 years old. He would have been entering 8th grade in a Christian school. When he was young, he loved to learn. The thing we have noticed most about school was that his love for learning has been lost. He is a great student, but is now just going through the motions. We are hoping that we can bring back the joy of learning and boost his self esteem (which was destroyed). The problem is that I feel a bit overwhelmed. Do you have any suggestions for a beginning homeschool mom of an 8th grader? I have chosen curriculum but feel very ill prepared in the area of planning and carrying out the programs.