Cindy’s Homeschool Story
I became a Christian in June, 1980, after 30 years of atheism. My kids were three and four years of age. Because I was raised in a home where religion was nonexistent and in a public school where I was taught evolution, I wanted to make sure my kids were taught about God. So that fall, we enrolled our son, Wil, in PreK-4 at a Christian school that used A Beka curriculum. (At that time, we thought preschool was essential. I definitely think this should be homeschooled!)
Wil is a Visual/Kinesthetic learner. My daughter, Shelly, is a Read/Write learner and very strong-willed (like her mom!). Wil fell behind in PreK but managed to pass on to Kindergarten. The next year, we enrolled Shelly in PreK and Wil in Kindergarten at the same school. While Shelly flourished, Wil spent the next few months struggling. He couldn't do the work and the teacher was unsympathetic. She told us that he would flunk Kindergarten.
My husband and I were new Christians and didn't know what to do except pray. Shortly after, we saw an interview on 700 Club with Raymond and Dorothy Moore talking about homeschooling. I had never heard of it. I got the book, Home Grown Kids, read it, and found one chapter that described my son exactly.
The Moore's had done significant research demonstrating that kids mature at different rates. Some are delayed in their ability to read, write and do arithmetic because of delayed vision development and small-motor coordination. Examples, such as Thomas Edison, illustrate that these delayed learners are not “learning disabled,” but are often times extremely intelligent. Formal schoolwork for these children is more effective if it is delayed until they are 8 - 9 years old. Reading that gave me hope! Maybe that was the reason for the problem!
After much prayer, and against the advice of my parents and even our new church family, we made the commitment to home school for the rest of the year, just until Wil learned to read. It was neither legal nor illegal in Delaware at the time, so we decided to remain “undercover.” We had not previously registered with the public schools, so we felt safe as long as we didn't go outside during school hours. But that was ok as we had lots to do!
The Downes Family - 1981
Since we didn't know anyone who home schooled, we decided to use the A Beka curriculum we had from the school. All we had were the readers and workbooks - no teacher's manuals or answer keys.
By summer, I realized that A Beka was not working for us either. So, we committed to another year of home school. I sent off for the Moore's Seventh Day Adventist Curriculum which included revised versions of the old Dick and Jane readers (hamburgers were now soy burgers, etc.), and I set up the dining room into an “official school room” complete with school bell, black board and desk. I was ready to begin!
It wasn't long before we hit our next roadblock. My son enjoyed listening to the Dick and Jane readers but couldn't read. The phonics worksheets didn't work. Handwriting was five minutes of sheer terror. Forget arithmetic. Although Shelly seemed to teach herself to read and loved school, she pushed me with her strong-willed disposition. Tears flowed and tempers flared. My friends and family kept telling us that we were ruining our children and I was tempted to believe it. But I kept feeling like God wanted me to continue.
In desperation one day, I called the phone number in the back of the Home Grown Kids book and who answered? Dorothy Moore, herself! Isn't God good! After crying to her and explaining my situation, she said, “Cindy, put away those textbooks and just enjoy your children. Read to them. Do art and science projects with them. Take nature walks.”
We spent the rest of that year doing just that. I tore down the schoolroom. Instead, we read together on the sofa or in the kitchen or at the park. We visited museums, did art projects, volunteered in church, experimented with science projects, and did housework and chores.
First grade was more of the same, but now we started taking turns reading. I'd read a word, then he would read a word. Later, it was I'd read a paragraph and then he'd read a paragraph. We'd spend a few minutes a day on phonics worksheets, handwriting, and learning numbers, but never more than five or ten minutes at a time for Wil. Our family reading consisted of reading the Bible through from front to back (that also took care of ancient history and sex education!); classics such as Robinson Crusoe, which we read in the original, un-edited version and had to use a dictionary to define all the words; and science and history textbooks that I found in various grade levels.
Meanwhile, Shelly was going strong and doing much more in the way of worksheets and workbooks. It was easy for her.
All this time, we had no one to turn to for curriculum advice so I just kept coming up with my own. I used college textbooks, fiction, nonfiction, high school textbooks, magazines, and whatever else I could get my hands on.
We spent much of our free time in ministry. We developed a family puppet ministry during our early years of homeschooling, ministering at local churches, Boy Scout troops, and nursing homes. The kids were very active and enjoyed being involved. Wil controlled the sound for us as well as doing puppets. He also got interested in computer graphics making posters, signs, brochures, newsletters, etc. which eventually led to his life career. Shelly loves art so she created the costumes, painted stage decor and scenery.
By age 9, Wil still could not read above a first grade level. I tested Shelly and Wil's reading speed and comprehension. Shelly read at 1200 wpm/94% accurate; Wil read at 240 wpm and 98% accurate. His handwriting was atrocious and math - well that's another story.
There were many more tears and I often told my husband I was going to put the kids back in school. He would respond by saying, “Ok, go find a school you like and we'll put them in.” After searching, I would always get inspired to home school another year!
Wil had managed to learn numbers, counting, and how to add and subtract very simple facts, but that was about it. We never used history or science or grammar textbooks. We simply read real books for those subjects and used our handwriting practice to teach a minimal amount of mechanics (capitals, punctuation). My goal was simply to get him to read, be able to fill out a form, and at least do basic arithmetic. I thought if I could get him to do that, then the rest would follow.
I did some IOWA testing on my own just to see how they were doing and Wil tested out on-level in everything but reading and math. Shelly tested out above-level in everything.
That summer, we zeroed in on learning multiplication tables. All of a sudden, it seemed like a light bulb went on for Wil! Between 9-1/2 and 10, he began to catch up. He was reading simple books and arithmetic became a little easier. Writing was still a chore, but he had learned enough to fill out a form!
I taught them both to type at an early age - somewhere between 8 and 9. We got our first computer - an Apple 2e and they both learned to type on it. Most of their writing assignments (other than penmanship) were done on the computer. It helped them both to be much more creative and more willing to write. To teach them to type, I put masking tape over the keys so they couldn't see the letters. We used an old typing textbook for lessons. By high school, they were both champion typists!
We moved to Virginia in 1986, Wil's 4th grade, and finally found a support group; but, since we were only going to be there two years (ended up being three), we still home schooled without registering with the school district. In 6th grade, we got our first real textbook in which we actually worked all way through - Saxon 7/6. They had just published it. There were no lower grades at this time, so I bought it with the idea that we would take two years to do it. Wil had not been able to use a textbook for math before this (other than bits and pieces here and there and in very small doses). Shelly had been doing some A Beka math, but it was beginning to overwhelm her, too, so we switched to Saxon.
By this time, both of them were in the same level at school. I bought Bob Jones literature (several books at once - 5th and 6th grade) and we devoured them together. We cried, laughed, and enjoyed them so much. Unfortunately, they have since taken out all the good stories and replaced them with modern stories. (Get the 80's versions for some good reading!).
I had each child keep a daily diary. This was handwriting practice. Shelly still keeps hers today.
I bought Bob Jones history and science (no teacher's manuals or tests), which we read together and did most of the worksheets out of the student manuals. We did lots of lab work - dissecting, building volcanoes, tested our blood, did fingerprinting, and whatever else we could come up with. Chemicals were hard to find so we had to order them through my husband's work place. We never could find a good microscope so we used Astroslides (don't see them around anymore).
We did a lot of maps.
We still did not use a grammar textbook.
This was also the time we traveled each summer around the country doing puppet shows at malls and fairs for a businessman in Indiana. That was quite an adventure and a book in itself!
We moved to Pennsylvania in 1988 in time for 7th grade. I felt like God was telling me that it was time to register with the school. What a state to decide to do that in! It was not yet legal in Pennsylvania and very few were homeschooling there without problems. My husband was working for Teen Challenge in Rehresburg, PA, and several of the staff there had been wanting to home school. When I got there, they said, “You can't home school here.” I said, “Wait and see.” I sat down and wrote up a curriculum plan based on my eclectic curriculum and a letter that stated what I saw as my rights to homeschool and marched into the superintendent's office. I said, "I home school my children and here are my documents." He said “ok,” informed me of the portfolio, evaluator, and testing requirements, and I walked out. After telling my new friends at Teen Challenge what I did, several of them decided to homeschool, too. That was the beginning of my first homeschool group, which I called Mom's Night Out.
During the time I was in Pennsylvania, Dr. Howard Richmond was instrumental in getting more home-school friendly laws passed, but I believe it is still a difficult state in which to home school. Dr. Richmond was my evaluator so he knew the value of creating curriculum to suit the child. I was allowed to use a variety of methods. I still have the kids' portfolios that were required in Pennsylvania and, personally, I think this is the best way to go! The testing requirement was scary, but by this time, Wil was reading on level (but slow) and doing on-level math.
For 7th grade, we started using more textbooks, but still no teacher's manuals or tests (by choice). We used Bob Jones history and science and literature as reading; Saxon math, and Spenserian penmanship. Wil wanted to write “perfect!” He did well with it, but like me, will never really write pretty! It actually hurts us to write so that is why I am sympathetic to kids who have trouble with the process of handwriting.
It was during this time that Shelly decided she wanted to go back to school. She pleaded and begged, but Bill and I felt that she needed to stay home. She was going through a very rebellious period in her life and the thought of her in school made us decide that it was not a wise idea. There were no schools around that I thought would suit, either. Military school would have been appropriate!
Because we were living in the rural part of PA, it took a lot of effort to give the kids extracurricular and social activities. Sports involved a 30-minute drive to gymnastic lessons with one other home school family and another 30-minute drive in another direction for art lessons with another home school family, making a triangle trip! We did this on Fridays, as well as run errands. Wil took piano lessons; Shelly flute and guitar.
We were involved in church activities and youth group for social functions. Every year, our family and a few friends would provide the children's ministry for Teen Challenges' summer festival.
High School Years
In 1991 (9th grade), we moved to Oklahoma. Our high school years were in a very home-school friendly state. We never registered with the school, as it was not required.
Bill and I had no idea we would home school all the way through 12th grade when we started; but, by now, it was working so well that we couldn't quit. We were using more textbooks, and the kids were mostly working on their own. We managed to get through Algebra 1/2; then we concentrated on business math and consumer math. We tried using A Beka videos for history and science - that was a disaster. We went back to Bob Jones history and science (up through Biology) and just read the book and completed the student workbook.
They kids did lots of reading (including business books, leadership books, college textbooks, ministry books, and classics), creative writing, and lab work.
I gave them one solid year of grammar and that was that.
Both kids were involved in volunteer work in Oklahoma, including bus ministry and working in children’s church. They were also involved in youth group activities, music lessons, and art lessons. Wil got an internship in the TV Department at our church and eventually was hired by them to do the graphics for their videos.
Academics were no longer a problem. Both were doing exceptionally well. At age 15, Wil was accepted as a concurrent enrollment student at ORU; but, after taking one class and getting a 4.0, he decided that college wasn't for him. He wanted to do computer graphics and start his own business.
Both kids went to Bible school for a year after graduation.
Then Wil was hired by a local video company to do animations at a very nice income.
Meanwhile, Shelly graduated a year early (which we both agree now was not the best idea!). She completed a dual enrollment with the local technical college and was immediately hired as a medical technician by a local hand surgeon. At the same time, she enrolled part time at the local junior college and received her tuition paid since her grades were so good. Shelly also loves art and has sold a number of pieces.
After the children graduated and left home, I became the leader of a home school group of 100 families for five years. After that, I did personal consultations for another three years. This is when I wrote The Checklist, Oklahoma Scrapbook and Oklahoma History Online. The personal consultations took so much of my time that I finally decided to put everything I ever knew about homeschooling on the Oklahoma Homeschool Web site. I continued writing for the home school community on the Oklahoma Homeschool Web site and in trade magazines.
The Decades After Graduation
Wil was very successful in his business and owned his own home by age 23. He married at 26; but, unfortunately, was divorced by 31. Shelly quit college; and, after changing jobs a few times, decided to become a waitress/bartender, not what I had in mind. Needless to say, this was discouraging and I spent a few years wondering if I had made a mistake in homeschooling.
Although homeschooling is often touted as the answer to all our problems, it is NOT a magic pill. It does not guarantee our children will be perfect any more than we are perfect. Remember Adam and Eve? Even God, in His perfection, had imperfect children. If perfection were possible, there would be no need for the saving grace of Jesus.
Over the years, our family has had to work through disappointments and mistakes. But, God is faithful to help us make lemonade out of lemons, and life can be full of lemons!
In 2008, Wil began working for TV Guide full time and even did some work for the McCain campaign. He has also done freelance work for T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen. In January 2009, at age 33, he moved to Hollywood, California to continue working on his video graphics career. In 2011, he moved back to Tulsa to help me take care of his dad, who has since become legally blind. We are glad to have him back home even if not for the best of reasons. He is now continuing his freelance work as a broadcast designer and lives nearby in Tulsa, OK. We are very proud of him and so glad to have him back for his support during this difficult transition in our life.
In 2007, I decided that it was time for me to go back and finish my degree. So I did. I began blogging about my experience at college, which led to my being featured on Good Morning America. What a surprise that was!
God used my going back to college to encourage my daughter, Shelly, to return to college, too. This was extremely fun and a huge blessing! We got together after class, had coffee, and discussed our classes and teachers. We talked about personal stuff, church, God, politics, and my grandchildren - her cats. We encouraged each other through tough classes, lack of time to get everything done and difficult teachers! It has been one of my favorite experiences with my children and brought us even closer together.
Both Shelly and I did well in college. We were both inducted into Phi Theta Kappa in Spring 2008. (NOTE: Shelly never did take an ACT or SAT or College Algebra! She did take some kind of Applied Math in college which has a bit of this and that on it.) I finished my Associates Degree in Summer 2008 and my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Oklahoma State University in December 2009. You can read about my college life on my blog, Empty Nest Mom Goes to College.
Shelly graduated Tulsa Community College (TCC) in May 2009 and earned her Bachelor's degree at Northeastern State University (NSU) in Spring 2011. She began working on her Master's Degree that fall and will complete it in the summer of 2013. She is currently an adjunct professor at Tulsa Community College, teaching Freshman Composition; and, this fall, she will be teaching English at two local homeschool co-ops as well. Her long-term goal is to teach for awhile, pay off her college loans (sigh!) and eventually earn her PhD.
The bottom line to that story is be patient with your kids - some of then just take a while to find their wings! Shelly lives nearby in Tulsa, OK, supports herself and her two cats, and pays for college herself, too!
After I finished college, I went back to freelance writing. I write magazine articles; homeschool products; product reviews; and I'm even working on a book or two! You can read more about my writing adventures on my author blog. I also tutor students privately at home and at Cornerstone Tutorial Center. You can read about that on my other website.
My husband and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary in December 2012. He's now legally blind, retired, and unable to drive. Consequently, I'm now "Driving Mr. Daisy." This keeps me extremely busy as he is very active volunteering for the Broken Arrow Police, going for rehabilitation, and participating in a variety of clubs and activities including the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot Association and Ham radio club. (PS: I had to earn my HAM radio license, too! My call sign: K5CED.)
So would I homeschool again? Oh yes! Homeschooling works, but in ways you may not imagine. It brought us closer together as a family, gave us the faith and persistence needed to get through the tough times in life, and provided our children with the skills and work ethics they needed to succeed in their work. They're both self-starters, highly motivated and they've never had a problem getting or keeping a job! I didn't teach them "everything they needed to know," but I did teach them to learn. My son, who was such a reluctant student, is now taking online classes through Coursera just for fun! So, I consider our homeschool a success.
I hope my story will encourage you in your own homeschool adventures. My story is not the perfect homeschool story that you often hear at homeschool conventions, but it is a story of courage, persistence, patience and love. Our family has learned to accept each other for who we are, depend on God during difficult times and enjoy each other in spite of the challenges that happen in life. It gave us the close relationship we needed to help us work through some tough times that were to hit us later in life. We now look forward to what God has in store for us in the future and how He will help us to use not only our successes, but also our mistakes for His glory.