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.