How I Homeschool: Charlotte from Waltzing Matilda

Continuing with the theme of high-school-on-down homeschooling, I have here today Charlotte from Waltzing Matilda.  Charlotte is a mother of 5, a lifelong Texan, and according to her “About Me” page, she’s been blogging since “dinosaurs roamed the internet.”  She says, “I love to bake cakes, organize stuff, read books, celebrate feast days, create beautiful things, and spend my days with my family.”  Now, who wouldn’t want to spend some time reading her thoughts?

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How long have you been homeschooling?

Let’s see… my oldest is 16, going to be starting his junior year in high school, and we started when he was 4 (yes… I used to do pre-school) so that means, holy cow, we are beginning our thirteenth year. I might need to go sit down. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but I guess the numbers don’t lie, huh?

Tell us a little bit about your family: how many children you have, what grades they are in, how many are homeschooled, etc.

I have 5 children ages 16, 15, 13, 10 and almost 3. Like I said, my oldest is beginning his junior year in high school and looking towards college (We actually did our first college Open House in July). My daughter will be a freshman this year so it will be our first year with two in high school. Then I have an 8th grade girl and a 5th grade boy followed up by the tail-ender (for now) my pre-pre-schooler who is soon to be 3 (in September). They have all only ever been homeschooled.

My husband was homeschooled from 8th grade through high school and he also has two older sisters who have graduated kids from their homeschools. His family has a built-in support group for homeschooling. I was a typical public school kid who graduated from high school, went on to college and then taught in an arts magnet elementary school briefly. It was long enough to show me that I did not like teaching other people’s kids, but I love teaching my own.

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What laws, if any, are there in your state regarding homeschooling? How does your family meet compliance?

Hang on… I’m gonna need a second to look those up. 🙂

“Homeschools need only have a written curriculum, conduct the school in a bona fide manner, and teach math, reading, spelling, grammar, and good citizenship.” ~from the HSLDA website.

We live in Texas which I believe is considered to be the second most homeschooling friendly state (Alaska is the first…darn you Alaska!). That’s only because Texas does have some minimal requirements for subjects to be taught whereas Alaska has none. In Texas, there are no required days of instruction, no notification of intent, and the only required subjects are good citizenship, math, reading, spelling and grammar. My kids frequently like to point out that science is not on that list! There is a compulsory attendance law but even that is exempted for children who attend private or parochial schools and down here, homeschools are considered private schools. (We really love our freedom in Texas!)

I don’t have to keep track of how many days we do school and I don’t even have to keep grades, but I do for high school in the form of a transcript and booklist supplement. There are no standardized tests required and homeschool graduates in Texas are protected by law from discrimination by Texas colleges. Because we are Catholic homeschoolers striving to live in the world but not of it, I consider the study of our faith as fulfilling our good citizenship requirement. I keep all notebooks and paperwork out in plastic tubs in our garage for about three year back for each child so that I could prove, if I ever needed to, that we homeschool in a “bona fide manner” using written curricula.

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What is your homeschooling style?

Um… I don’t know that there is a label for it.

I am an “unschooler” only in that I try to help my kids pursue the passions they have but I still require them to tackle those subjects they wouldn’t be naturally drawn to. I was a Theater major and my husband’s degree is in History. So far, we haven’t had a science/math loving kid in the bunch, but we still study math and science. I am a Charlotte Mason follower who believes in the power of narration and discussion but who also uses textbooks. I strive for beauty and order like Montessori but we have plastic toys and allow our little ones to use technology. We use great books and primary sources but my kids have read fluff and watched documentaries. About the only things we haven’t done are Unit Studies.

I encourage independent learning. I focus on the basics until a child can competently learn with less of my direction and more of their own motivation and expectations driving them. I see myself as a teacher for the younger ones who transitions to a facilitator/mentor. I want them to learn how to learn. We talk a lot about the fact that education is a lifelong journey but that there are expectations we have and other people have for them if they want to follow a particular path. For example, my oldest is looking at going to college at the university my husband and I both graduated from (his choice, honestly… I swear we are not THOSE parents). I think it would be a good fit for him and he knows what he needs to do in order to fulfill their requirements. My daughter entering high school doesn’t know what her path will be, so we are fulfilling basic requirements but staying flexible enough to accommodate her future decisions.

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Do you follow any set curriculum?

We are one of those “eclectic” curriculum schools. One of the things I love about homeschooling is the ability to tailor the education to suit the child. I’ve got five completely different people here to teach with completely different learning styles. Even my two daughters who are the most alike in learning style, only a year apart in grades and who often get mistaken for twins… one is a visual learner and one is an auditory learner.
Side note: please take the time to learn how your children learn best especially if you have a child you are struggling to teach. There are great books out there that will walk you through learning your child’s temperament and yours. Once you’ve ruled out any learning disorders, make sure the curriculum you choose bests matches their learning style! It will make everything go much smoother. There is a really helpful online resource that specifically evaluates learning styles. (Edited to add: Mercy Academy Learning Style Inventory) I’ve used it with my oldest four over the course of a couple of years and found it well worth the money.

As far as specific curriculum I’ve used living books and textbooks, live online classes and video classes, primary sources and workbooks. Pretty much everything is fair game.

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You currently have children in both elementary and high school.  How do you manage their differing curriculum and needs?

It has changed so much since my first began this homeschooling adventure. I joked above that I use to do pre-school. I used a well-planned, complete, pre-school curriculum with him and… he pretty much despised it. He was a strong reader right from the get go. I sat down to teach him how to read only to discover that he already knew how all of the letters sounded and just needed me to show him how to put them together. Then he was off and running to the bookshelf to read everything we had already read to him only this time for himself. But, stubborn mother/ex–public school teacher that I was, I kept pushing the issue and pushing him and I’m sorry to say that many of our first years were filled with frustration. Too much structure and too much “this is what Kindergarteners should be doing!”

Now, my approach to dealing with the younger kids is completely different. I only focus on the basics (reading, {hand}writing, arithmetic) and try to work any “extra stuff” like science, art, music, history into our daily life but not necessarily in a formal way. Once they hit middle school (6th,7th & 8th) we start laying things out in a more formal way as a preparation for high school. But I let them have a lot of input in their subjects. I have one daughter who wanted to study poetry more than the other one. We found a resource for her to use. Both of my girls wanted to study plants flowers one year so their science was a course in botany which they still talk about as their favorite year of science. So, the changes in curriculum come along gradually. And by encouraging them to take responsibility for their education, I really am more of a facilitator than a teacher for the older kids. That frees me up to spend more time with the youngest ones.

But I also encourage independent play for the younger ones. I have to coach my older children to not always entertain the little ones, that it’s ok to just be in the same room with them but let them play by themselves. A little one who learns to expect constant entertainment (either through playmates, videos, games, etc…) will have to have those expectations broken at some point or they will just keep demanding more and more attention. Wow… that sounds really cold, but that’s not what I mean. I don’t neglect my little ones, I just make sure that they learn that it’s ok to play by themselves rather than expect that someone will always be playing with them.

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How is your high school different than elementary homeschooling? For example, do you keep your own transcripts, or do you belong to a private school that does it for you?

I do keep my own high school transcript but I admit, his first year of high school I totally freaked out and signed him up with a curriculum provider that would also keep track of his records. It was a momentary panic and by the end of that year, it was much better and we dropped the program. I reconnected with a friend who’s oldest was a few years older than mine and who had already been doing the transcript thing. She was able to share her strategies with me and my anxiety level calmed down considerably. We recently attended a homeschool open house at the school my oldest wants to attend. They have a dedicated homeschool admissions counselor and she was able to look over my transcripts/ booklists in progress and give me a few tips.

We also use a couple of online schooling resources (The Lukeion Project, Memoria Press Online Academy and Homeschool Connections) and they keep the grades for the year, send me a report at the end of the year and I plug those grades into my transcript. I’ve heard horror stories from moms who didn’t start putting together a transcript until their child’s senior year when they had to go back and dig out old records to try to collate it all. Some days I can’t remember what I had for breakfast so I knew I’d never be able to pull that off. I keep a transcript-in-progress file on my computer for each child starting well before they ever start high school.

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What do your best homeschooling moments look like? What do your not-so-good moments look like? How do you stay on track?

This question is the one I really had to think about. Our best homeschooling moments happen when we are talking and communicating really well. Three teenagers in the house means a roller coaster of feelings going on constantly. When we all clam up, shut up and keep our heads down, things usually go south pretty quickly. But on our best days, we’ve got our communication skills engaged. Someone mentions they are having a problem with a particular kind of math problem. Someone else chimes in to give them a helpful hint. Someone mentions something they read in a book that they didn’t quite understand. Someone else chimes in with a possible explanation. Someone says their Kindle doesn’t have the definition of the word “hobbledehoy” or the phrase “three-tailed bashaw”, everyone offers their ideas before we go dig up the definition online. (True story… Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell) Oh… and everyone agrees… our best moments usually include a day when the 2 year old actually takes a nap!

Our worst moments happen when we take the “home” out of homeschooling. Too many out of the home commitments on my part and our school days suffer. When my kids were younger, they could finish up with their school tasks before lunch time which left us plenty of time to go and play and run errands. As they got older, I still tried to maintain that formula for the day but their schedule kept getting stretched out. High school work is harder work than middle school just like middle school is harder work than elementary and harder work needs more time and attention given to it. When I had planned too much for the day outside of the home and didn’t give them the opportunity to actually do their work, they started to feel pressured and some days, that pressure made the day implode. Keeping to a regular schedule during our days is what helps us stay on track the most. That does still include some out of the house activities like piano, chess club and library time, but it’s got to be something we really love for us to adjust our school day around it.

As far as how we stay on track, well… my older kids plot out their daily schedule for themselves being well aware of how much time a certain subject will take them and what time of the day their brain can handle certain subjects best. I don’t write lesson plans except at the beginning of the year to say, here is what I’d like to see you accomplish each day in order to accomplish this subject in a year’s time (and for some subjects, we use a calendar year, not a school year). They keep a record of what they actually did each day. I use blank “lesson journal” books for my girls that we personalize and have coil bound up at the local office store. You can see some of our older ones here and here.

My daughters are so close in age (18 months) and temperament that the 8th grader follows along with what the rising freshman will be doing this year; the only difference being in the subject matter she’ll be working on. When the elementary age kiddo sees them working diligently and knows that they need time and space to work on things, he obliges them by accomplishing his work and then spending the rest of the time entertaining the littlest or reading or playing. What my children have taught me is that by making the effort with the oldest ones to set reasonable but challenging expectations for them to accomplish the work they need to, it trickles down even through varying temperaments and personalities. Of course, though… it didn’t start out that way.

We had some rough patches but I think what helped was keeping in mind that homeschooling was for them, not for me. I was never afraid to get rid of something that clearly was not working after we’d given it a fair shake. I was not afraid to try something that was outside of my comfort zone (hello, poetry study!) But I also wasn’t afraid to have reasonable expectations for my children even in the younger years for what they could and should accomplish each day while still leaving plenty of time open for play and creativity. Discipline and play are important in moderation.The “play” part was definitely more fun and easier to accomplish. The “self-discipline” part took more time but I learned just as much as they did. It’s hard and it’s repetitious in the early years and some days, you are going to have really horrible, no good, terrible, very bad days and you are going to wonder if it’s all worth anything, but seeing my independent learners who have willingly explored subjects and interests that fascinate them, I can say that I think it will be.

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If you could give any homeschool advice to a new mom starting out, what would it be?

I hate to give advice, because every mom is different, every child is different, and every family has a different dynamic. My husband supports our homeschooling 100%; not every husband does. We live in a very hands off homeschooling state; not everyone does. My kids have been easy to handle, interested in learning and without any major learning challenges… not all kids are. But if I could go back to say something to myself when I was starting out, back in the day when I worried that I was going to break them or ruin their lives, I would say:

Relax. Don’t stress out. Ok, if you can’t not stress out, then ask yourself if you think you are a reasonably educated person. If you say that you aren’t, well… ask someone else if you are because it sounds like you are being too hard on yourself. You might need to work on that.

If you truly don’t believe that you are a reasonably educated person, then ask yourself what you would change about your education and then do that for your children. If you are a reasonably educated person (and I bet you are), then ask yourself when your education really made a difference to you. Was it growing beans in a cup in first grade? Probably not.

Which means that your kids are not going to be ruined for life if they never grow beans in a cup or if you miss introducing them to Shakespeare in the 1st grade or if you don’t take them to a museum by the time they are 5. (I fell in love with art and architecture in my sophomore year of high school and it helped me choose which college I would attend where I ultimately met my husband.) You don’t have to instill a love of everything in them before 2nd grade.

If you love a particular subject, they will see that when you share it with them organically. If they decide there is something they love and want to learn about then show them that you are willing to help them however you can. If you love your kids and and listen to them, if you enjoy spending time with them and make your decisions based on what you truly believe is best for them, you can’t really ruin them. Their education should be an extension of that. Try to keep your options open and flexible but don’t be afraid to require some age-appropriate responsibility. Teaching them self-discipline and self-control will help you work on those virtues as well and will pay off big in the long run. Don’t make decisions now that could prevent them from following a particular course in the future but also realize that their course is theirs to follow, not yours.

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Words from my oldest: I asked my oldest, after he finished proofing this for me, if he thought I had stayed true to what our homeschooling adventure has been. He said that I had (whew!). I also asked him what advice he would offer to any kiddos just starting this homeschooling journey or their moms, from a kid’s perspective, or just any thoughts he’d like to add. Here they are:

To the parents: Starting the homeschooling journey requires effort on everyone’s part. Having a set, predictable schedule was very helpful to me because it held me accountable for the work I needed to accomplish. Make sure that you are reasonable in your expectations for your children and what they can accomplish each day and then give them the time to do that. Once their work is done, let them play. Play, play, and more play! If your child has an interest in something, help them explore it, whether it’s astronomy or World War II aircraft designs or something completely unprofitable like Tolkien’s Elvish language. It will cultivate their desire to learn and help them embrace their education as their own.

To the kids: Homeschooling is like pushing a big boulder down a hill. It takes some effort to get it going but the momentum will help keep it rolling along. And…enjoy life now… just wait until you get to high school! 😉

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Feel free to peruse the other interviews if you haven’t already.

How I Homeschool: In Which I Interview Myself (plus a link-up if you’d like to join in!)

How I Homeschool: Jessica @ Housewifespice

How I Homeschool:  Annery at Home Answers All my Questions

How I Homeschool: Kelly of This Ain’t the Lyceum

How I Homeschool: Cari of Clan Donaldson

How I Homeschool: Kendra of Catholic All Year

How I Homeschool: Dwija of House Unseen

How I Homeschool: Elizabeth of Following the Trails to Heaven

Comments

  1. This is great. Especially as someone staring down 7th grade next year, I appreciate the insight and reassurance. I love the advice from an actual high schooler!

    Also, I’d really love to see that learning style resource, but the links aren’t showing up for me. 🙁
    Kendra recently posted…Before I Had a Seven Year OldMy Profile

  2. Kendra, that link is here:
    http://67.252.113.51/mercyacademy/mercyabouttesting.htm
    If it doesn’t come through, I’ll email it to you.
    Charlotte recently posted…Q & A Interview about HomeschoolingMy Profile