Ask the Grad
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Ask the Grad: Sarah M

This week’s Homeschool Graduate is a graduate journalism student.  Sarah found me while doing research on home educated graduates, and we have traded stories for our interesting projects.  That is one of the best things about being homeschooled – there are millions of your classmates out there, and when you meet another one, you instantly have so much in common.  Sarah’s perspective on her years at home is joyous.  She describes a home learning environment I endeavor to cultivate.

I was in Barnes & Noble last week and came across the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. A small smile crept

Buy it on Amazon

across my face as I stood alone in the education aisle of the store. It was a big, chunky book with a yellow and white cover. This is the book I learned to read with. I flipped through the pages—cat, hat, ran—simple words in big, boxy print in the beginning, progressing to complete sentences, and, finally, leading up to full-page stories. Faint wisps of memories and emotions came back—things I hadn’t thought of for nearly 20 years. Sounding out the letters. Vowels versus consonants. Uninhibited excitement that I was learning to read. At four years old, I remember working my way through the book at a steady pace and sneaking a peek at the last lessons, looking forward with anticipation to the day I’d be able to read the final pages of the book, the full-page stories.

On my first day of school I wore a navy blue jumper dress. My mom combed my shoulder-length straight blond hair and tied it back into two pigtails. She took a blank piece of 8 ½ by 11-inch paper and used a marker to write the date, my age, and my grade level in big letters. It was time for a photo shoot.

An annual tradition was born. Looking through the photo albums, first, there are pictures of just me, then my brother Peter joins the scene, and finally, my youngest brother David. Every year we paraded outside with coordinated outfits and paper signs, modeled in front of my mom’s camera, and then went back indoors to begin another year of schooling.

For the first half of my school years, schooling took place around our dining room or kitchen table. The buffet cabinet had been cleared out to hold our school supplies. When I was 10, we moved, and a few years after that we switched to ABeka video school, so my bedroom, complete with a desk and a little TV/VCR unit, became my classroom. My brother used the TV in the living room, and my youngest brother still learned with my mom.

A few years ago we found several Rubbermaid bins of textbooks, workbooks and answer keys in our basement and decided to see if we could sell them on or Amazon. Not really: our books were several editions too old and they weren’t worth anything anymore.

There was nothing left to do but throw them away, but, somehow, getting rid of them seemed like getting rid of my childhood. So much was wrapped up in those textbooks and notebooks filled with scrawling handwriting. School had been fun, learning was exciting and field trips had been adventures. Always? No. Every day? No. More often than not? For sure.

There were days when the house was a mess, we didn’t get to science or history, there were no clean forks in the silverware drawer, piles of clean laundry covered the living room couch, waiting to be folded and put away—at least it was clean—and nothing was planned for dinner. Some days life just doesn’t follow a schedule. Surprisingly, those days were the anomaly, especially while we were younger. As we grew up, however, and had more places to be and more commitments outside the home, the members of housekeeping department started some serious slacking—and one mother can only do so much.

My parents hadn’t always planned on homeschooling. They had become Christians a few years before I was born, and by the time I was ready to go to school, there seemed to be no option but to homeschool. My parents wanted us to have a Christian and since a quality local Christian school had recently shut down, my parents had heard too many horror stories of what went on in public schools, and several families around them decided to homeschool, they prayed about it and decided to try it too.

Mom became the main teacher, and though my parents put an emphasis on quality education, it was not oppressive, and we knew how to have a good time. Structures and rules guided our day, but didn’t reign supreme; they could be adapted for field trips, doctor’s visits, or some other spontaneous activity. Classes we took through the park district or the YMCA were always a scheduled part of our week.

School started at 8:30 every morning. Bible was always our first subject of the morning. We’d pray, sing, memorize a Scripture verse, and read something from the Bible. Starting off the day with the right tone was imperative. Putting Jesus first and learning about how we could live a life to please Him was always the most important subject. Indeed, it was at the basis of my parents’ decision to homeschool.

After Bible we’d move onto other subjects. English and history were always my favorites. We always took a lunch break, but didn’t have much of a recess. The faster we completed the school assignments for the day, the faster we were free to play.

My mom oversaw everything we did, planned it all out, calculated how much we needed to accomplish each day to get through the textbooks by the end of the year, and made sure we stayed on track, but math and science were my dad’s domain after about fifth grade. As a doctor, these subjects were his strength. When we had problems in math we’d make note of them and ask him about it when he came home from work.

It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it worked. From about seventh to ninth grade, math was a problem area for me; I just didn’t get it. I did a mediocre job and struggled through it, loathing math all the way. The study of mathematics, and the usefulness of it, wouldn’t be redeemed until my high school years. Though still homeschooled, I met daily with a small group of friends in the home of a woman we knew and she taught all subjects at all four grade levels. She is a true saint disguised in jeans and gym shoes. She taught the lesson to my classmates and me and, somehow, it all made so much sense. On the days that it didn’t, she would go over it again until I got it. Daily math time became somewhere between tolerable and fun, far from the utter hatred I had for it before.

I look back on high school with nothing but fond memories. It was a safe, fun, friendly environment that fostered our individual relationships with Christ and built strong foundations before we launched into college, work, or whatever else came after high school.

For me, it was a small, private liberal arts college I commuted to while living at home. Earning a double major in English and Communications, and a minor in Political Science, I graduated summa cum laude while balancing an editorial role at the college’s student newspaper and juggling internships, part-time jobs and homework.

I pursued a writing/journalism course of study because I knew that’s what God was calling me to. He made it clear that I was supposed to go beyond a bachelor’s degree and get my master’s—which I’m working on right now. At this point, at just 23 years old, I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but I look forward to seeing the adventure God has for me. Homeschooling played a major role in my developing into the person I am today; I have a heart full of sincere gratitude for my parents’ dedication to my brothers’ and my upbringing, and hope to someday continue the tradition with children of my own.

And now, for our reader-submitted “Ask the Grad” question! This week, Maureen asks…

What are the:

Top 3 best things you experienced/have done homeschooling?

Top 3 worst things you experienced/would never do homeschooling?

Top 3 best things:

1) Homeschooling for high school with a group of lifelong friends under the tutelage of a woman who loved God and loved us.

2) Homeschooling with a mother who truly LOVED having us with her 24/7 and didn’t ever resent having to spend all her time homeschooling us.

3) Going to college, doing well in classes, and then seeing the look on a professor’s face when they found out you were homeschooled. 😉

Top 3 worst things:

1) Tongue in cheek answer: being asked, just the other month, as a 22-year-old, if, because I was homeschooled, I had any friends.

2) No snow days. (One of life’s big injustices in the eyes of a fourth-grader.)

3) Clearly, I’m at a loss here–I don’t have too many legitimate “worst experiences” that stemmed from homeschooling. I genuinely had a great experience.

Copyright 2010 Sarah M.  Used with permission from the Author.


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