Heather Schmidt, California, USA
What is your greatest struggle when it comes to homeschooling?
Managing our time. I have three kids of varying ages: 16, 12, 3. It’s a little rough sometimes managing the needs of homeschooling a high schooler, middle schooler, and early preschooler, simultaneously. I end up allocating a certain amount of time each day to each, and focus on making sure they are doing independent work that requires no help while I work with each of them.
If you could go back in time, what would you change or do differently?
The first year or two that I homeschooled my kids, it was a challenge because I was constantly trying to emulate brick and mortar school, just at home. I finally read a phenomenal blog post by a homeschool parent that gave an extensive list of the “Top 10” ways to fail at homeschooling. I realized that the biggest theme through all 10 of the things on her list was just what I had been doing: trying to sit my kids down in a desk for X number of hours per day. When I opened it up to a more holistic and project-based learning environment, things got much better and more productive.
How do you feel about the current political landscape in regards to homeschooling? Please feel free to elaborate.
If I’m being completely honest, I think a lot of people are jumping into homeschooling for the wrong reasons, and this is creating a lot of hostility politically towards homeschooling, in general. A lot of people homeschool now in California, where I live, to avoid vaccinating their children, while also having no idea what type of educational philosophy they want their children to learn under. So they jump in to programs or charters that do not require the vaccinations, and – quickly – this whole system of charters and funding has come to a head, with people using their charter money on things that are ostensibly not education (i.e. tickets to Disneyland). It’s created a real problem for homeschooling in general. While I think that everyone should be allowed to homeschool their children, there has to be some sort of an educational philosophy behind it.
What are your thoughts on the growing diversity, or perhaps lack of, in your homeschool community?
I think that in recent years, so many different options have opened up to allow people to – in some ways – home educate their children. While a lot of people fall into that category I mentioned in Number 3, I think there’s also a fair number of people that are considering different educational philosophies (Charlotte Mason, Unschool, Outschool, etc…). What is nice about this is that it offers a diversity in ideas for those like myself, who consider themselves to be Eclectic Schoolers (implementing little bits and pieces from the different philosophies, and morphing as we move through the stages of school as well).
Now that we have gotten to the heart of the interview, tell me a little bit about yourself, your family, and why you chose to homeschool. Do you work in addition to homeschooling your children or did you leave a career behind to do so?
When my now-16 year old was in 1st grade, we were planning to move from Santa Monica area to where we live now, in Ventura County, California. It was the middle of the school year and she had been going to a parochial Catholic school. I wasn’t yet sure where I wanted her to go once we moved, so figured I would pull her out and homeschool her until the next school year. Except… within two months, she had skyrocketed in terms of how much she was able to achieve when given the flexibility of homeschooling. So I decided for 2nd grade to stick with it. Her younger sister was only 2 at the time, and just – sort of – naturally fell into it herself. With the success I’ve had homeschooling both of my older kids, it is hard to consider doing anything but homeschooling for my 3 year old.
I have been a Stay At Home Mom this entire time, though write part time and am working on a Masters in Philosophy program (online). But homeschooling my kids is my full time gig, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
How do you find balance and time for self-care in the midst of daily life as a homeschooling parent?
Well… that is the challenge. It’s very difficult. I don’t have much of a support system. My husband works odd hours and isn’t home much because of work. We don’t have much family that is able to help either. So I squeeze in self-care and balance when my kids are in bed, or when my 16 year old can help out with the younger two. I don’t really like relying too much on her, though, so I try to find balance when I can manage it myself.
I also find that knowing when things are getting too crazy and too stressful, indicating we need to take a day or two off, helps a lot. It’s a lot easier to keep things in balance when I’m able to have sort of an early warning system for things getting OUT of balance.
In a perfect world, what would your ideal homeschool day look like?
3. Outside stuff (sports, play, outdoor learning and science, etc)
5. Inside stuff (individual work, group project based learning, reading, online courses, etc)
7. Free time
I really like to do it in days, though. Usually Mondays are field trip days, we go to a lot of museums then. Tuesdays and Thursdays we go to the library. We do library on the weekends too because it’s usually dead, and the study rooms are open. It kind of depends on the week and what we are doing a big project on too.
But in reality, what does your typical day look like?
Chaos? Haha! Actually the daily outline I gave is pretty much how it goes now, with the exception of my 3 year old. A lot of times if he’s not in the mood to do anything but be a toddler, my older kids will work more independently or pull out a project from a bin I’ve created that is basically full of research-based projects that encompass all of the elements of the California Board of Educations required curriculum items (Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, etc). I thought as time went on my high schooler wouldn’t be interested, but since my younger daughter is in middle school (so pretty close in age and maturity now) the projects are pretty advanced and continue to engage them. I regularly spend hours and hours putting those together so they can act as a back up for when the days go awry; and moreover, to keep us from getting stuck in workbooks and online coursework too much.
How has your homeschooling changed over the years? Do you subscribe to any particular homeschooling philosophy?
Like I mentioned, I think we are Eclectic Homeschoolers, or Project-Based Learning. I wouldn’t say that my kids learn to mastery, which is what a lot of Project-Based Learners do; but they do get pretty close (what is mastery, anyway?). Over the years, I have learned to let things go with the flow. Take breaks when we need to. Not be so stringent on schedules. And as my kids get older, their learning gets directed more and more by them and their interests.
What are your best homeschooling memories thus far?
Museums. We go to so many museums, and we go again and again and again. And again and again – haha! We typically go once, if not twice, a week. I cannot emphasize the value in going to museums, of all kinds. This is one of the real follies of brick and mortar schools today, there are so few resources available for field trips, and kids really miss out on the expansive reach that museum visits have on any given subject they are learning about. I also find that through doing museum visits, when it comes time to do the more hum-drum things like math workbooks, my kids are fresher and sharper at doing their work efficiently. So I think the museum trips have both an educational component, and a mental health component.
Finally, do you have any wisdom to share or tips to pass on to those new to homeschooling?
Don’t try to brick and mortar school at home. Don’t get caught up in your “classroom.” DO NOT sit and lecture your kids from a podium. That won’t work, you’ll be back in a brick and mortar classroom setting within a year. Let the world be your school.
Also, don’t join too many homeschool Facebook groups. They’re great for ideas, but they’re also great for worrying yourself. When I get sucked into the homeschool Facebook groups, I either find myself comparing my schedule to everyone else’s, and feeling like I’ve failed.