A parent is almost automatically a good teacher because there is no one else who has a greater desire for a child to succeed than his or her own parent.
“There’s no such thing as a typical day when you homeschool,” laughs Eric Wheeler. “Every day is different. We bounce around according to what else is going on.”
Lisa Lewis agrees. So do Bonnie Hoskins, Tammy Taylor and Debra Davis. All homeschooling parents, they each have different styles when it comes to the schedules they keep – or don’t keep – but, according to Bonnie, “that’s one of the beauties of homeschooling.”
In Tennessee, homeschoolers are required to spend four hours a day in academics, 180 days of the year. Those four hours can be accomplished in any routine that suits the family, which is one of the reasons some families choose homeschooling over a formal educational setting in the first place.
Eric Wheeler and his wife, Lisa Patton, chose to homeschool because of Lisa’s 2:30 – 11:30 p.m. work schedule. When the oldest of their three children was ready to start kindergarten, they realized that she’d be in school until after Lisa went to work and in bed by the time she got home.
“Neither of us wanted Lisa to be a weekend parent,” Wheeler recalls, “so we decided to team teach at home. With a fifth grader, second grader and a pre-schooler, it’s a juggling act – but it just seems to work.”
They’ve found it best to do math first thing in the morning so they don’t get behind in their curriculum, and also try to get in another subject or two each day. “We have to separate the kids when we’re doing different lessons, but then come back together at the kitchen table to do the written work,” Wheeler says. “To make the teaching work, we have to be close by to answer questions or provide assistance.”
While the children do school work, Wheeler and Patton make lunch and prepare to go out for one of their extracurricular activities as well as throw clothes in the washer and plann upcoming schedules, etc. Instead of being a distraction, Wheeler says it helps all the children to be together after their individual instruction. “We learned from our youngest that there’s usually no need to exclude one because of age,” he notes. “The older teaches the younger; the younger absorbs from the older. It’s kind of like the little red schoolhouse.”
All the children participate in the same extracurricular events other kids get involved in: sports, dance, music, drama.” It seems like there’s too much to do,” Wheeler laughs. “But the great thing is that one kid can be doing a math worksheet while we’re waiting on another one at soccer practice. We can move our classroom wherever we go.”
Co-ops and Tutorials
Debra Davis, who homeschools her four children in Franklin, likes to have more structure in her day. Her kids range in age from 5 to 12 and she says her routine changes every year as the kids mature and become more independent. But having structure is what keeps her disciplined to stay on task. She typically schools from about 10 a.m. until 3 or 3:30 p.m., “but the beauty of it is that if you do get off your schedule, you’ve got time later,” she says.
In addition to their instruction at home, most homeschoolers also participate in co-ops or tutorials. Co-ops are made up of a group of parents who agree to each teach a different subject for a period of time. Classes tend to be small, usually with about 10 to 12 students, and use a set curriculum that is accepted by all participating parents. Classes meet for one to two hours one day a week, and then students work on assignments at home the rest of the week.
There is little or no cost because teaching is shared among the parents. Tutorials are similar, except that there is a wider variety of subjects available and they are taught by certified teachers or someone who is particularly skilled in an area. Classes may meet more than once a week, but students still do the majority of the school work at home, assisted as needed by their teaching parent(s). Costs range anywhere from $100 to $400 per class per year, and fees are paid directly to the teachers. Co-ops tend to cover elementary grades and tutorials cover high school subjects, but this is not always the case.
“The kids usually enjoy going to co-ops and tutorials because it gives them a chance to be with their friends,” says Bonnie Hoskins of the Middle Tennessee Home Educators Association (MTHEA). “It also gives the parents a break and helps with subjects the parents may feel less prepared to handle on their own.”
In fact, co-ops and tutorials function much like regular schools in organizing group activities. Most have holiday theme parties for the kids, many sponsor various sports teams, some have yearbooks and dances, some even have a prom and graduation ceremonies. MTHEA also provides a variety of activities throughout the year, so “socialization is not even an issue,” Hoskins says.
Co-ops and tutorials also provide a central point for field trip sign-up lists, transportation, etc. Lisa Lewis, a Donelson mother of four who has homeschooled for six years, finds the science class at her co-op to be particularly valuable. “We often go to Warner Park for our science class,” she says, “and while my sixth grader and third grade twins are off looking at bugs and leaves with someone who knows all about them, I can play with my 2-year- old.”
Lewis has found that many educational institutions and other area businesses have specific homeschool programs like the one at Warner Park, as well as the same field trip opportunities provided to public or private school groups.
Your Own Curriculum
The diversity in learning opportunities is one of the things homeschoolers get so excited about. Tammy Taylor of Smyrna is in her eleventh year of homeschooling and keeps up with the latest curriculums through her bookstore, The Homeschool Junction. “Vendors hold curriculum fairs and workshops here and at co-ops several times a year, and there is an unbelievable amount of material available from catalog companies,” she says.
With a high school junior, a seventh grader and a fifth grader, Taylor advises parents to choose a curriculum based on how their child learns and what they like. “The goal as children get older is independent learning,” she says.
“By having the flexibility to teach to each child’s individual learning style, it’s amazing how quickly kids learn to teach themselves,” Davis adds.
Finding and responding to those individual learning styles is one of the advantages to homeschooling, according to parents who do. “Moms or dads are almost automatically good teachers because there is no one else who has a greater desire for that child to succeed than his or her own parents,” says MTHEA’s Hoskins, a statement echoed by all the parents interviewed.
“There are so many great moments, but homeschooling is work,” notes Lewis. “You have to sacrifice a lot, planning and spending time on it. It can be frustrating, so you have to know why you’re doing it and keep reminding yourself of that.”
Wheeler says that “it’s hard to be a teacher and a parent. When the kids get upset with you because of a math grade, that’s when you wish it was in someone else’s lap.
“You have to be willing to put your life on hold to take advantage of a teachable moment,” he points out. “Sometimes you have to stop to watch a praying mantis for half an hour, catch it and take it home, and then do research on it so the kids can feed it.
It makes a great science lesson, and it’s worth it to see the kids so eager to learn more. “The key is to see the world from a child’s viewpoint and not just focus on getting through a textbook,” he says.
Nancy W. Brown is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Bellevue.
Academy of Music and Drama
E. Clark Blvd., Murfreesboro
5600 Brookwood Terrace, Nashville
Academy of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 210694, Nashville
121 Front St., Smyrna
1701 Mallory Lane, Brentwood
1646 Memorial Blvd., Murfreesboro
Masters in Motion
1010 Murfreesboro Road, Franklin
• 780 Two Mile Pkwy.,
• 2214 Bandywood Drive
• 1135 Bell Road
• 203 Williamson Square
518 W. Main Center, Lebanon
The Teacher’s Aid
102B Hartman Drive, Lebanon
Watkins College of Art and Design
2298 Metro Center Blvd., Nashville
The following groups can provide parents with additional resource information as well as help those interested in getting started in homeschooling:
HEART (Home Education Association of Middle Tennessee)
P.O. Box 4048, Murfreesboro
MTHEA (Middle Tennessee Home Education Association)
The Complete Home Learning
by Rebecca Rupp
(Three Rivers Press)
The Home School Source Book
by Donna Reed
(Brook Farm Books)
The Homeschooling Book of Answers: The 88 Most Important Questions Answered by Homeschooling’s Most Respected Voices
edited by Linda Dobson
The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your Child’s Classroom
by Mary Griffith
You Can Teach Your Child Successfully
by Ruth Beechick