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December 19, 2016

Sophie Miller

Homeschoolers in the Spotlight, Part 3

Topics: Learning at Home

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Although she didn’t know it yet, Kari began her journey with homeschooling years ago, when she and her husband David began leading international trips with kids of all ages. On these expeditions, David and Kari taught the kids about the history of the countries they were in and the plants and animals that they encountered there. They also led service projects that educated the kids on the trips about the culture and conditions in the countries that they explored. Although she had taught English as a Second Language more formally during her time at college, Kari cites these international trips as a starting point in her journey as an educator, because she learned the benefits of learning outside of a formal classroom setting.

These days, Kari educates full-time, as she has her hands full with her four young children: Bella, 9; Liam, 6; Clive, 4; and Elora, 8 months. Homeschooling her older two children while keeping an eye on the younger two isn’t easy by a long shot. Kari recounts an incident in recent years in which, while focusing on teaching a lesson to Bella, Liam and Clive dug a series of “massive holes in the yard.” The mess of learning doesn’t stay at school for Kari’s kids – because the materials of their education occupy their home space, things can get messy, and “our living room typically has books from the library scattered all over.” Still, Kari admits, “it’s the kind of mess I’m ok with because they’re engaging in stories!” And this sentiment applies to many of the difficulties that she identifies in homeschooling her children. While it can be challenging at times, Kari and David believe that teaching their kids at home will yield benefits, both in the near future and years down the line, that the children themselves and they as parents will enjoy and take pride in.

A Positive Spin

Kari recognizes the significant undertaking of choosing something as important as education for one’s kids. “With all the information available to us now and with all the judgement and agony we parents feel regarding whether the decisions we make for our kids are the right ones,” many parents consider their schooling options with trepidation and anxiety. But Kari reflects positively on her reasons for homeschooling Bella and Liam, and someday, if it proves the right method for them, Clive and Elora as well. Most of Kari’s motivations for keeping her kids at home to educate them focus not on how a formal educational setting might fail her children, but what they definitely can learn and experience with the flexibility of a homeschool environment. She noticed, looking around at homeschooling families in her community, that “the sibling relationships felt unified” in a way that seemed unique to all the time they spent together. She and David knew they wanted to try to foster this close connection between their four kids. She admired “the relaxed environment, quiet mornings together instead of rushing out the door” – an important factor in a child’s ability to learn later on in the day. Individuality of self was also deeply important to Kari and David in their decision to homeschool their kids. Both parents wanted to make sure that their kids felt “comfortable with their personal strengths and not be as insecure about their weaknesses.” Kari has found homeschool to be a great way to help her children develop their individuality and unique sense of self, and adults often remark to her “how individual each of them is” and how her kids’ senses of self seem very strong.

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Another driving factor in Kari and David’s decision to homeschool their children was their lifelong love of travel. After many years of both traveling overseas and living abroad, the parents decided that they wanted their kids to “value the character and worldview of well-traveled people” as much as they did. They wanted to ensure that they raised children who were accepting and understanding of other cultures, not just through rote learning of these values in the abstract, but through actual experience in other countries and with people whom they might consider unlike themselves. Kari and David decided that the flexible nature of homeschool would afford them the most leniency in using travel as a teaching tool for their kids.

A Global Education

So how does travel play into educating one’s child? Kari and David’s family have been on a few family vacations, including a recent trip to Thailand. The focus of these trips for Kari as the homeschooler is to help her kids “experience a different culture” and “see people living a different life” from the one that they lead at home. Kari and David wanted to expose their children to non-American cultures early on so they can have familiarity with and acceptance of cultural and national differences. Kari also emphasizes the importance to her of showing her kids “firsthand that other cultures do many things better than we do…which hopefully will help prevent them believing the idea that America does everything better!” By traveling to other countries, Bella, Liam, Clive, and someday baby Elora can learn about global culture not just from a textbook but through experience.

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Of course, once the trip is over, homeschooling still goes on, but Kari tries to carry over the excitement and inventiveness of their vacations into the material that she teaches her kids at home. Some educational memories over the past few year include  when the family “attempted (unsuccessfully) to mummify a chicken for Egyptian history, make a bird watching field guide of migratory birds in our area, taken hikes where we identify native plants, made meals from countries we’re studying or parts of history we’re learning about (like eating a meal that English monks would have had…not a big hit but very memorable!), gone on field trips to local businesses to see first-hand how they are run, what they produce or do and the kids get to ask questions about what interests them.” This is one of the greatest benefits of homeschool, according to Kari: because you only have a couple of students to manage, and because you know them so well, everyone “can get school work done in just a few hours. It leaves us a lot of time during the day to get creative” and go on local adventures.

As far as resources go, Kari chooses to mix and match rather than buying all of her educational materials from the same source. This has resulted in a somewhat eclectic collection of learning materials for Bella and Liam. Their history study resource, Story of the World, revolves through human history three times, exploring more complicated facets of historical events each time it reaches them. For spelling, Kari uses a spelling primer from 1888 that she found on vacation. She finds that this antique holds her kids’ attention more effectively than a modern spelling workbook, because they are able to “see the poems and paragraphs of copy work kids were doing over 100 years ago!” Additionally, Kari always adds what she calls a “heart-geared teaching component,” materials that help her “kids grow empathy, compassion, watching out for the kids who are on the fringes of a group, how to develop kindness and a lack of judgement toward others, to be good listeners.” Ultimately, Kari describes her curriculum as “a fluid thing, a work in progress that I always reevaluate and have to be willing to update.” For all the flexibility that you get from homeschooling, then, you have to be willing to give some back too.

The Hard Days

Of course, homeschooling never comes without its disadvantages or trouble spots, and Kari is very candid about the difficulties that she and her kids struggle with in their education. “Finding rhythm and routine have been a real challenge” for both Kari and the kids, especially when transitioning from a summertime spent at home to a schoolyear spent in the same place. But difficulties such as these can be eased. For instance, Kari and her kids “always go out for breakfast on the first day of school to celebrate the beginning of the year instead of just waking up one morning and diving right in to school subjects.” This marks the beginning of the schoolyear for Kari’s kids and gives them something to look forward to about jumping into the next grade level.

Another difficulty comes from the fact that, while Kari simultaneously teaches two kids at two different grade levels, she must also keep an eye on Clive and Elora, who haven’t begun school yet. In past years, Kari recounts, “it was really easy to rush through parts of school to either make sure the boys weren’t deconstructing the upstairs.” It takes a lot of discipline for Kari to focus on teaching Bella, and now Liam too, and also ensure that her younger kids aren’t up to trouble.

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In the end, though, Kari feels that she and David are giving their children a lasting gift. Kari acknowledges that she doesn’t “think homeschooling is the best option for every family or even for every child.” But for her kids, homeschooling seems to be a fit that is helping them to learn the values that she and her husband care about the most as parents. Ultimately, Kari hopes that her children “will feel confident in how they learn and know themselves so they can assert themselves” and their individuality. She believes that the personal attention and opportunities that homeschooling affords will provide her children with this confidence, and that it will “prove to have been worth it in years to come.”

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