Note from the editor:
Welcome to our inaugural interview with guest contributor, Sarah DeGuzman. My goal with this and future interviews is to showcase the diversity of the homeschooling community and to share their struggles and experiences. I hope that you are able to take something positive home after reading. Cheers!
Sarah DeGuzman, California
What is your greatest struggle when it comes to homeschooling?
Well, I have a struggle that is specific to my oldest child, which is that he is both dyslexic and a highly sensitive perfectionist. This makes many reading, writing, and art activities very difficult because as soon as he makes a mistake on something (which happens often due to the dyslexia), he completely falls apart and is emotionally unable to continue. For me it’s hard because I struggle to find the right balance between wanting him to be happy and enjoy his childhood, while still making sure that he is progressing academically. Some days I feel like we are doing too much, while other days I feel like we aren’t doing enough. At the end of the week however, I always feel confident that we are on the right path and that homeschooling is definitely the right choice for him.
If you could go back in time, what would you change or do differently?
Honestly there aren’t any major things that I would change. It feels really good to say that! I think a lot of people start out trying to recreate school at home, and had to learn along the way that homeschooling is more of a lifestyle. I was lucky in that the first person to really introduce me to the world of homeschooling was an Unschooler, so I came into it from the other end of the spectrum. The only things that come to mind are a few specific reading approaches that we tried that didn’t work for us, but when your child is young there is just no way of knowing what types of curriculum will work until you try them out. Some trial and error is to be expected, and the freedom to try something out and drop it if it’s not a good fit is one of the perks of homeschooling.
How has your homeschooling changed since the COVID-19 Pandemic? Please feel free to elaborate.
The “shelter in place” order has had both positive and negative effects on our homeschool. The positive effect is that we are actually getting more work done! I also feel less rushed.
Typically after breakfast my oldest does his work at the table and then we continue with our usual morning routine where we try to finish all of our school work before lunch time so that we can meet up with friends. Now we take our sweet time. Morning “Snack and Story Time” has turned into “Lunch and Story Time” because instead of going right into school work after breakfast the boys will usually play for a while. Normally I would let them play for a little while before reminding my eldest that he needs to get his work done. Now I just let him play until he decides he is done and is ready to come to the table. If that turns out to be hours later than normal…..that’s fine, we’ve got all day!
It used to be that sometimes work wouldn’t get done because we made plans to be somewhere at a certain time, but now the work always gets done because we have plenty of time. We have all day to complete the amount of work we used to squeeze into our mornings. I feel like this experience is an “elimination diet” for our social lives. Eventually we will start adding things back in to our schedules, but we may find that we don’t need quite as many activities as we used to have.
The negative impact is obviously that we are missing friends and that the boys wish they could go to fun places like the zoo, Disneyland, museums and parks. The other challenge is making sure everyone is getting enough exercise. My oldest son used to get pretty intense workouts from his gymnastics and ninja classes, and I would go to yoga four times a week; exercise was built into our weekly schedule. Now we have to make a conscious effort to exercise on our own each day, and sometimes it’s met with some resistance. Okay, a lot of resistance…….and whining…..and the three year old asking me to carry him and his balance bike the rest of the way home.
What are your thoughts on the growing diversity, or perhaps lack of, in your homeschool community?
I suppose it depends on what you mean by diversity. There is religious diversity, homeschool philosophy diversity, and racial diversity to name a few. To me I find the homeschool world to be quite diverse. We have homeschool friends who are religious, and many who are not. We are secular ourselves. We also know families that take all different kinds of approaches to their homeschooling, ranging from Unschooling to the Classical approach. All of my son’s closest friends in the homeschool world are of mixed race or descent. Most are a mix of Asian, Filipino, or Mexican, with Caucasian. My boys are half Filipino and half Irish/Scottish. We have only had one African American family as friends in the homeschool world, and they moved away. So that would be one area that we seem to be lacking in diversity.
Now that we got to the heart of the interview, tell me a little 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?
I have two boys, ages seven and three. My husband works full time, Monday to Friday 9am-5pm type hours. We live in Southern California. I graduated from UCSD with a BA in Human Development. Before I had my first child I was teaching preschool in the mornings and dance in the afternoons/evenings, which combined made for a full time job. After my first child I cut down to working part time hours. After having my second child and starting to officially homeschool my first, I cut down to only teaching 2-3 hours of dance classes a week.
When my first child was still a baby I started thinking about school (I’ve always been a planner). I had a friend who was, and still is, “Unschooling” her children, so I started reading any articles she would post on Facebook or books she would recommend, and we would even join her for park days with other homeschoolers when my first was just a toddler. I learned so much from them and got to see all of the options that are out there. When my son turned 3, I was teaching preschool and he got to be in my class! It was a play-based preschool with lots of music and movement, and I thought it was going to be so perfect, and it was not. He hated it and wanted to go home. After a particularly bad day, I remember saying to him in an exasperated voice, “Fine! You never have to go to school ever again!” And I stayed true to my word!
Since then he’s done drop off classes where I drop him off for 3 hours or so at a time, and he is in a class with other kids and a teacher and he gets to have a little backpack and a lunch box, but he has never been enrolled in traditional school. I ask him every so often if he wants to try it and he says “no” without hesitation. I remember when he was maybe 4 or 5 years old he saw a school bus out the window and he said “Look! A school bus!………….Not me!” in a very self satisfied voice.
When he was four and a half I was able to enroll him in a public charter school for homeschooling as a TK student (Transitional Kindergarten). The school provides a certain amount of funding for his educational materials and activities per year. Basically it’s our taxpayer dollars that would go toward his education if he were in a regular school, but the big difference is that we get to decide what to spend it on. So we tell the school what math curriculum we want to use, what science curriculum, what art supplies we need, etc., and they approve it, order it, and mail it to our door. We can also use his school funds to pay for classes, for example his Zoo School class at the local zoo. We are required to cover the subjects of Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts. Every month or so we meet with a teacher from the school and turn in a work sample from one of those areas of study. Starting in third grade we will be expected to do state testing like all other public schools, but other than that we are pretty free to choose our own curriculum and go at our own pace.
I would say we started homeschooling because we didn’t want to pay for preschool, our son didn’t want to go, and I didn’t want to be away from him. I wanted to be there to witness him making those connections, and doing things for the first time. I was there for all of his other firsts, I didn’t particularly want to drop him off somewhere so someone else could guide him through his next set of “firsts”.
We continue to homeschool now because we love it. We love the freedom. I think I would have a really hard time with someone else telling me when and where my children need to be and what they need to be doing. I also think that given my son’s personality and struggles with dyslexia, school would be very stressful for him. In school it is recommended that students with dyslexia be pulled out for one-on-one tutoring with an Orton Gillingham reading method. Well that is exactly what we are doing at home.
He has a hard time sitting still and focusing on tasks that he doesn’t enjoy (who doesn’t?), but he also wants to be perfect. I think it very likely that he would spend his days in school trying to be perfect and failing over and over again, which would be emotionally devastating for him. I feel strongly that the homeschooling environment is ideal for him. He is sweet and sensitive and kind and thoughtful, and a good listener, and his idea of a good time is to have a cuddle party.
How do you find balance and time for self-care in the midst of daily life as a homeschooling parent?
I have a list of family priorities posted on the inside of our homeschool cabinet in the kitchen, and education is at the bottom of the list.
- Mental Health
- Physical Health
This is not because education is unimportant to us, it is because our homeschool runs more smoothly when those other needs are met. But here’s the key: the list is for everyone in the family. So I went through and figured out what everyone in the family needs to be mentally and physically healthy and blocked out time for those things in our schedule. Then I made sure there is one on one time for everyone, including mom and dad, as well as time all together as a family.
Environment for me means having a tidy and organized home, plenty of fresh air and sunshine, places to hang the kids art work, and plenty of space for dance parties.
When I say “tidy” I don’t mean clean, because trust me my house is not clean. Tidy for me just means periodically getting rid of the clutter and things we don’t need, and having a place for everything so that when we do decide to clean up we know where things go (even if most of the time they are all over the place!)
Prior to COVID-19, I met my mental and physical health needs primarily by going to a 90 minute hot yoga class 4 times a week which was followed by a shower (like a mini spa day!) and teaching 3 dance classes a week at our local YMCA. I was lucky that there was a yoga studio near by that offered 8:30pm classes twice a week. So I went after the kids were in bed and then I went on weekend afternoons when my husband was home. When I taught at the YMCA my kids either went to the child care on site at the Y, or they stayed home if my husband was home.
Now I’m doing yoga in our bedroom on Zoom twice a week, and that’s about it as far as breaks for alone time go. I listen to podcasts when I’m doing house work and when the kids are having their screen time. The Homeschool Sisters podcast is my favorite, as well as the Brave Writer podcast with Julie Bogart. It’s like chicken soup for the homeschool moms soul. And lastly, chatting with my mom friends whether they homeschool or not is always a necessity for my mental health, even if it has to be virtual at the moment.
In a perfect world, what would your ideal homeschool day look like?
When I first answered this question I laid out our ideal homeschool day schedule, but then we had a day where my son decided to play “store” by making price tags for his toys, which lead to some discussions about place value, how to write numbers in the thousands and millions, and where to put the dollar and cents symbols. Then he took some of the index cards he was using for price tags and started drawing little pictures on them with word bubbles and made a comic book. Later that day we played store using toy money, which involved coin identification and adding of monetary values. We had his grandparents and his pen pal shop in the store virtually and send us photos of their money. I realized that THIS was my perfect homeschool day. A day where all the boxes get checked by student led learning. I have a schedule that we like to follow on most days, but if my son comes up with something on his own like playing store or making a comic book, I am more than happy to throw the schedule out the window. Watching my children come up with ideas on their own and execute them on their own is THE BEST. When this happens I seize the moment. This doesn’t happen everyday however, so for the other days here is our ideal schedule:
BBC: Breakfast, Books, Chores (I read to the kids while they eat, then they do their chores)
TT: Table Time (my 7 year old comes to the table and does his handwriting and a math worksheet, my 3 year old either plays or chooses to come to the table and either draw or trace letters)
PE: Play and Exercise (the kids can play with toys or my older one can choose to play on his tablet. I can also use this time to do “preschooly” things with my 3 year old. Then we go downstairs into the garage and open it up and play down there. I usually do some hula hooping to get some exercise for myself. Sometimes the kids ride bikes or scooters.
SW: Stair Words (On the way back up the stairs my 7 year old reads the sight words that I laid out on each step).
SS: Snack and Story Time (The kids have a snack while we do partner reading, which is where i read a page and then my 7 year old reads a page, or maybe I read a book and he reads a book, or I read a book but he reads some of the easier words, etc.)
ASH: Art or Science or History (for art we usually do a follow along video from chalkpastels.com, for science we either watch a Mystery Science video or do an experiment from our science curriculum, and for History we will cut and paste pictures of whatever we are studying at that time to make a page for our history binder).
MR: Math and Reading (my 3 year old watches either mystery science videos or a tv show, usually Octonauts, while I do reading and math with my 7 year old. If we do a full reading lesson then we just play a game for math and vice versa.)
Outing: A fun outing with friends, either playing at the park or going to a museum, and listening to audiobooks in the car. We listen to our history curriculum on audio book as well as a lot of historical fiction.
FT: Free Time (everyone gets to do whatever they want. Usually my 7 year old chooses to watch people playing video games on YouTube, my 3 year old plays with toys or play doh or draws, and I veg out with some YouTube videos or a podcast while I either snack or do housework).
Projects: This is the time of day when we can work on any projects we may have, like building a model skeleton for science or a trojan horse for history, or playing board games or card games. Often we don’t have a project at all and that’s fine.
Activity: Gymnastics class, Ninja class, or going to the YMCA child care while I teach a class. Sometimes this is before Dinner, sometimes after.
Bedtime routine: teeth, jammies, read alouds
Yoga and shower for mama
But in reality, what does your typical day look like?
Haha, well, some days we actually do follow that schedule, other days it completely goes out the window, and then of course most days it is somewhere in between. Some days the fun outing is just going to the grocery store.
One thing that’s missing from that schedule is meal prep. I typically don’t manage to feed my kids wholesome meals 3 times a day. If I manage a decent lunch, dinner might end up being mac and cheese. If I manage a decent dinner, lunch might be some combination of snack foods. You can’t do all the things, and for me the areas where I am usually failing are cooking meals and cleaning the house.
Like I mentioned earlier, if something upsets my sensitive child then we have to postpone whatever he is working on for later in the day or another day. Also, that schedule is typically only for 3 days out of the week. One day a week my 7 year old sees a reading tutor and on those days we don’t do any other formal lessons, and another day in the week he usually goes to a class like Zoo School at our local zoo or like last fall he did an astronomy class at a learning center. On those days we also don’t do any other formal school work.
Of course sometimes life just gets in the way, maybe someone is sick, maybe we have dentist appointments, or maybe everyone is feeling burnt out and we just need a break to focus on our priorities.
How has your homeschooling changed over the years? Do you subscribe to any particular homeschooling philosophy?
No, I don’t subscribe to any particular philosophy. I don’t think our homeschool has changed very much for my 7 year old, but I think it’s going to look very different for my 3 year old. Of course we haven’t officially started homeschooling him, but he has taken the initiative to learn all of his letters and numbers and wants to do everything he sees his big brother doing, and more. He has a very different personality, different strengths, and different weaknesses. My second child is a self directed learner, very motivated, and very strong willed. I think he will be very much in charge of his own education and I will just be there to provide support! He’s not going to go along with whatever I want him to do, but luckily he comes up with plenty of educational activities on his own.
What are your best homeschooling memories thus far?
In general, I just love that we get to spend so much time together. I love seeing my two boys play together and grow up together, and it makes me sad to think of them being separated for a large part of the day if they were in traditional school.
More specifically, I love seeing them make connections. After learning about Shakespeare we went to see a friend in a play and they announced that the next season they would be doing A Midsummer Nights Dream, and my son looked up at me so shocked and excited as if to say “Hey I know that guy!” That may seem like such a little thing, but there is something about seeing these little connections pop up in everyday life, or pop culture, or movies, and seeing that recognition.
At the end of each school year I make a yearbook on Shutterfly, which is just a photo book that covers the highlights of what we did in each subject, friends, family, and any special trips we took that year like going to Harry Potter Land or a butterfly exhibit. I love the yearbooks because they document what we have been doing, but they also help on those days when I am feeling like a total failure. I can pull them out and see how much progress my son has made, and all the fun things we have done, and then I feel so much better about where we are and what we are doing. It’s so easy to forget how far your child has come, at least it is for me because I have a bad memory, so the yearbooks are essential!
Finally, do you have any wisdom to share or tips to pass on to those new to homeschooling?
Just do what works for you and your child. See what other people are doing and pick and choose what works for you and toss what doesn’t. It can be frustrating sometimes when you think something is going to be so fun and your child either has no interest in it or hates it altogether (arts and crafts for my 7 year old), but you have to remember that this is their tailor made education, and the freedom to pursue their interests is what is going to make them unique and prosperous.