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Volume 4 Issue 1

Moments with Marsha, Our Homeschooling Journey

by Marsha Ransom

When we finally decided to quit our uphill battle with the public schools, after 6 years of struggling, negotiating placements, having our son undergo testing, watching his personality change, and having nothing work, it was because we had learned about homeschooling. Homeschooling was not something I was familiar with, and the journey we began is probably similar to that of many new homeschoolers. We read many books on homeschooling, subscribed to Home Education magazine and bought many back issues, and talked to people who were homeschooling in our community. We were fortunate in finding people who opened their homes and hearts to us, encouraging us to make this monumental decision and step away from the traditional. Once our choice was made and we'd had our children's records transferred to Clonlara Home Based Education Program, I spent the summer doing even more reading, and sent away for catalogs, purchased materials, wrote a curriculum, drew up schedules, etc. My boys spent the summer feeling freed from having to return to school, especially joyous that they didn't have to ride the big yellow bus, with all the teasing, tormenting and other behavior problems, anymore.

When September rolled around we were anxious to begin on this new adventure. We awoke early, pledged the flag, read a chapter in the Bible together, and settled down to business. We had The Writing Road to Reading for phonics and handwriting. The boys had their little notebooks and we dotted every i and crossed every t. We did this by the book! We had Modern Curriculum Press math for our second grader and Saxon 5/4 for the fifth grader. Grammar Songs and journals covered English, we had recorders and the piano to learn music, Hands Around the World: 365 Creative Ways to Build Cultural Awareness and Global Respect by Susan Milord for art and social studies, and relied on books from the library for science, history, and geography, supplemented by travelogs. We subscribed to many magazines already so with the addition of a few more we were all set. We have received Ranger Rick, National Geographic, Reader's Digest, Farm and Ranch, Air and Space, Boys Life, Highlights, Sesame Street Magazine, Zoobooks, KidsArt Newsletter, Boomerang! (a magazine on audio cassette), and American Hunter at various times over the years we've been homeschooling. During that first year of homeschooling one of my husband's customers gave us her deceased husband's collection of 65 years of National Geographic. We purchased an index on computer disk, a shareware program called Gleaner and have since picked up some book indexes at used book sales. This makes our Geographics an invaluable resource tool, but more often, the kids just read them for the sheer pleasure.

We stuck with the "school-at-home" method until March of that first year, when our daughter arrived home from Korea (after a three-year wait to adopt). Being separated from her foster mother at 6 months, she grieved and was very needy for the next two years, enduring night terrors and awakenings, and fighting sleep until she was nearly sick from exhaustion. Naps were 15 minutes in duration at maximum before she startled awake, screaming. Nights were akin to a type of cruel and unusual punishment, with sleeping nearly non-existent. While I worried that my children's education was going down the tubes, and tried to keep my 3 year old out of things (he did eat a bottle of Tylenol one day, but that's another story!!), while trying to nurture this bundle that had brought us such joy and such weariness, I began to realize that the kids learned as much or more, without all the textbooks and workbooks, and without the schedule I had so rigidly imposed. Besides using our computer to play the educational games we had purchased, they read avidly everything we could provide for them. We check out 20 to 30 books weekly from our local library. The children chose books on topics they were interested in, and for pleasure, while I chose books that covered topics I'd heard them express interest in, or that tied in with a planned travelog or family outing. Sometimes I chose books I thought were important for them to read, whether classics or subjects I felt they would be glad to know about, and suggested they read them. Often, once they had plowed through their own selections, they were glad to dig on the 2 shelves designated for library books to find something else to read. As the children grew, the structure became less and less, and we relied more on their interests and other sources than the planned curriculums I wrote for a couple more years. Over time, my journal entries became jottings on the calendar, and from those jottings I can recreate our school year into the reports I prepare for West River Academy, our current support school of choice. As we look back over them, it becomes evident that we are "schooling" less, but "learning" more. Real life has become the source of most of our learning. The things I used to supplement our curriculum with have become the real learning experiences.

Over the years, we have used community resources often to enrich our children's (and our) lives. Even before we began homeschooling we felt that community spirit and volunteer work were valuable experiences. As a family, we had participated in the planning and building of the Leathers playground in our community. I had been certified as a La Leche League Leader and led meetings in a couple of nearby communities; after beginning to homeschool, I started a local group in our community, which still thrives under the able direction of my co-leader (I recently retired, but my co-leader still consults with me on occasion and I still have ties to La Leche League). As they grew, each of the children had their part in helping with the meetings according to their interest and ability; setting out snacks, or watching over toddlers at the meetings.

After we began to homeschool, I was always watching the newspapers for announcements of things that we could incorporate into our days, that would provide rich learning experiences for us. Some of the volunteer projects we have been involved in over the eight years we've been homeschooling follow. Our oldest son Ryan volunteered in the mechanic shop of our automobile mechanic who lived just around the corner from us. During the time Ryan worked for him, he learned to care for and organize the tools in the shop, to do simple maintenance and repair jobs, and beginning diagnostics. As he worked there, he also learned that this was a career he wanted to pursue. Ryan has also spent time working in the small engine shop of a friend, which led to him taking a correspondence course in Small Engine Repair, becoming certified at 13 and opening his own shop to repair engines. A final volunteer project was training, doing research on exhibits and giving tours at the local maritime museum. This was an excellent way to gain confidence in speaking to groups and interacting with strangers; we counted this time as a speech credit for his transcript at Clonlara. During this time, Ryan was awarded the Docent of the Month award, researched and accompanied a senior docent to give a presentation to a gifted and talented class in the public school, and became interested and active in Sea Scouts. Aaron has spent most of his volunteer time at the local library; he has assisted the librarian during preschool story hours, helping the children complete their craft projects, and get their snacks. He has also painted the doors and trim of the building, and plans to paint their shutters this spring.

We have done cooperative projects with our local homeschool group, such as the huge globe that we made in the basement of one homeschool family. Groups of kids gathered there each week to form the globe of wood, chicken wire and paper mache, then to paint it blue. One group put on all the latitude and longitude lines, a real math project. Various families chose countries to trace on to scale, paint in and then animals appropriate to each country and ocean were added. Reports were written on the various countries. The globe was on display in the local library for a time, then was donated to the church of one of the homeschool group's members. It was used to track missionaries sponsored by the church. Imagine my surprise a couple of years ago, when attending a function at a public school in a nearby town, to find the big globe residing in their lobby, a little battle-scarred, but obviously still appreciated and in use! We have had activity days around various themes, various homeschool mothers have offered classes in areas of their expertise, and the kids sometimes get together just to work on their bikes, or play in the woods. Just this year we organized our first homeschool cooperative, offering classes in return for small fees or volunteer work by family members. It's been a resounding success so far, and we hope to continue to expand in the future.

My husband is very handy and does much of our home repair and remodeling himself. A self-employed painting contractor, he also is able to do plumbing, electrical, drywall, etc. What he doesn't know he asks around on the job, or finds a book to learn. These skills have been passed on to our boys while working on projects around our house. We also had a small business for two years in which we purchased neglected but structurally sound houses in good neighborhoods, and employed our children to help us rehabilitate them for resale. At the end of each project, besides having earned some hefty sums to add to their college funds, we would enjoy a family trip as a reward for a job well done. When Ryan was 12 and Aaron was 9, their Dad saw that one of his customers had a push mower for sale. Another customer was looking for someone to mow her lawn. That was the start of Ryan and Aaron's venture in the lawn mowing business. Ryan has purchased riding mowers and resold them, or added them to their fleet of mowing equipment. Ryan still repairs the equipments, Aaron still runs the mowing business, doing minor maintenance, and employs his next younger brother, Ervin. This past summer Aaron worked for his Dad full time painting, while maintaining two large mowing jobs that paid too well for him to give them up!

Since one of our oldest son's dreams for years was to learn to make pottery on a wheel, I joined the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph, MI for one year. During that time, we attended many programs and exhibitions on art, and Ryan made some wonderful creations on the wheel. As well as good memories of the classes, we all gained some impressions of art that we still refer to from time to time. A recent favorite find at a used book sale was a huge coffee table book on Japanese art that my second son told the librarian to put aside because "my Mom will want to add it to our collection". We have used some books and newsletters on cartooning, drawing and art for inspiration, but often my children's own creativity and the wealth of materials around our house are enough to inspire many projects without my being very involved at all. We provided the two older boys with a large sheet of plywood, a couple of used and new train sets and tracks, and they have made an extensive layout of buildings, mountains and lights that work. This layout, in our basement family room, can be pulled up to the ceiling by ropes and pulleys when not in use.

We have an extensive collection of music in our house, from children's songs, folks songs, to classical music, pop etc. on audio and CD I play the piano, and my husband plays both classical guitar and violin. Our oldest son has taken voice, our second son has taken classical guitar lessons, and our daughter takes piano. We all enjoy singing together, especially fun kids songs, like those made popular by the brothers Gemini, from Ann Arbor, MI, and things like The Old Woman who Swallowed a Fly.

Our five acres of woods and creeks with adjacent farmers' fields, and a few neighbors with kids make our location a great place to be homeschooling. We're about 4 miles outside of our small town. We have had many tree forts, dirt forts and other structures erected on our land, and when my husband and I take a walk through the woods we often wax nostalgic about this or that decaying structure that sits abandoned, a monument to many hours of happy play and creativity by our kids and their friends. Transplanting trees and flowers from the woods to their log cabin behind the barn was a favorite activity. Last summer when we decided to cut down a dying tree in our front yard before Ryan's graduation open house, we were left with an unsightly circle with no grass. No problem. Many of the trees and shrubs the boys had transplanted behind the barn were big enough to move and look nice, so we created a lovely garden, supplemented by my wonderful Mother's Day gift of rose bushes. This winter we have added 3 bird feeders to that little garden, which provides a lovely sight, and is our daughter's science fair project.

As our kids grew, various activities interested them. When I saw sailing classes offered by our local yacht club, for non-members, I asked our oldest son if he would be interested. He was and I paid for the class. He enjoyed it so much he said he'd pay for another session himself. Later, when he was volunteering at the Maritime Museum, he learned about Sea Explorers, the maritime branch of Boy Scouts. He and his next younger brother have both enjoyed sailing, canoeing, and motor boating with the Sea Explorers. Since our son's have been involved, several other homeschooling families have also joined. We enjoy going along on their canoe trips, taking our whole family, as chaperones. This past summer we purchased our own day sailer from the Sea Explorers (it was a donated boat they had fixed up, used and sold to raise money for another craft). Now we enjoy being able to sail as a family. Two years ago we took up downhill skiing. After renting our equipment a couple of times, we started watching thrift shops and sales, eventually purchasing all our equipment used. Acquiring a book on ski maintenance, an old iron, and using our shop, my husband and the two older boys have learned to maintain and wax our equipment themselves. We have enjoyed skiing as a family, in groups, and have just learned that our local slopes offer a homeschoolers discount on Fridays. One of our boys took karate for two years. The boys and some of their friends and cousins have traveled the almost 40 miles bike trail (on an abandoned railroad bed) that runs between our town and Kalamazoo, MI several times. We have enjoyed short trips on the trail as a family, as well as biking around our neighborhood.

Homeschooling for us has become, over the 10 years we've been doing it, not so much about school as it is about life. It's an adventure and we never know where it will lead us. For one of our sons, it has led to a career he loves, college and the respect of those he comes in contact with that know the path he has traveled to get where he is today. For our next son, who isn't sure yet what he will do in the future, dual enrollment in college while completing his high school years has shown him that he can succeed in college even though he's been homeschooled.

For our other two children, we are thrilled to have two that have never attended public school, and to watch the difference in their approach to life and learning. So free, so open, so responsive. Not as many hurdles or doubts. We look forward to watching the metamorphosis, as each one reaches full potential. We applaud the homeschooling pioneers who broke the path before us, and realize that even today in our world of technology, structure and institutional learning, we, too, can be pioneers in our homes and in our communities.

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