Homeschooler of the Week – Katie R.

Name: Katie R. (mom)
Family: Bailey 8, Kieran 6 1/2, Aiden 4 1/2, Keeley 17 months
Homeschool Group: L.E.A.R.N., KC Homeschool, and a couple of informal groups
Homeschool Type: Somewhere between unschooling and Waldorf-inspired

I met Katie at L.E.A.R.N. (Let Education Always Remain Natural) where she was teaching a Watercolor Art class for a preschool age group which includes my daughter, Emily.

We talked on the phone and then finished up this interview via email. With four young ones, Katie is busy, busy, busy!

When I asked Katie how she got started in homeschooling and what made her choose it in the first place she said, “I didn’t want my kids to go through the same experience I did of feeling lied to.” She pointed to the story of Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims and Indian
as a prime example of how history is often ‘tamed’ for young children, and in some cases, completely misrepresented.

She went on to say that because she lived in the Kansas City School District, it was also a concern. The KCMO school district has had a bad reputation for a while now.

Our discussion then switched to the topic of curriculum and what the kids are studying. Katie follows a style that is “somewhere between unschooling and Waldorf-inspired. She talked about the world as their school, and pointed to the library, nature centers, Wonderscope, Science City, and other destinations as great learning adventures.

She pointed out that education includes helping her children learn care of self, respect for others, and participating in volunteer activities.

Katie said they loosely follow a Waldorf-inspired curriculum that includes 1st grade fairy tales, 2nd grade heroes, singing, rhythm, movement and art, and “stories, stories and more stories.”

They try to have a rhythm of sorts to the week but Katie admits it is a bit hit or miss. There are baking days and cleaning days, and Wednesdays are usually days out (going to L.E.A.R.N. classes).

Katie recalled reading of a lecture given by Einstein where a parent approached the scientist and asked Einstein what he would recommend to engage a 9 year old in learning. Einstein answered, “Read him fairy tales.” When asked what to do next, the scientist responded, “Read him more fairy tales.” And when the parent asked what to do after that, Einstein answered, “Read him more and more.”

Einstein once said, “The greatest scientists are artists as well. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.”

Katie pointed out, “Essentially, he was saying that fairy tales foster imagination in children. Reading the encyclopedia to them all day long might not yield the same results.”

Katie shared with me a particularly poignant account of her eldest son who, learning that a young homeschooled friend of his had leukemia and would be losing her hair during the course of treatment, offered to cut off his hair so that the little girl would have a wig to wear. She followed that by saying that she and her husband teach their children each day to go for their dreams, deal with failure, but not give up even when the going is difficult.

It isn’t always easy, “I can control my own self, my own words, my own actions.” Katie said, “I have to let them develop how they are or will be.” It isn’t always easy to step back and let go at times.

At this point, life interfered and we had to wrap up our phone interview. I asked Katie if she would mind answering a few more questions via email and she graciously agreed. Here is the remainder of the interview…

What resources do you suggest to someone who is just starting homeschooling?

Katie wrote…

Before searching outside information, it might be beneficial to sit & make a list of values you’d like to instill in your child(ren) or subject areas that you feel are very important. Maybe list out subjects you feel you’d need help teaching, maybe they’re not a strong point. You could list your strengths & weaknesses in certain subjects so you’re clear where you’ll need to supplement lessons.

It may be helpful to consider the energy with which or environment in which you’d like them to learn. Also, if you have little knowledge of child development, study up on that! And after you’ve read/discussed someone else’s ideas about child development, ask yourself if that seems right to you? There are many ideas out there about how children process information, how does yours? Only you know that!

Once you have a general vision, I’d recommend searching online for local home school groups. Even if they strike you as a group that believes in something you don’t, go to a meeting, meet some members, strike up conversations, ask for contact info, other group info, book lists, etc. Most homeschoolers are happy to share knowledge~ that’s our M.O., after all. You may find some online forums that match your ideals & values, access those. Once you find someone or some folks that have walked a path similar to one you’ve decided to strive toward –> pick his/her/their brain(s). Books are great, people are far better resources. There is just SO much information out there about homeschooling, you really have to pick a general direction and ask for guidance. Otherwise, you’re at risk of information overload (which can lead to negative little-white-flag feelings). {I can give you a list of books I’d recommend, but they’re heavily influenced by Waldorf Education methods & that doesn’t always resonate with everyone.}

Please share a “perfect” homeschooling moment or memory

Katie wrote…

We have several “perfect” homeschooling moments. I have my favorite moments for each child through each developmental stage. My all time favorite memory of my oldest child actually happened before we began “formal lessons.” He was 4, playing outside in the mud, on an unsuspectingly warm almost spring day (much like I hope today becomes).

Now, a wee bit of background info- we have struggled with having guns as toys, only to fall on the side of encouraging every one’s safety and creative hunting, survival-type uses. We spent some time forbidding them, which led to this forbidden fruit syndrome that made our boys crave them more. So, on this warm, almost spring day, my oldest two sons, wearing nothing but underwear, were squishing toes in mud (one of their mom’s favorite past times) and suddenly, the oldest belly flops in the mud, rolls around like a hippo, covering himself (and his long curly red hair) in mud. Wishing I’d had the video camera near, I grabbed our still camera and began to snap picture after picture to capture all this jubilation. After sufficiently covering himself, he jumped up, grabbed two clumps of mud, intentionally shoved his ammo into the waist of his drawers & ran off down the hill and up the sidewalk. His response to a giggly, “where are you going?!” was “I’m MUD MAN, off to save our neighbors from danger!!”

Moments like these are so strong in my memory because of what HE experienced. He made a choice, one of many choices and this choice was creative and fun! He used natural resources (both the mud & his imagination) to defend the good, honest people near our home. So in this I see eco-friendly community service. Many of his choices in the four years that have passed since that day have reflected those same qualities. Most notable & recent was his offering of his beautiful long curly red hair to make a wig for a dear little friend of ours that was just recently diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia (ALL) and has lost a little of her hair as a result of her chemotherapy treatments.

Overall, it’s moments like these that I’ve striven to provide safe boundaries for his own self exploration & development. And that’s what I strive for with each of our children. Honestly, my favorite memories of our homeschooling triumphs are infused with my children’s joy of discovery and learning~ about themselves, their surroundings or even specific things, like money facts or reading.

What worries or concerns do you have when it comes to homeschooling?

Katie wrote…

Oh worries are the root of doubt. And doubt doesn’t serve us well- as individuals, partners, parents or educators. But the reality is that we all experience it from time to time. For our purposes, I strive to transform my worries or concerns into our litmus test. Many questions run through the mind when in doubt of our choices or the results thus far. This is a time to take inventory, chuck what doesn’t work or serve our vision, refine what should be kept and add what we find to be lacking.

The fact is, we parents may not know the result until we’ve hit the grave. We can get snippets of the result, when watching our children make choices, learn from those choices or reach out to others with kindness. Ultimately, they become who they are to become. In order to remain sane through that process as a parent educator, one must maintain a certain level of trust and acceptance. We give them the best of what we’ve got & it’s up to them to fill in their own gaps.

Honestly, I fear giving up, putting my kids in school and feeling like a failure. Although, given my priority that they gain relationship intelligence over academic intelligence (though not in lieu of), giving up is hard to do. Anyone know of a relationship centered curriculum or school?

Is there any other advice or thoughts you would like to share?

Katie wrote…

My methods center around the fact that we are not alone in this world. Our first lessons involve respecting and loving ourselves (taught through basic self care and healthy behaviors & rhythms in the home). As we refine these lessons through developmental stages, we add the lessons of respecting and loving our family, friends, others in our community and our home (neighborhood & environment). We often find opportunities to add subject specific lessons along our journey.

It is my constant striving to stay open to what my children have to teach me- for they are masters of living in the moment. One very helpful tool I learned while being trained in Reiki (an energy therapy). One piece of the mantra I chant to myself when giving a Reiki treatment is, “Hallow bone, out of my own way.” This function in Reiki is, like a hallow bone or a pipe with water flowing through, you get out of the way so the healing energy can flow unobstructed to the desired person or location. This principle repeatedly serves us well as I provide that safe space for exploration, guide when needed, but mostly, I stay out of my own way to let creativity flow & I stay out of my children’s way, so their creative self & world exploration can thrive.

Learn outside as much as possible. Garden, walk, hike, rock climb, play in mud, etc. Have FUN!!!

To me, this massive series of lessons, learning to interact with people & our land with respect, coupled with the joy of learning and unlimited imagination, these are pinnacle principles of great learning! With those tools at hand, what can’t our children do?

One quote I have posted, look at every day & meditate upon often is “Direction is more important than speed. Enjoy the journey!”

A huge thank you to Katie for taking the time to speak with me and also email me back with such thoughtful responses!

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