Monday, October 26, 2015

How Do They Do It? {A Home Schooling Blog Series}

Here we are again with more...:

If you've missed the first 3 installments, head HERE for the first with Kendra of Catholic All YearHERE for the second with Lindsay of My Child, I love you, and HERE for the third with Dwija of House Unseen.

If you're a Catholic mother who reads catholic books, you've likely heard of the amazing Karen Edmisten before. I remember reading her writing back when I was a faithful subscriber to Faith and Family magazine, and then being very thankful for her work in the realm of outreach to mothers who have miscarried- it is so needed. When I discovered her writings on homeschooling on her cleverly-named blog, and then discovered that, like me, she never saw herself as a homeschooling mother, I had to start reading. Then I kept reading, and reading and reading... she is a wise, wise woman. And funny! And full of such great ideas and tips! She is a phenomenal writer, as is evidenced by her blog, but even more in the plethora of books she has authored/co-authored- it is pretty impressive:

Again, you can find more of her writing and information on all of the above books over on her blog. Reading her answers was so incredibly encouraging, especially number 5, you fellow mothers of many small ones will understand why when you read it. So good! 

1: You have said you never saw yourself as a homeschooling mother and homeschooling was not initially a part of your family's plan. What changed in your heart?

I'll try to make a long story short! When we got married, I was an atheist and Tom was agnostic. We promised each other we would never have children, but after my conversion to "mere Christianity," I broke that promise -- I wanted children. Eventually Tom did, too. After two heartbreaking miscarriages, we had Emily and when she was 18 months old, I was received into the Catholic Church. By that time, Tom was a public school teacher, and we both just assumed our daughter's education would follow the same traditional path that Tom's and mine had. Obviously our child would go to school. That's what normal people did, right? :) 

When Emily was in preschool, I was still operating under that assumption, but two things were happening: I was learning more about my faith (and had met people who talked about homeschooling), and I was observing the beginning of my daughter's formal education. What I heard about homeschooling intrigued me. I began imagining what it might be like (though I knew Tom would never agree to it) mainly because, as I watched our daughter progress through preschool and Kindergarten, I saw things that concerned me. School was putting a damper on her love of learning. I began to picture what our days would be like if we homeschooled, and I worked on ways to keep her interest in learning alive. I'll sum up the last part of the story with what I can only call a miracle: by the end of Emily's Kindergarten year, and after lots of prayer, Tom, miraculously, came into the Catholic Church and he agreed to start homeschooling. That started us down a path we've never regretted. 

2: What are some tips and tricks to unschooling while still having some structure to the day?

I usually call us "Unschoolish" with an emphasis on the "-ish." I started out homeschooling with a more traditional approach, but I quickly learned that my idea of "what school at home looks like" conflicted with the reality of "how my daughter best learns." That was when I started experimenting with unschoolish ways. Our homeschooling style developed over the first few years, as I figured out what worked best for my kids. 

Though I definitely think of us as "relaxed" homeschoolers, I've always loved having structure and routine as part of our days. When my (now college-aged) girls were younger, we started most days with a certain routine. They got up, made their beds, did a couple of chores, and came to the breakfast table. Over breakfast, I managed to squeeze in a fair amount of "school." We started off with prayers (a meal prayer, then daily prayers), then I usually read a story about a saint, or a Bible story, then a chapter or two from the book that was our current read-aloud. Breakfast time might also include something like a bit of read-aloud history or science. Lots of lively discussion is always a part of reading aloud, and I have often said that, "Talking is most of our curriculum." This approach has continued with our youngest daughter (I call her Ramona on the blog), and it's still working great for us. It allows for a wonderful combination of following my daughters' interests and living sane, balanced lives in which beds do get made. 

And I think it's always important to note, when bandying that "unschooling" term around, that being unschoolish has never meant being "unparentish." Sometimes, radical unschoolers seem to take a hands-off approach to everything in the home. But, approaching education in a non-traditional way doesn't mean we abdicate parental responsibilities. I have never been uncomfortable about imposing routines, requirements, and responsibilities on my children, or about teaching them self-discipline. We all have to learn the lesson that certain things will be required of us in life, whether by our parents, teachers in college, bosses in the workforce, by our own children, or, ultimately, by our Lord. Teaching my children about responsibility and self-discipline has always gone hand in hand with teaching them about their faith. Being non-traditional, or unschoolish, in the rest of their education has never conflicted with that. In many ways, actually complements it. 

3: What are your top 3 favorite resources of all time for home schooling?

1. God
2. My husband 
3. Other homeschooling moms 

That's seriously my answer, but, okay, okay, on a practical level, I'll add: 

1. Solid literature -- Read-alouds are a huge part of our homeschool. Booklists are my best friends, and the library is the first place I shop. Choice of books will vary for every family, but building a "living education" around "living books" and discussing everything we read has been at the core of our homeschool. 
2. Catholic Heritage Curricula (gentle curricula for the times I am a little more textbook-y). 
3. "Living is Learning" curriculum guides from Plent Publications. (You can find most of them here -- the page is a little hard to navigate. Scroll down to almost-the-bottom of that page to find the curriculum guides.) These were helpful in putting together a basic plan (from which we often strayed) every year. 

And, sneaking in #4: Favorite quotes, like this one: 

“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life become a beautiful success, in spite of poverty.”   ~~ Little Women

4: What is one thing (or many things) you wish you hadn't done in your first years of home schooling? 

Oooh, good question! For the most part, I can't say I have any serious regrets because everything we've done has led us to where we are now, and even my mistakes were an important part of the trip. 

For example, I could say I regret starting with such a rigid view of what a homeschool should look like, but that's where I was at the time -- I was operating with the best knowledge I had. It was only through getting to know Emily and Lizzy's learning styles that I opened up to other possibilities about how to educate. 

On a practical level, I can say this: I wish I hadn't tried as many different math programs as I did. I looked for "the perfect math program" for a long time but the reality is that there's no perfect math program (at least, not for my family of math haters.) All we really need is a consistent program and the dedication to slog through it, because math and problem-solving are just parts of life. I can unschool just about everything but math, so we need curriculum for that (when the kids are older, anyway -- I'm still an advocate of teaching very young children math through hands-on learning and life, and delaying more complicated math until they are older. And I love this TED talk by math teacher John Bennett. He basically sums up my beliefs about math education and what is and isn't necessary. 

5: With all of the craziness of homeschooling and how much demand there is on moms physically, mentally and emotionally during the day, what are some tips for making sure your spouse and your marriage isn't getting overlooked?

This is such an important issue! Yes, it's vital for your marriage to come first, and for both husband and wife to make it a priority. A couple of things come to mind. 

Tom and I have had a weekly date night for years. It's incredibly important to us, and we both look forward to it. Over the years, it was often a date night at home, and it still is most weeks, though we sometimes go out. When the girls were little, we fed them dinner, put them to bed, and had the rest of the night to ourselves. When they got older, we shooed them away and told them to figure out something to do so that Tom and I could spend some time together.

Date night (and other couple time, but also just mom-recharge time) is so important. 

We homeschooling moms are with our kids a lot, and that's great -- it makes for a great relationship, but it can also set us up for guilt because when we're used to being with our kids all the time, we can feel a bit guilty when we're not with them, or if we're in the same house but not fully "present" to them. So, I maintain that a bit of "masterly inactivity" (to quote Charlotte Mason) and benign neglect are a good thing.

Making time for yourself and your husband isn't selfish, it's necessary refueling time. We need it, and our children will be fine. Learning to entertain oneself without a plan, a schedule, or structure is a necessary life skill, and we're actually doing our kids a disservice if we are their constant companion and entertainer. So, send your kids away regularly so that you and your husband can have a date and your kids can exercise some creative playtime skills. You can jot it down in your record-keeping of homeschooling accomplishments, in your best educationese:

"This week, the children continued learning the value of independently chosen and executed pursuits." (And you got to open a bottle of wine and revel in time with your beloved husband.) 
Thank you so much, Karen!


  1. Karen is the best, isn't she? Great interview!

  2. Ah, benign neglect, one of the most important tools of homeschooled parents, and one we frequently feel guilty about (but shouldn't).

  3. Oh, that quote from Little Women! Going straight into my commonplace book!

  4. "We homeschooling moms are with our kids a lot, and that's great -- it makes for a great relationship, but it can also set us up for guilt because when we're used to being with our kids all the time, we can feel a bit guilty when we're not with them,"
    ... This SO resonated with me. It's silly when I step back and think about it. I mean, I am WITH my kids ALL the time! But when I'm not, I feel terrible about it. I enjoyed reading from a more experienced mom's perspective and hearing her say that recharge time (for me or my marriage) is imperative.
    I am LOVING this series!!!

  5. Oh, I love all this feedback, thank you! I'm so grateful to you, Ana for doing this series, and for inviting me to be a part of it. This kind of stuff is so important. Moms (homeschooling or not) need each other! For those of you who homeschool, I hope you'll find this lifestyle to be as rewarding and fulfilling as we have. That's not to say it's always easy and fun, but for us, at least, it's always been worth it. Thanks, all!

  6. Have I mentioned how much I love these homeschooling posts? What a fun and helpful idea. It's been great to see all the different routes you can take to school at home. Thank you for posting these!

    Also, Karen's idea about sending older children away during the day to spend time together as spouses is one that never occurred to me. I can't wait until the kids are bit older! Thanks, Karen. ;)

  7. My pleasure, Christine! Certain things definitely get easier as the kids get older. :)