Imagine learning science, history, and American culture through the National Parks as part of your homeschool experience. Or having a professional writer (with a PhD in literature) teaching you language arts. Then, you’re allowed to follow your interests and come back to your teacher and discuss what you’ve learned. That’s what homeschool is like for 13 year-old Cate.
Jennifer has been homeschooling Cate for four years now and they’re both happy and loving it.
Jennifer says, “We left public school because of a disastrous teacher experience, but it had never been a very good fit for Cate. We homeschool now primarily for academic reasons, but it also seems to work better for her socially.”
She’s so happy, and part of me really envies her for being able to be herself so fearlessly… I’m glad I can give her the childhood I would have wanted to have.
Some people think outside of the box, but Jennifer says kids like Cate “don’t even see the box is there.” Jennifer explains:
“They ask questions you don’t expect, can’t stand to be mentally idle, and challenge any authority they see as unearned. They’re really a public school teacher’s nightmare. Luckily, having been that kind of kid myself, I’m sympathetic. I realize that Cate finds doodling while she listens to a lesson helpful as a way of processing the information. I realize that she can’t stop reading or writing just because time is up; if she’s invested in what she’s doing, her mind just isn’t going to let go of that because the clock is ticking. I often catch her up reading, drawing, or writing at 2 am!”
Cate likes to learn how to do things on her own, so as her teacher, Jennifer points Cate towards something she thinks she’ll like and gets out of the way. Later Cate comes back and they’ll talk about what Cate learned.
Also, Cate is a bit of a self-professed nerd. She likes Minecraft, My Little Pony, anime, Charles Dickens, Gene Kelly, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Jennifer points out that being homeschooled means:
“Nobody bullies her or gives her grief for liking things other people don’t… Schools enforce cultural conformity without even thinking about it, but at home I tell Cate she can be ‘as weird as she wants to be.’ She’s so happy, and part of me really envies her for being able to be herself so fearlessly… I’m glad I can give her the childhood I would have wanted to have.”
Curricula and Classes
Jennifer draws a lot on her experience as a college English instructor when it comes to teaching reading and writing, but most everything is student-led. Cate has a lot of say in what she studies. Because of that, and her varied interests and abilities with different subjects, boxed curricula don’t work for Cate and Jennifer. Instead, they use a blend of different learning tools. Right now they use:
- Spectrum workbooks for math and science.
- Great Courses
- College literature anthologies from Jennifer’s teaching days
- Khan Academy
- Documentaries on Netflix and Amazon streaming
- Kindle (Cate reads a lot, so their biggest concern is keeping her supplied with a constant stream of books. Jennifer says she’s very thankful for Kindle!)
Cate was in the SPACE program for gifted kids when she was in public school, and now uses Duke TIP for above-grade testing and other opportunities. This summer she’ll attend academic camps through the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile and through Duke TIP at Appalachian State University, which gives her a chance to be around other kids who share her interests and get some more traditional classroom time.
A Typical Day
Jennifer and Cate usually get started between 8 and 9 am, “depending on how energetic we feel” and end around 2 or 3. The day may look like this:
- Some math and science lessons
- Lunch while watching a documentary or other educational program (food science and history from Alton Brown or Andrew Zimmern, TEDTalks, or something else with a science, history, or cultural studies focus)
- PE (outside walk or Wii Fit/Just Dance)
- Crafts, drawing, or playing on the keyboard
When Jennifer is teaching courses for LearningQUEST or the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UAH, Cate goes with her.
One of the most exciting and rewarding things Jennifer’s family does as homeschoolers is visit national parks. Last month they hiked in Joshua Tree National Park in California as part of their spring break. Cate participates in Junior Ranger programs at every site they visit, and Jennifer counts those days as school. So far, Cate has earned 61 Junior Ranger badges!
Here at home, Cate is an active helper with the Tennessee Valley LEGO Club. She also takes classes at Huntsville Art League, Huntsville Botanical Gardens, and Fantasy Playhouse. But, right now, she really wants to take sewing classes.
“I’m really resistant to the over-scheduled life most American kids lead these days,” Jennifer says. “Cate likes to be left to herself to dream, write, and draw, so we make sure she has time for that.”
For Jennifer, “me” time is about “having an identity and ambitions beyond being a wife and mother.” She earned a PhD with the expectation that she would one day be a tenured professor, but then left her teaching job because her husband was traveling so much. “I thought I was going to devote my time to writing, and then we started homeschooling.”
The challenge now is finding time to write. She tries to write something every day, whether it’s for her Examiner column, her blog, or one of her fiction projects. “I am really excited about Cate going to camp this summer because I have so much work that I hope to get done then,” she says. “My volunteer work with LearningQUEST and Osher is also ‘me’ time because I get to do something I’m passionate about, use all those years of education, and be around other people who want to learn something new.”