Homeschooling Options, An Insider’s Perspective

I’ve been homeschooling our girls for, oh, a while now and, while I’m no expert (oldest is only going into 5th grade), I’ve learned a couple of things.

There are so many options available to homeschoolers it almost makes your head spin. There’s the “do- it-yourself” model in which you don’t use outside resources that much. There’s the “hold my hand, I need some help” option, which is not to be sneered at – it has its place. And then there’s the attempt to find the balance of the two. I feel like I’ve been in all three places and I get asked fairly frequently my thoughts on my experiences.

Namely, I get asked my perspective on the two-day school versus what I’m doing now with Classical Conversations. They are very different animals, but I do have some thoughts for those Googling either one of those phrases (you know who you are, mysterious Internet researchers).

No Outside Program:

First of all, we’ve gone without programs for several years. Being new to St. Louis in 2005, I joined a homeschool group so I had access to resources and I did handfuls of things with various people, but the kids really changed from thing to thing. The moms who had been in the group for a long time weren’t always open to new moms joining in (and it wasn’t really even that they were being exclusive, but when you already know people it makes sense they are the ones you talk to at events, right? I get that). I just didn’t know anyone, nor did my kids. It was like starting over again every time we showed up anywhere. We did this for the first two years here, but it was hard.

Two-Day School Option:

For the 2007-2008 school year we went with the two-day school option. I was doing a fair amount of work for God’s World Publications that fall and I really needed the help. Conversely, much of what I earned that fall went to pay for the two-day school (the two were purposely tied together).

That type of school has its place for certain families and I don’t regret our participation that year: it was a good experience and our girls really enjoyed their time with friends. It indeed kept me to an accountable routine each week, and we finished school at the end of May like most school kids do, which was really nice that year. The school used Sonlight curriculum as its base and that’s what we use too, so it was a natural fit that year.

The cons for us were really cons for me: I really like more flexibility in my homeschooling than the two-day school allowed. Because of their need to keep the students at the same place academically, they gave us a weekly schedule. The girls went to school on Mondays and Thursdays, and I got a list of what we had to do on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. There was no deviating from this list because, if we got behind, the girls would be behind when they went to school.

Also, because they only went two days/week, the school took no breaks other than a two-week Christmas break and a spring break. Our family needs breather days built into our schedule (it’s part of the reason we don’t normally finish at the end of May, as we take little breaks all through the year). I like doing this, and since we didn’t get to do that last year, we were gasping and panting through much of it.

Then there’s the cost: for two days/week, the cost was pretty expensive. The job I had that fall was intense and the pay matched, but it was temporary. I get paid for what I do now, but not at the level that would support another schooling option like the two-day school option.

Also, the pro of Sonlight also became a con when considering a second year with this school. The year they spent there, M and C were in the same class and doing the same Sonlight level; K was in a different class and doing a different Sonlight level. This wasn’t so bad (I sort of plan to do two cores each year anyway, one with the olders and one with the youngers), but had they gone back this year all three would have been in a different class and in three different Sonlight cores. I don’t have the capacity to read three complete cores to my kids in one year – just isn’t going to happen. This was another factor in our decision not to re-enroll.

Classical Conversations:

About the time we were making all of these decisions, the whole Classical Conversations idea came onto my radar. I read Kerry’s blog about it and it piqued my interest. I then saw a booth at the conference I went to that spring and it sparked my brain even more. I had two friends who were also interested in it, and before you knew it we were off and running.

I periodically look around to see what other families are saying about Classical Conversations on their blogs, and I'll tell you: there’s a real love/hate relationship with the program abounding on the Internet. I have no problems with people deciding it’s not for them – none at all. It isn’t for everyone and I say that to just about everyone who emails me with questions. I would just caution those who are so negative to try to do a better job giving a pro/con perspective rather than just a negative one.

From our perspective, we’ve loved it this year. Our program was a starter one and we had 7 families involved; it was the perfect first-year size. The academics are good and the weekly memory focus is a very nice thing for our family. The girls loved seeing the same kids each week, developed strong friendships there, and are totally thrilled that we are doing it again next year. This is probably the first time they have consistent friends to do things with and there’s peace in that for my kids.

The complaints I’ve seen on the Internet are mostly that the info flies over the heads of the little ones. Well, yes and no. I in no way expect my 5-year-old to understand anything at all about square roots. I don’t really expect her to explain the Dred Scott decision and its implications to anyone. But I’m totally happy that, if given the year 1803 in any context, she can rattle off the following: “In 1803 the purchase of Louisiana from France prompted westward exploration by pioneers such as Lewis and Clark and congressman Davy Crocket.” We can all do it. And for a 35-year-old who previously had no context for when the Louisiana Purchase happened or by whom or really for what purpose (have I ever mentioned my own horrendous history education in the Oklahoma public schools?), I’m happy I can do it, let alone my 10, 8, 7, and 5-year-olds.

I’m happy they have these facts cemented in their brains because when we read about these events later they will already have a rack of pegs of information from which to hang new information. It all fits together and makes sense in a historical timeline in their brains. We could read all this stuff for sure, but the memory focus they get from CC is a super valuable resource I wouldn’t want to be without right now. Is it for everyone? Absolutely not! But could it be the right thing for many? Sure thing.

I love that we meet once a week and that the other four days are still my own to plan and implement. I can do what I want with what we learned on Monday – some weeks we did more with the memory work, many weeks we did nothing at all. We continued with Sonlight at home the other days and I felt the two really complemented each other a lot. I plan to do the CC/Sonlight combo again next year.

So, that’s that. Those of you who got here by looking for information on Classical Conversations reviews or are interested in the two-day school option, I hope this helped. If you have more questions, let me know.