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!" 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 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.


Sue said...

No editing of that first comment. Sorry for the clutter.

I just wanted to add a thank you for your kind introduction at the beginning. It was fun sharing our lives with your readers. Thanks for asking me!

Debbie H. said...

I trashed your first comment Sue, mostly so you would look kind of crazy with this second one. ;) Thanks for participating!

Jane said...

Awesome, Deborah! Fun to read an interview like this about someone you know and learn new things. :)