How I Homeschool: Clan Donaldson

1396832_10201562111008627_148604076_oCari of Clan Donaldson was my gateway blogger.  I didn’t even know there were other Catholic mom bloggers until Cari, then a stranger, began commenting on my infantile blog.  Once I discovered her, I discovered the wide world of blogging moms, and it’s a world I’m grateful for.  I even had the pleasure of meeting Cari, her handsome husband and their adorable kids in real life back in September.  I can tell you from personal experience that Cari is a kind, warm-hearted, hilarious, and faith-filled woman.  Her blog is inspiring, funny, and quirky, and continues to be one of my favorites.  If you haven’t yet read her book, Pope Awesome and Other Stories, I demand that you do so right now.  Actually, don’t. Wait until the end of this interview; it’s a gem.

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You began homeschooling when your oldest was in kindergarten, correct? What prompted you, a former public school teacher, to consider homeschooling as an option?

Actually, I never considered homeschooling. But after seeing days and days of me sobbing after enrolling our oldest in a daily pre-K program (bear in mind, the girl hadn’t even GONE to school yet. It was simply the fact that we’d enrolled her, and she was, at some point in the future, GOING to go that was killing me), Ken suggested we give homeschooling a try.

It was like a weight had been lifted off me. This huge, crushing weight that it took me a while to give a name to.

Clan Donaldson 2Now, before I go any further, I feel like I have to issue my standard disclaimer: the vast majority of teachers I called colleagues were dedicated, tireless people. They truly cared about kids, and they truly gave their best to them. Even the small handful of burnt out, subpar, irresponsible teachers were not the problem. The problem with conventional school, both public and private, is the very format of it. The problem with the current American education model does not lie with the teachers, but with the setup. The act of separating children as young as four from their families for long periods of the day is problematic. The school system is no longer run on a local level, reflecting the morals and ethics of the community at large. The school system is now part of the Federal government, and parents are told, year by year, that they’re not qualified to provide quality education to their children, and only the State can do so properly.

The very way schools are organized does not reflect best educational practice. Grouping children based on age and nothing more is as helpful to educating them as grouping them based on their height. Locking children into one grouping does not honor them as individuals, nor appropriately challenge them.

I know way, way more parents who conventionally school their children than who homeschool them, and this is not meant to be a criticism of them or their choices. There are some kids who thrive in a conventional school setting. There are some families who literally cannot find a way to homeschool. Each family should make decisions based on what is best for them as a unit, because strong, healthy families benefit society as a whole.

How do you decide when your children are old enough to begin formal schooling? Is it by age, or maturity, or are there other factors?

I start looking at them at age 4. The oldest two were ready then. We spent about 20 minutes a day on “formal school”, and by the end of the typical school year, they were done with kindergarten and reading. The next two were NOT ready at 4. One wasn’t mature enough to sit still for even 20 minutes of instruction, and the other showed absolutely no interest in it. Those two I waited until they were 5 to begin kindergarten.

Basically, I look to see 1. if there’s interest in formal education yet and 2. are they able to sit for a stretch of time and still focus.

Clan Donaldson 3Now that I’ve got as much time homeschooling under my belt as I did in a public school, I feel more confident in following the child’s lead. When I first started, I felt like I had something to prove. Like, if my 4 year old wasn’t reading 1st grade books it meant that homeschool was a sham and I’d have to send her away. Thank God I’ve mellowed since then! Now I feel like I can breathe and remember that we’re designed by our Creator to be curious, to have a thirst for knowledge, and to have rational minds that seek information. It’s my job not to fill them full of facts, but to show them HOW to learn. They’re going to need to acquire new knowledge long after they leave school, so I best serve them by giving them the tools to do so.

You have 6 children, 4 of whom are school age. On a typical (or, if you prefer, an atypically awesome) day, how do you handle all the lessons that need to happen?

ON THE BEST DAY EVERRRRRRRR:
The oldest two wake up, do their morning chores, then sit down and look at their weekly assignment sheet (which I had my act together enough to make). They get a couple of assignments done, reading the instructions and coming to me if they have questions. After breakfast, we say a family Rosary, hang out together in the yard (my husband works second shift, so family time takes place in the morning before he leaves), and enjoy each other’s company.

After Ken leaves for work, the older kids go back to work, I put the little two down, then work on math and reading with the younger students. Sit-down school is done by 1, then we watch a documentary or do an experiment, or go for a hike, or go on a field trip (on the rare days we have a car, since we’re currently a one-car family).

Creating a weekly assignment sheet for the older kids is the key to success. If I’m organized on Sunday, and give the kids an overview of what’s expected of them, the whole week goes better. In turn, the kids can decide to work ahead, so their weekend can start sooner. There is no happier child than one who worked their butt off for a few days, and now has their weekend start on a Wednesday!

Which leads me to: what the heck do you do with your toddlers during school time? 

Clan DonaldsonI try to do as much school as possible while the toddlers are sleeping. If that’s impossible, I try to get the older kids done with school first, so they can play with their little siblings while I teach the middle boys. If that’s impossible, I employ Toddler Occupying Techniques. I wrote a little about it here, and Pinterest has tons of other suggestions.

 

 

How would you characterize your homeschooling style?

Clan Donaldson 4I so badly want to say “lazy” as a flippant response, but I think that’s unfair to the question. So, in a moment of full-on Cari honesty, I’d say my homeschooling style is a lot like my parenting style, namely, a free range kid/slow parenting method of homeschool. God gave us smart, smart brains, and that’s a feature, not a bug, of our design. I really think that human beings are naturally curious and WANT to learn- it is the role of the educator to teach students how to 1. articulate questions 2. find answers to those questions and 3. critically consume those answers. Being Catholic, with the whole notion of authority is part and parcel of our religion, I think it dovetails perfectly into education. WHO is answering this question, and WHY should you listen to them? If I can teach my kids those concepts, then my job as a teacher has been properly done.

What is your favorite piece of homeschool curriculum? The one resource you couldn’t live without?

The Internet. I can’t tell you how much I love the Internet. In fact, you can tell how amazing a thing it is proportionately by how many horrors there are lurking in it. When one of my kids wakes up on a Tuesday and decides he needs to learn every. single. thing about the solar system, I can find six dozen resources for him before I’ve even had my morning coffee. A child wants to learn the piano, but you don’t remember a single chord? Internet. Another child wants to learn how to dye cloth using natural plant based dyes? Internet. That child has some math question you can’t even begin to understand? Internet. Another child can’t grasp how the Israelites wandered in a desert for forty years? I.N.T.E.R.N.E.T.

Truly, it’s my favorite piece of curriculum AND resource.

You also write and blog during the day. For those moms who work from home, would you describe how you accomplish schooling and working?

My husband works odd hours. Most days, he doesn’t leave for work until noon. So that gives us the gift of a leisurely morning, and time for me to get my writing done while the kids are having their “Daddy time”. Since he doesn’t come home until long after their bedtime, we don’t start school until he leaves. I have no idea how I would schedule my day if he had a nice, tidy 9-to-5er. Though I’d be willing to give it a shot!

You’re an extrovert, yes? How do you balance your need for adult interaction with hanging out with your kids all day? Are you a part of any homeschool groups in your area? Or do you find your community elsewhere?

Ugh. This is the worst question for me. Yes. I’m an extreme extrovert. I’m like an extroverted extrovert. When we lived in Memphis, I had access to the best homeschool group in the world. Seriously. You know how there are certain places and times that produce extraordinary communities that come up with stunning works of art or politics or scientific theory? That was what my Memphis homeschool group was. It was this golden bubble of space and time that produced the most amazing fruits.

But now, oh you know. God’s called me to do something else, and so now I get my fill of adult interaction via the internet (again with the internet!). I think that’s why I get so blindly angry at those horrible “To the Mom Who Dared Check Her Phone While Her Precious Snowflakes Were At The Park” posts- if it weren’t for frequent, hourly contact with adults via texting or Facebook or Instagram, I think I would be a severely depressed, miserable human being. So I read blogs. And comment on Instagram pictures. And post on Facebook. If someone wants to judge me in a HuffPo piece about how I’m going to long for all these missed moments of my children’s childhood, I can’t stop them. But I will point out that being a one-car, single income, homeschooling family, I probably spend more time reveling in the amazing moments of my children’s childhood before breakfast than many people get to enjoy all day.

What is the most important advice you’d give a new homeschooling parent?

Stop. Take a deep breath. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in this and trust that He will. Accept that what is the best educational practice for your children this year may not always be the best practice forever, and don’t ever stop being brave enough to ask what’s the ideal.

 

That’s all for the interview, but if you’d like to read some more on Cari’s schooling philosophy, check out her recent post: YOU are the Educational Expert.  Oh, and you now have my permission to go buy her book, too!

This is the fifth interview in a series, “How I Homeschool.”

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: Kendra of Catholic All Year

How I Homeschool: Dwija of House Unseen

How I Homeschool: Elizabeth of Following the Trails to Heaven (High School Series)

Comments

  1. This was awesome. I think the last question/answer was my favorite. I’m so close to the beginning of this journey, and it is really reassuring to hear someone I respect/admire/consider a veteran say that it’s okay for things to be perpetually in process…and to remind me that I’m not ultimately the one who has to guide that process all.by.myself. Thanks, Cari (and MIcaela- this is a great series).
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  2. Geez, I agree with Cari on ev.er.y.thing! Great interview, coming from I, a fellow introvert trapped in the wilderness with only her children and a iPhone. I would have lost my sanity without blogs where I can find a kinship and shared interests and shared homeschooling goals! Thanks Micaela and Cari!
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  3. This is the interview I wish I’d read when I started four years ago. Because I’m a pretty hands-off parent too and sometimes it felt like not hovering over a shoulder meant I was doing homeschooling wrong.

    Letting that natural curiosity lead and trusting that nature to rise to the task is the crux of our homeschooling. Taking a breath and trusting it to work was a hard won thing.

    I didn’t think it was possible to like Cari any more, but reading this, I know we’re kindred spirits 🙂