Weekend Highlights

Published March 3, 2011

Home’s Cool: Four Homeschool Approaches

by Lora Shinn
seattle child article photo
Carolyn Roche and her daughter, Sofia Noelle, work on a necklace at at Seattle Homeschool Group’s 2011 Cultural Festival.
Photo by Lora Shinn

If you ever thought you knew what a homeschooling family looked like or how homeschooling worked, you may be surprised at the diversity found within the homeschool community. From a faith-based, politically active perspective to a working mom’s perspective, here are four homeschooling families who can’t help but think out of the box.

Guided by Faith: Lesley Ahmed

“I could see attempts to square up my very round child and I didn’t like it,” says Lesley Ahmed of her son’s negative preschool experiences. Her son, Ali, needed hands-on learning with plenty of physical activity. “I realized I could teach him myself,” she says. She went online to research a solid K-12 curriculum and discovered Washington Virtual Academy (WAVA; www.k12.com/wava), where her son is now enrolled part-time. 

Ahmed accommodates her 10-year-old son’s learning style within the WAVA curriculum. For example, he can give verbal answers to questions instead of written ones (which can be a drudgery for Ali). 

“Sometimes, when we’re doing math problems together, he’ll literally have his arm on the paper and [be] walking circles around the desk while giving answers,” she says. “What do I care how he’s doing it, if he’s learning?”

Ahmed’s faith informs her homeschooling approach. “I’m able to infuse our beliefs into the curriculum provided, and help him to understand Islam as our way of life, and it’s not a mutually exclusive experience or choice to be Muslim and American,” she says.

On Sundays, Ahmed sits down to fill out their schedule, which can include: Seattle Homeschool Group activities (such as attending Peking acrobatic stunts, a chocolate factory tour or a film festival), playdates with friends, Muslim homeschool groups and Ali’s active commitments (karate, ice skating, swimming and parkour).  

A former executive assistant for Washington state’s financial management office, Ahmed is passionate about good government and volunteering. The campaign and election of the 44th president provided a roadmap for learning about U.S. government. “We dragged my son to every local event where the Obamas campaigned,” Ahmed says. They also took him with them through the caucusing campaign process and got tickets to the inauguration. 

Seattle Homeschool Group’s weekly park days offer social satisfaction for the whole family. Kids play while moms chat. Ahmed’s impressed by the smarts represented. “Some are teachers, geneticists, physicists,” she says. “These are amazing men and women, and it’s inspiring. They’re educating our kids and creating tomorrow’s leaders.”

Teach Your Own: Carolyn Roche

Carolyn Roche once worked as a public school counselor, assisting classrooms of kids. Now she’s tutoring one very special pupil: her daughter, Sofia Noelle, age 4.

“With my education and experience, homeschooling can be a wonderful opportunity for us to make Sofia's learning individualized to her needs as well as our family needs,” Roche says.

Roche uses the Learning Box Preschool (http://thelearningboxpreschool.com) monthly curriculum, which offers 20 days worth of themed activities, games, songs, worksheets and enrichment ideas. For example, “Under the Sea” teaches about underwater life while also introducing literacy, math and writing skills.

Roche’s confidence is boosted by Labyrinth Home Education Co-Op (http://labyrinthcoop.org/coop/Home.jsp) in Sammamish, where homeschooled children take once-weekly one-hour classes in a wide variety of subjects, including science, music, foreign language and PE.

“We are just beginning our homeschooling journey, and we appreciate hearing other Labyrinth families’ experiences and advice,” Roche says.

Sometimes, Labyrinth’s projects tie in serendipitously to Roche’s plans. The day before leaving for a Hawaiian trip, Sofia’s science class studied volcanoes, including an erupting volcano that belched vinegar, red food coloring and baking soda. “It was an awesome class,” Roche says.

Once in Hawaii, the family visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s crater and black-lava lake. A glass-bottom boat ride revealed coral reefs and turtles, and Roche brought along a seahorse art project and rainforest worksheets to accent the experiential learning.

“Whether you’re traveling to Europe or camping at Mt. Rainier, you can use travel as a learning opportunity,” Roche says. “It just takes a little planning, creativity and understanding of the educational and developmental needs of your child.”

She credits Labyrinth for revolutionizing her view of homeschooling; it’s real families, not the isolated, deeply religious stereotype. “Homeschooling is a viable education option for families of all shapes, sizes, religious and political orientations,” Roche says. “There are many stories and reasons why we choose to homeschool.”

Homeschooling One: Brandy Chartier

Brandy Chartier’s eldest son, age 12, went through a co-op elementary school and now is in a Seattle public middle school. Her youngest daughter, age 5, attends preschool three days a week. But her middle son, age 7, is homeschooled. 

He struggles with diagnosed behavioral and learning challenges – challenges that caused classroom disruptions. “I was hearing all the terrible things he’d done that day,” Chartier says. “It became all I saw of him.” Once her middle son came home, there was a transformation and rediscovery for both parent and child. “He has so many wonderful qualities,” she says, when not under pressure and stress.

At home, Chartier cobbles together a well rounded workday from Waldorf-based Oak Meadow, Miquon math and computer games. In a quiet room without distractions, he excels. He scored well (90th percentile) on a recent standardized test of his progress.

He also takes short classes at Seattle Homeschool Resource Center on a part-time basis – including science, pottery and art – along with “circle time,” which builds social skills. “Socially and behaviorally, it is a lot easier for him to work in spurts than spend an entire day at school,” Chartier says. After class, impromptu groups of kids play at Licton Springs Park.

Part-time attendance preserves his “homeschooling” status, rather than the “public school alternative learner” designation that comes with full-time enrollment (see a comparison of homeschooling vs. alternative-schooling programs at Washington Homeschool Organization’s site: www.washhomeschool.org/homeschooling/whoAltEd.html).

Managing multiple children’s schedules can be difficult for any parent, Chartier agrees. “There’s a lot of back-and-forth,” she says of the driving, and it’s always a challenge to set up regular playdates with friends (for both schooled and homeschooled kids).

But the work is worth it. “He’s excelling academically,” Chartier says, when given the gift of time and patience. “We can learn more in a shorter amount of time, and we can focus on his interests.”

Working Homeschooler: Corey Heller 

Does homeschooling require a stay-at-home parent? Not necessarily. Corey Heller works 30-hour weeks as a software engineer, but homeschools alongside her German-born husband.

The couple was motivated by the opportunity to teach the children subjects bilingually.  “It has been a delicate balancing act to do both homeschooling and outside employment at the same time,” Heller says. 

Heller and her husband homeschool the children (one daughter, 5, and two sons, ages 7 and 9) four days a week, with two of those days falling on the weekend, when Heller is home. She instructs in German and English, integrating math, writing, reading, playing, history, music practice, touch typing and even cooking. Seattle’s Magnuson Community Center (http://cityofseattle.net/parks/centers/Magnuson.htm) offers Homeschool Enrichment Days every Thursday, including sports programs.

“The idea is that we pack in quite a bit of homeschooling in the four days that I am at home,” Heller says. Heller strives to make facts fun. The family might practice math in the car, while walking to the library or during lunch. “That’s the best part about homeschooling,” she says. “We can do it wherever and whenever we want.”

Recently, Heller wondered if her kids were keeping up. Her three took the Seattle Public School’s assessment tests – and all were far above average in all categories.

“It was such a relief to see that at least we weren't completely off, especially after hearing so many others tell us that homeschooling and working at the same time was insane, if not impossible.”

For Heller’s family, homeschooling has been worth the effort. “Parents will find that there are so many different ways to make homeschooling work, even on a tight schedule,” she says. “And the best part is that nothing need be forever. They can give the local public school a try the next year.”

(4) Comment(s)

Thanks for the interesting article! It's so fun to see different aspects of the homeschooling community-- we're so lucky to have the resources we have in the Seattle area.

Posted by Anna on Mar 05, 2011

Refreshing article! Homeschooling is a great choice. Thanks for the diverse examples given here!

Posted by Lisa on Mar 24, 2011

I am starting the WAVA program for my son who is 13 and in 8th grade. I live in the Yakima area and I am looking for groups, outings and study groups in which to get him into for more of the social aspect of the at home public on-line school. If you have any information for me, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks

Posted by Debi on Aug 17, 2011

Thanks for sharing -I'm looking into the resources you all mentioned above. My daughter is 10 and starting home school in Kent, WA after moving up here from California. I'm looking for activities for her to maintain her social skills and sense of community. I'd love any input.

Posted by Darci on Dec 27, 2011

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