Connecting Homeschoolers

Connecting homeschoolers: Social support

EPISODE 149 |The homeschooling landscape has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. With the advance of the internet, how we find things or communicate has radically evolved. It’s also altered how we interact with one another. The thrill of checking the mail or making sure everyone is off the phone so you can get that scheduled call is no longer a thing. Instead, we read messages instantly on messaging apps and social platforms which only show a curated view of other’s lives. Join Janna and her guest, Stephanie Cavin, as they discuss homeschooling now vs when they were kids, plus hear why Homeschoolers Connect was created. Plus, understand how letter writing connects students with their peers as they learn a multitude of things from spelling to delayed gratification.

ABOUT OUR GUEST | Stephanie Cavin is a 2nd generation homeschooler. She has been homeschooling her 2 kids for the past 7 years and loves it. She is a high school teacher and the owner of  Homeschoolers Connect, connecting homeschoolers nationwide with other homeschoolers in lasting friendships through pen pals.

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Podcast Transcript

Janna  00:00: Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host Janna Koch and BookSharks Community Manager. In today's episode, I am joined by Stephanie Cavin. She is the creator of Homeschoolers Connect. Stephanie is a second-generation homeschooler, which is always, I'm going to be honest, they are one of my favorites to interview because we have an immediate connection being homeschoolers ourselves and now homeschooling our children. She's also dedicated her life to education, not only homeschooling her two children but also as a high school teacher. We're gonna get into all that. And I'm going to let Stephanie tell her story. Stephanie, thanks so much for being here.

Stephanie  00:35: Thank you for having me, Janna. I'm so honored to be here.

Janna  00:39: Well, as a second generation homeschooler I feel like we should have like our own like fist bump or you know, like code that we can Yeah, something you know how Jeep waive the Jeep way, we should have like a second generation homeschooler way like we did it, we're successful. And now we are doing it again with our children. So real quick, give us just a little background on how you were homeschooled as a child, and how that kind of brought you into this new space of Homeschoolers Connect.

Stephanie  01:13: Thank you. Yeah, my mom was definitely a pioneer. Just as your mom obviously was too, because in the 80s, and 90s, it just wasn't very common to be homeschooled. So I felt very unique and proud that I was homeschooled because it allowed me to have a very hands-on education, which is what I'm trying to give to my kids. So my parents were all about, we traveled the United States, and we did you know, a type of world schooling, I think you would call it now I don't think they had a title for them. But I think now you would call it world schooling. My mum was just very much about hands-on experience in school, not about worksheets, she just wanted us to experience the world. And so that's really what I'm trying to give my kids as much as possible. Obviously, I work full-time. So I'm in a way that is manageable for us. But I love homeschooling my own two kids, we've been homeschooling for seven years. And it is an exciting journey. I think the resources that we have available to us now as opposed to back when we were homeschooled were really exciting. And it makes homeschooling just so much fun and so accessible, I think to everyone.

Janna  02:29: It's amazing how even back then, in the 1900s, which is just crazy to say, when we were homeschooling, everyone did have a very different experience. I think there's this common misconception that even if you were pioneer homeschoolers that kind of look the same. And it really did it because here you were out and about and traveling the United States and not doing worksheets and the homeschool that I used was very much workbook-based and it was get it done. And then you know, then go on and do the rest of your day. But I love that the homeschool journey has continued to evolve in really helping people understand that it can be anything that they want it to be. So workbook-based, I went to college, I have several degrees, not worksheet-based, experiential homeschooling world schooling, and you went to college, and now you're in the world of education, both personally and professionally. So I really love that we are just able to shout from the mountaintops that it doesn't have to look a certain way. It doesn't have to be presented a certain way. And we all are producing members of society.

Stephanie  03:38: Yes, exactly. I think the whole socialization argument I understand where people are coming from, but I do think that, like we were talking about there are so many outlets for kids to be social I mean, we have sports we have and that's another thing. homeschoolers are so involved in sports. I think that's a misconception that home-schoolers can't be involved in sports. No, we are involved in all the sports, sometimes it's too many social outlets. Because we do such a short we're able to complete our work in a shorter amount of time. And so the amount of I mean, all of my kids are in instruments, they're in sports, they're in church groups. So it, it definitely allows for, I think, a more well-rounded education, which is what we celebrate every day.

 Janna  04:28: As a professional educator, I think that your voice brings validity to homeschooling because some of us who were not trained classically in education can sometimes wonder if we are making the right decision for our children. So I just want to give you this opportunity to just really encourage parents from an educator standpoint, that homeschooling really is a viable option.

Stephanie  04:51: Absolutely. I love that you brought that up, because anytime I talk to moms, and I have moms that come to me and they're like wow, I love you The idea of homeschooling but I'm just not qualified. And so I bring my experience to the classroom because I have taught every grade level from kindergarten to seniors in high school. And every single time I teach a different grade level, I have to learn alongside them. I don't know calculus, I don't know. I had to relearn long division, I don't know all of the things. And so I have to relearn it alongside the kids in my classroom. And we're not taught that in our credentialing program. So I'm YouTubing I'm talking to other parents, I'm tuning into all the resources that are out there, so that I can learn with the kids in the classroom. And that's exactly what we're doing as homeschool parents, we are learning alongside our kids, as we teach them. You do not have to know everything. And another thing that I love that I see that’s a big difference between the public school system, I mean, there are a lot of them, but one in particular, is the individualization that you get when you homeschool, you cannot get that no matter how great your teacher is, I consider myself, I really care about my classroom. And so I consider myself a very attentive teacher, that I cannot give a class of 30 kids individual personalized education that I can give my own two children. And I see that making a huge difference. So even if you don't remember your long division, or you don't know, calculus, first of all, you can outsource. And then second of all learn alongside your kids, there are so many programs and so many things that are available. And I think maybe that was the one benefit of COVID is that it really brought all of these resources to the surface. And we need to capitalize on that. I capitalize on it as a teacher and you know, as parents, use those resources and learn alongside your kids, you are enough.

Janna  06:57: Also, we don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are curriculums like BookShark that is fully planned, it does all the work for you. It takes all the great books, and every level pertaining to every part of history. And so it's like, Sure, I could spend all that time making it my own. But as you said, I am a working mom. And I don't have time for that. Nor do I even have the inclination to do that. I'm an experiential person. So as much as I like to learn, I need to be doing it in order to learn. So I love that my kids get that opportunity too and there are companies like BookShark and other literature-based learning that they just give it to you and you could use it however you want. But it's already done. And that takes so much pressure off appearance if they're willing to just kind of sit back and be willing to get outside of what their own education experience was

Stephanie  07:55: 100% we use BookShark and I absolutely love it. Because well, first of all, I love that it's literature based. My kids love to read. So the fact that they can do a majority of their work, reading is amazing. I love that it's narration-based. But I also love that it does all my lesson planning for me, I do that all day at work. I don't want to have to come home and less than playing for the kids. And I just literally open up BookShark and it is every single day is laid out and Oh, hallelujah. That's wonderful.

Janna  08:29: I'm sure a lot of people listening to this are wondering how in the world does she worked as a teacher, and still homeschools her kids. So would you like to just give a little snapshot of what that looks like for our listeners?

Stephanie  08:42: Yes, um, it can be a little crazy at times. It's not a perfect model, and it changes daily. But um, we have scheduled our lives so that I work during the day and my husband works at night. So it's not, you know, it's not something that we want to do forever. And somehow, you know, we'll have wills every year we're like, okay, what is this going to look like this year, but for this year, this is what it looks like. So I go to work. My husband homeschools the kids during the day, then I come home and I follow up with what he hasn't got done. So a lot of times, that's math and science that I do. So it's really a team effort. We tag team and we have created a life around homeschooling because it's a priority for us. And people tell me all the time, Oh, I work, I can't do that. If it's a priority for you, you make it happen, and sometimes that takes a little bit of sacrifice, but for us, it's 100% worth it.

Janna  09:43: I'm constantly telling my daughters that when you say yes to something, you're also saying no to something else. And so I think that in a world that says we can have it all. homeschooling families are the most real voice saying Oh, probably not, you can't have it all. But are you willing to make sacrifices to have what you want? And I think that's really important as we prioritize education. And as we're constantly changing and seeing, you know that we have more options or that things aren't working for us. It really takes our intentionality of what matters and what are we willing to give up in order to have something else. And I will say, getting ready to graduate two of my three girls, that it goes fast, it didn't, it didn't go fast. It was long and hard having twins, and then another one coming up and trying to figure it out. But looking back, it's one of those things that I think it doesn't matter. You can say it till you're blue in the face. It's not until you get there and turn around that you will see how fast it went. And there are horrible days and horrible stories that we could probably talk the entire podcast about our homeschooling to buckles and mistakes that we've made. But really, in the end, what counts is what we prioritize as a family, the education and the time together. So that brings us to your personal endeavor, which is Homeschoolers Connect. So lay it on us, Stephanie, what is it?

Stephanie  11:19: Oh my goodness, I am so excited about this. Thanks for asking. Um, we started Homeschoolers Connect a couple of months ago, and it is a pen pal subscription specifically for homeschoolers. My own two kids started writing to their friends in a pen pal, they were just, you know, hey, let's be pen pals. And they started writing and I'm gonna be honest, writing is the hardest subject. In our class in our home. My kids just don't enjoy it. They don't enjoy writing. But I would see them sit down and write pages to their pen pal about their life and about what was going on. And I was like, there's something to this. So I started this Homeschoolers Connect so that I could really give that joy and the writing ability to other homeschoolers because I said, if we enjoy writing so much, I mean, the kids every day, they will go to the mailbox and look for their pen pal letter every single day, they were so excited to get their pen pal letter. And so that's why I started it is because I wanted to give that to other homeschoolers in a safe way. Because all of the letters come to us at Homeschoolers Connect. 


As a parent, I would not want my child just paired with anyone who said they were a homeschooler. This makes it a very safe way for homeschoolers to connect with other homeschoolers. So that the, you know, their privacy is never compromised. And we also send out a really fun package. So we put their letter in a fun package, and I'm a homeschool mom. So there's always a little learning activity in the package. But there's stickers and stationery, and pens and pencils, and we always have surprise items in it. And then we send it out to the homeschoolers. And I just it has been so special getting the feedback from all of the parents of how much the kids are loving this and loving connecting and building friendships with other homeschoolers through this pen pal subscription. So it's been really special.

Janna  13:26: The idea of delayed gratification is really what's exciting me about this program, because in a world where if you don't respond to a text message within, sometimes I feel like 30 seconds that my kids are like sending me question marks, which I find incredibly rude. I don't like a question mark. After a text just for all of the listeners, I just don't it just grates on me. But it. I mean, I've noticed that I just recently had to get a new iPhone because I broke mine. And like you can even show people when you've read the message. And I thought, That's horrible. I don't want people knowing that I read the message, but either got busy or needed time to pause before I could respond to something. I feel like this is a skill that we are lacking in our society, people respond, or people react immediately instead of responding because we don't have very many opportunities for delayed gratification, and our children even more so because they're growing up without a handheld device without this immediate response. So bringing back the idea that you have to actually go to the mailbox and wait builds anticipation that I don't think our kids this generation really understand.

Stephanie  14:44: Yeah, I love that because this really I think, I think as a society, we're craving simplicity because we have so much going on, and like you said we have so much pulling at us that this is a moment to sit down and read a letter who knows how to write, kids don't know how to write letters anymore. They don't have necessarily that skill because they don't have an outlet for it, they don't have a space for it. So we're creating that space of, Hey, sit down, you don't have screens, you're not watching anything you're not doing on an iPad, which, you know, those all have their place. But this is the moment when you sit down and you tell someone about your day with a pen. So it really is that bringing the simplicity of getting to know someone with a letter. And also, you know, it's helping with their penmanship, their communication skills, we don't practice those things. Today, very often, because we're texting and you know, you are and we're, you know, who even knows how to spell anymore? Because there's AutoCorrect. And so it's all of those things. I mean, my kids often ask me, How do I spell? because we're practicing spelling when we're doing this, and it just had so many different educational things, as well as the simplicity of writing the letter and building a friendship through letters.

Janna  16:06: Now, Stephanie, when you were a kid, did you have a pen pal?

Stephanie  16:10: I did. So this is so nostalgic, and we would do Oh, the, the Franklin, that what were those stickers that Do you know what I'm talking about the Frank. Anyway, we would send stickers to each other. And I would look forward to her letters every day. And it was, I think we did it for years. And it was really special. So this is very nostalgic for me as well.

connecting homeschoolers one letter at a timeconnecting homeschoolers one letter at a time

Janna  16:34: As a kid after the week of camp in the summer, we would exchange addresses so that we could keep talking with our friends because we didn't have cell phones back then. My daughter just went to sleepaway camp for the first time my youngest, and you know, she was like, Oh, we traded numbers. I'm like, Well, what is that? That's not the same. It's not the same as the addresses and the writing. And I will say that I used my grandma was an elementary teacher. And so I would write to my grandma, and my grandma would write me back. And after she passed away, I found those letters that she had saved that I sent her. And I have the letters that she sent me. And so now I have this beautiful story of a young girl talking to her grandma back and forth, that let's be honest, if our phones crash, we lose our text messages, right? We lose things we think like the iCloud is storing at all the Google Storage, but God forbid anything happens, and that stuff is gone. You know. And the same thing, I guess could happen to pen and paper, but it's a little bit more authentic to me to hear about, you know, kids getting a chance to reconnect. And me, some may say antiquated ways. But honestly, like you said, we want connection, authentic connection. And again, this generation really doesn't even know what that is. And as parents, we are so bombarded with schedules, we still have to feed these kids, you know that I mean, I'm struggling with that part. Like you guys need to eat again. Like, I'm ready to buy that pack at Costco that's like the, the meals and the packets that the astronauts ate. Like, just don't do all these out. Like, let's just try it for a week because I need a break. But the social emotional things that our children need from us, it's like, it's it's a nice that there is an opportunity for kids to be able to learn this and have it. As parents, we can just release it to someone else like Homeschoolers Connect. We don't have to worry about it.

Stephanie  18:34: I got you. I'm here for you. Yes, because I and my kids have loved doing this. We do it together as a family. And they get so excited, like, oh, Bear’s letter is here, like we just get so excited about it, and we feel so connected to each child that subscribes. So it's been really special.

Janna  18:53: Well, I'm excited that you have decided to create this opportunity for homeschoolers to not only work on these educational aspects that need to be worked on and penmanship and spelling and, and even just grammar. It's interesting when you write it out, and then read it back. You're like, oh, that doesn't that's not right. That doesn't sound right.

Stephanie  19:14: Yeah, honestly, and I teach high school. And so I have my students at the beginning of the year, they have to write their information with, you know, their name, their phone number, and their address. I have 30 students, and not one of them knows their address. So even bringing back those things of like, we don't memorize phone numbers anymore, because they're all saved and they're all on speed dial. We don't memorize addresses anymore. And so just those things as well I think are really important for kids to still know it's still good to know your address. It's still good to know a phone number, though even those little things. Just where do I put the address on the envelope? I mean, there's a lot of social study pieces as Well, and then, you know, of course, just the specialness of how they're building that friendship with someone else and telling them about their day. And you know, and like you said to even the grammar like, okay, dear so and so comma, you know, so those little things that are implemented, it's just touching on so many points. And so it's, it's really fun.

Janna  20:21: I think how often I've asked my older to well, actually, now all three of my kids are kind of in a hybrid situation. So, we outsource classes, my older two are just taking college classes and getting ready to be done with high school. And it's interesting, how was your day? You know, I think about it even when my husband comes home, it's just like an automatic, how was your day? And the common responses that we all throw out, right, like, it was fine, it wasn't that great, or it was bad, but the kind of ends there, right? But when you have to actually write it out, when you have to put detail when you're telling your story, I think in pen and paper, I think it's a beautiful opportunity to really kind of self reflect, how was my day, you know, I have really been against journaling my entire life, I kind of feel like it's a waste of time now. You can send me your hateful emails, I'll take them and take and read them because I know there is so many benefits to journaling. But if somebody told me, I had to write my day out in a concise way so that somebody could understand what I was actually going through for that day, I think that would be totally, totally different because it had a purpose, right? It was going to somebody, who was going to read it as opposed to like, you know, like I said, I understand the point of journaling I’m just not there yet. But that we can really help our kids become introspective, even now. So that it doesn't just become commonplace, my day was fine. Well, that's not enough authentic connection, like tell me what, what, but sometimes they're just so overwhelmed that at that moment, especially after a long day, they can't communicate what happened that day. But setting aside time to really tell their story, I think is an amazing opportunity on so many levels.

Stephanie  22:06: Yeah, it's really sweet too, because my kids like to read their letters to me before we send them. It's interesting to me because the things that are a highlight in their day or a highlight in their life that they want to tell someone about are not necessarily not necessarily something that I would have thought was a highlight. Like, they'll talk about, oh, my gosh, I went out and I caught this lizard. And it was so tiny and things that are really a highlight that are important to tell other kids are not necessarily something that I would have thought that they would have wanted to talk about, like how we went to Disneyland or you know, something big like that. But it's really the small moments that they want to tell them about. And so it's neat for me as a mom, because it's just a good reminder, just to come back to the simple thing. Let's go out and catch a lizard. Let's go on a nature walk. And so I love that part of it too. Because I get to see from their perspective, what's important, and what's really what are the important parts of their, you know, little lives. They're 8 and 10. And these are the things that are important to them. And I love that.

Janna  23:21: And how many times do our kids skip over those little things? Because they're almost programmed to go Oh, Mom doesn't care about that. Dad doesn't care about that small thing. You know, Grandma isn't it isn't interested in that thing. And it's not even that they've been communicated, that we don't care. It's what they have perceived in our own interactions. And so an opportunity for them to really just know who they are and what is important to them and not what they think we want to hear.

Stephanie  23:50: Yeah, 100% I think, you know, just like you said, we add Oh, hey, how are you? How are you doing today? What's going on? You know, when I get home from work, like what was what do you do today? But yeah, this is a time to just really sit down and just, you know, I tell my kids and like, okay, it's calmer bodies, but I have to do that. So sit down, calm our bodies, and just talk about the things that that are really important that that was so yeah, again, I love. I love how it's it's you know, it's giving them that penmanship. It's giving them communication skills, grammar, social studies, because we go to the post office, and we talk about, okay, these are the postal workers, this is what they do. So, it's just kind of ties in a lot of different things. And you know, as homeschool moms, we're always trying to like, pull in and tie all the things outside of just a worksheet like okay, we're gonna go to the post office, and let's talk about stamps. And let's talk about postal. So it just really ties in a lot of different things. As well as building really sweet relationships. I mean, the kids are just building really sweet friendships.

Janna  24:51: When you said post office, the first thing that I thought of was, it would be amazing unit study to think about how it all began and then I am a movie show gal. So I'm like, oh, remember that old show Young Riders when they were the postal workers? And then it was like a drama of you know, back when we were kids, but it really was about the Pony Express and how they ran the post office. And so yeah, it's so many things. So many things, like you said, getting back to some of the basics, simplistic things that I think even as adults, we're really craving right now with all of the chaos with everything going on. It just is nice to take a breath and go. Ah, remember when we just used to sit down? And if you ask a question to a friend, it might take two weeks in order to get an answer.

Stephanie  25:42: Ah, yeah. 100% Yeah, just bringing it back to the simplicity of a letter, and not an instant text, like you said.

Janna  25:51: So Stephanie, before we go, I like to always ask our guests about a homeschool or life hack that you can share with our listeners.

Stephanie  26:00: This is hard for me because I have like 10 that I want to share and I have to narrow it down to a couple. So I, you know, we touched on this a little bit earlier. But knowing that if you want to homeschool, or if you're homeschooling and feeling like you just aren't qualified, knowing that you can outsource that there are so many ways that, you know, we outsource our math. And that has been just a godsend for us because I am not strong in math. And so knowing that you don't have to teach all the things just because you homeschool doesn't mean that you teach all the things. I mean, I feel like BookShark does a ton of the work for me when I give it to my kids, they're over-sitting reading and you know, a lot of their homework was reading. So I feel like even that is coming alongside and partnering with me as a homeschool mom. But knowing that just because you homeschool doesn't mean that you have to carry everything. There are co-ops, there are tutors, and there are online programs that you know, grade, and tutor, and do so knowing that you can outsource. We also do a looping schedule. So sometimes you're not going to hit every subject every day. So always put those ones that are most important in front so that those are the ones that you hit and have that looping schedule. I think that's a really a really nice hack that that you can do. I had like 10. So I'm trying to Yeah, but I think most of my biggest hack is just knowing that you can outsource that you don't have to do all the things connect with moms connect with co-ops connect with programs that will help you so that you're not doing all the things all the time.

Janna  27:43: I know that I can't do it all, I will readily admit that I can't do it all when I try to do even a fraction of it, I'm failing miserably. So to know and to really give homeschool parents permission this isn't just one more thing that you have to take on. If you say yes to homeschooling, you're gonna have to say no to some other things for this season of your life. And I think just knowing that the rest of us are in the same boat, we're not, we're not nailing it all the time, we are not, you know, just stellar at all things like there are certain things that I am good at. And those are the things that I'm going to highlight in my rerl, that's what I'm going to put on Facebook because I'm probably not going to put the mess that I am in the other things out there for everyone. Although this podcast has really been my place to just say I mess up constantly, totally fine with that. But I think the more that we talk about the reality of what life is and what homeschooling can be, and it's not, it's not perfection, and nobody is doing it fabulously all of the time. But because if you're taking the time to do one thing really well, it means you're saying no to maybe the gourmet dinner, maybe you had to just go drive through that night because you'd spent so much time working on something else, but you can be happy about that. So I love that the more we get to talk about this, the more we get to be real about what it truly is when we want to be on this homeschool journey, not only for our children but for us as parents and our community, I think is always super encouraging to those who are like, Okay, I don't have to have it all together in order to do this thing with my kids.

Stephanie  29:25: Yeah, absolutely. I love the quote, I forget who says it but he says the best things in life are caught not taught. And I am oftentimes a hot mess because I'm tired from work and I'm just trying to do my best but my kids every year test two to three grade levels above you know they're at their actual grade level in every subject. And I don't think that that's because I'm doing such an amazing job. I think it's because they catch so much throughout the day, you know we are as homeschool moms. Just capitalizing on Oh, you like lizards? Let’s do a unit on lizards! Let's talk about that, let's YouTube it and I think that you know this idea of, well we're gonna have this perfect day and we're getting up at seven, and do it, start at eight and you know that's just not realistic and it's not what any of us are really doing even no matter what the Instagram page says so I'm just giving grace so much grace

Janna  30:23: Well, I will receive any grace that is given. And I would like to hear about a special that you are willing to give our listeners.

Stephanie  30:31: Yes, I would love to BookShark has such a special place in my heart, and getting to know your agenda has been so fun. So I would love to give all of your listeners a 10% discount with the code bookshark10 The number 10, not the word so bookshark10 And if you go to you can put that code in and get 10% off of your pen pal subscription.

Janna  30:57: Well, I appreciate you giving something back to us and our listeners. We will have all that information in the show notes. Stephanie, thank you so much for being on today. I really enjoyed connecting with you and talking about your product Homeschoolers Connect.

Stephanie  31:10: Thank you so much, Janna.

Janna  31:12: Thank you guys. Until next time, goodbye.