Saturday, August 10, 2013

Homeschooling Evolution

The boys drinking sparkling grape juice at one of our favorite local wineries.

You did then what you knew how to do.  When you knew better, you did better.
Maya Angelou
I have been homeschooling both boys from the time they started "school", around 5-6 years old. I decided to homeschool because I personally love to learn but never enjoyed school until I started college.  I grew up in a "free range" time where my parents never forced me to study and just expected me to do my own work/projects and pass classes.  They would glance over my grades each report card period and make sure I wasn't failing anything, but other than that they were pretty much hands-off in my education.

My mom did have to go to see my teachers and even my principal a few times every year because I apparently had undiagnosed ADHD and some dyslexia and had trouble sitting still in class.  My mom says that if I had gone to school these days they would have suggested medicating me..

I personally think I was fortunate that back then they didn't know much about those things and instead of being told I had a disorder and was disabled, I just realized that I had to work a bit harder than the other students.  Those days they wouldn't label us (other than "Rita is annoying") and they didn't put us in special classes, so my teachers would simply give me extra work to keep me occupied.  I would grade papers, help organize things, and over-perform on projects.  My leaf collection in middle school only needed 25 leaves and mine had 40...

I personally think that having some ADHD as an adult has been beneficial for me and made me a better person.  How else could I run this blog, homeschool, do blog designs, run a house, and have time evenings to drink a glass of wine and read for fun?  The dyslexia never held me back once I realized that I just have a unique way of learning things.  I am not disabled, I just don't fit in the "normal" mold.

I graduated 11th in my class of almost 300 in high school without even trying, and managed to get in Texas A&M because of the "Top 10% Rule".  I figured I was pretty smart and would do great, but unfortunately I found out that first semester I had retained nothing from high school.  I was brilliant; brilliant in memorizing for tests and getting good grades.  I had been so bored all of those years that nothing "stuck".

I really liked college because I finally had a choice of what I wanted to study.  I felt like the years I spent in school before college were similar to being imprisoned.  I was forced to go, and I had no control over anything.  Sounds like prison to me...

At A&M I could finally concentrate on taking classes that actually interested me (advanced science) and take amazing electives taught by people who had worked in the field they were teaching and were excited about the subject (like Nautical Archaeology taught by Dr. Bass).  Sure, there were some boring filler courses, but I was finally having fun and things were "sticking".

I graduated with a BS (I laugh every time I type this) degree in Genetics and decided to work in the field a while to see if I wanted to continue with graduate school.  This was a brilliant decision for me because I found out that as much as I loved research, I had absolutely no interest in getting a PhD in my field.  I loved planning and doing experiments and analyzing the results, but despised reading and writing technical papers and had no interest at all in begging anyone (including the government) for funding.

So after over a decade of working in labs I decided that I wanted to start my next career of "baby-raising" and I left the lab permanently two days before having Duke.  I was terrified at the time because I was entering the great unknown.  Would being a mom be enough?  Would my brain atrophy?  Was being a Mom really as overwhelming and stressful as portrayed by the media and many of my friends?  Would I ever be able to get another job after taking time off?  What in the world would I do next?  No one wants to see "Full-Time Mom" on a resume.

Like most anxieties, what you worry about the most never happens and I loved staying at home and being a full-time mom. I was often exhausted and sometimes bored (what, you pooped AGAIN?), but most of the time I was just in awe of my kids.  I knew I was blessed to experience such an amazing biological and spiritual "experiment".

Evenings when the boys were in bed and my husband was working I would read up on things that interested me. Besides the many baby/child books I studied, I taught myself to sew and designed my own cloth diaper pattern (the Rita's Rump Pocket).  I learned how to embroidery, took up chicken farming, learned how to make homemade bread, painted the entire interior of the house, installed laminate flooring, and fixed the valve on the water well pump.  I taught myself photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and web design and started this blog.  There was never a time that I wasn't learning something new, so my fears of brain atrophy were never realized. ;-)

I did all of this without taking any classes, and I never had any school anxiety.  I learned by reading books, talking to people, googling, and sitting down and actually "doing it".  Best of all, I was never bored.

It seems that our society tries to portray learning as something tedious but necessary we have to do as kids in schools.   But in reality we were created with a passion for learning, throughout our lives.  My 90 year-old grandmother just started using Facebook.  My mother took piano lessons for the first time in her 50's.  My husband is never without a pleasure-reading book on science theory.  I learned some HTML in my 30's.  I don't think my family and I are brilliant or especially motivated.  We are normal people with normal intelligence doing what normal humans are meant to do to be happy.

When I started homeschooling I was using the The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home as our homeschooling resource.  It is a great book but incredibly detailed and overwhelming.  Last year we entered a Classical Conversation community because I decided the boys needed to be in a class interacting with other students and I wanted to meet other homeschool mothers.  This once a week co-op had pros and cons for our family (which I will discuss in a future post), but again the boys and I sometimes found homeschooling overwhelming, stressful, and boring.

This summer I decided to read everything I could about school and homeschooling and educate myself further to determine our plans for the new school year.  Homeschooling parents usually do this all of the time; we are willing to switch things up that aren't working for us or our kids.  We can't blame schools or teachers if our kids turn out stupid, end up in prison,  beat up their friends, or live at home until they are 50; it is all on our shoulders.  ;-)

I read some wonderful books like Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education, Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners, Radical Unschooling - A Revolution Has Begun-Revised Edition , and Free to Live: Create a Thriving Unschooling Home.  I also googled unschooling and and read many unschooling blogs that were really inspiring.   I realized that I myself thrived in an unschooling environment (even with all of my "disabilities"), and that my kids learned best when they were doing what they loved.

After all of my research and some soul-searching, I have decided that I am a "creative homeschooler" parent.  I will continue to teach the three R's using some traditional curriculum (especially for math) and the rest of the time we will "unschool" and have fun going on field-trips, reading, visiting with family/friends, watching videos/googling, and DOING.  I reserve the right to change my mind whenever I want.  I am very independent-minded and don't like being told how to raise my own kids.  Thank goodness I live in the great state of Texas where parents are allowed school (or "unschool") choice.

One beauty of homeschooling is that your "students" never have disabilities or disorders.  Duke (8) is rushing through math with ease, but took quite a bit of time to learn how to read.  If he were in public or private school he would have been labeled "slow".  However, we took our time and now that he can read I can't keep him away from books.   He sneaks up to his room to escape his brother and I have caught him reading everything from comic books to novels to science/technical books.  He taught himself how to make pom pom animals, complex marble slides, and now has moved on to origami and crazy-difficult paper airplanes.

Imp (6) refuses to read and says that it is not important, but yesterday he told me that "boomerangs worked because of lift and gyroscopes" and then asked me what was a gyroscope.  We pulled up some YouTube videos and learned all about gyroscopes.  Then Dad, who is a personal pilot (who never flies anymore...), explained about lift and how it works on planes.  Then Duke chimed in and they had a discussion about things we use daily that have gyroscopes.  They moved on to how they were going to build a high tree house in our backyard without hurting the tree and were trying to decide how much wood they would need.  That was our math and physics lesson for the day, and they didn't even realize they were in "school".

Homeschooling is not for everyone and my husband and I were public school kids and I get to work at home and my husband is an optometrist with a MS in Biochemistry and his own clinic.  So  we turned out fine.  :-)  All parents should have school choice for their children and be able to do what is best for their family.  But as long as both the kids and I are having fun in our homeschooling adventures and I feel that we are all learning then we will continue on our path of creative homeschooling!

Now, if you are still reading I wanted to talk about the photo I posted above.   A few weekends ago we went to Messina Hoff Winery. My husband and I enjoyed a nice red wine on the patio overlooking a beautiful little pond while the boys had a bottle of sparking grape juice. After they ate most of the cheese off our two cheese plates, they spent the next hour at the base of the pond trying to feed/catch the turtles and minnows.  Then they got a bit muddy trying to catch baby frogs.  Imp, who is a big fan of Man Vs. Wild, tried to construct a minnow net out of grasses (it failed) and then started bringing me leaves from various trees and testing me on their identity.  The boys then walked around the pond and studied the grapevine irrigation system and discussed the I Love Lucy where she stomped grapes,  wondering out loud if she got toe jam in the wine.  Then they discussed the time we made homemade muscadine wine (later blog post) and how cool it was that yeast ate sugar and pooped out carbon dioxide and alcohol.

While the boys were "doing school", my husband and I drank our wine and had a quiet romantic date.  Life can be grand for this homeschooling family.

If you are a homeschooling parent or child, I would love to hear about your adventures!  Write about it in my comments and/or link your personal homeschooling blogs.  I would love to hear what methods you use and what methods you found to be a disaster.  :-)

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  1. Well, I had no idea you were a homeschooling family.
    We also were...3 kids...the youngest is now 21.
    She graduated Indiana University at age 20 and is now working for the US Forest Service (her major).
    My oldest son is a tool and die maker (he can machine just about anything, I think)
    and my middle son is a "free range" carpenter, mechanic and welder (anything with tools).
    We loved the life and were also quite eclectic in our curriculum choices.
    They are all successful and we love spending time together.
    My oldest son is married and I have two grandkids...
    and they are being homeschooled.

  2. You sound so much like me, both with your personal educational background and the homeschool style you've chosen. We are doing Five in a Row this year. A blog I L-O-V-E is about project based schooling:
    It's amazing.

    Megan @ lemon tree studio

  3. My parenting motto has always been to do the best I can with the information I have. Figuring out what's best can be tough though! I currently have one homeschooled child and one in public school. My oldest (9) reads at a high school level, but struggles so much in math. Putting him in school wouldn't do him any favors in either area. My daughter (7) needs mom to be mom and teacher to be teacher. At home, we've tried many things, but have finally settled on Tapestry of Grace for our major curriculum. We also did Classical Conversations, but found it too much to continue on our own when we moved to South Korea. While we have a formal curriculum, I'm also something of an unschooler as well ... even with my daughter who is in school. I think it's just about taking advantage and intentionally teaching your kids from the every day stuff. Happy (un)schooling!!

  4. We are a homeschooling family. My daughter is just starting kindergarten this year so we're still experimenting with what is going to work for us.
    I'm currently leaning toward unschooling/project-based methods since I am an eternal student and I've learned that I learn best when self-directed, so it might follow that my children do as well.
    However, I am more than aware that homeschool is an evolutionary process. I've learned that much in the two years since we decided to set out on this journey.
    I just started blogging again at to help me document all that's going on in our journey right now.

  5. Hi, Rita! I so enjoyed reading this post. I am an aggie, too (class of 98.) I would really love to homeschool my children but I am scared! I have 4 boys (the oldest is 8) and will be in 2nd grade this year. I have another starting kindergarten. I also have a 4 year old and 17 month old. I am not looking forward to school starting again because of the hustle and bustle. I love summer when my kids are home with me....I'm just not sure when we would actually get around to learning the curriculum. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  6. Love this post,Rita! I'm one of those "dyslexics" that struggled in school, but it turns out my mind was perfect for photography. Education needs a major overhaul. Loved reading your interesting story. You do SO much for others!

  7. Shannon Anderson BrandtAugust 11, 2013 at 9:57 AM

    I have loved your posts and have learned so much from you! I have two boys (21 months apart) and I homeschool them and have since forever. Hands on learning is the best method and learning by discovering..... Although we follow the Language and Math curriculum quite closely especially now that they are entering grade 9 and grade 7 - WOW, it has flown by! Born in 1970, I had a childhood that was "free range"; open prairies to explore, take your bike and you could go anywhere! (from Alberta, Canada). Also like you, if I want to do something, I just go learn how to do it, very independent minded; my boys are a lot like this as well. Keep up the great work! And thanks for all you do!

  8. Another reader here that homeschools. My blog post from last week detailing what curriculum we use makes it look like we sit at schools desks all day long churning out one thing after another, but in actuality it's closer to what you describe. While I do use curriculum for Science and History and such, it's more of what we use when our interests aren't taking us elsewhere (which is why we are only half way through a year's worth of Science and History, even though we have spent more than a year on it).

    Yesterday I called my kids away from a documentary on lizards in Australia because they hadn't put their laundry away as I asked them to do. I felt a twinge of guilt about pulling them away from something educational, but they are doing something educational most all of their free time anyway and the laundry really did need to be put away. Currently, my 10 and 8 year old boys are planning a Nerf gun reenactment of some Revolutionary War battles, hoping to get other homeschool kids involved. Not only are they learning history about the battles, but they are discussing issues about organization and taking turns (no one will want to be the red coats the whole time).

    Anyway, I found your post fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

  9. First I want to thank you for all the information that you provide so we can use it to "teach" ourselves how to be better at photography. It is inspiring.

    I have homeschooled for 20 yrs now and just graduated my youngest. I have three boys all with various interests and abilities who are happy productive adults. Highschool is awesome so I want to encourage you not to give up in those years. It's when everything you worked at and wanted to encourage them in comes to fruition. It is a joy to see them come into their own and take off. There have been no regrets in moving to the beat of our own drum.

  10. Thanks for sharing so much insight into your family and life. Seems with every post, we get to know you more. Your comment about finishing school and realizing that you'd done the work and tests with good grades, but retaining none seems to fit me also. I always thought and people told me I was so smart because I got good grades, but I figured out later that I have a photographic memory so could remember and do great on tests. I have retained more that I've learned later in my life of 67 years. I think schools should be realigned and maybe not a set 6 hrs or whatever and get to choose subjects or something different to make it not so tedious. Thanks so much for sharing. The photo of the boys, as always is precious.

  11. Hi Rita, I just came across your blog tonight and you and I sound a lot alike (except I graduated from the University of Texas and was pretty much raised a Longhorn-- I know you won't hold that against me...LOL) I grew up in Austin, but moved to Georgia after getting a job at CNN. I worked there for 10 years, mostly as a video editor. I quit my job after our second child (now 9 yrs. old) was born and started to homeschool our oldest (who is now 13). This will be our 9th year homeschooling and it has been quite the adventure! We use a lot of traditional textbooks for learning, but we also have a lot free spirit time with field trips, vacations, and other outings. The kids take classes twice a week as well.

    My mother is a retired school teacher and had many prejudices about homeschooling (from her personal experiences with homeschooled children returning to public school). At first, she was pretty worried about the well-being of her grandchildren, but fortunately over the years, she has seen how my children are thriving and excelling. It was hard for me to deal with the opposition at first, but luckily that part is behind me now. :-)

    Keep up the writing and hook 'em! ;-) Sorry, I couldn't resist!

  12. It was a little eerie reading your post, it was like someone followed me around then wrote about my life. I too had undiagnosed ADHD throughout school wich I now find immensely helpful as I teach myself to build furniture, homeschool, foster, write, paint, craft, sew, etc, etc :) I also graduated in the top of my class in high school and attended A&M University only to realize I remembered nothing from HS. I have a BS in Psychology. And I have 3 boys 8, 7, & 2. I loved your post because I am constantly questioning if my laid back style of teaching my kids is going to "ruin" my kids ;) it's nice to know that I'm not alone in this crazy endeavor called life! :)

  13. Your story is fantastic, thank you for sharing. :) My kids are both still young but we unschool and it's working great for us now. Your comment about retaining the right to change your mind was awesome. I blog at although I don't write about school stuff a ton.

  14. WHOOP! Texas A&M Aggie class of '02! You want to laugh at your major? I got a BED. And since I married a few months after graduating I say I got my MRS in BED. (Bachelor of Environmental Design aka Architecture.)

    We are a homeschool family too. I linked to this page from a friends post on FB like way, way earlier this morning and am just now sitting down again at my computer at 10 pm to read it. I'll be following your blog! I like "creative homeschooler." My twins are 5.5 but hey, I've been schooling them since they were born, right? Anyway, it's great to stumble upon another homeschooling aggie.

  15. Oh, I loved reading all of your comments! It sounds like many of you are on the same schooling journey as us. I love the links and tips, please keep them coming!!!

  16. After reading about your college experience I said to myself, "She's an unschooler."

    My daughter has ADHD, dyslexia,and CAPD. We began homeschooling her in 3rd grade. Prior to homeschooling her I was a teacher so I started off our homeschooling very traditionally. UGH! I soon found it didn't work at all. We eventually found Time4Learning because so many people commented how good it was for ADHD and dyslexia. They were right. For once she began to thrive. As we continued to homeschool (8 years now) we blossomed into what I call semi-eclectic unschoolers because this year we have added the new T4L high school courses into our unschooling life skills.

    Every now and then my teacher back ground (like a little devil on my shoulder) makes me wonder if she is learning enough from unschooling. After a few minutes talking with her I know she is. :)

    Best wishes to you and your boys this year.


  17. My sister, a photographer, introduced me to your blog today and I've been reading a few posts. I love your honest writing style.

    I follow, in my own way, a leadership education system of homeschooling called Thomas Jefferson Leadership Education. With your first attempt at trying a classical education (leadership education focuses on classics, not textbooks) then steering towards Unschooling, you might like this method.
    One thing that resonates with me about a leadership education is very similar to encourages the learner to pursue an education based on their personal passions and interests (while filling in the holes as they feel the need to).
    It divides learning stages into 5 parts...
    Core Phase is roughly ages 0-8 and that's learning right and wrong, good and bad, the value of work, and lots of time to play. Basic 3 Rs can be taught if the child is interested.
    Love of Learning Phase is roughly ages 8-12/14. As the child grows, so does their natural curiosity and they are doing exactly what your 8yo does...just learn for the fun of it.
    Scholar Phase happens at puberty until about 18. Kids transition into wanting to learn more about more...get that breadth of education and fill in the gaps.
    Depth Phase is 18-24. College. Study in breadth and depth what you are passionate about and how you are going to make a difference in the world.
    Mission Phase is the rest of your life...continuing to learn while making an impact in the world.
    Anyway...that's just touching on the system. I hope that gives you enough info to at least look into it more! Homeschooling is great!