One of the reasons the un-schooling Teaching Philosophy resonated with me so well back in the day was because I was into Attachment Parenting and I looked at my Natural Mothering as a common sense approach to raising our family. Un-schooling was a natural extension of “child led” parenting because the goal with Attachment Parenting was to follow the child’s lead with breastfeeding and a gentle nurturing of the baby through each developmental stage.
I would have had a much easier time if I had been on a desert island and just able to follow the childrens lead on education issues without any busy bodies stepping in to inform me what a screw up I was a parent and how inadequately trained I was to teach my own.
Because I had near constant blowback from family and friends who were watching my children every step of the way I felt an all consuming need for them to at least be at grade level with their work and perhaps even advanced intellectually. When we made the decision to pull our children out of school the first time, my oldest daughter Michelle was in middle school. She had spent four years with a unique group of students at the local elementary who were all taught using the Core Knowledge curriculum, Open Court Phonics, and “pure” Saxon Math in the classroom.
During those years I was able to refortify my position as a mother and read a few more books to strengthen my resolve. The Homeschool Essays by Dr. Art Robinson proved to be the deciding factor in me having the courage to jump back into the cesspool of Homeschool Mom Rejection. When I say cesspool, I mean that most parents struggle with busybodies in one form or another, but when a parent takes on the task of being teacher and mother the level of harassment can reach supremely uncomfortable levels that will leave the mother ill and defensive. The human body can only take so much rejection.
I also mothered Andy through his baby hood and weaned him on his third birthday.
I was amazed to feel the rejuvenation of mind, body, and spirit that smacked once I weaned that child. I began nursing Allison eight years before and had one or two children on the breast during the ensuing eight years. I was unaware how much of my creative energy and essence was being invested in my little ones during those years.
I am very grateful that for the four years our children were in school during that time that it was in an intimate setting with a group of like minded parents using a curriculum completely different to the BVSD curriculum cult of Whole Language Reading and Fuzzy Math.
During these years our Charter was also being put together by a dynamic and focused group of parents who were using new laws passed by Conservatives in the Colorado State Legislature to set up one of the best Charter Schools in the nation. Peak to Peak was a gift for our family and I will always be grateful to those parents who spent two full years planning, dreaming, and then making the school a reality. I felt a little guilty not participating as a founding family member, but I was overwhelmed with life and had zero time or energy to help found a school. I attended the Moms in Touch Prayer group for our local elementary, which was made up of many of the parents who were working so diligently to set up the charter, during the years that our children were in school. So I heard much of the back story and was kept in the loop as various milestones were reached and the dream became a reality.
We even had one of our children accepted into the initial group of students for Peak to Peak. But that year I potentially would have had a child in middle school, a child out at the charter in another town, and a child at the local elementary. The idea of driving all of them to various places and getting them there on time was daunting and I wanted to try to Home school just to see if we could have any success with it. So that year we spent six hundred dollars, bought curriculum for everyone (including Art Robinsons Curriculum) and I buckled up and dove in.
I was so blessed that Paul agreed to teach American History every morning before he left for work. We would gather the children around the kitchen table and while I made breakfast he would teach them from a history book he purchased that was a high school level textbook. As he taught, he wove American History around our families geneology and LDS church history. For example, while he was teaching about the American Revolution he would open the biography of Benjamin Franklin Johnson who was an ancestor and Bens namesake and tell stories from his life that paralleled what was happening with the founding of the government as well as what was happening with the restoration of the church. We also read the Book of Mormon together faithfully every morning and said Family Prayer together. It was so much easier to engage in these important daily practices during the year of Homeschool than it had ever been when the children were in school.
This year remains an epoch in our lives because it was such a joyful one.
The next year we did an inventory to see if the children were happy and if everyone was on board with Home school. Allison had started gymnastics and as my most social child, that combined with the regular church activities for young girls seemed to be all of the socializing she needed. So we jumped into our second year of me teaching. I only had to spend enough to get the new Math and Language Arts Books, which was about three hundred dollars. Andrew was four and as he did with all of his physical developments (he walked at seven months of age), he proved to be quite advanced with his intellectual abilities and picked up reading without me hardly even trying to teach him by the time he was five. He was reading large chapter books a couple months later and as my confirmed bookworm, he has never looked back.
I feel like I should insert here that although I started Ben on the same road with early teaching of his letters, sounds, writing skills etc… he has proved extremely resistant to learning how to read for the “joy” of it. This example in my own family has proven to me that children develop at completely different levels and different learning styles are required when teaching them. Ben is a perfect example of the better late than early type of child, who often tends to be male and much more interested in playing with legos than doing school.
When Ben was little we spent many hours playing chess, monopoly, uno, and a variety of other games that I knew would eventually help him with math and logic. He loved spending his time one on one with Mom in these pursuits but doing a Saxon Math lesson was as painful as cleaning his room. I still made him do the math, but we took it very very slowly, and I continually followed his lead. When he was absolutely resistant to learning Division when he was seven, I tucked it away for a couple years, and it has only been this year that he has shown any interest in learning it. He is now ten and division to him seems really cool, especially when we use fake money and I allow him to actually make piles of money as it is divided up evenly. I will show him a flashcard and he will make the pile of money and then divide it up and give me his answer. It is slow, but he immediately gets the purpose of mastering those flashcards and his math facts.
To go back to our story, after Paul led the children in history and religion he would take off for work while I cleaned up the kitchen and the children did a few chores and dressed. At about nine we would head over to the local park for PE. We lived at Cottonwood Park in Louisville Colorado those years and some of my happiest moments as a Mom were spent in that beautiful space. We almost always had the park to ourselves at that hour of the day and after running around the pond twice we would head back to the play structure where the children were required to do ten pullups, situps, pushups and then we would play a game of basketball, kickball, or some other group sport as a family. One day Jeff was running around the pond while I sat on the bench with a stopwatch timing everyone and a local police man saw him alone running and assumed he was ditching school. It was really funny watching this officer chase after him in his car. I saw Jeff point to me and explain that his “teacher”/Mom was over on the bench.
Most of the playgroups and preschools who used that park would show up about ten am and we would head home to do Math and Language Arts. Paul worked at a building next door to our church less than a mile from home, so he came home for lunch every day and we enjoyed eating together while he corrected math lessons and I cleaned up. By 1:00 PM the most important tasks of our day were over and I settled into nap time with a good book. I required all of the children to be on their beds in what we termed “quiet time” and they were free to read whatever they wanted, but they had to be respectful of everyone else who wanted to nap. Sometimes I was the only one who slept during that time, but I quickly learned that I had to lay down for a couple hours every day. I was very disciplined about this and in looking back, while I made that decision out of sheer survival as a homeschooling Mom, I believe it is the number one factor that contributed to all of our children being readers. We would check stacks of books out of the library and after a time the children started asking for books for birthday gifts etc..
Since one of the main goals for me as a Mom was to have a family of readers, accomplishing this goal has given me a total sense of self worth, that despite the many sacrifices of my own time and developing my own talents etc… making certain that my children were readers was priority one and we have largely accomplished that goal. I wish I had had more confidence back in the day when I felt so defensive. It would have been so much easier if I had been able to see my childrens test scores on the ACT and various AP classes they have taken as well as the work ethic they have shown doing college and university work. I would have been able to fend off the dogs nipping at my heels so much more effectively if I had known our little homeschool experiment would be a success.
But a leap of faith is often just that…a leap into the unknown. And I had enough spiritual encouragement from my Heavenly Father that I knew our efforts as a mother and a father would one day bring much happiness and joy, both intellectually and as a family unit. Seeing the great love my children have for each other also has taught me that homeschool bonds siblings together like few things going in society today.
Our homeschool experiment was aided by a wonderful group of maverick mormon moms who formed the Liahona Home Educators association. Families from all over the front range of Colorado gathered every friday at the Arvada Stake Center to socialize and do important things together. We did science fairs, classes on topics ranging from Spanish to Poetry. We went all over Denver to various museums and had many field trips and parties.
Paul and I hosted a field day at our local park, and we had a series of running and athletic events. I also directed the musical My Servant Joseph, and we had a blast taking all of our families up to Golden Gate State Park for a week of camping and outdoor education together. The memories created and the friendships forged will last forever.
The final year of homeschool was the 2001-2002 school year. My life took a twist after the death of my older brother Dave and as I descended into a deep and overwhelming suicidal depression, I found myself back in psychiatric care for the first time in ten years. I was hospitalized for three days and during that time we made the decision to enroll all of the three youngest children in our local elementary. Michelle tried 8th grade for two days, but she really wanted to continue at home, so we let her.
As I recovered from the initial shock of sexual abuse memories surfacing after my brothers death, I began to really question my capacity as a homeschooling parent. I felt like a total basket case. Then 9-11 happened on September 11th and I found myself thrust into an even deeper spiritual crisis. I did not use meds during this depression, my essential oils, prayer, and priesthood blessings were my lifeline, but I did go to therapy with two excellent therapists who specialized in sexual abuse.
A few weeks into the school year Coal Creek Elementary was looking for aides for the classrooms of various teachers. I was interested in being around my children more and keeping a close eye on what was happening at the school. So I applied for the job. I was hired to spend time in a special needs classroom with children who had a variety of developmental disabilities. I spent several hours every week helping on the playground, escorting the children to therapy and in the lunch room collecting money etc… I was surprised to feel the strong whole language cult atmosphere at this school. When I would accompany various children to reading specialists I would just sit quietly while the highly paid professional worked with them on varioud letters. They gave those kids sounds and letters like they were this hidden code that the children were too dumb to figure out.
I was half tempted to bring my phonics materials into the classroom and begin working with them myself, but I did not want to get fired. I was also amazed at the amount of toxic cleaning products that were used around these children. The school and the teachers were obviously unaware of the pioneering work by Dr. Doris Rapp, author of the book, Is This Your Child’s World? I would watch the teacher cleanse the table the children sat at the do their work and the toxic fumes would rise right up into their faces while seated around the table. These children would visibly react to the chemical saturation from permanent markers, glues, and air freshener and I sat back marveling. Did I still live in environmentally concious Boulder Colorado???
When Ben made the case to come home from 4th grade last year one of his major beefs with being back in a classroom was the constant exposure to toxic smells and fumes. He has been raised in a home where we almost exclusively use Environmentally safe soaps, have an air purifier on every floor of our home and use a reverse osmosis water purifier for drinking water. He was really annoyed by the fabric softener scents on his seat mates clothing and all of the glues, cleaners, and dry erase markers. As he explained it, I was forced to recall my months in the special needs classroom and it was a factor in my agreeing to let him be homeschooled again.
After a few months at Coal Creek I realized that my children had been pulled out of the classroom and taken to a special assembly on diversity, which we all know is code for gay indoctrination. I had specifically requested that if anything like this happened that I be given the option to keep them home for the day when the assembly was planned. Since no one at the school was mindful of my request I felt that I could not allow our children to stay at the school, so about christmas time we pulled Allison, Jeff, and Andy back out and went back to our homeschool books.
I am grateful we had a few months at Coal Creek in their classrooms and me standing back and just taking it all in as a quiet observer. My time at the school as an employee was extremely valuable in helping to shape decisions that have been made in the intervening years.
It was my mother in law, a college professor of English and Communications who had the most concern about me homeschooling right around the time I was so emotionally ill. While I was grateful for her insight and concern, we unhesitatingly pulled our children back home when the boundary we had set was breached by the school.
In January of 2002 we conceived Ben and I was once more back in the role of Pregnant Homeschooling Mother. (I had unschooled Michelle for two years and during that time Jeffrey and Andrew were born).
I will share the rest of our educational evolution for another day, but in titling this essay, How can I teach my seven year old son Math and Reading when I cannot get him to take a bath, my message to any young Mother who is pregnant and nursing while teaching her own is to set up some simple expectations in terms of daily curriculum and schedule and then STICK TO IT! Eventually your children will stop complaining and settle into this new life.
Jeff was especially vehement in his opposition to being forced to lie in bed for two hours reading when all of the other seven year old boys he knew were up at the school running around the playground and doing PE. It would be an interesting research project to see today how many of those same seven year olds who were taught using Whole Language Crapola Curriculums are readers today compared to my little bookworm of a son.
I do not have that evidence, but I do know that my determination to continue on despite deep and lasting emotional illness and tons of judgement and concern from those around me has been justified by the fact that all four of my oldest children are GREAT readers! And when you wrap your head around the idea that progressives back in the late 1800′s like John Dewey wanted a population of illiterates in America, well then you can see that teaching children to read with true phonics and then setting up a schedule where they have loads of time to do nothing else will ensure a family of readers and be a complete refutation of that socialist agenda.
Sam Blumenfeld has made the case that even SIX MONTHS of whole language reading can disable a child for life. Please purchase his Alpha Phonics and use it to teach your children!
This video contains many photos of my children taken during the years just described.