Education Options: Part II
This is the second part in a three-part series of articles. Click here to read Part I.
How Homeschool Began
My Education Options story left off at the moment when my husband and I decided I would quit my job as a full-time public school teacher to stay home and educate our oldest daughter the following year. That was at the end of her seventh grade year. As soon as summer began, I knew I needed to choose curriculum (that means choosing the textbooks and resources that will be used for each class) for eighth grade. I wanted something my daughter could do independently as much as possible (to reduce the amount of time I spent repeating eighth grade myself) and that was suited to her particular needs. Choosing curriculum presents an overwhelming number of choices for the new homeschool parent. Do you choose one “brand” and use it for all your courses? Do you choose a different brand for each subject (what most homeschool parents call piece-meal or eclectic)? How do you find the right “level” for your student? My journey started at a store in my neighborhood called Mardel Christian & Education, which is both a Christian bookstore and a homeschool education supply store.
After discussing our needs with a Mardel sales consultant, I chose science and history curriculum from Switched On Schoolhouse (a.k.a. SOS) for my daughter. I was assured it is the “Cadillac” of homeschool curriculum and the one most frequently chosen by families of young Disney stars such as Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez (unverified claim). For English, I chose curriculum from BJU Press that included a grammar workbook that was in full color, laid out in an appealing way for a child with ADHD, and had lots of “help” notes in the margins, plus the literature companion offered an impressive collection of short stories and books to aid in developing higher level reading skills. BJU press was something I felt comfortable directly teaching my child (as I am a certified middle school English and reading teacher). For math, we had a tougher time selecting curriculum because SOS provided a math diagnostic assessment that started at third grade, and my eighth grade daughter could not seem to pass it, but more about that later.
Homeschooling One Child
Once my curriculum was chosen, my next step was to address the issue of how my eighth grader would be socialized once we started homeschool. Toward that end, I joined a local group (Katy Area Christian Homeschool – KACH for short). That organization introduced me to over 400 families in my area that were homeschooling too, and it wasn’t long before I came to realize that no two families were doing it the same way. That’s right – there is no one right way to homeschool your children! What works for one family doesn’t usually work for another (and I know now – what works for one child within the family doesn’t always work for another either). The KACH association offered social groups for the children, support groups for the moms, an opportunity to ask questions, learn about what others did given specific challenges. It was very relieving to have so much support!
Within KACH, I first signed my daughter up with the “teen” social group. Then, I joined a “Newbie” group led by a veteran homeschool mom. Her emphasis in leading that group was two-fold: you CAN do this, and you MUST find what works for you. The homeschool parents I’ve met (predominately women) tend to be open to a trial and error method of figuring out what works best for each child and helping each child overcome obstacles. I also learned from the KACH group that people are motivated to homeschool for different reasons: avoid bullying, overcome specific academic weaknesses, provide a Christian world view, flexible schedule, and for some it was to give their children the best possible education. The Newbie group taught me to focus on my main reason for homeschool and deny the temptation to do what others were doing, especially if their reasons for homeschooling were different than mine. At that time, my main reason to homeschool was primarily that I wanted to make sure my child was actually attending to her school work and improving her academic skill set first and foremost. For the most part, the curriculum choices I made turned out to do just that.
Given the particular circumstances of my oldest daughter, we decided to start with a general assessment of skills. To my surprise, she still tested below third grade level in math. It was a while before I understood why, given she did pass the fifth grade state test. The answer is, there are only a narrow number of math skills tested in fifth grade, but there are a broad range of skills – hundreds of skills – not tested in fifth grade. So when she was being tutored, the sessions focused on what fifth graders needed to know to pass the test. There remained Grand Canyon-sized gaps in her understanding of math outside of skills assessed in fifth grade.
To remedy this problem, we wanted to focus on remediating math, but we could accomplish that only at the detriment of history and science. The science curriculum I chose was of a lower grade level and allowed her to learn about science on a simplified level that was not distracting. In hindsight, I wish I had done the same with social studies. Instead, I kept with the public school plan and purchased the SOS curriculum of American History to the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. The main thing I learned that first year – you simply cannot DO everything. She did get through the history curriculum, but she needed more help than I anticipated, and it was a bumpy ride grade wise.
For math, I chose a website – IXL.com. It’s not actually a curriculum; it’s a practice website, but it provides unlimited practice, generating a limitless number of practice questions for each skill. Also, IXL enables students to navigate to skills from every single grade level, which was ideal for someone with so many gaps. For example, one major gap for my daughter was shapes. She didn’t know anything about shapes, so she had to drop down to a pre-k level and work her way back up through the varying skills at each grade level before getting to the point where she was able to do anything regarding geometry.
How it Went – Homeschool Results
That year, I was extremely proud of my daughter for both her effort AND success in homeschool. She overcame most of her deficits in math by spending about 4 hours per day working on math. She actually completed more than 700 hours worth of math! In contrast, the typical public school student spends approximately 120 hours a year completing math at home and for homework. She spent the first semester working on remediation of elementary math skills and the second semester honing her middle school math skills. By the end of her eighth grade year, math was HANDS DOWN my daughter’s BEST subject! We also spent about two to three hours per day working on reading and writing, and any time remaining each day was devoted to science and history, with a minimum expectation that she’d get to science and history at least two days a week.
That was right around the time my other two children were becoming especially disillusioned with public school and were thinking about homeschool too. When they started begging me to keep them home from school every Monday, when their benchmark tests were given, I knew we needed to accommodate them as well. Since I was already at home every day, it was merely the extra cost of their books and supplies to consider, so we agreed.
First Year Homeschooling THREE children
I know many women who make homeschool with multiple children at various ages and stages work. I’m just not one of them. Ideally, my ninth grader would have been more independent, and I would have had plenty of time to spend with my two younger daughters as needed. In reality, my oldest was the most needy, and the younger two were virtually neglected. They had to work together, teach each other, and sometimes assignments flew under the radar and didn’t get accomplished.
Periodically, I would grade through their work and find a lot of work that they agreed was “not necessary,” and had therefore made the executive decision to leave it incomplete. Then there would be much distress (think weeping and gnashing of teeth), much catch up, and much contrition, but the work would finally get done. We spent quite a bit of time in “catch up” mode, and that’s another pearl of wisdom I’ve come to understand – virtually EVERY homeschool family goes through this – especially as life, field trips, social commitments, and clubs start to take over your schedule. It should probably not have come as such a surprise that you actually have to BE at home every once in a while to homeschool! Actually, you don’t – you could be at the library, Starbucks, or anywhere with chairs and an internet connection, but you have to have big blocks of time dedicated to actually DOING school work, or none of it ever gets done. Lesson learned!
Successive Years of Homeschool
For that second year, “catch up” mode sort of stunk, but as far as the curriculum we used, the younger two were very heavy on science, math, and classical history, with minor emphasis on reading literature and even less emphasis on writing. After all, I reasoned, I am a trained writing teacher with a degree in English – writing is something I could easily teach them any time (allowing that I ever could find the time). With regard to science, there were four elementary school curriculum choices from Apologia (land animals, ocean animals, birds, and botany) I wanted them to accomplish over a two year period, and I needed them to complete two full sciences per year, but THEY got to choose the order.
With history, a classical model means learning about history from four periods of time (ancient times, medieval times, discovery and settling of the Americas, and the Industrial Revolution through modern times) through each level of school (elementary, middle, and high school – or grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric according to the classical education model). Since we were starting late (most people start in kinder/first grade), we did an intensive overview of TWO periods of history each year for two school years using The Story of the World curriculum. By the end of the first two years at home, my younger girls had completed four years worth of grammar level science and history! That encompassed a LOT of non-fiction reading and left them well positioned for middle school.
We 💗 Homeschool
Plus, once we started to hit our stride, the girls loved homeschool! They loved sleeping a bit later, how interesting all the history and science curriculum assignments were, getting to take a break outside on the trampoline for 15 minutes in between assignments, frequent field trips. It wasn’t long before I started to hear how sorry they felt for public school students who don’t get to help choose what they are going to learn about, don’t get to go on hardly any field trips, constantly have to contend with “silent lunch” and walking laps around the playground in silence at recess (because their school opted to have more academic time and less gym class, and they didn’t provide enough gym time according to the state of Texas, so students had to walk laps around the playground, in silence, each day during lunch to meet the state minimum requirements for physical fitness when they were in public school). In every way, they felt homeschool was more fun or better – except that they noticed that a lot of things were sliding. They noticed that I was often distracted and wrapped up in helping my older daughter, trying to get some exercise myself, and trying to work a bit here and there (as a substitute teacher) in an attempt to supplement my husband’s income.
Years two and three of homeschool for my oldest daughter brought about some changes. In ninth grade, we switched from SOS science to Apologia physical science, and we followed up in tenth with Apologia biology. I really like Apologia for science for two reasons – their curriculum is Christian centered (it teaches the secular science and contrasts it with what Christians believe), and they have a great reputation for comprehensive science course work. The textbooks are written by an actual scientist and are heavy on lab experimentation. We still used SOS for history (geography) in ninth, but we abandoned it in tenth grade when we decided to study world history. Instead, I merely asked her to READ through all of The Story of the World books of classical history that my younger girls had used and complete some critical thinking exercises with each chapter from each book. I also provided history tests to assess her progress. I know, that was a step down academically, but again – in homeschool, you try to go with what works and you CANNOT do everything.
Change is Inevitable
For my oldest daughter, who was homeschooled through grades 8, 9, and 10 with diminishing rates of success each year, and the necessary addition of homeschool summer school after 10th grade, we knew we needed a new plan. Public school had not worked for her. Homeschool was becoming more of a struggle every year because she was becoming more and more needy. The only time her work would get done is if I sat and worked side by side with her. Any time I gave her an opportunity to grow in working independently, she would fake work, half-complete assignments, or just straight up lie about what was accomplished. She repeatedly asked us to let her drop out of school through ninth and tenth grade, especially when she felt the pressure to complete school was interfering with her social ambitions, but that was something we would never voluntarily agree to. Instead, we followed the advice of a few friends and checked out the option of cooperative homeschooling.
Cooperative homeschool is sometimes called “University Model” private school. In Texas, all homeschool is considered private school, but this particular model, because your children are not IN THE CLASSROOM every day with full-time paid teachers, is MUCH more affordable overall. Basically, your children take their classes at the “school” two days a week. Lessons are planned, checked, and graded by teachers. The other three days of the week, your children have full days of school too, but they complete all of those assignments at home, and if they need help, YOU the parent have to be available and prepared to help them. After a tour, an application fee, and an interview, we had the opportunity to join Katy Classical Academy – KCA. It has been a life changing experience for me and my girls! And that’s the model of education I’ll outline in part three of this series – coming soon!