Sunday, September 16, 2007

My interview about homeschooling

This weekend I answered a bunch of questions for a reporter writing about homeschooling in our valley for a new newspaper. She also wanted information about the homeschool group I founded, Alpine Homeschool Alliance (AHA!) as well as personal information. I spent so much time on it, I decided I'd share it with an even wider audience.

How many families and individual students are in AHA! ?
We have 33 families on our Yahoo group online, and there are a handful more who attend but never joined the online group. Our recent “Not Back to School Party” had in attendance 34 people—12 adults and 22 children. And there were several notable absent families who will definitely be attending most of our weekly gatherings.

What region does the group cover? Is it just the San Luis Valley?
Membership is open to all counties in the San Luis Valley. We’ve also been contacted by people before they ever moved here, and would be open to anyone willing to travel to meet us.

How long has the group been around? How was it founded?
I started the group in the fall of 2005, upon discovering that there was a niche for an inclusive homeschooling group. The phrase that is seen on all of our online and offline blurbs, reads: “We embrace all lifestyles, belief systems, education styles and ages.”

What kind of support does the group give?
We meet weekly for the kids to play with their homeschooled friends, and for the parents to discuss whatever is on their minds, we have a Not Back to School party every fall to kick off the season, we have a Resource Review every fall where we share which resources and curriculums we’re using or have use din the past and also give away any resources we no longer need, we have Game Days for everyone to play board games and Twister and anything they think of, book sales for people to sell resources they no longer want, storytelling with the local Spellbinders, and multiple behind-the-scenes field trips to places like KRZA, meteor sites, Safeway, and more. Field trips for this year include the post office, airport, SLV Conour Animal Shelter, and more. In addition, we are always open to anyone who has questions or needs support or is considering homeschooling in the future but needs more information. We are a very welcome group, and membership and attendance are absolutely free.

How often does it meet?
We meet weekly on Thursdays at 1pm. In nice weather we meet at Cole Park, and our indoor location is St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Alamosa. (We’re not church affiliated, but St. Thomas generously shared its newly remodeled space with the community.)

How many children do you have and what are their ages?
Three—M (7.5), L (5.5), and S (almost 4).

M is 7.5. She is starting ballet this week at the dance academy; these are her first ballet classes is 2 years. She loves reading, fairies, listening to audiobooks, books, knitting, drawing, caring for animals, swimming, asking questions, math, and running, among other things.

My M:

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Leo is 5.5. He enjoys reading, cooking, playing on the computer, watching cooking shows, Superman, walking our dogs, playing with kittens, asking questions, comforting people in times of sadness, hot tubs, gymnastics, and more.

My L:

S is 3.5. Actually, she'll be 4 in less than 2 months. She loves snuggling, singing, kittens, jumping, playing with cars, emulating her big siblings, swinging, afghans, eye contact, clouds moving across the sky, talking, sitting on laps, helping people, getting her way, and more.

Here is my S:

My children:

What kind of method do you personally employ for homeschooling? There are many types of homeschooling—Classical, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Enki, Distance Learning, Unschooling, Montessori, Unit Studies, Umbrella Schools, and Eclectic. Eclectic covers everything possible. :) My family is currently thriving with unschooling with interests that often lean toward Classical education. Unschooling basically means we follow our interests and explore everything. The kids decide what and when they want to learn, and I offer lots of materials (some traditional) and ideas of my own that they are welcome to take or leave as they wish. They are incredibly inquisitive and learning is their favorite thing in the world, and our days are jam-packed.

How does it fit your child/children's learning style? Perfectly, since each child gets to explore everything in the ways that work for them. We’ve learned a lot about their learning styles—Marian really enjoys structure that is within her control, Leo is much more of a kinetic learner, and Sophie is into anything if the rest of us are excited about it.

Have they always been homeschooled? Do you plan on educating them at home through the end of secondary school? Yes, we’ve homeschooled from the start, and we plan to homeschool all the way through. I don’t know what the future holds for certain, but I envision them taking classes at the community college when they are teens, then transferring to ASC or the colleges of their choice (or not) from there.

What special activities/unique education methods does homeschooling allow you to pursue? We can do anything we want! Homeschooling, for us, is more of a lifestyle choice than simply an educational one. It meshes with life and parenting so seamlessly that I often can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. Homeschooling allows us to volunteer at the SLV Conour Animal Shelter daily, where the kids are welcome and have learned so much. We have lengthy “field trips” every day, and the kids are comfortable with people of all ages. We travel as often as we can, and spanned areas between Tacoma, WA and Ft. Worth, TX last year. We enjoy the sparsley populated parks, libraries, and ice skating rink during the school year as well. ;)

What do you see as the benefits of homeschooling?
Benefits vary for each family. For my family, the biggest benefit is increased family time and strong family bonds. Unlike many single parents, I am fortunate to have tons of time with my children. I love having my kids around almost all the time, we enjoy being together as a family, and they are thriving. Homeschooling works for us. In addition, they get an excellent individual education tailored to their interests and learning styles, we have tons of family flexibility, scheduling-wise, and it's easy to manage their food intolerances and Celiac disease safely. Minimal commericalism and high safety end the list.

Do you notice anything negative about it?
The only negatives for me are the misperceptions of some of society, and the lower income compared to what we’d be living on if I had one traditional full-time job, instead of 3 part-time jobs (2 of them work-at-home).

What kinds of activities do the kids participate in to pursue additional interests and socialize?
I assume you mean socializing with other children; they socialize with people of all ages on a daily basis. Kid-wise, they attend my local part-time job with me at the Valley Health & Fitness childcare, where they play with children ranging in age from infant to age 11. They play with their homeschooled friends every week, and they attend story hours and movie nights at the Southern Peak Public Library. They’ve taken multiple sessions of pottery, gymnastics, and swimming from the Alamosa Family Recreation Center, and M is currently enrolled in ballet at Mountain Valley Dance. (She has also been invited to attend the local Fiber Floozies so she can join in with her knitting, and she will be the only child there I think.) We attend the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Sundays, where the children receive religious education with other kids. They ice skate with friends in the winter, and they play with my best friend’s daughter several times a week when we get together to visit.

How do you feel homeschooled kids are different from those who receive a public education?
Well, every child is different, of course, and I don’t like to make generalizations. With that disclaimer, in my observation I’ve found that kids who have homeschooled for a significant period of time are often well-spoken, comfortable talking with people of all ages (kids younger than them, as well as adults), often view adults as their peers as well as children (in a respectful way), and I’ve not seen any bullying or teasing among the children in our group. But I think the #1 difference is that homeschooled kids ask LOTS of questions! :)

How much time do your kids typically spend a day on school? How do you make time to educate your kids?
Their schooling is not distinct from their daily life or from mine. They are learning and living all day every day, year round. We all are.

How do you feel it benefits you as a parent? Are there any negative things about it for you personally?
I love knowing them so very well, and watching them hit those big milestones (I have 2 readers now!) I love the flexibility we have for travel, sleeping in, and volunteering. I feel I’m a better parent because I know them well and our days are relatively relaxed.

How were you educated and how do you feel that education shaped you?
I went to public schools and was in all the honor programs. I didn’t hate school, but I did learn to do the minimum required to get an A. Academics came easily to me, so I flew through it. My educational experience didn’t really play any role in deciding to homeschool my own children.

Finally, how are homeschooled kids successful in later life? College? The work world?
Ivy League colleges are actively recruiting homeschoolers these days, and homeschoolers perform very well in college, as a group.

According to Dr. Brian Ray, in a summary of his research entitled Homeschooling Grows Up, homeschool graduates are just as or more likely to go on to college as the general population, more satisfied in their work, happier with their lives overall, and more involved in civic affairs.

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