A few weeks ago, I asked for suggestions on homeschoolers who have high school students, and you all replied in spades. I’ve lined up three final interviews, all with homeschoolers whose children span the ages. I can’t wait to read these, even if I have a long way to go before I my children are high school age.
Please meet Elizabeth, of Following the Trails to Heaven. She’s homeschooling 4 children, from 16 on down to 7, and expecting another little sweetie. Elizabeth likes to craft and cook, and she has oodles of wisdom to share with us today. Read on, and be sure to visit her blog, too.
How long have you been homeschooling?
Since, 2002! Did I really just write 2002?
I’m in the middle of planning our eldest daughter’s senior year. 13 years of home schooling seems like a lot, but then again it really isn’t. The time flew by and I still feel like I’m a newbie here.
Tell us a little bit about your family: how many children you have, what grades they are in, how many are homeschooled, etc.
My little clan consists of 4 kids with one on the way. That little one should make his/her entrance in January.
Isabella is our senior; almost 17 years old and my go to gal. Victor Mario, the gentle hearted of the four, is 12 and entering the 8th grade. Carolina is now 10 and leaping forward into 5th. And then we have Sophia, the petite of the group. She is 7 and going into the 3rd grade, but I think she still believes she should be in preschool. She is my stubborn learner. All four are home-schooled.
What laws, if any, are there in your state regarding homeschooling? How does your family meet compliance?
California is pretty easy, though we are seeing some signs of law makers trying to change that. I’m kind of a legislation watcher. I saw/read that you wrote about it in your piece though so I won’t reiterate.
Our family uses two of the three options we have in CA. We’ve registered as a private school and oversee several families with the same affidavit. This covers our eldest daughter and the youngest.
The other two kids are enrolled with a charter school. Our son has an auditory processing ‘issue’ and the charter school has helped tremendously with paying for his tutors and very expensive phonics program. This will be our last year of using the charter school though, because the requirements in high school under their policies won’t work for our son.
What is your homeschooling style?
Ready for a long answer?
I am definitely eclectic in my approach to schooling the kids, but structured. This has evolved greatly from when I first started. How our days look now hardly resemble those earlier days. I started homeschooling through a hush little program in our school district call City of Angels. It was STRUCTURED and very well supervised by a an overseeing ‘teacher’. We had schedules, lots of workbooks, and everything was turned in dated and corrected. BTW my oldest daughter ‘hated’ it.
THAT was a lot of work, but it brought out my confidence in taking on this added sacrifice within my vocation as wife and mother.
After a year and half of running our home like a mini school house we left that program. We joined our current charter school and developed a great relationship with our EF (Educational Facilitator). She allowed me to run deep into the rabbit holes of Charlotte Mason while still keeping a balance with a more classical method approach. However, it wasn’t long before we left the charter school for the kids that didn’t need any specialized tutoring; I wanted more freedom in choosing what the kids learned and how they learned it.
The kids still have to learn all the basics appropriate for their age levels, including multiplication tables in the 3rd grade and beginning reading skills during Kinder-1st. We are more flexible in the areas of art, history, and science. Sometimes these subjects bleed into each other anyway.
Do you follow any set curriculum?
Yes and sometimes no. We use what works for us.
Younger kids start with Catholic Heritage Curriculum. We needed something easy with a ready to go do-list as my son’s learning issues became more apparent and he needed way more of my time then was humanly possible.
A side note on CHC. It was sweet, wholesome, and rich with Catholicism. I still would recommend it especially for First Communion prep. However, we don’t use it after the third grade because I find myself doing more supplemental work than I want to as the kids get into the upper elementary ages.
I also learned what finally clicked for our son (Barton Reading program and All about Spelling). This has made teaching him doable and allowed us to return to our tried and true favorites. All About Spelling (and some of All About Reading) has done wonders for my struggling learner and we use it for the 3 youngest. We still love IEW for the 5th grade and middle school writing lessons.
Saxon Math is used for some kids; Singapore for another. Life of Fred is used as a supplement for the fun of it. RC History has yet to fail me and I adore everything about this program. We use RC History up until the 10th grade. The oldest switched to the MODG history guidelines her sophomore year. This was her choice and by that age I totally gave her a say. I have yet to regret it and will probably continue the trend with the other kids. We also make a lot of lapbooks and get into unit studies with history and literature. Fun stuff.
In high school we’ve also used Homeschool Connections Online with Maureen Wittman (who is a DOLL) and some co-teaching partnerships between my sister-in-law, our co-op and I. There is also Thinkwell Math, Khan Academy videos, The Great Courses videos/lectures, and our local community college for that trigonometry class (shudder). This is just to name a few.
You currently have children in both elementary and high school. How do you manage their differing curriculum and needs?
It’s a juggling act, but it’s gotten easier with time. The key for me is to be flexible and organized! I have to have the year at a glance done before our fall start time. For example, I have to know when we have to visit the library and what books should be ordered ahead of time. I need to be realistic with what we can cover on busier weeks due to illnesses or sport seasons. But, there are specific differences between my high schooler, the middle school kid, and my two elementary age daughters.
Because Isabella has always wanted to attend a university, we went into the high school stage with that goal in mind. She has a very specific degree in mind as well, with colleges to match. I knew way before the 9th grade that the quality of each course was going to matter. She was going to take the SAT, the ACT, and possibly a CLEP or AP exam, so she had better be prepared. With that in mind, each year was set up so that she could reach her goal.
Isabella was involved in what courses she took, with whom, and what curriculum we went with. Sometimes that involved an outside class and other times she was able to wiz through with just a good text. I still don’t know what gene she inherited to ‘get’ geometry as well as she did using just Jacob’s Geometry (which I totally recommend by the way). By the time she completed her sophomore year I had less of a role as her teacher. She still needed papers edited, but we entered into a phase of discussing rather then teaching. Or at least, it has been less teaching and more of guiding and exploring together.
In contrast, the elementary and middle school kids just want to work on a science project, get through the math, and wonder what’s for lunch. At least that’s the case in my house. Here it’s about taking the extra 10-20 minutes to go over a new math concept, or help the 4th grader memorize her poem. It’s about keeping them on task. I have to stay within reach of the 8th grader for various reasons and the 3rd grader so she doesn’t wander off. So if I’m folding clothes on my side of the dining table while we identify the adverb so be it.
There is also more group teaching in the younger grades, especially in the subjects of art, history, and science. This helps manage some of the time during the day and makes it fun. Who doesn’t want to build a replica of Mount Saint Helen with a group of kids even if they are your siblings? We do a great deal of reading out loud and then break for independent writing. The kids work on the same subjects during the same time frame: math, grammar, spelling, etc. We work on these areas first and spend whatever time is needed with each child until they can start working by themselves. This is when I’m usually folding those socks on the table. The kids also end up helping each other. It has been a self esteem booster for my 8th grader when he is able to help his younger sibling. Once they get going I can move about the house taking care of the dishes or emails. That being said, it has been a must for the kids to learn to work and be trusted to get it done without me being behind them all day. No one wants Saturday school (oh yes, there are real consequences for not finishing their work).
All the group learning is done after lunch and we leave Fridays open for the bigger projects and extra tutoring time.
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?
There is a bit more work for high school in record keeping than in elementary, but that’s because we are under the private school status. I keep Isabella’s transcripts and grades. We use a simple transcript version for our own records and made a more elaborate version with our school’s seal for scholarship entries and more official uses. We also found the need to keep/make a high school portfolio that includes her achievements, certificates, awards, lists of community work, and samples of her best reports. There is less stigma against home schooled students entering the universities now than ever before, especially among the some of the private and specifically Catholic universities. That being said, we’ve still had the fortune of encountering a university that required detailed information to back up what is stated on the transcript. That portfolio is a quick way to show them what ever kind of proof they request from her.
I keep grades and transcripts for the younger kids as well because it helps keep me on track. Also, my circumstances can change. The charter school keeps the records of the two kids that are students with them, but once I pull them out I simply have to request those records and add them to our home files.
What do your best homeschooling moments look like? What do your not-so-good moments look like? How do you stay on track?
A good day: We’ve ended our school day on time without tears or arguments. Perhaps a lesson or two wasn’t completed, but we had an awesome time dissecting that cow’s heart and we actually learned something cool.
A not-so-good day: We didn’t attend daily Mass, there were tears and a spat or two. I didn’t review the report that Isabella had been waiting for, no one cared to learn about prepositional phrases, and why oh why are the breakfast dishes still in the sink?!?
Really, there will be those moments, those seasons, that the days will be rough. But overall the good always outweighs the not-so-good. I have no idea if next year our family circumstances will change and we can no longer home school. It can happen. Even then we trust in God’s will for us and try, try, TRY to offer every little moment to His glory. Even the tough moments. I stay on track by remembering that I said yes to this vocation.
It is through constant prayer, wonderful support from my husband and community, and lots of deep breaths that I have been able to enter into my 13th year of homeschooling.
If you could give any homeschool advice to a new mom starting out, what would it be?
Be patient, take moments to enjoy the little things, and keep a prayerful life. We homeschooling moms can easily become overwhelmed and forget to nurture our prayer life. Daily Mass or even a morning prayer has become crucial to my sanity, LOL. Seriously, be patient with yourself and your children. You will have those “AHA” moments and there will be plenty of those “UGH” ones too. But that’s OK! Curriculum changes, seasons change, babies come, children get older, and then all of a sudden they are studying calculus and off to lead their adult lives.
Enjoy this! Find the joy in each of your days. Even the rough ones. Rely on the Holy Spirit when you feel down. Ask for His guidance and trust that He has allowed this gift to come to you because you can do it!
Give a big round of applause for Elizabeth! And 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!)