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?

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