Home-schooling rocks for these OC families
While many of us are checking supply lists, picking out new shoes and clipping the tags off this year’s backpack, many OC parents have chosen a different educational route for their kids. Here are a few we’ve met and why out of the box learning gets an A in their book.
School for an Athlete’s Schedule
While there are many reasons to look outside of traditional school, for some kids with extraordinary talent in sports, acting or dance, it is a practical choice that offers freedom to pursue greatness. When the immensity of Carson’s tennis potential (the Orange 16-year-old just won the Australian Jr. Open Doubles, has held the number one spot in the US and is in the top ten junior players in the world) arose at the age of seven, it became clear the prodigy was going to have challenges balancing a normal childhood, education and her sport.
“Carson was training four to six hours a day and there was no way for her to be able to attend traditional school with her travel schedule,” says mom, Carol Freeman. “I knew some parents that homeschooled their children and I started to ask questions. I knew we needed an academic program that was NCAA approved in case Carson ended up going to play for a college. (Both of her older sisters earned Division 1 scholarships for tennis.) California Connections Academy @ Capistrano seemed highly academic and very organized, which was very important.”
While concerns about keeping up with peers or parental time commitment — on top of driving to endless training sessions, tournaments and long distance travel — had to be considered, Carson’s mom let her make choices about her future and what was most important to her.
“Carson’s peers are her tennis friends from all over the world who also attend school from home. Since January, Carson has traveled to Canada, Australia, Italy, Belgium, France, Ireland, England. It’s a different life and it makes you grow up faster. But it’s the life she has chosen and she loves it.”
For Carson, choosing her passion over a standard school experience was a no brainer. But that doesn’t mean opting to learn remotely is a breeze.
“I think that having the option to do online school is amazing. But personally, I think it is a lot tougher doing online school. You have to work more independently, because you don’t have a teacher right in front of you to answer every single one of your questions. Instead I email or call my teachers. In traditional school, you have much more of a schedule and it is easy to stay on pace, whereas with online school, you can get behind if you aren’t disciplined enough. It takes a lot of maturity and motivation.
“The obvious pros are how it allows me to travel and have flexibility on days I can’t log into my studies due to travel, extra hard training days, or busy tournaments. The cons are that sometimes it can be tough for your teacher to see what you are seeing. There are also limits to how far ahead you can work for some courses, so sometimes I’m not able to work ahead to the point that I don’t have to worry about school during a tournament. But there’s still a lot more flexibility than I would have had with traditional school.”
Laguna Homeschooler and Mom of Triplets
From the moment Jen Hahn slips out of bed, she’s on the go. She begins the day by preparing a hearty breakfast for her seven-year-old triplets. On a typical day they’ll feast on homemade oatmeal, spinach pancakes and chocolate avocado bread. When that’s done, the table is cleared and the dining room serves its other purpose: as a classroom.
Organization is the name of the game for Hahn, who has a bachelor’s in education. She may as well have a PhD in multitasking, too. When not guiding her kids through their workbooks, she’s making time for extracurricular activities, organizing educational scavenger hunts and conducting science experiments. She’ll prepare dinner while explaining mathematical concepts, and sneak in a workout while her kids play educational games on their tablets. She cooks ahead during the weekend to save time during the week, too.
“You have to be organized,” says Hahn. “If you’re not organized, you’re going to struggle. You have to have that structure and routine.”
Hahn decided on pursuing a bachelor’s in education while pregnant. (She was originally a kinesiology major before making the switch.) Initially, she’d hoped to teach at a public school. She didn’t know it at the time, but the children she would end up teaching would be her own. It was a decision she made after shadowing a classroom as part of a curricular internship.
“I didn’t care much for the public school system,” Hahn recalls. “I was seeing 30 kids in the classroom. It was just too many.”
And so, home is where the education is for the Hahn kids. Their mom says she strives to make every day different, educational and fun. She keeps her triplets’ attention by keeping things interesting. They’ve taken a field trip to a post office as part of their social studies, for example, and traced their own bodies to learn about human anatomy.
The siblings often embark on field trips and spend lots of time doing hands-on learning. They’re enrolled in extra-curricular activities and attend playgroups for socializing. Though Hahn acknowledges the challenge of educating young triplets, she says grateful to have the opportunity to do so.
“When I see them having fun and laughing, that’s what makes it all worth it,” says Hahn. “I’ll do it as long as they still want to. I don’t mind it. I enjoy it and they enjoy it.”
Tustin Hybrid Homeschooler
When it was time for her son to enter first grade, Aneta Soukup was caught between the classroom and circumstance. A family member in another country needed her, and Soukup needed the flexibility to travel from one place to another. Parents choose to homeschool for innumerable reasons and for Soukup, that reason was deeply personal. But, just as with circumstances, reasons change. Though homeschooling began as an effective way to satisfy both her personal demands, Soukup soon grew to love teaching her son, Tommy.
“I could do one-on-one schooling without any distractions and really dedicate my time just to him,” she says. “I would definitely encourage families that have the option to try homeschool. It is an immensely enriching experience for the child and the parent.”
Though Soukup initially planned to transfer her son to a brick-and mortar school for the second half of the year, she decided to keep him home. Both were enjoying the homeschooling process, particularly with regards to the flexibility it provided. Aside from traveling, homeschooling meant that the pair could take a break from studies to enjoy the beauty of a nice day, or pack up the books and embark on an impromptu trip.
“I also felt that one of the biggest benefits was the one-on-one learning experience for my son,” she says. “I feel he learned so much more every day in this setting than at a traditional school.”
Until recently, Soukup based her son’s curriculum on Connection Academy, an online program she says was “terrific”. Tommy, 7, will be switching over to a hybrid homeschooling program this fall. He’ll attend the school twice per week with a teacher and 17 other children. He’ll spend the other three days homeschooling with his mom.
“The original reason for homeschooling was the need to be able to leave the country for my mother and continue his education,” she says. “Now the reason is that I can’t imagine him learning as much in a traditional classroom with 30-plus children and one teacher.”
Homeschooling is something Soukup encourages all families to try, to determine whether it’s a good fit. “Whether you decide to continue or not, that one year will be an amazing learning experience for you and your child,” she says.
Irvine Homeschooler of 10 (and counting)
She’s just days away from her due date on this Saturday night and juggling incoming calls, a pork chop dinner, and the various requests of her 10 children. It might sound exasperating, but there’s an energetic cheer to Laurie Shepardson’s voice as she reflects on her role as homemaker and educator.
“I don’t feel exhausted because I love what I do,” says Shepardson, 48. “I truly love being with my kids. It comes very naturally to me.”
The devout Catholic began homeschooling in 2000, when it was time for her oldest daughter Megan to enter kindergarten. Shepardson disliked the liberal culture of public schools, and says she wanted to protect her children from becoming “indoctrinated”. And so, with a little help from fellow homeschool moms, she began the daunting journey of teaching her children herself.
“You just go with what you know,” says Shepardson. “I did see the trend with what was going on with the public school. It was getting kind of scary and I wanted more control.”
Of course, it hasn’t been easy. With each child came his or her own set of strengths and challenges. While one child quickly became a voracious reader, another required supervision until high school. Another challenge arose when their second daughter Stephanie was born with Down’s syndrome. Homeschooling a special needs child proved especially difficult, particularly when younger siblings arrived.
“That was very time consuming; it was probably the hardest time because I did have other kids who needed my attention,” recalls Shepardson. “Kids with special needs have such a wide range of issues. There’s no set curriculum.”
Today, Stephanie attends an adult transition program through the Saddleback school district. Most of her siblings have been educated through Seton Home Study School and a charter school called National University Academy. One teen, 16-year-old Craig, attends a boarding school in south Orange County.
With all those schedules, Shepardson needs a 12-passenger van and saint-like patience to keep up. Her days begin at 6 a.m., when she escorts school-bound Stephanie to the bus stop. From there, she prepares breakfast for her husband and sees him off to work before waking the children and pulling out the workbooks.
“The biggest challenge is that they get distracted really easily,” says Shepardson, whose children’s ages range from three to twenty-two. “They get up late. It’s tough getting everybody up in the mornings because they don’t have to be somewhere. They’re not in a typical brick and mortar setting.”
In the end, the benefits have greatly outweighed the challenges, says Shepardson. She’s enjoyed watching her children grow up and pursue their passions. “I feel really proud of myself,” she says. “Now that I have older kids and I’ve watched them graduate, I realize I don’t totally stink at this.”
And as she prepares to welcome yet another child to the world, Shepardson says she’s feeling as enthusiastic as ever. “Seventeen years in and I’m still not burnt out,” she says. “It’s still something that’s great and exciting.”
By Michelle Thompson
Doman Method: Toddler Tutor
Arielle Hall, Rancho Santa Margarita Toddler Tutor
Ethan Hall isn’t quite three-years-old, but already he understands mathematical quantities and can read simple words in two languages. The little fellow wasn’t born that way — his mom has been working since his birth to help jumpstart Ethan’s path to learning.
Arielle Hall began practicing the Glenn Doman method of education with Ethan when he was a newborn. The Doman method uses specialized flashcards and other visual aids to expose young children to as many new things as possible as quickly as possible.
“I see accelerated learning as an amazing opportunity to mindfully direct what children are exposed to in their early life and how frequently they are exposed to it,” says Hall. “We expose our child to as many experiences as possible because we want him to grow up to be a fully-formed and well-adjusted adult: A positive contributor to society who will ideally change the world for the better someday.”
When it came to teaching Ethan a second language, Hall’s family got even more creative. Her father, Claude Boucly, an award-winning retired schoolteacher originally from France, made customized books in French that feature Ethan as the main character. Each page contains a few words along with a picture of the toddler embarking on an Orange County adventure.
All the effort being invested in Ethan’s upbringing is paying off, says Hall. He is verbally at a four-year-old’s level and can read simple words in both English and French. He can also tell time, pen letters and understand basic mathematic principles such as addition and subtraction.
“There’s a timeless debate over nature versus nurture,” says Hall. “Doman in particular puts greater weight on the nurture argument because he originally developed his early learning method for brain-injured children and found that even children with severe disabilities could learn and improve cognitive function with positivity, persistence, and patience on the parents’ part. Every child wants to learn.”