Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.
A good friend and previous colleague of mine, Shannon Johnson, recently began homeschooling her eleven-year-old son, Zion, and her approach is radically different than anything I’ve experienced. In six questions, we cover the road that led her here, the resources she’s using, and just how homeschooling is affecting her life as a freelancing single mama.
The only perception I had of homeschooling was from you. Well, I actually had met some other people randomly who were homechooled and I always thought they were a little weird – I’m gonna be honest – and then remember when [our colleague] Reneen had to go to Saudi Arabia and she was homeschooling her son and raving about it? And then I got to know you and I figured it was pretty jam on ‘cause you’re one of the smartest people I know, so I figured this really works. Not that I didn’t think it could work, I didn’t know anything about it, really, so I hadn’t thought about it too much.That’s fair too, though, that it wasn’t on your radar, which connects to my next question: What led to your decision to homeschool Zion?
I decided to homeschool him because we were having some problems with the work and the quality of the education being up to par from what I’d experienced at other schools. He never had homework, really, and in fifth grade I was expecting an increase in homework, definitely not a decrease. The reasons they didn’t give homework were because of things like Bible study. That kind of didn’t sit well with me because it didn’t seem to be a good reason for not giving homework; I dig it – people have all kinds of study during the week. And then one day he mentioned again that he was bored in class, and when I asked him why he said it was because they’d been covering the same thing over and over again because there were some kids that didn’t get it.
I asked for him to be tested for Gifted, and he had been, but hadn’t been admitted to the program because he hadn’t received the full battery of testing, so instead of the district making an exception for a delay that was in no way my fault, it ended up being that he wasn’t going to be tested until the end of the year. I just felt like I couldn’t let a whole school year go by with him basically being behind where he should be, even though maybe ready for sixth grade, but not where he could have been had he been in Orlando or, you know, at that point I decided with me.So how did you decide that this was something you could add to being a single mom who’s a freelance writer?
I didn’t. I mean, it was something that I felt like I had no choice but to do it, so my schedule had to allow room for it. I always will skip sleep and then rely on some sort of stimulant to make it OK to skip sleep (Laughs). I’m just being honest. Because of that I figured, hey, more stimulants. But, to be honest, I just really felt like I had no choice. So I work from home, I know that I do most of my dead-on writing at night because during the day I tend to not be focused, and so I figured that actually it would be a good use of my time to homeschool, that way at night I would be more focused because I knew that I had all of this work to do.How did you even know where to start figuring out your resources when you had almost no time to prepare?
I do research for a living, basically, from writing, so that made it really easy. There’s a lot of information out there for parents that want to do it, and I think that there’s a lot out there just for educators in general because they’re starting to spread more information and share more than they have before because of the digital landscape we all live in. So I went online and I found the state standards, and even within there, if you clicked on certain things, it gave you some suggestions on how to implement the information, and so that’s what I did. On top of that, I had always gone online to find extra stuff for Zion to do outside of class and a lot of those resources I found actually had things for homeschooling that were directly aligned with state standards. I also did some research on homeschooling and found a variety of free resources like the Khan Academy, Thinkfinity, Lesson Pathways, and Scoot Pad for homework. So I did a lot of research, I found the programs, and, to be honest, it’s an evolving thing; I’m still finding more information as I go along, like the state standards are the same but I’m always finding new ways of implementing it and new sites that are amazing. There’s almost too much information out there for me to give it all, like if I taught him everything I found, he’d be in school all day, which is fine with me…not so much with the eleven-year-old boy (Laughs).Have any of your thoughts on homeschooling changed?
Yes. I have a whole new respect for people that do it. It is not an easy undertaking; however, I enjoy it. I mean, if I had the choice and the ability to financially, as far as really not needing to work and, therefore, being able to have a normal sleep pattern, it would be amazing – if you are a learner yourself; I’m a natural learner – so I love being able to give my child different ways to get information, and I am amazed at all of the different ways they have out there for people to learn now, so I enjoy it. I would love to do it for sixth grade because I think that I still will be able to cover so much more than the school is going to cover in the same amount of time.
However, ultimately he’s going to go back to school, and, really, that’s for socialization purposes because right now he’s the Vice President of Student Council, which is a pretty big deal. He doesn’t see it that way yet, but when you think about where we are out in the country, and that we haven’t been here long, and the fact that he was running against people that have known each other their entire lives, it was a pretty big deal. So I want to encourage that in him, the taking part, the participating; I was little bit too much of a coward to do it myself until later grades, but he seems to have a natural knack for it and some people have mentioned that, so, because of that, I kind of have to have him in the public school environment. Which, you know, I prefer, it’s there for a reason. Kids need the socialization; parents need the time away. Like I was just thinking to myself, no wonder I feel like I’m super-parenting because now I’m parenting all day. I no longer have that seven-hour break of quiet now until it’s his bedtime.So what snippet of advice can you give to parents considering homeschooling right now?
Take it easy on yourself. Here’s a perfect example: Even with me knowing the type of schedule that I had, I would beat myself up because I said that homeschool should start at 8 a.m., and every day I failed at that because at eight o’clock my body was like, “Mmmmm, it’s been two hours. I’m not getting up now.” And I put pressure on myself and my kid, and I’d start off the day with this energy that I’d already blown it for the day. So I advise you to get into your own groove as who you are as a family. I am not an early riser, and my son also has allergies and other health problems, so I was forcing him to get up, but he never really gets a full night’s sleep, so giving him an extra hour or two in the morning is a good thing as well for his brain patterns and ability to learn. And instead of beating myself up over the way I thought it should be, I just kind of had to flow into what it is because no matter how much I wanted it to start at eight, it just wasn’t feasible.
And I’m trying not to set – that’s another good thing to learn too – is I’m trying not to set goals that are unattainable and then everyone suffers for it. So just getting to know your child is really important and how they learn and then knowing how you, as a parent, teach. I was already a teacher, but I’m assuming that some parents that get into it aren’t teachers, so there’s that extra element of not just sitting there but your kids are going to ask you questions and you’re expected to know the information, things you haven’t talked about since you were in fifth grade. (Laughs). So I think those things: Being ready to be a teacher and being able to understand the way your particular child learns are two ways to be successful at it.