That first year I started a business. I was interested in having money. My parents had their own art business and my dad had the idea that I could make jewelry and sell it at the art shows they were going to. That first summer that I went to the arts and crafts shows, I think I made a couple thousand dollars. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do with the money, but I had some ideas. My parents taught me all about starting a business, so when I’d finish with my History and Social Studies (and ignoring my Math) then I’d just get busy with my jewelry making business.
I was living my best life at age 14—I was already living and doing and becoming everything I wanted to live and do and be. I wasn’t looking forward to “some day after school” when I would be doing what I love.
I had gotten into a couple more areas of History that I was super passionate about—the pioneers, Oregon Trail, and the settling of the west coast. I was really into Little House on the Prairie and the Oregon Trail Game, which I think was the only game we had on our computer at the time.
I was fascinated by pioneer life. I was also interested in the history of architecture, and so I told my parents that I wanted to build a little house in the back yard. I wanted to live like it was 1890, and I’d planned to only allow things in my little cottage in the back yard that existed in that year. My little sister and I spent a lot of time researching what that would be like, and I spent all of my money from my jewelry business on building my 1890’s cottage with my dad.
Before homeschooling, I didn’t have much of a relationship with my dad. We’d watch TV and we’d have meals or travel together, but actually having time to do projects with him was totally new, and it was a very special thing.
I had no idea what a genius my mom was until she became the one who was directing my education, because until then she’d been leaving it up to the “professionals” (who didn’t do nearly as good of a job!). Her style was so amazing and so fun, because she just let me do the stuff I wanted to do and study the things I was passionate about.
That was the beginning of my homeschooling experience and the beginning of what I began calling Fun-Schooling, because I just couldn’t believe how fun learning really was.
When I started having my own kids, I started getting a lot of pressure from the in-laws to do something more traditional with my children because I was “ruining” their grandchildren by being such a wild and free-spirited homeschooling mom, letting them explore their interests and get into art. I started exploring all the different forms of homeschooling: Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Classical, Waldorf—and a bunch of other stuff. I looked at some of the curriculum some people had passed on to me, like Abeka and Saxon; but with my Dyslexia I could not use textbooks to teach my kids anything. I get nauseous when I look at textbooks—it just reminds me of the trauma of going to school as a child.
I decided that we were not going to do boring textbooks and boring workbooks. We ended up doing lots and lots of unit studies and struggling to find materials to do with those unit studies.
I had all these big ideas about what I wanted to accomplish, but we had so many kids! We love kids—my favorite thing to do is have kids—obviously, we have 15! But I was wearing myself out because I had all these big dreams and ideas about what I wanted to accomplish in their education. I had a little bit of Montessori and a little bit of Classical and whole lot of Charlotte Mason, and then I learned about unschooling and I wanted to do a lot of unschooling-type stuff.
So, I began create a custom curriculum for every single kid, trying keep up with all of that, trying keep after all of them, and trying to make sure we did some kind of record keeping, and it was totally a mess. It wasn’t anything like I dreamed it would be, and we kept defaulting to total unschooling and chaos and really messy homeschooling that just looked like a whole lot of barefoot kids running around having fun. Those times were amazing and great and precious and beautiful and free, but I still felt like I needed to make sure our kids were going to be good writers. It mattered to me. I wanted them to understand Economics, History, and have a systematic way of following their passions while still covering the important stuff like learning grammar and spelling.
Then I started having kids who couldn’t learn to read, no matter what. Anna (our second child) was the first one who had that struggle. Isaac, our first child, was the golden dream child that makes every homeschool mom feel like they are the best mom ever. He was a perfect student and loved doing school.
At that time when he was little, I was totally into the Classical education/Charlotte Mason method/one-room schoolhouse thing. I had turned a whole room in my house into a school for preschoolers and first graders and it was the cutest little classroom with the most adorable little charming desks! I’d put all my little kids and toddlers in their desks and then I’d get up there and pretend like I was a teacher and get them worksheets and stuff.
Our son was thriving, and reading at age 4. He wanted to be a senator for the state of Indiana when he grew up, and he knew all about politics and economics and history and the Great Depression. Then I started to try to teach Anna how to read and spent lots of money on different sorts of therapies and methods and I found that all the different Dyslexia methods were so parent-intensive or super expensive, requiring a tutor. We did get a tutor, and it didn’t work for her. I did all the phonics-based programs with her and nothing worked. Every day I would try to teach her to read words like “the” and “this” and “that”–and five minutes later, she couldn’t remember any of them. It was like Lesson #1, over and over and over.
I seriously tried “all the stuff” that makes moms go crazy and feel guilty and want to put their kids in school because it doesn’t work. And Anna didn’t care one bit. All she wanted to do was art. Art, art, art, ART! 😊 Music, dancing, art, and theater…she turned our living room into a theater and we have the cutest videos of her with all siblings doing little plays. She would do art and drawings—her work looked like it was done by a 30-year-old who’d gone to college to study art! I didn’t know what to do. She was a fabulous artist but she couldn’t read or write, and she was almost 9 years old. She couldn’t read the word “dad”. It was almost her birthday and she told me, “Mom, I’ll never learn to read and I’ll never learn to write (even though she was a smart girl)…because there is absolutely no difference between a lower case “b” and a lower case “d”…but it doesn’t matter because when I grow up I’m going to be a mommy and an artist. Why do I need to learn how to read?”
Here’s the funny thing…I failed third grade because I wasn’t reading and my spelling was horrible, and I didn’t understand phonics. I could barely do first grade work. They just kept pushing me along. It was so embarrassing. I actually had D’s and F’s on my report card in second and third grades. I felt like I was so stupid and I got an “I don’t care” attitude and decided I’d just go to school and then come home and do my art. My teacher told my mom at a conference that I was a smart kid but very stubborn. She said that I told her that when I grew up I was going to be a mommy and an artist just like my mom—and that I didn’t need to learn to read because I was going to be an artist and a mommy (sound familiar?).
When my daughter said that to me, I realized something deep was going on. I thought the reason I had so much trouble in school was because of the school system. Actually, I was Dyslexic and they didn’t know it. I really struggled in school. It was a horrible social experiment for me as a child. I felt like I was going to prison every day. There were no windows in the classrooms and it was super depressing. Now, the kids have to do the social distancing and wear masks …add that to no windows and fluorescent lighting and not talking in class. You are only allowed to go to the bathroom when they say you can. You have one adult in a classroom of 20-30 kids who aren’t allowed to talk. No wonder parents are pulling their kids out of school. Not only is school naturally hard on the spirit of a child, but now they can’t even see somebody smile. It’s super sad. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you guys are here. Since the Covid lockdowns, we’ve had something like 15,000 more moms joining our support group. They are finding out that education is something fun and joyful!
Back to my story about Anna…we were sitting under a tree on a beautiful day in April, just a month before her 9th birthday. We were doing flash cards, and I was trying my best to show her the difference between lower case b’s and p’s and d’s and q’s, and I was drawing pictures thinking there had to be a way to get through to her. But she didn’t care. She had no interest in trying because it was so hard. She just wanted to do art. So I said, “Anna, I know you want to be an artist, and I know you want to be a mommy, but God would not have given us the Bible if He wasn’t going to give you the power to read it.” And I prayed, asking God to show me how to teach this child to read. If nothing else, so that she could read the Bible when she grew up. Ultimately that was what mattered. I just wanted her to be able understand the heart of God communicated to us through the beautiful words of the Bible. So I said, “Okay God, I give up. I don’t know what to do with this child. Show me what to do, and until then I’m just gonna take her to the art store and buy her whatever she needs to do art”.
Then I saw a Ted Talk (below) about how schools kill creativity by Sir Ken Robinson. It was a story about a little girl who was struggling in school. The mother took her to the doctor to find out what was wrong with her. The doctor said, “Your daughter is not sick and there is nothing wrong with her mind. She’s a dancer.”
Listening to that, I realized there was nothing wrong with Anna. She’s an artist, and I was just going to let her do art until we figured out this reading thing. To be continued…