Thursday, March 25, 2010

What We're Doing for School Next Year (The Big Switch!)

Dear friends,

I'd like to share a story about how God has provided guidance to me about home schooling in recent months. We've been part of a weekly academic home school co-op for the past four years. The teachers there send home enough assignments to last the rest of the week. Our Mondays there have always been very "happy days" for me. I love the other ladies and the kids, and I love teaching the middle school English class with great literature. I've been glad that other teachers have done such a good job teaching their classes, especially the upper level math and science that I am clueless about. However, I have sensed during this time a certain amount of frustration over not getting to choose all of the resources my own children use and not having as much control over their schedules. Until now, this trade-off has been worth it to me, but in the past three or four months, God has renewed in me a strong desires to return to the Charlotte Mason method and unit studies approach that we used with our older daughters for so many years. How did he do this? There have been many ways!

First, over the years I had been trying to set aside a time every day to read aloud to my kids from great literature. My kids look forward to this and beg me for it, but I kept feeling guilty that I was cutting into the time they needed to complete their homework assignments from co-op. I started resenting that they had to fill in worksheets and workbooks instead of reading wonderful books with me! We have hundreds of terrific books on our shelves, but no one had the time to read them anymore. I was also getting tired of grading paperwork, checking off assignment folders, and packing backpacks. It seems like that has consumed our entire weekends lately.

Then in a random web search about something else, I stumbled on the blog of a young lady named Sarah Clarkson. Sarah is the daughter of Sally Clarkson, the author of Dancing with My Father [see review here]. It was Sally and Clay Clarkson's book, The Wholehearted Child (now titled Educating the Wholehearted Child and due for an expanded 3rd edition this spring!) that had taught us so much about Charlotte Mason and unit study education in our early years. They had raised their daughter in a book-loving home, and now she has written her own lovely book Read for the Heart: Whole Books for Wholehearted Families [see review here]. I was captivated by her passionate plea to return to great books as the foundation of education.

Then, as God would have it, I was teaching two workshops at Books & Beyond, an annual home school literature seminar in Orlando. I had the opportunity to attend other sessions on literature by Bob Farewell, Linda Werner of Circle Christian School, and Shirley Solis of Lifetime Books & Gifts and found myself drooling over the possibilities.

I also recalled how many times my husband Thad had lamented that I was spending more time preparing elaborate lessons for my English class at co-op than I was in directly teaching my own kids. I realized that in many ways I had abdicated my privilege as my children's primary teacher. I was merely overseeing them doing homework -- which meant a lot of nagging -- rather than actually teaching them! Also, we were not learning together as a family. Everything felt so fragmented and disjointed. So I started evaluating my options. I realized that I could make other arrangements for my older children to get math and science through dual enrollment and Florida Virtual School. And I started hatching a plan of taking a year off from co-op. I started asking trusted friends for advice about whether I was crazy to make this switch. They all said, "GO FOR IT!"

My goal is to spend the mornings reading aloud from the Bible and great literature. We will be covering American history next year, and I want to accomplish this primarily through picture books, historical fiction and biographies, as well as using textbooks for references. We have dozens and dozens of books about American history already on our shelves, so I will also assign them related independent reading at their own level. We will weave in art, music and poetry from whatever time period we are studying, such as reading "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" poem by Longfellow when we study the Revolutionary War, or listening to folk music related to pioneer times. We will also cover various science topics using Jeannie Fulbright's Exploring Creation series supplemented with other books and a family membership (only $125) to the Orlando Science Center.

After their reading time, they will do oral or written narrations, telling back in their own words what they have learned from their books that morning. This is a classic Charlotte Mason method for language arts. It trains them to recall important details and to write well. Everyone will be doing basically the same thing at the same time in the same room, so it will be easier to keep track of them. We will be learning many things together, which will build family unity. I will be able to explain things to them as we go along. After lunch, they will do their math. There is an incentive with this because the sooner they get their math done, the sooner they can have free time to do their own projects and explorations around the house and yard.

I think this plan will free up our schedule to enjoy learning together. Not to mention that we want time to enjoy my new grandbaby when he comes to visit us one afternoon each week! As far as an annual schedule, I plan to do school for six weeks and then take one week off starting in mid-July. That will make good use of summer, which is often wasted, and it will also give me periodic time to plan for teaching the next historical period and to get my house clean.

So that's our plan right now. I'm sure we'll tweak it more over the next few months. My point is that this guidance unfolded over a period of months -- from asking God for wisdom, listening to my husband Thad's concerns, observing each of my children, looking back over our experiences, reading books, going to workshops, evaluating our opportunities in light of our goals. God was faithful to show us what to do, and I'm so excited to get started with it that I can't wait for this school year to be over and the next one to begin! He has clearly confirmed what to do, even though it takes a step of faith for me to go out on my own again.


This article was excerpted from my speaking notes for Amazing Grace for Home School Moms. The audio version is embellished with lots of ad libbed extra details, so be sure to listen to it, but this at least gave you the gist of what we plan to do for school this year.

If you would like to see an update from July 2010, click here: Our First Week of School: Schedule, Curriculum & Record Keeping

Please see What is the Charlotte Mason Approach to Education? for a brief description and several web links.


After I sent this article out in the Hope Chest, I received the following comment from a reader, to which I offered my clarifications about Virtual School and more on dual enrollment.

From Tammy in Washington State:

Just wanted to thank you for your emails, and all the encouragement you send our way! Your ministry is a blessing to many homeschoolers. I enjoyed reading about your journey to pull back from the co-op, to spend more time teaching your children in the manner the Lord has placed on your heart. He is so good to us, as He leads us one day at a time. (I had almost an identical experience a few years ago, and time has shown that it was the RIGHT decision for our family, especially blessing my younger ones.)

Something you mentioned about meeting the needs of your older children touched my heart though. You said you might use the Florida Virtual School to get their upper courses done. While I certainly respect each parents' decision as to how to educate their children, I thought I would inquire more about that option. I humbly bring this up, because my first thought is that you are probably very aware of what I am about to speak of. But, it is such a huge issue for homeschoolers, that I figured it was worth mentioning. In WA state, our Virtual Schools are public schools, and by enrolling our students, we lose our homeschooling status, and are considered public school students. Perhaps it is different in Florida. [Virginia's note: It is different -- see my full reply below.] HSLDA ( addresses the use of Charter and Virtual schools on their website, and discourages the use of them for the most part. They also acknowledge that these public school options undermine homeschool freedoms, in most states. I just wanted to encourage you to look closely at your options, and to confirm that your students remain independent homeschoolers, as you consider those options.

As a homeschool author and mentor, you are such a strong example of teaching our children at home, outside of government control. Many will look at your decision as a model, so with your ministry, comes influence.

I have also graduated a homeschooler, and I understand how intimidating some of the college prep science and math work can be. But there are so many resources out there, that do not involve the public school system, and I just wanted to encourage you to exhaust those options first, before turning to the schools. For the high school science classes, Apologia is now offering online distance learning classes, basically private virtual school classes! (See I was so excited to hear that. I run a homeschool support group, and when my son was in high school, I helped teach Apologia science courses, and I know that met many homeschool needs. For some of the science classes, a group of us "hired" a homeschool mom with a degree in Microbiology to teach the class. Since those options are no longer available in our area, I am so happy to be able to tell homeschoolers about Apologia's online classes. The tuition was the same that I paid for my son's classes, so it is very reasonable. Hopefully this resource will help many homeschoolers continue in their calling, all the way through high school, rather than accessing public school programs, due to a feeling of inadequacy in teaching certain subjects.

For math, there are several excellent DVD programs out there that offer support. Math Relief offers Algebra 1 and 2, Teaching Textbooks is another, and there is a gentleman in our area that offers live, internet math classes, with total support and tutoring available as well. It is called Live Online Math by John Bovey ( , and he has students from all over the country. His business is rather new, so prices are quite affordable.

As always, the Lord will provide the answers. Again, much thanks for your wonderful ministry and resources. You are a blessing to the homeschool community. In Him, Tammy : )

Virginia's response:

Thank you, Tammy, for the encouragment and for the friendly reminder that virtual school programs may differ from state to state. The Florida Virtual School ( offers a la carte classes for middle school and high school, and students remain enrolled under whatever school or home school they normally attend. Our children, for example, are students with our church's home school program. Home schoolers do not lose their status or control of their educational program here. We just get free classes! Lydia has taken Web Design and Latin 1, and we've been very pleased, especially since she's had the free use of rather expensive web design software this year. She will start Algebra 2 with FLVS very soon and then go on to Geometry right after that, hopefully finishing both by the end of next school year. Mary also took an FLVS English class when she was in high school. We've never had a problem. However, the other associated virtual school programs in Florida are different, including the ones contracted by local districts through FLVS, and the K12 and Connections Academy which also provide elementary programs. Find out more information on all of these from the Home Education Foundation here: and here

Likewise, we have also had great experience with dual enrolling our girls in a local public two year college, Valencia. However, we have just heard they are no longer accepting dual enrollment students from Seminole County, so we will need to go through Seminole State College in the future. (I don't know whether this applies to Seminole county students already enrolled at Valencia.) You can find out more about dual enrollment in Florida here:

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