A Homeschooling Journey
January 31, 2022
by katie jones backer
Two years into a global pandemic, some students are back to attending public school classes in-person, but many families around the country are still experiencing “remote learning” or hybrid schooling here in 2022, with a rising number of families choosing to explore other options, such as homeschooling. I sat down with local homeschool parent, Whitney Medina, to learn more about her family’s homeschool journey as well as to gather tips for parents who may be considering this academic path.
Whitney, and husband Stephen, have two girl ages 9 and 7. And while they love nature, adventures, and spending time together, this isn’t what led them to homeschooling. Initially, the couple - who met in college and have been married for 14 years - worked as engineers in Oregon. Their oldest daughter attended kindergarten in an OR public school. “She had an amazing teacher and although we missed having her around daily, she had a great first year of school. At the end of that school year [though], we had a fairly unexpected move to Billings and faced our house sale closing later into the school year than planned,” Whitney explained. This led them to the decision to homeschool their daughter for 1st grade, “to relieve some of that stress… ‘for a year.’ That year has now turned into four and homeschooling has become the very best decision we have ever made.”
While both parents take a very active interest in their girls’ educations and upbringing, Whitney has stepped into homeschooling with a positive attitude, leaving her engineer career, to become her girls’ main instructor (while working part-time at Faith E. Church). Neither Whitney nor her husband were homeschooled themselves, but they’ve learned much and have developed a huge appreciation for this type of learning. “I love how homeschooling has fundamentally transformed our family. Education is not a race but instead a slow and steady rhythm of learning and discovery.” She continued, “as a homeschool family, we are blessed with the time to delight in every single day, and we love getting to craft our daily - and yearly - schedule how best fits our needs.” For many families, the morning rush to get kids to school, and fit in homework and extra-curriculars after school, can be a great challenge. Whitney shared, “Where we used to rush through life just getting through the days, we now find joy in discovery, asking questions, and learning together. Days are still hectic but the purpose for our days has definitely shifted. There are so many subjects that I have been able to discover a love for. I get to [learn] alongside my girls!”
Being avid readers and proponents of life-long learning, Whitney and her husband are committed to providing a rich, diverse education. “We love diving into literature, history, science, art, and nature in ways that we wouldn’t have the time or energy to if we weren’t homeschooling. I also love that my girls get to learn about subjects that interest them and also ones they wouldn’t encounter in traditional school until they were much older.” Her oldest daughter, for example, is fascinated with insects, something Whitney adds into many studies, and admits that might not be as socially acceptable in a traditional school peer group.
Though it wasn’t their plan starting out, Whitney loves the deep connection homeschooling has added to their family and faith. “It has allowed us to not miss a moment of each other’s lives and has created a bond between my two girls they wouldn’t have formed if they were away from each other all day.” Another benefit, Whitney recognizes is having her children observe their parents in their day-to-day work/relationship schedules. “I truly believe… [that homeschooling] has been a blessing that has changed how we live and who we are.”
Homeschooling has greatly evolved since we were kids, and the number of curricula, materials, homeschool co-ops is ever rising. Now, more than ever, families have fantastic material, programs, and opportunities available. Many families love that they can focus more on their faith, or their child’s interests, or allow their child to work at their own pace versus keeping up with peers, or others choose homeschooling because they do not want to feel that their child is being pushed through.
Though, it is a big undertaking and commitment. “I think the most challenging part of homeschooling is never being away from your kids; however, the most rewarding part of homeschooling is also never being away from your kids!” It is a big sacrifice of time, and something that undoubtedly is not feasible for all families. Having your children home all day means it is much harder to work out of the home and can require more assistance when appointments or schedule-conflicts arise. And yet, the Medina family is sold on it. “It has been so humbling and rewarding to be able to have all the time in the world to share my life with my kids. While sometimes I just need a break to hide away and eat secret snacks alone,” she joked, “… [overall] it’s made me a better mom and I believe has given them the ability to see what adulthood is actually like, and to have the freedom to mature and craft their lives in preparation for it.”
Whitney’s tips for newcomer homeschool families or those considering it:
- You’ve got this! There is a curriculum, book, or support system for any subject you wish to teach. You never have to be alone in any of it and you CAN teach. You know your child better than anyone and that goes a lot farther than your math skills or your personal childhood report card. Visit: https://cathyduffyreviews.com for picking curriculum… pick what works for your family and get excited!
- Learn the state law. Visit: mtche.org-- This school year, thanks to Steve White of MTCHE and many others, there has been an addition to the homeschool law allowing homeschoolers to join in on sports and clubs in their local public school.
- Join YCHE (Yellowstone Coalition of Home Educators https://yche.org). The YCHE board contains veteran homeschoolers with combined decades of experiences who diligently work to help local homeschoolers understand the law and know the opportunities available to them locally and nationally. They run a Facebook page and email chain connecting parents and resources to each other and provide various field trips throughout the school year.
- Make connections. Reaching out to other homeschoolers and/or attending local homeschool classes is a great way to start. Some great ones are those offered at the Montana Audubon Center, Wise Wonders, and We Montana! (offering a homeschool music, performing arts, and other various classes). There is a homeschool sports league (the YCCHAL Knights) and places like the Zoo or local art studios offer homeschool programs from time to time. Several local scouting troops (Boy/Girl Scouts, AHG, and Trail Life) have a plethora of homeschoolers as well.
- Make sure you (and your spouse, if applicable) know your WHY for homeschooling. Base what you do around that and don’t lose sight of your vision on hard days. It will be a time commitment and monetary investment for your family, and you want to make sure that your “why” trumps any issues with either of those that may come along.
Homeschooling book recommendations:
- Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
- The Call of the Wild and Free By Ainsley Arment
- Brave Learner by Julie Bogart
- The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
- Read Aloud Revival by Sarah Mackenzie
- Adventuring Together by Greta Eskridge
At the end of the day, we all want the best for our kids, and for some a traditional setting isn’t the best fit for a child or family (at least right now). If you’re considering homeschooling, Whitney encouraged, “When your kids leave the house the number of math lessons you got through in a year won’t matter but what will ALWAYS matter is how you held them through their tears. I aim for that every day, and some days I succeed, and most days I fail, but I am grateful for buckets of time with my kids and a new day waiting for me to try again.”
If you want a further, more-detailed look at an example of “Elementary age” weekly lessons, co-op participation, or yearly curriculum from Whitney, read on below:
Right now, our main curriculum is Sonlight. We love that it is literature based. Right now we are studying early American history. For science, art, music, and various other subjects I usually find what suits us and our learning goals for the year, each year, and go from there. For example, science this year includes marine biology, health, force/motion/work, and simple machines, and we will end the year by learning coding and building our own computer.
We typically rotate doing a year of art and a year of music, and my girls are also really digging learning French this year. We found a really cool curriculum called One Third Stories that teaches foreign language through stories.
Additionally, my kids attend various classes and lessons throughout the week, our favorite being the homeschool science program at the Montana Audubon Center.
Our family also has the joy of being a part of a local faith-based co-op that I help facilitate. Once a week for 4-5 hours my girls, and about 15 other families (ages 0-15), attend SAGE Co-op (SAGE stands for Seeking A Godly Education). We gather in a local church and have a fun day of learning and community. All the attending parents help teach (this year we are using Gather Round curriculum); we gather for a large group lesson, small group learning time, lunch together and then a family style hands on project or activity relating to the lesson.
We have loved being able to have a community to rally around us and share our lives with. I think when we first joined our co-op I expected to just have a day of learning out of the house and to hopefully make a few friends. What I didn’t expect was the richness of the community we would find. The ability to be connected to so many likeminded and strong women who I have the privilege of raising my kids together with has been such a blessing to us. It has also been a joy to watch the expectations of traditional school fall off and watch kids of all ages of kids mix and share their lives together. My kids have been able to form deep friendships that are not based on seat assignments or forced daily time together but instead on common interests, faith, and intentionality. It has been heartwarming to see younger kids learn life skills from the older ones, the older ones take on the natural responsibility of tenderness and leading of the younger ones and watching them ALL play together has been heartwarming. It has helped me realize that separating people by age stops after high school and has made me rethink how childhood experiences should look.
I have loved seeing my family’s interests shift throughout our homeschooling journey. Some of our favorite things to do together include craft/art projects, nature walks at the Audubon Center, road trips, attending all the museums we can find, and probably more than anything… BOOKS!
I believe that reading aloud is one of the easiest, best, and most underrated educational tools there are to teach virtually any subject! Learning in its simplest form is committing knowledge to memory and humans make memories the best if they can attach something to an adventure and/or an activate their senses. I can think of NO easier way to do that than to fill your home and line your shelves with “grab and go” stories and adventures.
We typically read around 54 books a year, often two at time, and at the end of every month we pick our most favorite and have a book party! We dress up, eat themed food, do a themed craft, and have deep discussions (usually spurred by the remarkable and unexpected things my kids think and feel about the book!). Sometimes our parties are planned thoroughly and other times they are a quick Google search and 30 minutes of using household items to make it work. We love ALL of them and I am constantly working to craft a home library that makes my kids want to surround themselves with good books. (I’ll admit I might be a bit addicted to it!) I have to say that so far our most “extra” book party has been a 10-day trip across South Dakota and Minnesota to visit as many Little House on the Prairie sites as we could! We have read all the books once (most twice) and getting to see Ma’s shepherdess, put our toes in Plum Creek, and run wild on Laura’s actual homestead dressed in prairie costumes are some of my favorite memories of all time.
We also love going to the library, the zoo, Wise Wonders, Get Air, having play dates at the park, and any other kid related activity around town when traditional school is in session. Getting out and having fun when places are otherwise pretty empty of people is definitely a hidden perk of homeschooling!