Her name is Earle: Cathy Earle’s Interview

First I think I need to explain this post headline. It just so happens that I’ve been immersed in the show, My Name is Earl, and when I read a story included in today's interview, I couldn’t help but think about the show.

Unfortunately, Cathy’s story and my current obsession with the show have combined and I have had "Earl's" theme song playing in my head for way too long now. I figured my only hope for getting it out of there was to pour it into Cathy’s interview post. Sorry Cathy, but I had to do something to save what little sanity I have left.

Anyway, Cathy lives in Southern California and is another homeschooling parent whose three daughters are past high school age and out in the world, two of them having earned various degrees and one currently busy as a professional dancer.

Cathy has a very useful blog for homeschoolers, Every Day Is Special, where she shares various historical tidbits, holidays, anniversaries etc. for, well, every day!

She has another blog, Homeschool Scrapbook, which is “A retrospective look at homeschooling - a 1-year journal of a mom at the beginning of a 20-year adventure.”

Let’s take a look at a few other things that happened during that 20 year adventure - with the mom named Earle…

1. How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

My kids didn't go to nursery school or preschool when they were young, although the practice was ubiquitous at the time, but if you count only traditional school-aged children, we homeschooled all the way from K to 12, starting when my oldest turned five in 1987 and “finishing” when my youngest “graduated” in 2009.

During almost that entire time we unschooled, although my daughters did opt for more formal forms of homeschooling when they turned 15 or 16 (depending on the kid). I have three daughters.

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

Having time, lots of time, and freedom and flexibility was so beneficial; it is hard to give just a few examples. (But I will struggle to contain the urge to write a book here!)

My youngest is now a professional dancer, with a good contract dancing on a cruise ship at age 19, and most people can clearly see that having a flexible schedule really works well for an athlete or artist who is highly motivated from a young age. She was able to study many different dance forms, put a lot of time in at the dance studio and at home, and start college dance classes at age 14.

She didn't lack the benefits of dance at school, because she chose to join the local high school dance team while still homeschooling. She was chosen to be a dance captain (eventually the head captain), and the teacher gave her the opportunity to teach and choreograph girls and boys, freshmen to seniors, from kids who “don't like” to dance to youths who are super serious about dance. By the time she was 17, my daughter was putting in four hours of dance at the high school and another three to four hours of dance at the college EVERY DAY.

One of my kids was very academically oriented and was able to concentrate on studies that were important to her, such as marine biology, science fiction, and computer programming.

Another kid was “into” the arts and spent a year writing immense amounts—novels and poetry—and another year learning how to play a drum kit and doing a lot of dancing and music making, and several years drawing and painting and painting and drawing.

Our whole family likes to travel, and the kids have been able to take advantage of travel opportunities such as the time my youngest went on an expenses-paid trip to Belize to scuba dive and snorkel with sharks and sea turtles, and the time my two oldest took a trip to London and Paris with other homeschoolers. (We've traveled a ton as a family, too, but because my husband was a public school teacher, we traveled during school holidays just like everyone else. Sigh.)

My dad died when two of my girls were older than school age, but we were all glad that we had the flexibility to pull into a tight little ball of family love and support and be with him and my mom every day of his last few months. If my youngest had been in school, there would have been a lot of stress added to what ended up being a really quite beautiful (although far too early) death.

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

Again, I am tempted to write a tome! One of the really fun things about homeschooling for us was participating with our homeschool group once a week (and sometimes much more than once a week).

We have done so many things with the group, from camping and staying up all night with campfire sing-alongs to Math Circus Day, from outrageous Halloween parties and creating a “haunted trail” for other homeschoolers to celebrating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's journey of accidental discovery with an enormous sheet cake and 500 little BD candles. (We managed NOT to burn down the entire park, because we stopped lighting candles after less than half of them were lit, since the flames were joining together and melting the cake! Fun!)

When my kids were older, they wrote a funny version of the Wizard of Oz play and worked with the other teens in the group to perform the play in an amazingly professional way (asking adults for help along the way, when needed).

We had countless beach days that stretched into marathon-length hangouts at local restaurants while we waited for the traffic to die down. We had Combustion Day and dug up fossils, Human Timeline Day and sleepovers, and even learned square dancing and swing dancing together. Tons and tons of fun.

The entire lifestyle of homeschooling can be so relaxed and pleasant and, yes, fun, but some of the days that stick out the most are the really unusual days. There were at least two times that we were so captivated by our bedtime novel that we just read all day long. (By which I mean that I read aloud to the kids.)

One time we had a fun Jane Austen movie marathon, with Emma, A & E's version of Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility, plus modernized versions (Clueless, Bride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones's Diary) with another homeschool family that shares our love of Jane, and appropriate old-fashioned / British food. Fantastic!

Another unusual pair of days is when my two oldest arranged a Renaissance re-enactment in our own backyard. They did a ton of research and got all kinds of foods and materials ready for the two-day reenactment. Then they tried to do everything on those days as historically accurate as possible (except the toilet!). What they discovered was that it took soooo long to chop wood, build fires, heat brick ovens, prepare food, cook food, eat food, and clean up from meal preparation, they had little time for all the music and crafts and dances and other things they had prepared. (They needed some servants, I guess!)

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

Genuine hilarity breaks out here, and did during all the years that we homeschooled, but most of the funniest stuff is either too private and sensitive to describe here or wouldn't translate well to printed anecdote – you know, you had to be there!

One thing I thought was pretty funny (as in odd) is when we were traveling in Canada and didn't realize that some Canadian national parks don't have food – no cafes, no little grocery stores, nada, zilch.

We'd been to about a million national parks in the U.S., and all of them had some sort of food services AND shops with food for sale, so as we were driving through undeveloped wilderness of Canada, we were looking forward to arriving at the national park and a little bit of civilization, sure there would be some sort of shop and food services. We'd pulled into our camp spot and pitched a tent, and my husband drove off to get some food while I supervised the kids, who were running off the car-crazies. We had every confidence that it would be as simple as asking the ranger with the firewood-for-sale sign where we could purchase groceries.

And it was that easy. But the answer was: several hours back the way we'd just come!

Gulp! Fast food? Nah. ANY food of any sort? Nah.....My husband drove back to our campsite with a groan.

I didn't love the idea of staying at the campsite alone with the kids for FOUR hours while he went to get some food, but I knew that it would be super hard for the kids to be in the car for that long, after already being in the car a lot that day.

We were discussing our two bad options when the woman from the next campsite over came up to us with a welcoming smile. She said they had plenty of canned food to stretch their meal for four more (we only had two kids at the time), and they hoped we would join them.

Of course we were blown away by their generosity and insistently asked if that would make a food shortage for them the next day, and asked if we could pay cash, etc., etc. The upshot was that this nice family fed us, and we all chatted eagerly about books and art and sports and what we had each seen on our trips, thus far.

The next morning we ate a hearty oatmeal breakfast with this wonderful family and agreed to take a hike together before going our separate ways. Once again, everyone chatted about wildlife we'd seen in the western U.S. and Canada, and other trips we'd taken, and the species of trees all around us. At one point, my husband playfully used my full name (I use my maiden name) in an anecdote—

And the mom and dad of the Canadian family stopped in their tracks and said, “Cathy Earle? Your name is Cathy Earle?”

“Yes...?” I knew my voice shouldn't have been trailing up, as if I were asking a question, but I was wondering why they seemed startled.

“Do you homeschool?” they asked.

“Yes!” I said.

“Have you ever written a letter to John Holt's newsletter, Growing Without Schooling?”

“Um...yes. A couple of times!”

“We just read one of your letters yesterday!” this nice couple informed me. “We homeschool, too!”

You have to realize, this was back in the 80s, before the internet had entered our lives, when homeschooling seemed very rare and unusual. Most people still hadn't even heard of homeschooling. We were so amazed that we had had soooo much great conversation among the members of our two families—and homeschooling hadn't turned up until near the end of our time together—and then we had so much more to talk about!

Years later, my husband and I were flying standby home from a trip, eager to see our teenaged kids, who were staying with my parents...We'd had a huge delay that put us into L.A. after 1:00 a.m. We had hoped that there would be some sort of transport we could easily arrange from the airport to our home, 40 minutes away in the suburbs, but all the limo places and car rental places seemed to be shut down for the night.

We were trying to decide who to wake up to come get us when a businessman my husband had met on the plane insisted that his family take us home. His wife and kids had all come out to get him, and had waited through all the delays, whereas with our uncertain standby status, we had told our family that we would make our own way home.

I argued briefly—we were going to make their vehicle pretty crowded with two more big suitcases, and we lived at least 15 minutes further away from the airport than they did. But his wife and kids insisted, too, and we found ourselves bundled into their family van and being driven home.

This family was fun to talk with as well as nice, and they asked us all about our trip...and when we were quite close to our home, I casually mentioned that we homeschooled. As you may have guessed, the other mom said, “Oh? You homeschool? We homeschool, too!”

All I could think was, of course you do!

No Boring Lecture-Style Learning: Sue Patterson’s Interview

Today’s interview from Sue is great in so many ways. For one thing, her family homeschooled in Texas, California and Alaska and as you read her answers you can see that, no matter where you are, you’ll likely find other homeschoolers to share good times.

Another bonus from Sue is a little update she gave on what her kids are up to currently. I have added that at the end.

Sue lives in Texas now and she has a blog A Life Full of Days where she writes about her current life as well as sharing “what we did, how we did it, what we learned, where we're headed.”

She has also been a board member for the National Home Education Network for over 11 years. I encourage you to check out their site, loads of good information!

But before you do, you really must hear about this family who didn’t need boring lectures because they were too busy having fun learning in other ways - like mummifying Barbies…

1. How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

We officially started homeschooling in 1996. Alyssa was 2, Katie 5, and Michael 7. We weren't one of those families who always knew they'd homeschool. I was a typical stay-at-home mom from the suburbs. But after Michael went to to Kindergarten and 1st grade, we noticed such a marked change in attitude. Our happy-go-lucky kid simply wasn't that anymore. Plus, he said things like, "You don't know, Mom. My teacher says to bring our questions to her, not our parents."

Great. The building of the wedge starts early! Like I wouldn't know the answer to a question by a 1st grader? Sheesh. The whole 2 years Michael was there, they kept pushing for me to take him to a doctor and be diagnosed with ADD. He was just rambunctious and didn't get enough physical activity there!

It happened that the military relocated us from San Antonio to Alaska. So I packed up Michael's school records and simply didn't reenroll him in school at our new home. We did send Katie to school that year, because I was so under-confident.

She went to 1/2 day kindergarten, while we dangled our toes in the homeschooling waters. But that was it for her. Alyssa went to preschool 3 days a week, because she wanted to ride in the neighborhood carpool. Then years later, she wanted to be on a drill team that danced at football half time shows. So she went to high school for a year and a half and did that. She was glad for the experience but quickly learned she didn't want to stay there. She really felt it was a waste of time and kept her from "getting on with her real life!"

So..you asked how long we homeschooled - since 1996.

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

Well, homeschooling certainly gave us schedule flexibility over the years. We only had to work around my husband's work schedule if we wanted to plan road trips or vacations. And, as others have said, being able to plan these trips during the school year meant cheaper off-season rates and way shorter lines! We bought science and museum memberships and were able to go when there were no crowds, because most of them were in school at the time.

We also enjoyed flexibility in our day to day activities. Katie was able to participate in community theatre projects without having to worry about staying up late on school nights. She'd simply sleep in the next day. I felt badly for her fellow actors who were cramming math homework in between scenes at 11 p.m.!

Flexibility meant that Alyssa could spend hours wandering through horse stables with her dad and then later in California, hanging out there doing whatever ranch chores needed to be done. This ultimately led to riding lessons, owning a horse and taking care of it full time.

Later, because of Alyssa's flexible schedule, she was able to take on a make-up internship with a natural make-up company in Austin. She was available to work back stage at fashion shows and learn all about the industry that she loves.

Michael's flexible hours enabled him to work so he could save up enough money to go to Japan as an exchange student.

For me, freedom and flexibility are the most important advantages about homeschooling. Freedom meant we were able to decide the best for our children without others (with their own agendas) making those decisions for us. The kids were free to learn about their own interests and strengthen their passions.

Our lives were flexible enough that when we stumbled upon some gem we wanted to explore further, we were free to do just that. When park days lasted into the evening - we didn't have to rush off and get some scheduled learning completed. Life in general kept bringing learning opportunities. And our flexible schedule allows us to take advantage of all of it!

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

We went to some great homeschool conferences (HSC's Home+Education, Live and Learn, Rethinking Education) where the kids could meet kids from all over the state or the country. They were able to hang out usually for at least a whole weekend with each other. Many stayed in touch afterwards.

In Alaska, we banded together with other families to create regular park days, nature center excursions, museum field trips. We had days of sledding on hills that would have normally been packed - but the other kids were in school. We went berry-picking and whale-watching; we even spent the night in a penguin room at a museum in Seward. We had friends over throughout the week for hours on end. Moms created book clubs, shared ideas, or just chatted while kids played together.

In California, we joined groups that already existed. They had weekly park days at huge playscapes, and then we'd move to friends houses for potluck dinners. We had themed "Make & Takes" - families brought supplies for a small craft or food assembly and then the kids went from table to table making stuff and having fun.

My husband Ron volunteered to take Katie & Michael along with 20 other kids and chaperones on the Gaslight, a 108-foot square rigger, in the San Francisco Bay. They spent the day sailing around Sausalito and Alcatraz. He also helped with an overnight Civil War reenactment at Angel Island that the kids were invited to attend.

We had various "co-op" style learning activities with 20+ families usually. Some kids participated, others played along at the periphery. Each time we got together for these activities, they were completely engaging and fun. We didn't do boring lecture-style learning! We mummified Barbies, staged a Civil War battle, hired people to teach Improv, created musicals in our backyards…just to name a few!

In Texas, we did a lot with 4H. We helped grow a small homeschool 4H club. By being homeschoolers, we were able to work on most of the projects during the day - we did community service projects, theatre productions, nutrition quiz bowl, speech and vocal competitions - not what you'd think of initially when a person mentions 4H. But they had all kinds of things we could tap into if we were interested.

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

One quirky thing that we do is quote movie lines. We've done it for years - usually throughout the entire dinnertime, but sometimes just when someone simply passes by. One person shares a somewhat obscure movie line and the others have to guess which movie it comes from.

But here's one funny story for each kid…

When Alyssa was about 5, she had joined a soccer team. One night, we were reading The Indian in the Cupboard, and the kids were all piled on my bed. Alyssa had fallen asleep wedged between Michael and Katie.

We came to an exciting part in the story that read, "He knocked some more!"

With that, Alyssa sat straight up , threw her arms in the air and shouted, "She shoots, she SCORES!" Never opening her eyes, she smiled and nestled back down into the covers.

We laughed hysterically - and repeated, "He knocked some more - she shoots, she scores!" for years.

When the kids were in Alaska, they were part of a performing group called The Sunshine Generation. They sang and danced in parades, at shopping malls, in performance halls, and nursing homes.

Katie, especially, loved the stage! At her first big performance, maybe there were a couple hundred people in the audience. She was up on stage getting into position. She was about 6. She scanned the audience looking for us and finally found her dad. It was as if she were playing her own private game of charades: she put her hands up to her face and motioned as if taking a snapshot with a camera, and then pointed to herself.

She continued to repeat this over and over - as if we were going to forget to take her picture! Ron just grinned and lifted the camera up so she could see he had it and was ready. She planted her bejeweled tap shoes firmly on the stage and gave him a double thumbs up. The crowd chuckled and a few of the audience members close to us whispered, "Good job, Dad!"

Michael played on a volleyball team in Texas. During one game, he missed the ball and the crowd fell silent. He turned to look up at his dad and me and shouted, "I lost it in the sun!"

The crowd laughed, because we were playing INDOORS!. But Ron leaned over to me and whispered, you know he just gave us a movie line, right?

We have so much fun with our kids - and still do! Life's always an adventure!


Here’s a bit about what Sue’s kids are up to now:

Michael loved doing community service and learning about other cultures...now he's in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua.

Katie loved acting and did tons of it. She ended up getting an agent, did some commercials and a movie, and is now studying in NYC at the New York Film Academy.

And Alyssa who loved fashion and make-up is now going to a Vidal Sassoon Cosmetology School and will have her license to do hair and make-up at 18.

Just some of the things that happen when kids are allowed to follow their interests.

Having Fun Sharing His Passions: Pat Farenga's Interview

Before I even contacted today's interviewee, I was jealous of him. But now that I have his answers to the questions I'm even more jealous.

Let me explain. See, by far, the one person who had the most influence on my family's homeschooling adventure was education reformer John Holt. Holt is someone I really wish I could have met in person.

Pat Farenga knew Holt quite well and worked with him for years at Holt Associates. So you can see why I'm jealous.

And then, he returns his answers and I see that he spent time "hanging out" in English pubs with John Taylor Gatto. Holy Moly, can you imagine how interesting that must have been?

(You can learn all about Pat's past and current work in the realm of home education at his website, patfarenga.com .)

Pat and his wife Day homeschooled three children and have shared several fascinating stories in this interview. You are really not going to believe the crazy story he has to tell about a family visit to the Guggenheim Museum in New York...

How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

We homeschooled our three girls over a period of 20 years; I have been homeschooling for 30 years since I started work with John Holt and Growing Without Schooling as a single man in 1981.

One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

Traveling is one thing we really benefited from. We often took our three girls with us when I spoke at homeschooling conferences in the U.S. We took advantage of the off-season rates for Disney and other family travel destinations that homeschooling grants you, though we never viewed our trips as "educational ventures" or education time that was lost and must be made up when we got home. We simply enjoyed our time traveling, exploring, and meeting new people and let the learning take care of itself.

We had a great time in England in 1999; I worked at a conference in London and hung out with John Taylor Gatto in local pubs afterwards, while my family toured the city. We then took extra time off to visit my wife's family, which is from Cornwall.

We also stayed with a homeschooling family in Bath, who we contacted through the Growing Without Schooling travel directory and who we had never met before, and became fast friends with them. We are still in touch with them.

Another time I was asked to fill in for Ivan Illich, at a conference in Rome, Italy. Since the organizers were paying for a large hotel room for me, I was able to bring my oldest daughter and my father, who speaks Italian. While I worked at the conference, held in a gorgeous 15th century palazzo that was converted into a hotel, my Dad and daughter toured Rome. I didn't see as much of Rome as I wanted (it was a very intense and structured conference) but Lauren and my Dad had a great time and bonded even more.

As adults, our daughters still love to travel, on their own and with company.

Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

Personally, some of the most fun I had as a homeschooling dad was when I shared my passions with others. For instance, our youngest, Audrey, developed an interest in magic and sleight of hand, a longtime hobby of mine. She wanted to meet others who were interested in it too, so we started the Stage and Parlor Magic Club in our house.

Over the course of three years we had anywhere from ten to twenty homeschoolers, of all ages, come over for a three-hour session of learning, building, and performing magic tricks and illusions with us. We performed at homeschooling fairs and at a nursing home, as well as for friends and family. I don't think any kid who came had more fun than I did!

We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

I grew up in the Bronx, and one of my summer jobs in college was working as a doorman in a building on 86th Street, not far from the Guggenheim Museum. Sometimes I'd visit the museum before or after work, depending on my work schedule, so I was familiar with its programming.

Years later, when we were taking the family to my parent's house in NY for Thanksgiving, we spent a day touring Manhattan. Day, my wife, really wanted to visit the Guggenheim, but our children were 6, 9, and 13 then and, knowing how avant-garde the Guggenheim could be, I questioned if it was appropriate for our family. Nonetheless, we went.

As soon as we ascended the spiral ramp into the exhibits we were greeted with some pretty extreme videos and images. One was a video loop of a young girl in her underwear, being slapped by her mother and having clothes thrown at her. Many photos throughout the museum featured men and women in bondage-type clothes and homoerotic poses. Another video showed an older woman and a younger one, in close up, endlessly eating strawberries while staring at each other blankly.

We sat down to discuss an exit plan. Next to us was a young mother breastfeeding a very young child, perhaps a year old or younger. While we were talking about whether to continue through the museum, a security guard walked up to the young mother and told her she couldn't breastfeed in public at the museum!

We couldn't believe it, and my wife told the guard how stupid the policy was, especially considering how many bare breasts were on display on the walls. But the guard persisted, on the grounds that breastfeeding made some visitors uncomfortable (!), so the breastfeeding mom left, as did we.

When we arrived on the sidewalk outside I asked the girls what they thought of the Guggenheim museum. Audrey, our youngest, immediately pronounced, "It was the three A's: absurd, abnormal, and obscene!" We laughed all day with her about that.

Being Together and Being Ourselves: Sarah Wassinger's Interview

Today's interview is with someone I "met" through Facebook. Sarah and her family live in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Though we've never met, through our interactions and our shared "likes," I know Sarah and I have a lot in common, even down to the deeper philosophical issues. I "like" Sarah. :)

Sarah was also kind enough to help with one of my free offerings for homeschoolers on the topic of writing. She kindly read it beforehand and gave me her feedback, which actually turned into a post highlighting another great writing idea.

Sarah seems to be part of a small group of homeschoolers who moved straight from traditional schools to the relaxed style of unschooling. Most families just can't make that big of a leap at once. I know I didn't. But then again, maybe this family just connected with that so easily because bright yellow school buses make their eyes burn...

1. How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

I happened upon the idea of unschooling after reading Alfie Kohn's book Unconditional Parenting. I immediately connected with the idea that children should be treated and respected the same as adults and I knew that rewarding and punishing felt all wrong to me. I wanted more information on non-punitive parenting and I found unschooling. I devoured everything I could read on this new (to me) idea.

I also got involved in the education reform movement and joined the PTO and attended meetings at the school board. After three years of research, I decided to offer my three children the choice to stay in school or leave government school and take charge of their education along with me as their guide and facilitator.

This was almost a year ago. The two youngest jumped at the opportunity immediately and my oldest joined us a month later. My children left government school last October.

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

Just meeting my children's most basic needs of sleep and nutrition is so much easier. We are all well rested and we eat when we are hungry.

We have been able to vacation with my parents during the off season at a popular vacation destination. Museums and galleries are much more fun now that we don't have to visit on weekends during very crowded times.

My father is retired and he visits once a week during the day to give guitar lessons or work on higher math. We have coffee and the kids and I chat with him and it is very relaxed.

My husband travels for business a few times he was able to bring my oldest with him.

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

When I made the decision to home educate I knew I wanted to have as much support as possible so I joined a local group of homeschool parents and their children. The group meets once a week and we always have fun. The children have organized their own flea market, they have organized art projects and sometimes they make up and perform their own theater.

At home we have been able to do longer more involved art projects like paper mache. We have raised butterflies and praying mantises. We spent many days on bug hunts. For the very first time ever we planted a garden and my youngest just ate her first homegrown watermelon.

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

There are so many little things that will always be memorable. We all get to be together being silly and being ourselves. We always have a little laugh to ourselves when we tell people we don't go to school.

My children love to scream to the school buses "my eyes are burning!" and they now call backpacks death sacks thanks to our new friend Laurette. ;);)

The other day my younger children used our trumpet vine and some sticks to run around pretending to be lost boys from Neverland. We all had a good belly laugh from that scene in the backyard.

She Wouldn't Trade A Minute: Kristean Somers' Interview

Today's interview is with another fellow Hoosier, Kristean. I don't really know a lot about Kristean but we do have one thing in common, she used candy to help her kids learn math too!

For Kristean, the time she had to build a strong relationship with her children has been one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling. To her, it's priceless...

1. How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

Fifteen years. WOW.. has it really been that long?? Seems like only yesterday... I have two left at home still, an 11th grader and a 10th grader. My son has already graduated and moved on with his own life.

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

My children were able to learn other lessons, besides those in the textbooks. Such as a strong work ethic ( they went to work with me ), the value of a dollar, cause and effect ( if you don't weed this garden today, tomorrow it will be worse!! LOL ) and many others.

But the best benefit was that we are SOOOO close. It is a relationship that nothing can ever compare to. And time will only make it stronger.

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

HAHA... Science class. That was always a hoot. Of course when they were younger they really enjoyed M&M math and art time. But as they got older, science experiments became the sought after activity.

Of course there are hundreds of field trips, from alpacas to flying an airplane and everything in between...

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

Oh my goodness.. there are so many. Soap making was a lot of fun, as was cooking classes, learning algebra again was a fun thing for me (sort of) LOL, all of it really.

There is not one minute I would trade for a million dollars.

A Ride on The Unschool Bus: Kelly Halldorson's Interview

Today we get to meet Kelly Halldorson and family. I was first introduced to Kelly when I attended Porcfest, a freedom-oriented festival in New Hampshire. Well, to be exact, I didn't really get to meet her, but I attended a presentation about homeschooling in New Hampshire and she was a member of the panel.

Brett Veinotte who does the School Sucks Podcast was a panelist too and he recorded it so if you want to hear the presentation, click here. (I said a few words at the presentation too. I'm the one who gave a pep talk for anyone concerned about college and spoke about my daughter's college application experience.)

Kelly and her family decided they wanted to go on a traveling adventure as part of their unschooling lives and they are now roaming the country on a refurbished school bus.

Is that not the best idea you have ever heard for a retired school bus!? I imagine that bus has had more fun in the past several months of its existence than the entire time it was used to dump kids into institutional schools.

(As a matter of fact, I'm thinking someone should start a organization to rescue retired school buses like there are for rescuing retired racing greyhound dogs. Families could rescue those poor buses who are worn out and depressed about their past use and fill them with kids who are living and learning free from the constraints of school.)

You can find more about Kelly and her traveling family of five at her blog. Kelly and her family are also available for speaking, conferences, interviews and a whole host of other activities. Feel free to contact the family at kelly@halldorson.com.

Now, let's get a glimpse of life on the family traveling on The Unschool Bus...

1. How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

We have homeschooled for 7 years, not consecutively. When my children were little they went to two separate private schools, one Montessori type and one Christian.

I homeschooled them upon removing the from the first school and before enrolling them in the second school. My oldest son was in second grade, my middle son was in Kindergarten and my youngest, a daughter, was pre-school age at the time.

They attended the Christian school for three years and my oldest, Wolfgang, attended 3rd, 4th and 5th grade at the school. My middle son, Griffin, attended 1st, 3rd (he was skipped past 2nd) & 4th grade at the Christian school while my daughter attended K-2nd grade.

After those years were through we started homeschooling (which quickly evolved into unschooling) and haven't really looked back - not too much anyway. My oldest son will be starting his last year of homeschooling next month. It has been a wonderful ride and I cherish the time I've been able to spend with my kids along with the relationships we've built as a result of our unschooling.

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

Wow, almost too much to list here! My very early homeschooling style was eclectic. However, we quickly evolved into an unschooling approach, a type of homeschooling/education philosophy that provides maximum freedom and requires a huge degree of flexibility and openness on the part of the parent as far as the topics of learning are concerned.

Unschooling provides kids with an environment that fosters their innate desire to acquire information, pursue passions and learn practical everyday/real-world skills.

Last fall we set off to live full-time on the road with our three unschooling teens and what that has allowed us to experience and learn together is really unquantifiable. I have a list on my site of 99 things we did/learned/talked about in our first six months on the road and it's really just a piece of it.

All those experience were possible only because of the freedom and flexibility homeschooling provides.

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

Our kids' favorite experience on the road has been our trip to Key West. We parked right in town, in a (closed) bank parking lot, and the kids were able to walk around together on "the Strip" safely because of the proximity to the bus.

They came back within the hour telling us we absolutely had to come meet these people they met in the Wyland Gallery, an art gallery featuring the work of world renowned artist Wyland. You know the guy that paints the huge murals of dolphins (and other water scenes) on big city buildings? Yeah, that guy.

Well, needless to say we followed the kids over and spent the evening chatting and laughing with the managers about art, travel, life experience and island history. They even went so far as to clear out their back parking lot so we could park there for the night.

Another example of fun was when my kids were much younger and we were not yet traveling. A local liberty-activist and videographer was looking to do a little civil disobedience. Through looking into New Hampshire code for ridiculous law he discovered that it was illegal to perform a puppet show without a license. His act of civil disobedience would be to perform a play about Henry David Thoreau in front of the state capital.

I thought it would be fun if we helped. I talked to the kids and asked if they would be interested in making the puppet and helping with scenery. All three were on board.

We spent the next month building paper-mache and felt puppets of Henry David Thoreau, his mother, and a vulture with a badge. We filmed the experience, we read about and discussed civil disobedience and Thoreau, we laughed the absurdness of requiring a license to perform a puppet show and discussed the ethics of victimless crimes and taxes. At the time they were 11, 9 and 8 years old.

This past January Jeff, the kids and I had the opportunity to take a guided boat tour of the Bayou. Not the kind of tour you pay $150 and a guide takes you out on a boat for an hour on the same trip he took the last 500 tourists, but a gifted personal, 4-hour ride through the bayous all the way into Texas waters.

Our guide? Seventy-two year old local resident Don McCaughlin. For four hours we listened to Don tell us all about the land he grew up on - including the history of logging, how to retrieve sinkers (how money can be made at it), art in the area (including all the work he had done), swamp music, and how he was once responsible for finding and rescuing folks reported lost on the waters.

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

Funny experiences? That's an easy one...The looks we get when people find out we live on a bus full-time.

Laughing on a Daily Basis: Laurette Lynn, The Unplugged Mom Interview

Okay, doesn't this photo just make you want to go spend time with these fun-loving folks? I love it and it was the first photo Laurette sent to me. Then she had second thoughts and figured she'd also send a photo in a more 'normal' pose. I have included that one at the end of this post. But really now, don't you think this one is the best?

Laurette is known as The Unplugged Mom and has her own weekly radio show by the same name. On her show she talks passionately about education, homeschooling and freedom.(NOTE: 8/19/2012 Links removed by request.)

I recently listened to two shows where she interviewed Wendy Priesnitz and Linda Dobson, who have also participated in this blog project. So if you've read Linda and Wendy's answers to questions here, you can now go to Laurette's site to listen her interviews where both ladies share loads of useful and inspirational information based on their many years of experience.

Laurette has many more shows on her site as well as other helpful information for homeschoolers, so "unplug from the ordinary" and connect with Laurette.

But first, read on to see how her family managed to morph A Midsummer Night's Dream and Harry Potter into their own unique skit...

1. How long have you been homeschooling?

I've never homeschooled. I've never schooled the kids at all.

I've been schooled myself by the NYC system, but I survived and now I'm healthy and cured. Whew!

I have been a parent since August 28th 2001 and helping my kids learn about the world through, life and literature, nature and nouns, divinity and decimals, humanity and history etc... have always been a natural extension of parenting. For me, Mothering includes math and much more...

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

The fact that we are not enslaved to a system that dictates what, when, where, how and by whom my children learn - allows us to enjoy the liberty, peace, inner joy and freedom that is supposed to accompany being human. We are free to unlimited potential in our learning and living experience. I recognize this freedom on behalf of my kids, but thankfully the kids do not know any other way, so freedom is simply part of their lives. Having unlimited access to fill our intellectual cups until they floweth over, and then filling them again... this is the essence of freedom; and thus the essence of being alive.

Without the walls of a classroom or boundaries of a schedule, our time is free and flexible enough to enjoy a solar eclipse at 1:00 am or watch a 5:15 am sunrise on the beach. We can enjoy the museums without crowds or take a month long road trip through a dozen states and linger as long as we like at any given place. We are free to explore the rich tapestry that being alive offers in the depth that can only be truly appreciated through living it, touching, feeling, tasting, smelling and hearing an experience...beyond (albeit sometime including) the one-dimensional interpretation of some elusive board of strangers in text.

Without the invisible prison that a canned curriculum imposes, we are free to linger on whatever captivates us for as we like and truly absorb all of the richness of any particular topic that excites us.

Rather than be rushed into memorizing Egyptian trivia within a 25 minute space, then regurgitating that trivia as if we're on some sort of game show circus - we can explore the ancient mysteries for months if we so choose; and in incredible detail by visiting websites, museums, libraries etc..

Rather than examine rock samples in a lab, or see historical tools behind a glass case, we are free to spend the day with a real life archeological team on an actual dig site - and not have to worry about being marked 'absent' from class.

It's hard to truly capture or pack the reality of true freedom and flexibility that exists outside of school - but that's really just the point - like life, it cannot be explained, it can only be experienced.

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

This one is hard for me. Our life is just generally really fun. On a daily basis we laugh and play and explore. We read together, we learn together, we travel together.

I can recall many sunny afternoons walking through the park, laying on a picnic blanket, flying kites or riding bikes together. I can recall many winter days sitting by the fire reading some whimsical novel or acting out scenes from our favorite play.

During a snowstorm last year we had a pancake breakfast on the living room floor and giggled uncontrollably for long periods of time, simply because we were making funny faces and inappropriate noises :).

Recently we put on a skit acting out scenes from Midsummer Night's Dream and everyone wanted to be Puck so we all took turns being Puck, and it somehow morphed into Puck meets Harry Potter and before you knew it we had the whole family involved in this bizarre role-play where we switched back and forth between Shakespearean characters and characters from Harry Potter. King Oberan became Draco Malfoy, Titania became Hagrid, Puck became Hermione and other ridiculous improvisation comedic situations.

There are so many more fun-family times it's really hard to single any out. It's just part of our typical day. And this doesn't even include the parties and field trips and sports and more that we enjoy with friends and in the community.

I can tell you for certain that we love summer baseball season! Both my boys play and we bake under the hot southwestern midsummer sun, but dang it - there is something incredibly wonderful about spending a summer evening at the baseball field cheering on your sons team!

Fun is life, life is fun. When you are not locked into the cattle drive that is the processed life, fun ceases to be something to achieve or plan for, and just becomes part of your existence.

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

Again, it's hard to pick out just one. There was the time my three year old wanted to bring home a duck feather and I was a bit skeeved out by her touching it so I said it was dirty. She said "we'll wash it" Scrambling for excuses I said "you can't get it wet, you'll ruin it" and she said "but it's a DUCK feather!" and my attempt at logic was defeated. We brought home the duck feather and I overcame my germ-o-phobia.

Another time my 7 year old son in the Nature Exchange at the Zoo corrected the park ranger in his math. He laughed at first and told my son he was wrong. My son insisted and said "No! You don't understand, I'm really good at math and you are not right!" A double check revealed my son was in fact correct and the blushing park ranger laughed and was forced to concede. It was my sons adamant and confident insistence that made the situation very funny.

There are dozens of funny moments but I think the funniest are the ones that every home educating parent experiences that while funny in hindsight are embarrassing in the moment. It's when your kids do something that is so blatantly and obviously out of balance with 'norm' that it draws immediate and pressing attention.

We find ourselves blushing and looking around, scrambling in our mind for a way to compensate for the seemingly out-of-ordinary situation. But then the juxtaposition of the light-hearted and free behavior of our kids against the dull, glazed over flow of the mainstream, makes us remember why we do what we do.

There are moments, like when my 6 year old stood up in a shopping cart and began to bellow loudly "Hey there Deliliah" in the middle of Target.... or when my 9 year old daughter decided that an impromptu gymnastics floor-show was necessary while waiting in a building lobby, or when my 8 year old son asks a perfect stranger in Toys R Us if he would recommend one Lego set over another.

It is in these moments that I notice they've shaken up the system and otherwise bored-to-tears "normal" folks begin to look at me for some explanation. I shrug and smile and say "We home educate" :)

And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Fun Is The Core: Desiree’s Interview

Today’s interview is with Desiree Alonso who lives with her family in Tulsa Oklahoma. I met Desiree through the work she does with Unplugged Mom Radio, a weekly radio show about home education and parenting.

Desiree considers herself a BuddhaMommy and you will see how well this fits when you read her interview - she’s as full of joy as the famous “Laughing Buddha.” When she’s not having fun making mudpies and laughing with her children, she blogs about her BuddhaMommy life at “Something Happened on my Way to BuddhaHood.”

Now, relax, get yourself into a Zen frame of mind and meet the BuddhaMommy and her family of “joy-addicts”…

1. How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

It's hard to think of how long I have been homeschooling because I don't feel like I ever "began". I don't feel like there was ever any moment when I wasn't since I became a mother. It just feels like it is the way it has always been. I remember realizing I would be an Independent Educator while still holding my infant child in my arms. I guess you can say I simply *realized* I would be a home educator. I don't really have a specific moment that I can look back on and say, "This was the moment we decided to homeschool." It was more like I simply realized what I already knew. I knew it in my heart, I just knew it.

Ironically, I was very critical of Home Education before I became a parent. Not just that, I was also very critical of mothers who chose to raise their children over a career. I was actually completing my degree when I delivered my daughter and I had it all planned out. I was going to have my baby, get my degree, enjoy the summer with my daughter, work at a university and get started on a good Graduate program. My husband would take care of my daughter while I continued my graduate program and my nani and mother would help raising the baby. Oh yeah... I had it all figured out.

And then, I became a mother.

So imagine my surprise when I realized I wanted to stay home and raise my daughter and I wanted to be responsible for her education. It shocked everyone! Including myself. However, it was also the most natural and easy decision in the world. So I guess my answer is, since my oldest is 7 years old.. I have been on this home education path for 7 years.

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

Gosh... the freedom of this path we've chosen is the best thing in the world. I can't imagine life any other way.

We have moved across country because we don't have to worry about "schooling". Our children learn freely and there is no building I need to register them in. We are free to live! to learn! and I don't just mean in very concrete ways but abstract ways as well.

I would say the minute we realized we were home educators... it was then that our understanding of "Freedom" really began. The freedom of Home Education is but one aspect of how our family has decided to reject "compulsory" anything. Albeit, careers, location, employment, our children's choices, etc... Home Education was but our first step in this journey of Freedom.

There are so many benefits to home education. When I think of the freedom it embraces and promotes I think of the freedom to really know my child, to really nourish their potential, talent, individuality and soul.

The freedom for my child to know me... really know me.

The fact that my children have the freedom to be as happy, as odd, as quiet, as loud, as funny, as serious, as intense, as laid back, and as much of themselves as they wanna be, without the risk of being labeled, categorized, branded or singled out. My children are happy to be, to learn and grow. In addition to my love, what better gift can I give them?

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

The most fun times we have is when I completely let go and become a child once again. I love to see them playing outside running around and I just jump in there! They go crazy! I love that. I love to get dirty in the mud when they are making mud pies. I love to see them climb trees and I hear that excitement and wonder in my daughter's voice... how excited she is to make it all the way to the top of tree. For that moment I forget how old I am and I am introduced to the magic of tree climbing all over again.

I can honestly say Fun is just the core of what we do. It's a the center of what we do and who we are. That does not mean that there is no "hard work". It just means that even the hard work is fun.

Let's see, some of the fun stuff... deciding to make an alligator out of flour, water and salt and then painting it green... just cause. There was no real reason, it wasn't an assignment from some teacher and it wasn't written in a curriculum. The kids wanted to make clay, they figured out how and then after they figured out how... they wanted to make an animal just cause. We learned about Alligators, the consistency of clay and we also learned that rice grains are an excellent thing to use for alligator teeth!! :)

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

HaHa!! A funny experience. It's funny because I just laugh out loud and say to myself, "when isn't it all a funny experience?" Even the moments that seem to be a challenge, when we look back at those moments we can honestly look back and say, "oh my god what the heck was I thinking?"

Some of my favorite funny experiences are when my kids figure something out faster than I do. Those are seriously some funny moments.

Or they correct me and they are right. I admit sometimes I have asked, "How did you know that?" and they answer, "You taught me mommy." haha!

Or when I have given some instructions and they do it their way and it is more incredible, enjoyable and fantastic! than I could've imagined. I love humbling moments and I can admit I have LOTS of them.

I can't single out specific funny moments but all I know is there have been plenty of moments where I am at the table surrounded by chatter, papers, paint, a question from my 7 year old, a request by my 4 year old and a 2 year old trying to get under my shirt for some lunch and I just feel my hands over my face laughing and thinking... oh my god... my life is too funny. I love it! I can't imagine living any other way.

Unschooling: Educational Anarchy for the Whole Family

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation at the first Agora I/O Unconference. My talk was about unschooling. I gave a bit of an overview of the topic and used examples from our family's experiences.

I was a bit flustered at the beginning because I had some technical issues trying to sign in to the site. (This was presented live.) But once I started talking, I think I rolled along pretty well.

For anyone who is trying to explain unschooling to someone, or trying to convince someone that it is an idea worthy of serious consideration, maybe this video will help.

The Sociable Homeschooler: Vivienne McNeny's Interview

I have a great interview to share with you today. We talk to Vivienne McNeny who refers to herself as The Sociable Homeschooler. She was born in West Germany and currently resides in Texas but she has had some interesting travels before ending up there.

Her personal education experience is a bit unusual too, she went to a convent boarding school in England at age 11. What an interesting counter-experience that must be when compared to her homeschooled children's experience.

Vivienne has a blog, The Sociable Homeschooler and also has a weekly internet radio show/podcast by the same name.

But enough about all that, what does Vivienne have to say about the freedom and fun of homeschooling? Let's just say she's not only had a lot of sociable experiences with her kids, but she's developed quite the relationship with a few animals as well...

How long have you been homeschooling?

I began homeschooling many moons ago when my two sons’ magnet school examiners failed to recognize the potential energy and brilliancy of my unique and truly gifted oldest daughter and refused her a place in the same establishment as her brothers. My options were to keep her at the private Montessori school which was nurturing her excellence while simultaneously draining our meager financial resources; send her to the local public school requiring two sets of PTA’s, principals and politics, or….? Or what?

I didn’t know, until a well groomed stranger crossed my path who homeschooled her children with great success while apparently maintaining her designer wardrobe, manicured nails, expensive haircut, shaved legs and Bruno Maglis. None of the Birkenstock earth mother persona for this stylish lady!

We became fast friends while she mentored and slowly nudged me in the direction of homeschooling, not only my two girls, but the two boys as well. Nineteen years later we are all still alive to tell the tale and I am still available as a homeschool education expert for my youngest daughter who is finishing up her Associate’s degree at the local college and every now and again needs help with study skills, proof reading of essays and general moral support when the academics interfere with her absurdly busy social life and job as a Star Barista in a busy coffee shop.

So, the short answer to your question is, “Nineteen years and counting…”

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited your family?

Homeschooling is supposed to allow lots of freedom and flexibility and it would have had I been a free and flexible person. That was a process for me.

It was not until I summoned the courage to ditch the curriculum, that everything fell into place and we happily read our way through the remaining sixteen years of our homeschooling career.

We became balletomanes with all the children enrolled at the local studio, until the boys decided theatre was more macho, well one of the boys did, the oldest continued with ballet because he saw a personal opportunity, lots of beautiful girls and only one of him! He was in great demand.

During many a day the theatre was where we played together as a family for the majority of their growing up. They learned how to sing, dance and act, how to design and build sets, measure for costumes, hunt for props and stage manage, how to pull fly rails and track lighting plots and how to record sound effects. Most importantly they learned how to deal with divas, directors and choreographers, their peers and adults and become well known in the community without anybody guessing at their homeschooledness.

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

The best thing, well, one of the best things, about homeschooling were vacations. We could go away any time we wanted to, but surprisingly we invariably went at the same time as everyone else because we were caught up in extra curricular activities that were dominated by the public school system and its mandatory holiday schedule.

In the summer though we did go away in September because of theatre, which kept us around until the end of August. So the beaches, pool and restaurants were relatively quiet and the streets were strollable.

We would take the whole of December off to get on with the really important Christmas preparations. We cooked, made crafts and shopped early in the morning while the sales clerks were still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Yes, that was good and still is, being able to go to the store while everyone else is either holed up at school or trapped at the office. No lines, no crowds no waiting for us!

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

Here’s the funny story! I have a zookeeper for a son but before he was awarded his science degree from A&M thus acquiring him the unrivaled privilege of shoveling Okapi excrement at dawn each morning and hauling hay for the rest of the day, he volunteered at the local animal shelter where he hosed dog excrement from the indoor and outdoor runs, there is a pattern here if you look closely.

This son would bring home abandoned babies for us to bottle feed, raccoons, squirrels, ducklings, opossum, and the occasional kitten or puppy. These abandoned, wild, babies were not supposed to be handled unless absolutely necessary but my children never got the hang of that, the raccoons were irresistible, so were the squirrels…they were petted, talked to, loved and named; they swam in the pool and romped with the dog…wild? Hah!

As a family all this nurturing became a valuable lesson in responsibility, the little ones would blindly feed at two hour increments all day and night and when they opened their eyes, whoever was first in the line of vision became MUM!!

When it was time to release them at about 8-10 weeks they would either go to a professional rehab place to learn how to survive in the wild (mostly the raccoons), or be released out in the country.

Once we made the mistake of letting a couple of the tamest almost domesticated squirrels loose in our back forty…and now we are paying for it! We play host to a new family of the critters each year in our chimney. No matter what we do to block up the entrances, they always squirreledly find their way home. Rather like salmon swimming upstream to the place of their birth.

They ruin our wood trim, our roof, our house but each Spring we hear the babies; first they romp in the chimney, exploring their nursery; as they get older we watch them cautiously emerge from the stack and run across the roof before returning to Mum, and safety.

At this stage they are nearly ready to flee the nest so we give them a little encouragement. By blocking up the escape holes in the chimney stack we limit their exit to an outdoor vent in the eaves where we can watch the activity. From the vent we run a 2x4 to the grass, and watch for several days as they hesitantly walk the plank nudged by Mum.

When we are certain everyone is out we remove the wood and listen for a day before battening down the hatch. Accidentally leaving a runt inside can foul up the air in the house for months! The following year we repeat the process. No matter how diligent we’ve been with the mesh and the wire, they gain access very time.

As a zoo keeper, with friends in high places, our son is now threatening to bring home a baby elephant to bottle feed around the clock. Charming as that sounds can you imagine elephants in our chimney?