Give a little bit of background about you and your family.
My name is Shelley. I grew up in New Brunswick, but moved to Ontario when I was 18 to attend college. Here I met my husband Steve. We started our family young, and had three children under 5 at 28. Over the years I have volunteered for a number of organizations, but my love of the outdoors has kept me a member of Scouts Canada for eighteen years. This has led me to get certifications in Wilderness First Aid, ORCKA and Hike Ontario. I’m always up for a new adventure!
Why did you decide to homeschool your kids?
Like most families, we registered our oldest daughter for public school when she turned 5. It was hard to listen to my child complain about getting in trouble in class for wanting to write her name in cursive, when the directions were to print. She also didn’t understand why the other kids couldn’t yet read. It got to the point that she was being ridiculed for being ‘different’. After 3 months, the principal suggested we should homeschool, since he felt I was already keeping my kids “locked” in the basement anyway, implying that this could be the only reason my child was ahead of her peers; I was forcing her to learn. Needless to say, I filed a complaint with the school board, before pulling her out of school. We did consider putting her back in for grade 1, but by then she was so far ahead of her peers that we decided to take on homeschooling permanently.
Did friends and/or family pass judgment on your decision? What was your response?
My family didn’t offer their support of our decision to homeschool right away, and most thought I would give up and send the kids back to school once I got bored. I had family members actually test my kids on their skills, assuming that they sat home in their PJ’s all day. It was initially a very tense subject at family gatherings.
Where did you get your ideas from in regards to curriculum, assignments, etc.?
When I started homeschooling, there wasn’t internet. Most of my ideas etc. came from books borrowed from the library, or friends. There was one set of books I purchased, What your First Grader Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch Jr. The set started at Kindergarten and went to grade 6. These were amazing and I still have them! They are American, so we skipped over the lessons on history, and used the other subjects. They were my go-to reference. We also used Abeka for some early math. Once each of my kids developed their own learning style, I was able to hunt for materials that suited them - it was about finding the right fit for them as individuals. While one liked a write in workbook, another might like to keep the book clean, and put answers on paper. There were also monthly homeschooling meetings with the Cambridge Christian Home Educators, which were held locally, and annual conferences held in various surrounding cities. These were places to gather new ideas. While most homeschooling has some sort of religious connection, we tried to keep religion out of our classroom.
Did you have a specific room in the house where you would teach your children?
Initially, we created a school room in the basement. This was connected to where the laundry area was located, so it worked well to keep the housework done at the same time. I also had a desk, so that I could continue to do the bookkeeping for my husband’s business. The school room was fun to prepare each year, with colourful posters, books and craft supplies. The kids each had a desk, which they stored their own books in. They weren’t required to sit and do work at the desk, but they had to stay in the basement. In our second and third home, I didn’t have any toddlers to contend with, so we loosened the school area, and they could go off and do their work where they wanted.
What was the most challenging part of homeschooling?
The biggest thing I struggled with while homeschooling was the isolation. While I was literally never alone, I was rarely around adults. The monthly homeschool meetings were usually my only time away from the kids. In hindsight, I should have done more for myself. I didn’t struggle with the teaching; I struggled with balancing kids, a home and a marriage.
In regards to the curriculum, I usually set aside a day or two in mid August to plan out our year, setting some long term goals. This could include things like getting a bank account, or staying away from home for the first time. I then split everything in half; before Christmas, after Christmas. We liked to be done our ‘book’ learning by April or May, so we could travel or do things outside. I did a daily schedule one month at a time, to include upcoming field trips or sports commitments. This allowed me to spend time helping one with math, while another might be doing art.
What was the most rewarding part of homeschooling?
I LOVED seeing the kids excited to learn! They would wake up at 6 am, and cry because they had to eat breakfast before doing school work. As they got older, they would challenge other’s views and ideals, and I knew had done something right. I always tried to get them to think outside the box.
Do you feel your children missed out on any opportunities due to being homeschooled? If not, how do you feel homeschooling has put them ahead in life?
All of my kids complained as young teens about being home, but some days they complained about everything. I tried not to take it personally. I never thought they were missing out on things in life but rather they were experiencing life in a different way. We used to spend 4 months of the year living near my parents in New Brunswick (our main home was in Ontario), so the kids could develop relationships with their cousins and grandparents. They played outside for 4 months building forts, swinging on swings, swimming in a local creek, eating wild berries, helping out at a local dairy farm, helping their grandparents plant their garden - not something we could have offered had they been in school. Being at home also allowed them to learn how to manage a household. They all helped with chores like laundry, dishes, cooking, gardening and cleaning. I used to have a sign that hung in my kitchen that said ‘M is for MOM not MAID’. We lived by that. I did put them into high school, not because of what they would miss if they stayed home, but because they could gain more from being there. Band, sports, gym, shop classes - I couldn’t offer those. Homeschooling gave them a rock solid foundation. I knew that regardless of what life threw at them, they would be able to handle it.
What advice would you give to someone who was considering homeschooling?
Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t flexible, it probably isn’t for you. Part of the joy of having kids home, is the ability to allow them to learn at their own pace, and change your schedule if you need to. If you are going to have rigid expectations, then you might as well send them to a typical public school. Personally, it’s not about the outcome, but the journey. Having my kids lay under the kitchen table, doing math in mismatched clothes and fuzzy slippers while singing was perfect to me. I miss it everyday and feel so blessed to have had the opportunity.