A homeschool success

EPISODE 166| Beyond the realm of homeschooling lies a vast landscape of opportunities and successes awaiting those who have embarked on this unique educational journey. The flexibility and individualized attention inherent in homeschooling empower students to cultivate a love for learning, critical thinking, and self-motivation. Armed with these foundational attributes, homeschool graduates are well-equipped to navigate the diverse pathways that lie ahead, whether it be higher education, entrepreneurial pursuits, or entry into the workforce. Listen in as Janna and her guest Jaylee Willis discuss homeschooling and life after homeschooling and what that looks like for Jaylee.

ABOUT OUR GUEST | Jaylee Willis is a math educator who was raised in a homeschooling family and has worked with homeschooled families for over 7 years as an online middle school and high school math teacher. She currently teaches at her local university and is in the process of developing an online math curriculum for homeschool families that makes math fun, easy, and enjoyable to learn. You can connect with her and sign up for her monthly newsletter at www.middletonmath.com.

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Podcast Transcript

Janna  0:04  : Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host Janna Koch and BookSharks Community Manager. In today's episode, I have brought on a homeschool success story. Jaylee Willis is a university professor who has immersed herself in education from the very beginning. She is a homeschooled child who has run the gamut of different ways to educate through her school years. She's going to come on and just talk about her homeschool journey. And give some tips to parents listening and some encouragement that what you're doing is definitely enough for your child. Jaylee, thanks so much for being here.

Jaylee  1:11  : Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Janna  1:14: It's always super exciting for me to talk to success stories. I am a homeschool success story. I like I think so anyway, right? Like I did it. I feel like my education definitely has brought me to a place where I have gainful employment. So depending on what your bar is for success. I love learning to this day. So to talk to other homeschool, success stories, professionals, children who have grown up with homeschool in some capacity, and still want to talk about the ups and downs and share with other people their journey. So let's just quickly start with who you are and what you what you do right now. And then we'll kind of go back into your journey.

Jaylee  2:04  : Yeah, thank you so much. Like you mentioned, I'm currently teaching at my local university. And before that, I was teaching for an online school, which actually served a lot of homeschool families. So I've been working with Homeschool families for about seven years. And I myself was homeschooled. Or I like to say that it was everything school because we did private schools, we did charter schools, my mom actually helped start a charter school. And then we did like kind of a group family, like a couple families who all homeschooled together, I think it was like every two years at least we would change what we were doing and try something new. And my mom was just really great about figuring out what our family needed at the time. I feel kind of like you are in like, I hope I'm a success story. I feel like it has really benefited both me and all of my siblings as well. And all of us have become successful by being adults. And I think a lot of that was due to the way that we were educated.

Janna  3:02: And how many are in your family?

Jaylee  3:04 : So there's 11 Kids, I'm the oldest of 10. Sadly,

Janna  3:07: No pressure there. JAYLEE. No pressure. You seem pretty easygoing, for the eldest of 11. Is that just your personality or just how you come across on camera?

Jaylee  3:20: I'd like to think I'm easygoing. I think it's just my personality. I don't know if I was always that way growing up. Sometimes I think I might have gotten a little over stimulated. But I think that it is my natural personality, when I have enough time to be alone, because I'm definitely an introvert.

Janna  3:35: When you are in your professional capacity, and people start to ask questions about your background or where you were educated. What is the common response you get from people when you say that you did homeschool?

Jaylee  3:50: So I actually haven't had very many people ask that. But your question reminded me of an interaction I had with one of my colleagues, as like just telling him about my family. And he's also a professor at the University. And he was like, yeah, like you kind of have the homeschool vibe. And I was like, oh, like, what's the homeschool vibe? Like? Is that a good thing? Or is that a bad thing? Like, you know, there's like the stereotype of like, oh, like home schoolers are socially awkward. I'm like, that's not the vibe you're talking about. And he was like, no, like, it's, it's a really good thing. Like what I've noticed from my homeschool students, like in his university classes is he's like, they're always really engaged and they're there to learn. And like they're like, they're open-minded. They're curious, they like think of like, out of the box questions in comparison to I guess his non-homeschool students just kind of are more like, feed me the information. What do I need to do to pass the test? I mean, not all of them for sure. But that was how he described the homeschool and I'm like, Okay, I'm glad I have the homeschool vibe then.

Janna  4:55: That's a win for sure. I was definitely that one homeschooled kid in college that kept asking the questions. And if I didn't understand it, I'm like, nope, say it a different way. I don't I like I wouldn't just let it go. And I kid you not. I had even friends and classes with me. They'd be like, You got to stop. He was gonna let us go early. And I was like, too much I'm paying for this. I can go in anywhere early. Like I'm getting my money's worth, I want to know. And I think I still, in some ways, frustrate the people around me, because I don't have an engineers mind. I don't need to know. I don't need to know how things work. But I want to know why things work, if that makes sense. Like, don't just give me like, I'm, I can't tell you how many times I'm just talking in the conversation. I pull out my phone. I'll Google it. I'm like, now I still don't understand. Like, I need to know and it is frustrating for some people. But I don't know. I like being curious. I like learning new things. I don't ever want to stay the same. And I know I can never achieve there is not like this ultimate goal of learning. It is just like I want to be learning and until I can't breathe anymore, because to me, that's why we get to have the life that we live, right the beautiful opportunity to educate and to be educated in different ways. So your mom, I think maybe we should have your mom on the podcast to at some point,

Jaylee  6:16: I would love that,

Janna  6:18: I think could do like part two of the Willis family and, and she could just talk about all the ways that she has explored education, thinking back to everything schooling, I'm sure there are pluses and minuses to everything. But can you think of one thing about homeschooling that you were just like, wow, this is like the highlight of the homeschooling?

Jaylee  6:43: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is just the fact that like my mom was so in tune with, like what our family needed. And that like she allowed our educational journey to flow with that, you know, so like, I remember there was one year where we basically did no schooling because she was pregnant and super sick. And like, we were moving and all this stuff, but like, it's still worked out fine. And so like, I think that's like the first thing that comes to mind is like, knowing that my mom was willing to change what we were doing based on what our family's needs, were at the time, I think was really beneficial versus like being like, we have to do it one way, the whole time. Because having that flexibility or that mindset that you can be flexible really made it so that she would think about like, what do we need, and then, like, adjust based on that. That's the first thing that comes to mind. And I think the second thing that came to mind is like with the idea of like everything schooling, I obviously was like, when I would start like public school or private school or charter school, like I wasn't in the system of the school. So like, I would enter like third grade, but I didn't do second grade at that school. So I didn't know like all the rhythms are like I remember one time in eighth grade two came in halfway through the year. And what we had been doing for seventh and sixth grade was the family school thing where like, there were multiple families and the mom that was in charge of my class didn't like math. And so she just had us do like math textbooks. And I think I got through like half of the textbook in two years. So like, not a good math experience, sixth and seventh grade, like not negative, but definitely not on pace. And my mom decided to put me in algebra. And so I had like, basically not had any math since fifth grade. And then I'm just going into holds for halfway through the year. And I like that was a little bit stressful. I remember like crying on the kitchen table with my dad being like, why isn't the next Why did you choose that. But like, ultimately, like I figured it out. And it was fine. And it all worked out. But what I feel like I learned through the experience of like, kind of getting thrown in the deep end over and over and over whenever I would join a school was like I learned how to learn fast. And like I learned how to pick up on the things that I had missed and how to ask questions to fill in the gap. And I feel like that really has served me well. Like even in adulthood. I just went and got my master's two years ago. And like I had gone like eight years not being in a college environment. And my degree, my bachelor's degree was in math education. So like even the last bit of my Bachelor's was mostly education classes, not math classes. And then like, years later, I go live into the new plant again, with these like upper division, graduate-level math classes. And it was kind of the same experience where I was like, Well, this is kind of overwhelming, but it wasn't like it didn't shut me down. Because that's what my whole education experience was, was like, Oh, this is a new school. This is a new thing. Like I'm a little bit behind everybody else but let's figure out how to get caught up. And I think just It has served me well in life just as a general life skills.

Janna  10:04: The irony that you basically, in your own words missed sixth and seventh and half of eighth grade in math, and now you have a master's degree in math and you teach math. I mean, it really does just kind of go to show that homeschooling parents don't need to stress out so much about keeping on pace necessarily because truly, I remember having this conversation with my girls. And they'd be like, Oh, we don't, you know, we're never gonna know how to do this, or we're gonna look silly, if we're in front of, you know, our peers, if we decide to go and hop in somewhere else. And I was like, you can learn anything, as long as you know how to learn and have a desire to learn. That, to me is the key. Like, granted, I didn't take upper-level math classes in college, I took one math class and mathematical investigations is basically word problems. It was just to prove and satisfy a math class for my English major. But when my girls come to me and say, Hey, can you help me with this? I'm like, No, but let's do it together. Right? Like, because I like a challenge, like, and then sometimes they'll get it and I'm still like, halfway through the process. And I'm like, Wait, I didn't get it yet. They're like, we're moving on. We gotta move on to the next question. And I, I'm, I love that, in a way, homeschool, creates space for children to learn how to learn and not just learn stuff.

Jaylee  11:28: Mm hmm. Yeah, absolutely. When I think also, like, going along with the pacing thing, I'm definitely not recommending to slips at sixth grade. That is not a recommendation on my part. But I do think that, you know, when life happens, and when your family's needs, kind of create these gaps, to just realize, like, it's okay. Like, my best friend, she learned, I think, like, five years of math in a summer, because she needed to get in college. And she's like, I'm just gonna do it on like, a lot of the things that we think like, Oh, you, you know, have to spend 12 years learning this thing, you can learn it a lot faster than 12 years, once the motivations there. And once the need is there. That being said, math is much easier to learn, it's bled out. So I don't recommend learning it in the summer or skipping sixth and seventh grade. But if those things do end up happening for softening for your kids, it's definitely not going to ruin their life, it will work out.

Janna  12:33: I love that you're encouraging parents with that because there are so many times I hear, am I doing enough? Am I feeling my kids? You know, this happened and should I feel bad, and we had a customer say I ended up getting unexpectedly sick, and we don't even start our curriculum until the beginning of December. And it's like, great, you're starting your curriculum in the middle of December. Like, it's not a big deal. Like, that's why we homeschool. And I do feel like sometimes people hear that and maybe people outside the homeschooling community or outside the actual experience, and hear that we're permissive, or we don't really care about education, or we're not really getting things done. And Case in point, I mean, you are a highly motivated, you know, individual who is seeking higher education, even now, as you're teaching higher education. I, I didn't stop at just one degree. And I went on to get my master's. And, man, I would love to continue that education. So it really does come down to perspective. And it's so many times in our household, we'll have a conversation and my husband who was public school, his entire life would be like Man, if somebody would have just stopped in certain pivotal moments of my education and really saw me and saw what I needed, like we're able to do with our children, the trajectory of my life could look very different. And that's one sample right of, of lots of people and they know that homeschooling isn't for everybody. And that's fine. I love that we live in a country where we get to choose different options and in some years it works for us and like you I did it all I did public private homeschool, but that we get these opportunities that is such a privilege to be able to do this. And so when families choose this option, I think immediately there's self-doubt and there's I gotta I ought to I should have. You know, I practically homeschooled myself through high school, the program that we use I had very little help from parents, that's how it was designed. So it worked out really well for me, you know, your experience was a little bit different but it is all it just it I hate to hesitate to say it doesn't matter especially to a university professor, but does things matter and things don't

Jaylee  14:47: Like I hope my colleagues don't hear me say that it's okay to skip sixth and seventh grade.

Janna  14:53: Listen, JAYLEE clearly said it was not okay. But she can't go back and change it. So you but life happens. Yes What  I mean, with being the eldest of 10 kids, how often looking back, can you see that you actually were demonstrating for your siblings, the very thing that you had been taught? Maybe not that long ago? Yeah,

Jaylee  16:54: I think it definitely happened a lot when I was younger like where I would put my siblings read, you know, because it's like, like, you know how to read, they need to learn how to read, like, they're gonna read with you. So I definitely did that a lot. And then, as I've been once I grew up and became a math teacher, my mom will often like defer the math questions to me, like I remember, my brother was asking, like, hi, me, and like, what is cry, and I happen to be home from college for like a break or something. And so my mom's like, Well, gosh, really, like she's gonna be a math teacher. So he did this whole activity where he like, measured a bunch of circles and the diameters and then like, realize, when you divide them, you always get the same ratio. So like, we've done that, or like my youngest sister, Belinda seems like third grade ish. She actually did my pilot program for the math curriculum that I'm building. And that was so fun, because like, it was her and like, four or five other little kids, and we'd all meet on Zoom every week and go on these math adventures. And so essentially, I was her math teacher for that year. And that was so fun. So I think, in those ways, I've helped my siblings learn, but I'm sure I did it in other ways, too, that I'm just not remembering. But I do remember helping a lot with reading. And also, more recently, math.

Janna  18:16: And it's just birth order, right? I mean, like, I say, to my girl, my twins or my oldest girls, I have just like, I mean, you, you didn't have an older sibling that I could defer to but you have a younger sibling. So go pick her up, go take her where she needs to go like, this is this is just part of the natural order. And it really does, there's so many things we could talk about, of how the family unit and helping out and being in the community and how homeschooling, really creates time and space for all of those things. Where if you're in separate locations, and separate schools at separate times, doing separate things, I mean, there's such a, there can be such a disconnect, then, then when you have time and space to be, you know, learning together and, and doing the things together. And even if you're talking about the same thing, you have multiple ages, they're all getting it a little bit differently, right? Like the person who's heard it a couple of times can go a little bit deeper and the younger one who's hearing it for the first time is now going to have space when they hear it again. I mean, it's just to me, it's just the natural style of learning and family units that maybe our society has gotten away from a little bit as we've compartmentalized education outside of the home.


Jaylee  19:30: Hmm. I think I also like learning from both parents as well, because like, obviously, my mom was the main homeschool, but my dad also was engaged. So like I remember doing math lessons with my dad because he's, I think his degree is in electrical engineering. He never used his degree. He ended up going into construction instead, but he loved doing math. And so I remember doing different activities with him and stuff where he is like, Well, what about the pics? Like what if you did sin, kind of giving, like real-world applications of math, and then even just like, I don't know, like, everyday living things, you know, like working in the garden or because my dad was in construction, and he was his own boss, he would take us to work on the days where it would work. So like, I remember going to the construction site and helping picked up all the scrap wood. And I think that just living life as a family, and being engaged with both parents is very helpful not to say, you know, I know there's a lot of people in single-parent situations. And I know, that brings a lot of challenges. But I think there's a lot to be learned from all of the adults in your life, whether it's grandparents, whether it's parents, aunts, uncles, but really allowing children to absorb the wisdom from the adults in their life and to be able to engage with those adults in meaningful ways, not just for like, an hour or two. And I think that's another unsung benefit of homeschooling.

Janna  21:01: Yeah, I mean, and statistics have shown us that putting same-age children almost in a vacuum the way some educational systems do, is really unhealthy, I think. So. I mean, there's

Jaylee  21:18: I mean, there's my experience, that is true. I taught at a brick-and-mortar school, and middle school for a year before I started teaching online. And I just remember, like, it was only like, a few months into the school year, too. And I was just like, looking around, because I never went to middle school. Those were the years when we did the family schooling thing. And I just remember, like, looking around, I'm like, this is the most insane thing. Like, let's take humans at their most vulnerable point of life in a lot of cases as they're going through puberty. And let's put them all in the same building, and hope that they teach each other good social skills with a full 30 to one ratio with adults. This is not a good idea.

Janna  22:04: Yeah, if you say it like that, it sounds quite disastrous. I had a very small like half and half, maybe I would say I was private school in middle school. And it was truly so awful that I begged my parents, please do not make me go to high school. Like I just that if it's anything like middle school was like, I just don't want anything to do with it. It doesn't sound good. Now, the irony is probably one of the girls that I had the biggest struggle with is still my best friend to this day. From that period, so I mean, yeah, there's pluses and minuses with everything. Now, in your experience, as you're working in the classroom now at a university setting, are you seeing some differences? As you had mentioned your colleagues see some differences between homeschooled kids versus publicly schooled kids coming into higher education. Have you observed that as well?

Jaylee  23:01: So I'm not aware of any of my students being homeschooled student. So I can't necessarily speak to that they may have been, but I don't know which ones are which they don't usually tell me. Like can say, though, my high school students because I taught for that online school for seven years, my high school students, in many cases, were more engaged in my online classes than my regular students in the university in a face-to-face classroom, which I feel like is saying a lot, because sometimes having online classes can be not very engaging. So I feel like that would speak to your question a lot more, but I'm not sure. Because at the university level, they don't usually tell me if they were homeschooled.

Janna  23:43: Well, the fact that I guess it kind of puts to rest some of the anxiety for parents saying, hey, you know, you don't necessarily know like your kids are going to be they're going to, you know, get into that vein just fine. They're not going to necessarily stick out at least not negatively. You know, from not being able to know one from the other. I went to college, I was like, I told people like I didn't even care I was like, Yeah, I was gonna school. Sometimes I use it as an excuse, like, Ah, I didn't get that in high school so can you go ahead and teach it to me now because like, you know, but you do you just kind of if there are gaps in I also like to tell parents like there are widely wide differences between one state one county to the next like if you move during your child's educational years like there's going to be gaps even if you're publicly schooled, even if you stay in the same school and work through the same district you are whole your childhood or there's still going to be gaps it's just they didn't they weren't paying attention that day they didn't that subject or that, you know, that particular area it didn't click for them at that time and you know, that they were being taught it for whatever reason, puberty reasons, for emotional reasons, you know, like just having their mind somewhere else. There are so many things that I think we add to our worries that just don't need to be there as we are working through these years with our kids. And, just because we're choosing to do a different way doesn't mean that we're not going to have the same outcome, if not better, I think probably is most parents hope. So let's turn our attention a little bit to what you have created. In out of this love of learning and this math, go ahead and start telling us a little bit about Middleton math.

Jaylee  25:28: So Middleton math is the curriculum that I've been developing. And it's not fully launched yet. I've done a pilot, like I mentioned with my little sister and her friends, but the vision behind Middleton Math is to make math, a really enjoyable and fun experience for kids. And specifically to make it very playful. So one of the key features of the younger grades in Middleton nap is we do weekly Zoom map adventures. So what that looks like is the students will like at the beginning of the semester, they all choose a character. So like my sister was a fairy princess, and like we had a dragon and you know all of these like mystical characters. And we kind of create a story together, kind of like Dungeons and Dragons a little bit. I haven't actually played that game so commonly exactly, no, but people have told me it's like Dungeons and Dragons. But like, we just kind of like tell a story. And the students helped me make up the story. And then I weave math problems into it. During the pilot program. One example of it would be when we think we are trying to solve this issue of like a sleepwalking village, the students come up with the issues. So it's always unique every time but there's a sleepwalking village. And we're like trying to investigate what was going on, we could help this village. So they aren't like super tired every morning, we had to go visit this, like why is the old woman out in the woods. And so I was like, Okay, well, like, this woman lives a mile away. And we can only walk like a fifth of a mile a minute or not, I think made it harder. I think I said she lives like a mile and a half away. And we can only walk like a fifth of a mile, every hour every minute or I can't remember the exact thing but some fraction. And I was like, how long is it going to take us to get to this old woman's house? These students had not learned the division of fractions yet, which is what that problem would involve. But they went right to work on it. And they figured it out. Like they came up with the answer for this fraction division problem, even though they've never learned about fraction division before. So that's kind of the way they like to teach my lessons. And we also have like videos and stuff to make sure they're getting all of the concepts. And it's not just what happens to come up in math adventure. But that's kind of the structure of the younger grades. My goal with Middleton Math is to make it really easy for homeschooled families to feel confident in math. So kind of taking that burden off of parents to need to be the math teacher, but also giving them the resources to be able to play math with their kids in an everyday situation I remember my dad doing that for me. That was where a lot of like my deeper understanding of math came in by applying it to the real world. But then you also just need the basic computational skills. And it can be overwhelming, I think, for parents to have to know how to do all of that. Especially because they weren't trained to be math educators. So that's my goal with Middleton math is to introduce math in a more playful way than it usually is introduced. And for homeschooling families to make it really easy for them.

Janna  28:51: Well, I had wished somebody would have taught me math like that, because I may have been an engineer instead of a communications major, but maybe not. I don't know. I will say that the application of learning has such real-world implications. When I struggle with math and homeschooling, I want to be completely honest, the program I use, had some VHS that you could watch some guy but he went over the exact same problems that were in the book. So I was like, Yeah, I didn't get those problems.  You're not lost. But I do remember several, maybe even decades later, my husband and I were working on a project in our house and I was like, Oh yeah, it was angles and we were trying to cut we were playing flooring. And this one angle was like, super strange. And we kept cutting it over and over. We kept getting the angle wrong and I was like, Okay, I know that somewhere in the recesses of my brain. I was taught this. I was like so we just let me just dig around in there. I know it's got to be in there and we ended up I was like oh I clicked for some reason. And I was like, Okay, this is this is the angle is how you do it. And it worked. And we've done a separate project since then. And it's been the same application. And I was like, for all those people who say, you're never gonna use that in real life, I'm like, it's just not true, you use so much of it in real life. But if it is just all theoretical, and you can't demonstrate how you're going to use it in real life, there is no motivation to learn it.

Jaylee  30:26: Exactly. And I think also like being able to visualize what it means, you know, like when people learn the rules for adding fractions, and they're like, Oh, you have to get common denominators. Well, like, helping the students really understand why you have to find common denominators, or whatever the topic is, it doesn't have to be that one. But that usually tends to be one where I noticed even my college students still don't get it, like, helping them really understand why and being able to see it, versus just knowing the step is usually really helpful. So yeah,

Janna  31:01: Yeah. Baking is this example all the time comes up, it's like, you're asking it putting all these ingredients and you end up with a wet batter. And somehow it cooks up and it fluffs up. And it's this amazing, tasty treat. I like to bake sweets. But you know, if you can't see it, I mean, if you were just if you came in the middle of the process, or you just did the steps, but you didn't see the end result, you'd be like, gross, but you know what, it does matter. But I like that full circle idea, you know, and it sounds like your adventures. And your stories really help get from the start and go full circle so that they see the application of it and see why it's important. And there's always going to be people who love math. And there's always going to be people who struggle with math and I would say even as a person who struggles with NAB, I still do really enjoy it more. So now as an adult I understand things that I just didn't understand back then. But I think that the service that you will complete and then offer to the homeschooling community is a really one that is definitely going to be needed more and more. So we're excited to see where you go with that. Jay Lee. Before we get going, how about a homeschool hack for our listeners? So

Jaylee  32:12: I think in my heart that I would recommend for math specifically, is don't be afraid to use multiplication tables or calculators, even like at the early levels, because yes, students need to memorize their math facts. But you don't want it to be so focused on memorization, memorization, that you lose the joy of really applying the math and really understanding, like what even multiplication means that some students can know, like, you know what, seven times eight is but not know what seven times eight means. So I would say my hack would be don't be afraid to use multiplication tables, or even a calculator and just have them show their work. So that like you can make sure they're thinking through it correctly. But if they're using a calculator to multiply seven times eight, every time they do it, eventually they're going to memorize it. So using a calculator does not have to be exclusive to memorizing the time singles, or addition facts, people. So I think that'd be my hat.

Janna  33:24  

Well, you guys heard it here from a university math professor, that it's okay, in instances, to go ahead and not stress too much. If you need to let your child apply the math outside of the memorization because it will all come it'll all work together. Daily, I just want to take this opportunity to thank you. It was such a pleasure to be able to meet you and one of your younger sisters when we were in Arizona over the summer at a homeschool convention. And I'm so grateful that you agreed to come on and talk to our listeners about just your experience as a I'm gonna say a homeschool success and your new product that you're going that's still in development that we can't wait to share when it is all done. So thank you so much for being here.

Jaylee  34:08: Yes, thank you so much for having me. And for anyone who would like to stay updated about when the courses will be launching, you can sign up for my newsletter at Middleton math.com. And I'm just really happy that you invited me to be on this podcast. It was really fun.

Janna  34:25: It was great. We will make sure that Jaylee's newsletter link is in the notes so that if you didn't catch it, oh, you can find it in the notes either online or on the podcast. So until next time, bye bye.