Hi! I’m Sheri. This is my husband Nelson. We have been married for 20 years and live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We have eight kids and have been homeschooling for ten years. I’ve been spending my summer interviewing homeschool moms, collecting their stories and resources. I’m excited to share them in hopes that they will be an encouragement to people who are thinking about homeschooling or are already homeschooling.
To start things off, here’s our (unedited!) interview. My husband does NOT like to be in front of a camera, but out of support for me, he graciously agreed to it. We are a little stiff at the beginning- be patient with us, we were nervous!- but we warm up to ourselves by the end! We discuss what attracted us to homeschooling, a typical day, and how we teach multiple ages.
What attracted you to homeschooling?
When I was a 4th grade public school teacher, I had a student who entered my class in the middle of the year. His name was Brad. He had been homeschooled up to that point. From the comments I heard in the faculty room, “his poor mother had just delivered her sixth baby and had finally put them all in school”! Brad amazed me from the start. He began to unravel all the pre-conceived ideas I had about homeschooled kids. Not only did he ace every assignment I gave him, he would finish early and sit in his desk reading books. He would read the likes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Chronicles of Narnia series, totally engrossed! Not only was he an academic scholar, he was a leader in our class. His confident, fun-loving, inquisitive personality attracted everyone him. Everybody liked him. My whole class which, the first half of the year had been a raucous bunch of average students, became inspired to be something better the second half of the year. Kids really do influence the general atmosphere of the group. As I observed Brad, I wondered about his mom. Maybe she was overwhelmed and had lost her confidence. Maybe she had hit a rough spot. One thing I knew for sure, whatever she thought she wasn’t doing well at home, she was doing better than I ever could for him in a classroom setting with 20 fourth graders, even with my best efforts! My experience with Brad and my overall teaching experience in schools made me wonder if we could offer something as good, if not better, at home.
What does a typical day look like for you?
This has changed over the years (as it should!) depending on seasons of life. Even with those changes, over time our typical day has looked roughly like this.
8:30 Breakfast/Morning Time
9-10:30 or 11 Independent Work. Our kids grab their checklists and get started on their work. I am available to help, especially for those who are learning a new concept, but they are mostly self-directed. The younger kids who have less work may finish earlier and the older kids with more assignments sometimes finish later, give or take.
Break for outside play and lunch
1:00-2:30 or 3 Nappers go down. We gather in the living room and everyone does some quiet reading, about 15 minutes. The youngest child who no longer naps might be playing with Lego’s or something quiet on the floor. After giving them a few minutes of their own quiet reading, they put their books down and I read aloud to everyone. With my large age gap, I usually do one reading for everyone, then different readings for different ages. I also use this time to work individually with kids in areas where they need help.
How do you teach multiple ages?
When I had all young kids, the work of getting started was much, much harder. Those were the foundational years. Choosing curriculum, becoming familiar with the curriculum, teaching someone how to read for the first time, doing school with a toddler or baby at my side-all these things made the beginning a test of perseverance. As we got going, I had more and more kids who were reading. Reading opens up a whole new world for a child and I encouraged them to be self-learners. Each year as our oldest, Ty, was moving ahead, I had to learn the material and the best way to use it, but after that, as other kids progressed, I was already familiar with the content. Over time, I no longer had to learn the curriculum, it was just execution, so that was helpful too.
As of right now, each of our reading kids have a daily checklist that I make for them at the beginning of the year. With this, they can take ownership of their work and come to me for help as they need it. The only difficulty with this is when 2 or 3 kids are starting a new math concept on the same day!! It might be helpful to know that their history is an online self-paced program and their science is covered in our read aloud time. Experiments with science happen as a group or are covered in co-op. My direct teaching is spent most with the next budding reader. First I teach them to read with short 10-15 minute lessons a day. Once they can read, we start writing. I’m pretty old school. We use a manuscript tablet and I teach them a new letter a day until they are ready to copy simple words. When they can write, we start math. Other subjects for this child are covered by all our read-alouds. This may sound simplistic to someone who is starting out, BUT as with anything, every endeavor gets easier with time. The kids can do more and more for themselves as they grow and I am there to inspire and assist.
I think some people wonder how a mom can cover so many subjects and ages well. For example, maybe you’re a literature person and that comes easily to you, but how can you teach other subjects that don’t come as easily to you. I think there are two good answers to that.
- As you learn with the child, you become better at that subject. When I started math with out oldest, I used a very hands-on, teacher intensive program. I loved the research and philosophy behind it-using games and manipulative to teach math with everything revolving around the base ten system. I used it with Ty until 5th grade. The year he was in 5th grade, I had three students of school age. Teaching three separate math lessons was becoming less and less doable. I had no choice, but to pick another curriculum that the kids could do more independently. BUT I had learned so much from teaching Ty those first several years that even though our kids moved to more of a work book style material, I was able to pull out those games and manipulatives every time they started a new math concept. I had gained a better understanding of math and was able to do a better job teaching it to the rest of my kids.
- At times when I felt that I wasn’t able to provide the best option for one of our kids in a certain area, I out-sourced the subject. For example, in history, I discovered Veritas Press and loved what they had to offer through their classically based, chronological, self-paced history programs. I felt that our kids could get more out of these classes than I was currently able to provide them at the time. Also, as Ty has entered high school, we have out-sourced many of his classes. Last year he took Geometry and Civics/Geography from teachers at a local homeschool co-op.
What is your biggest challenge?
One challenge for me has been valuing relationships over progress. This is still a struggle for me today and something I am continually working to improve. I am a task-driven person. I love to check things off my “to do” list. I’m an introvert. I love to be alone to read, reflect, write. Being the mother of eight children, as you can imagine, I am rarely alone! When I am spending time doing something fun with my kids, I find myself starting to think or work and not enjoy. Since building relationships is one of our top reasons for homeschooling, I have to remind myself to stop, to listen, to play, to have fun with them. I don’t want them to remember Mom as always being there, but not engaging. Investing in them IS the reason I am homeschooling, not the list of work I am trying to complete.
My biggest challenge, however, has been my own personal discouragement. This may or may not be true, but many times I have felt that if you do what everyone else is doing, even if it stinks, you have few critics, and if you do something different from what everyone else is doing, even if it is VERY good, people are quick to criticize or question. On our tough days…and there are some tough, lonely days, especially when the kids are all young…I’ll be honest, I was jealous of friends whose kids went to school. They didn’t have to forge their own way. Their path seemed neatly laid out for them. They had more time to themselves, or so it seemed. I thought “Are we dumb?Why did we decide to do something that’s SO hard?!” I would question, “Maybe the critics are right…why am I doing this to myself?!” One homeschool mom and author Cindy Rollins wrote, ” I felt that sending them off to school was the one place I could send the kids where everything that went wrong wasn’t my fault.” If the truth be known, I was my biggest critic. Maybe other moms feel this way too.
BUT when the tough day ended and I stepped back to look at the big picture, I realized a few things. I realized that I really like who my kids are becoming. I’m happy with a lifestyle that revolves around our family. Yes, we have our flaws and bad spots, but we are close. I’m proud of how my kids are doing in their studies, and I think they have great friends. I love that we are not confined to learn in one space, that we’ve had the opportunity through field trips to experience many different places and people. I’m glad for the good kinds of pressure they have in their life and the bad kinds of pressure they can avoid. Does it matter what anyone else thinks, if it’s not true? I know who my kids are. I am really proud of what we do. Great accomplishments are often formed in hard places.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Teddy Roosevelt
Sheri’s Favorite Resources
amblesideonline.org Ambleside is my main resource for most of our work. I love the high standard of excellent books, short lessons, emphasis on nature, art, music, and foreign language. I would caution that this site can be very overwhelming if you try to do everything on it. If you see it as a feast of beautiful ideas and pick only what appeals to you, you will love it!
Read Aloud Revival Other than Ambleside, this is my go-to book list!! Sarah Mackenzie is a homeschool mom who will help the whole family fall in love with books. I also listen to her podcast. It’s excellent!
Rightstart Math This was the first math curriculum I used at the beginning. It uses games and manipulatives, all revolving around the base-ten system to teach math. One negative-it could use more written practice, in my opinion. It is very teacher-intensive so I wasn’t able to continue it with all of my kids, but continue to use the methods I learned from teaching it with my kids when they come to new concepts.
Singapore Math Simple, lots of practice, slowly builds on concepts. All our elementary kids use this and it works well for us.
Veritas Press Self-Paced History Courses These are awesome!! Actors teach from historical sites. Maps, questions, games are all interactive and review the content. Kids love it!
Seterra Online, interactive geography maps. Learn the world, one click at at a time!
Apologia Great science resource! For the most part, our elementary kids all do the same science together each year and we loop the content. I read it aloud to my kids or they read together in groups.
The Smiling Homeschooler Podcast Todd Wilson has reminded me that: relationships matter most, its ok to have a messy homeschool room, and that home is the best place to learn!
Simply Charlotte Mason Art Prints These are lovely!!
Sheri’s Favorite Read Alouds
Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.Deuteronomy 32:2