Thursday, October 8, 2009

On Deciding to Alaska

This is a blog entry that has been weighing on my mind for 6 months, remaining unwritten in my mind since we decided to homeschool our kids back in April. Finally life has settled down enough for me to reflect and write this.

An unfortunate set of circumstances
at school set us off on the road to considering homeschooling, and a month of research and talking to other parents of homeschoolers helped make the decision. I had many misgivings about homeschooling. Homeschooled kids I knew in Michigan were social misfits, and that was enough of a reason not to put my kids in that situation. Or else they were religious radicals trying to protect their children from the world, which certainly wasn't my goal in homeschooling the kids. In Alaska, however, so many people we know were homeschooled; I have friends who were homeschooled here their entire lives, went to college and are now working. It is much more mainstreamed, with many 'normal' (sorry, I just can't think of a better word than that) kids in homeschooling programs. Over half of Aurora's basketball team last year were homeschooled, and they were very nice, sweet girls, which is contrary to the catty, backstabbing cliques that are so often the norm among girls. And then I encountered, time and again, people that said, "So-and-so is a good teacher, and they homeschool their kids."

With all of these positive encounters
, I began to consider that there was something valid about homeschooling. The clincher hit when a friend lent me a copy of The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith. This had such a complete and honest account of homeschooling, how to get into it, when not to do it, how to actually do it, issues to think about, etc. One thing that stuck in my mind was that you really need to enjoy being around your kids if you homeschool. I love my free time and flexible schedule with teaching, so I considered this to be a main issue before I would say "yes". On the other hand, I also knew that my daughter would need to be committed to the decision as well as my husband, so I waited. I shared with Doug and the kids what I was learning from my research and talking with other parents, but I never pushed and I never said, "We're going to do this." I said, "This is a possibility. This is an option." The night I put my daughter to bed and she said, "Mom, I think I would like you to homeschool me," marked a turning point in our lives. I was ready to embrace it, though my husband was a little more hesitant. Obviously, I was the one who would be running the show and rearranging my life to make it happen, but he needed to be sold on it too. The more he attended training on implementing performance-based assessment, the more he saw the strengths of homeschooling and how it could benefit our kids. We were on our way.

Since the state of Alaska pays schools for homeschooled students
, the Kenai Peninsula Bourough School District takes advantage of that and has Connections, a homeschool program. Nearly 1000 students around the Kenai Peninsula are in the program (There are 10,000 students total in the district, so that makes homeschooled students a solid 10% of their headcount. That does not include numbers for the other homeschool programs on the peninsula, IDEA,
Raven Correspondence and independents.), and there are several hundred homeschooled kids in the Homer area. I met with the kids' supervising teacher and together we developed a curriculum for the year based on their learning styles, passions and interests. Elementary school students get a budget of $1600, middle school students $1900 and high school students $2500. Connections ordered the materials, and in mid-August the items were ready to be picked up.

What is our setup?
There is no official start date for homeschooling, but my kids were ready to go, so they started their favorite subjects as soon as we got the materials August 11. I require the kids to do the following every day: math, reading/writing/vocabulary, typing, Russian (their foreign language of choice), drawing, 45 minutes of personal reading, and 45 minutes of exercise. Social studies, science, service learning, and home economics are all project-based. For example, we have been studying ancient civilizations. I have my minimum requirements: study sheets, reading, and videos. The kids come up with and get to choose 3 projects to complete on top of the minimum requirements. Last unit on ancient Rome, Aurora created a model of a Roman home and then presented it to the family, while Denver made a model of a Roman army camp. Now they are studying ancient Egypt. Aurora is making a loom, Denver is taking pictures of it as she makes it, and then they are going to put together a PowerPoint presentation showing the process of making the loom.

We have one incredible blessing
with our setup: our new home has a cabin on the property that a previous owner used as a sewing classroom, so it had shelves and desks already built in, as well as electric outlets all around. Everyone we've talked to about homeschooling says that is great: a separate area is so important. It doubles as an office for me and my teaching, so the kids and I work together all day.

So how is it going?
Each morning my kids get themselves up, get their breakfast, get out to the cabin by 9 am, do their work, and when their done with the daily requirements they work on projects, play or read. What I'm seeing in my kids is that they are incredibly self-directed, relaxed, more interested in what they are learning (it's not just for a grade), they are enjoying a faster pace and they are not exhausted at the end of the "schoolday". They fully enjoy the flexibility of our schedule, they enjoy being self-directed, the love to be able to take off for a day trip during the week (they take their books with and work in the car on the way). I seldom have to nag them about "getting their work done". When they need help, I'm right here. If I don't know an answer, I Google it.

Are there negatives?
A few. The kids get crabby if one or the other hangs over their shoulder and watches them work. Sometimes Denver gets restless and needs some physical activity; I send him outside when he gets restless. When the weather is yucky it can be harder to get their 45 minutes of exercise in, but it always happens somehow. Denver has had a few meltdowns when I tried to teach him long division and long multipication, but he got over it and learned it quickly. Socially my kids are still the same people they were before. My son still loves to talk to people, and Aurora is not so wiped out at the end of the day so she has more playdates with friends now than she has ever had before.

For me, I just love having my kids around. I respect them more now than before--I'm in awe that they're my kids and that they love to learn so much! I know and understand them better now than in the past. They now understand my work better: they see me on the computer all day every day and realize, "This is work, a job, not play," whereas in the past they thought I sat around and did nothing all day just because I was at home. My relationship with my kids has improved so much because of this. Right now, I feel like homeschooling my kids is a precious gift I have given them. Will I homeschool them through high school? I don't know. Situations change, life changes, people change. I am not going to be inflexible about it; if the kids need something they're not able to get homeschooling, we'll figure it out when that time comes. Until then, we are thoroughly enjoying the process, and appreciative that most people in our lives are supportive of our decision.


  1. Hi
    Just wanted to drop you a little note that you may find this Blog of interest: She also home schools her children.
    Also, I enjoy readying yours, I visit Homer as often as I possibly can. One day I hope to live out that way until then my home remains in Michigan.
    Take Care,

    PS let me know how that works out for ya.

  2. Hi There,

    I was delighted to discover your blog today. It is great!!! Thanks for sharing so much information about you and your family in Homer, AK. I had recently read that your church, St. John's, now had three priests who were available for weekly mass, confession, etc.. If this is so, your parish must be thrilled. I wish you all the best with homeschooling.
    Bye for now,

  3. Claire,
    Yes, St. John's got 3 priests 1 1/2-2 years ago now...well, they're not based here, so they just come down and stay for a few days a week. Wish I could say everyone is thrilled to have these 3 priests, but many want one full-time priest. Personally, I say they should be happy to have 3 since they went for many, many years with no priest.

  4. Karen,
    Good luck getting to AK live!

  5. It's good to find positive aspects for Homer. We are moving to Homer in a couple of weeks... from Montana. We've been here for about 2 years, moving from the Kenai area where we were there for 6 years. I've got a 9 & 10 yo and plan on getting back into homeschooling. It'll be good to get back home and finding new friends in the Homer area. Livin the Dream... again!!!

  6. Drop me an email when you get to town and I'll connect you with some homeschool groups if you like.

  7. Hi
    Just stumbled upon your blog. We're moving to Anchorage in January and I'm trying to find some homeschooling groups/connections. I know you live in Homer but I thought it would not hurt to ask if you have any connections in Anchorage.

  8. Wish I could help you, but no, I know nothing at all about homeschooling in the ANC area. Good luck!

  9. As our military family comes upon retirement we are planning to head to Homer. Why? Who knows, we are just in love. I have searched all over for what life is really like in Homer on the day to day with children (we have 4). Your blog is awesome!

    Did want to comment on homeschooling. I am an educator, grew up in the Los Angeles school system, my husband on the other hand was a homeschooler. We are both college graduates (Both with Masters) he has been a pilot since 15 and is soooo much nicer than I am, we have both homeschooled, public school and private schooled our children. I totally understand on meeting some homeschoolers and thinking "heavens NO!", but I can tell you as a middle & elementary school teacher I see the benefit of both, but my husband is extraordinary, maybe its homeschooling maybe I'm just biased. But either way I think its parenting that really makes the difference.

    Keep those blog posts coming! And would love an entire post on shopping if you feel so inclined.

  10. It has been nearly 11 years that I've kept this blog up, and much more actively at some times than others. So it's a view of life from Homer, but also just a slice of my life.

    As my younger son prepares to graduate in a few weeks, re-reading the blog post about homeschooling took me down memory lane. They were a special couple years. Looking back, my daughter appreciates them and my son not so much, but while he was in it, he sure enjoyed doing science projects 4 hours a day!

    Ha! A blog post on shopping. WHAT shopping?! I used to complain you couldn't even buy underwear in Homer, but I think Ulmer's carries them now. My brother teases me that I drive 4 1/2 hours to Anchorage to go grocery shopping. Not really--just I grocery shop when I am there, never a special trip just to grocery shop. But just today we drove to Soldotna to shop--crockpot, pillows, winter jacket, facial lotion. Seems pretty mundane but choices are slim here. I anticipate with glee trips Outside for the shopping--and that is coming from a non-shopper! A month ago we hit the Portland Airport and I was shopping as soon as I got off the plane, I was that ready for some essentials I wasn't able to find in Alaska (scored with a find of some cute shoes!). I will ponder a post on shopping, but I think I just exhausted the topic!