How One Family Makes Homeschooling Work

How One Family Makes Homeschooling Work

Homeschooling can start in a variety of ways for each family. Sometimes it’s brought on by location, a need for flexibility, circumstances beyond our control, and in the best of times a personal choice because it is what suits you and your child the most. On today's podcast, Janna is joined by Mama (Christal) and Cash. Their homeschool journey has been one of choice and discovery with Christal sharing the loops and turns of homeschooling on social media as they navigate what works and what doesn’t work for them. What started as a way to stay connected has turned into a way to share their journey in an effort to help and support others.

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Podcast Transcript

Janna (00:00): Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host Janna Koch and BookShark Community Manager. Today's episode is special. I get to talk to Mama and Cash. They are a mom-and-son team documenting their homeschool journey. Christal, Cash, thanks so much for being here.

Christal (00:20): Thanks for having us.

Janna (00:23): Why don't you go ahead and just jump right in and tell our listeners where you are on social media and why you chose those platforms?

Christal (00:34): So I'm actually a homeschooler out of Madison, Alabama, and I chose to pretty much document my journey with Cash from a very young age. We've been on our Instagram platform now for around six years. We were a little further away from family and friends when he was little, so I would make little videos and posts so that family and friends could see us. And years later, now that we're homeschooling, I'm hoping to show what we're doing, not just the family and friends, but to other homeschoolers.

Janna (01:10): And Cash, you like to show people what you're doing too. Show us what you have in your hand.

Cash (01:14): Hazardous Tales. My favorite BookShark book.

Janna (01:21): And why is it your favorite?

Cash (01:22): It's a graphic novel. It has a lot of learning.

Janna (01:29): So Christal, when you were looking at furthering Cash's education as he became school-age, what drew you to homeschool?

Christal (01:40): So we are a different kind of homeschooling family. You have some homeschoolers that will pull out because they're displeased with their school districts. You have some that were homeschooled themselves and decided to continue the tradition with their kids. Cash attended about six, or seven months of pre-K, but the problem we ran into is that he was a gifted learner. He was identified as that very young, and we brought him the pre-K for socialization as everyone loves to say that kids need to go to school. And they would do like about a letter a week and he had been reading since he was two. The school district is excellent. It's the same one I grew up in. It is the top school district in the state of Alabama, but it just wasn't meeting his needs and there weren't going to be any gifted services for him till around third grade.

(02:34): So I got lucky. My husband and I had already talked about pulling him out because of this, and the pandemic happened. Everyone got pulled out. So it was so much of a separation that when the kids got sent home and everything went virtual, his pre-K teacher was like, "You've got this. Don't worry about us. Don't even bother logging into Zoom." By the end of the year, we had done our formal withdrawal papers and we've been homeschooling ever since. So he's officially homeschooled into pre-K up to, we're in third grade now. So been a lot of fun. One of the biggest things is gifted learning.

(03:21): I think especially when your child is neurodiverse or gifted or anything that's a little, not the norm, you're really afraid as a parent that you can do this. But truthfully, there are a lot of really great curricula and resources out there that can help. We're also eclectic unschoolers. So our homeschool, we're easy, we're very laid back. I believe in child-led learning, which is probably, he does more than I ever assign. And we do our very best on a daily basis to keep the fun in our homeschool. We don't want to make learning burdensome, and I'm definitely not trying to have a kid that's got gifted kid burnout down the line.

Janna (04:09): So Cash, do you like homeschooling?

Cash (04:12): Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Janna (04:16): What is your favorite subject to homeschool?

Cash (04:19): BookShark.

Christal (04:20): And what subject are you doing with BookShark right now?

Cash (04:20): American History.

Janna (04:25): And what about American History is so fun?

Cash (04:29): Hazardous Tales.

Janna (04:31): Your favorite book. Will you pick your book back up and show us what the graphic novel looks like again? Because I don't know if a lot of people know that one. There it is. Now, we were talking before, Cash, what's the difference between the book you're holding and other comic books?

Cash (04:47): It teaches you something.

Janna (04:50): It does. It does. And you like what it's teaching you?

Cash (04:54): Mm-hmm.

Janna (04:55): He's so into it. He's going to just keep reading and that's okay. Cash, your mom had mentioned that one thing that people think incorrectly about homeschooling is that they don't have any socialization which means he gets to hang out with other friends and have a good time. Do you get to hang out with your friends and have a good time?

Cash (05:15): Yes.

Janna (05:17): What are some of the things that you like to do when you get to be with your friends?

Cash (05:19): Well, things that I like to do?

Christal (05:19): With your friends.

Cash (05:25): Play.

Janna (05:26): What kind of play do you do?

Cash (05:28): Run around. If there are no toys, run around, and get exercise.

Janna (05:34): Christal, when you were talking about pulling and being uncomfortable or unsure of your ability to be able to homeschool with a child that you knew was gifted, what were some of the resources that you found that really helped you in your journey?

Christal (05:51): So I'm a self-professed nerd. My husband and I were both big history buffs. I'm the person that you don't want to take to trivia night, I will win. And Jeopardy is a competitive thing in my household. So it wasn't that I didn't have the knowledge to do it. I was more worried that it'd be something that, because this wasn't my field. My field is actually I'm fine arts professional. I just thought there was so much more mystery to the world of education and I needed to be educated in education to know what to do. So as I got going, I realized good curriculum and professional development, and there were plenty of resources out there to really help you. One of those things, of course, is our social media family.

(06:47): I provide as much as I can to anyone that wants to learn, wants to know how to homeschool, what average homeschoolers are looking like, what they're doing. But I did the same thing. I had my own homeschool homies that I went online and found and we've never met in person, but we're besties. They'll recommend a book, I'll go look at it and normally purchase it. They'll recommend a curriculum. I'll look at it, I'll go purchase it. And nine times out of ten you find that other homeschooler, that other family or friend that you can balance with and really understand, "I've got someone to back me up." You're good. I think everyone needs to find their community when they're homeschooling otherwise it can be really lonely out here.

(07:36): So social media is great. It allows you to meet these people wherever they are in the world. I've got homeschool friends in Australia. Some of my closest homeschool friends are in New York whose homeschool walls are completely different than mine in Alabama. We've got Facebook groups here in Alabama where we all get together and do field trips, get together for plays, and different things. But then at the same time, I can watch a professional development video with a company that's in California. So there are a lot of resources out there. The internet makes it possible to learn whatever you need to learn to make this homeschool journey a lot easier.

Janna (08:21): I agree that community is one of the biggest parts of homeschool success. And for people who are coming into it and may not be familiar with a community outside their kids' friends. It's almost, in homeschool, it's kind of reverse. When you are at a brick and mortar, you meet your children's friends or you meet your neighbors. But when you're homeschooling, you are actually meeting the parents and sometimes the kids never meet, so it's kind of like the reverse.

Christal (08:50): It really is. And yeah, as you said, in a typical classroom, the kids are in there together and you may see another parent. But in the homeschool community, it's parent-to-parent, and it's a lot of peer mentorship.

Janna (09:03): I think it's something that is a little foreign maybe to those outside of the homeschool community because mentorship is not something that our society really encourages anymore. And so it's almost like we're bringing back this idea that did really well in previous centuries, and now we're starting to demonstrate that we also can benefit from it even now.

Christal (09:28): And I mentioned that we were history buffs. Anyone that has actually done any study into history, American history, et cetera, we've got this industrial-aged concept of education. But truthfully before then we were all homeschoolers. For the most part, unless it was just a one-room cabin where there were similar ages, think now a co-op. Usually, a child went and apprenticed somewhere or with another family or a tutor was brought in. It was a lot of homeschooling before school as we know it existed.

Janna (10:05): So Cash, I'm going to ask you what has been your favorite field trip that you have done so far this year in homeschool?

Cash (10:15): Brown Strawberry Farms.

Janna (10:18): Tell me all about... What did you do there?

Cash (10:21): Pick strawberries.

Christal (10:23): He did not eat any strawberries. It was just about the farm experience. He doesn't eat strawberries.

Janna (10:30): When you were at the strawberry farm, did you get dirty because our strawberries, did they grow on trees or on the ground? Where do they grow?

Cash (10:38): Ground.

Janna (10:39): On the ground. You could walk around and get them. You didn't have to get on a... Now did you have friends that you went strawberry picking with?

Cash (10:48): Yes. Sophia and Olivia. And here's the best part.

Christal (10:52): This one's got a fascination with bounce houses and they had a big jump pillow.



Janna (10:57): Oh, jump pillows.

Christal (11:00): It wasn't just strawberry picking, it was all the activities that go along with going to visit a farm.

Janna (11:07): Yes. Well and probably the best part was being with your friends, right?

Cash (11:12): The best part was bouncing with my friends.

Janna (11:16): Yeah. That is a really fun thing. And then it makes you remember strawberry picking is fun, doesn't it?

Cash (11:22): Especially when there's a jump pad.

Janna (11:24): Yeah, I can imagine. Can imagine. Cash, we talked about your favorite subject, which was history. You're doing American history. You showed us your favorite book. But when you're homeschooling, what's your least favorite subject?

Christal (11:41): He doesn't want to say it, which is crazy. I'll explain why he doesn't want to say it too. So his least favorite subject right now is math. And the sad part about that is this kid has got consecutive years for the state of Alabama in Math Kangaroo first place finishes in a grade level above his grade level. He is a math-magician, that's what I love to call him. However, because he is a math-magician, he doesn't want to do the math, he just wants to do the competitions. So we're using the curriculum I will not name, he's whispering it to me because I told him, "Hey, we're not going to tell."

Janna (12:30): Don't tell.

Christal (12:31): So don't tell. I told him not to because it's actually, I think it's great. It works well. He just doesn't realize that it's what he needs. It's a lot of practice, and this one would rather do one or two problems and be done.

Janna (12:50): I'm the same with way, Cash. I prefer just, "If I know it, I know it. Let's just move on. Why should I have to practice it?" And in some subjects, I think that is true, and in other subjects that is not necessarily true. Do you have another favorite book? Which one is that?

Cash (13:09): Story of...

Christal (13:14): What's that one? Amistad?

Cash (13:17): Mm-hmm.

Christal (13:18): He's staring at the picture. Something interesting that I'll throw in about why some of these are his favorites is one cool thing about BookShark is they really keep the learner in mind. It's not just stuff parents would have picked classics or things along those lines, but you've got a nice variety. We're in February, so what's interesting about that is of course it's a Black History Month. Now, we are a study Black history 365 kinds of families. We really are. But he was really excited to see when he opened up the books from BookShark that we had Amistad inside as well as the historians will argue, the fictional story of Phoebe the Spy. So there are a lot of cool ones in here because of course Black history is just American history.

Janna (14:15): Absolutely it is. And I am glad that as a company we continue to know better and do better. And as an education curriculum, that's really what we should be striving for all the time. Not to get stuck in a rut and say, "This is how it's always done." But education itself is evolving and so we can evolve with it. So I do like that, especially about our American history. The more you know, right?

Christal (14:41): Yes.

Janna (14:44): [inaudible 00:14:42] Oh yeah, go ahead.

Christal (14:46): You have a song of Phoebe the Spy?

Cash (14:48): Yes.

Christal (14:51): Let's do it.

Cash (15:15): (Singing).

Janna (15:18): Very nice, very nice. You just gave us the summary of the story. I just want to touch really quickly on this idea of expectations in homeschooled met and unmet. When you went into it, I'm sure like every parent, you had this idea in your mind. And realistically, how quickly did that idea crumble for you?

Christal (15:41): Now, I'm probably not the best person for that. I went into homeschooling having researched homeschooling. I don't attack anything without a lot of research, a lot of reading, and a lot of studies. One of my favorite books is Morning by Morning by Paula Penn-Nabrit. She homeschooled her sons in the Ivy League back in the nineties, and early nineties and wrote a book and put it out there to kind of give her journey, her experiences. And then of course I've read Smartest Kids in the World. That is just because we're talking about it, I've forgotten the journalist name that wrote that book. But I did a lot of educational research. I kind of accepted the fact that "No, I'm not an educator, but I'm going to teach myself as much as I can." And that's part of it.

(16:39): You can't expect to go into homeschooling and it is the traditional school where you're waiting for someone else to give you a set of grades. You're now responsible for that child's grades and you have to change that mindset. And you can't go into homeschool like traditional school. And by traditional, that's a magnet, private, public. It doesn't matter. You are the educator and you've got a lot of freedom. I have friends that are typical classroom teachers and they don't have as much freedom as someone would think. They really like to put a lot of burden on the teacher to say, "Well, you taught my child this."

(17:20): When truthfully the curriculum is mandated by the district, maybe even the state and their department of education. As a homeschooler, you are the district, you are the department of education. And at least in Alabama, we pick our own curriculum or no curriculum. We don't have a set amount of hours where there's no reporting. I kind of tell everyone I said, "We're the wild, wild west of homeschooling," because I know other states do. But that's a lot of burdens. You really have to do your research to make sure you're doing the best you can by your child and meeting their needs and do your professional development to go along with it.

Janna (18:05): I think you make a very interesting point because a lot of parents are unfamiliar with getting outside of the educational box. They only know their experience. And so sometimes there is this expectation that "Okay, we're going to sit at the table. I'm going to set a timer, I'm going to make a schedule and we're going to kind of go by a school bell schedule." And day one you have, for me, was three kids. Everyone had their own agenda. Everyone was feeling something different, and it did not go according to plan. And so I had to then reassess. The funny thing was I myself was homeschooled, but I was probably back in the day still homeschooled with that traditional educational model.

(18:47): So now we have this freedom and sometimes, and this may be your experience with friends in your community, freedom is actually scary, right? Because you are responsible. There is this burden of proof either for your state or for just yourself. Sometimes for other people, it's their family, it's their spouse. So they feel this burden to have to prove that what they're doing is good enough. But I think as homeschool moms that have been at this for a while, it's so encouraging to let other parents know that it is what you want it to be. It doesn't have to look like anyone else's. It can be what is going to work for your child.

(19:26): I remember my daughter just crying doing her math curriculum and I was like, "We're homeschoolers. Why am I doing this to her? We don't have to continue this cycle of, 'This subject is hard for you. You don't like it.' But we're just going to make sure we get it done." So we stopped it and started something totally different. And now if you would ask her, she'd say, "I'm good at math, I enjoy math." So it's just a totally different dynamic that you don't know what you don't know. So coming into it, I think there's a lot of families who do kind of have an expectation and it's quickly unmet and then you have a choice. You can reevaluate and create a different expectation or you can say, "This just isn't for us," and walk away. And I think the latter is unfortunate because really homeschooling can be for anybody.

Christal (20:15): It really can. The fear that's there can be easily eliminated with a little bit of self-education. The rigorous get up at whatever hour of the morning, get breakfast, get dressed, and get on a bus. If you do a little bit of de-schooling before you kind of start homeschooling, that takes care of a lot of that. We get up when we feel like it. We homeschool primarily in pajamas unless it's a day we're going out. He's a very independent learner and he turns eight on Saturday. I think he said he wanted another Lego cat. And what else?

Cash (20:57): A gas truck.

Christal (20:59): A Lego gas truck.

Janna (21:00): Yeah.

Christal (21:02): This one takes his Legos and does stop-motion videos with him and puts them on YouTube.

Janna (21:06): Oh, how fun.

Christal (21:08): Yeah, one of his passion projects. So he builds from sets, but he's making movie sets out of his Legos.

Janna (21:20): Do you have a certain character, is a cat one of your characters in your videos?

Cash (21:27): Two cats because the second ones coming up are the main characters and their owner too.

Janna (21:36): Do your cats have names or at least the ones that you have so far?

Cash (21:38): The one that I have so far is named Muffy.

Janna (21:43): Muffy. Do you have a name for your second cat?

Cash (21:45): It's going to be Bella. Now, after a half asleep Chris shows that you should really check out if you're on YouTube. Now anyways, I have never mentioned the cat's owner.

Janna (22:06): Does he have a name?

Cash (22:07): He doesn't.

Janna (22:08): Oh, so you don't mention him in your videos? He's just there.

Cash (22:12): Mm-hmm.

Christal (22:13): Yes ma'am.

Cash (22:14): Yes ma'am. Because in Curious George, the man with the yellow hat's not me. You don't know his real name.

Janna (22:24): That's true. So in your video, is it just the cat's owner?

Cash (22:28): Mm-hmm.

Janna (22:30): How fun.

Christal (22:31): Cash is the youngest of three. My two big boys... Where are your brothers right now?

Cash (22:38): The Air Force.

Christal (22:40): My two big boys, they're twins. They're both in the Air Force. And what's dad? What's daddy?

Cash (22:47): My daddy has been serving in the Air Force.

Janna (22:50): Wow. So yeah.

Christal (22:53): We are very traditional. We're very patriotic.

Cash (22:57): Maybe I should have been named American Cash.

Christal (22:59): American Cash?

Janna (23:00): Oh, I like that. You could make your name as your video creator whatever you want. So maybe it should be American Cash. What do you think?

Cash (23:10): Yes, I should make some videos like call that. And they will be sponsored by BookShark.

Janna (23:19): Maybe they will.

Christal (23:21): He's putting in a plug already.

Janna (23:23): That's right, that's right. Well, there's nothing wrong with having an entrepreneurial spirit, so start young. Christal, in closing and Cash too, I will ask you guys this. What do you think that you could tell a family who's thinking about homeschooling but they're not quite sure yet? What do you think you could say that would help them make their decision?

Christal (23:46): Find your community and shut out the noise. One of the biggest complaints I see in our community of homeschoolers is the mother-in-law, the friends, and the other people in their lives that are currently educators that tell them, "Your kids really should be in school. I don't know if you can do this. You're not qualified." Learn and educate yourself on what homeschooling really is and then find those mentors. Find that support group so that when the noise is surrounding you, you can be confident in your decision. Another big one and I stress this one all the time, your spouse really needs to be on board. We decided on homeschooling, like I said before, the pandemic actually began and my husband was like, "You're the smartest person I know. You can do this."

(24:39) And I appreciated having that backup there. And he proudly tells people, "Cash is homeschooled." And it's an interesting contrast because my older boys were not, but we did a lot of supplementing at home. That's actually how we kind of knew homeschooling was going to work. A parent that's really involved in their child's education is one that sits them at the table and you do homework, and you talk about things, and you go on trips on weekends and you do other things outside of the traditional classroom. So you're just able to do it with more time. We don't have the limitation of time now. We can go slow, we can do as much as we want. We're also a bilingual homeschool, so Cash does a lot of his stuff in both English and Spanish something he would never get at his age before high school. So yeah, you can kind of make it whatever you want it to be. Dream your kids' ideal education and then deliver.

Janna (25:46): And what about you, Cash? What would you tell a soon-to-be eight-year-old young boy whose mom was talking about homeschooling, what would you tell him that he was going to be happy about if she makes that decision? Time to play Legos maybe?

Cash (26:01): Yeah, for breaks.

Christal (26:02): You get more breaks-

Janna (26:04): Do you get to take as many breaks, yeah, as you want?

Cash (26:07): Yes.

Janna (26:08): That's fun. You don't have to sit for hours and hours doing math, do you?

Cash (26:13): I don't have to. Yeah. That should be against the law to have no fun break time. Doesn't even matter if it's first or second or third grade.

Janna (26:32): It's true. There's not a lot of break time for some of these kids who are in school all day long. All right. Well, let me ask you guys a final question. What is a homeschool hack that you can share with our listeners?

Christal (26:45): My favorite-

Cash (26:50): Homeschool hack.

Christal (26:51): You got one before me? You have one?

Cash (26:53): Yeah. A homeschool hack is like go to Instagram.

Christal (26:57): Say, "Go to Instagram," huh?

Cash (26:57): Mm-hmm.

Janna (26:57): Lots of information there.

Christal (27:02): Yeah, you can find a lot of stuff online. You can give a lot of support from other homeschoolers as well as curriculum providers. I got one that I'm surprised you didn't say. Make sure you enjoy learning and have fun and do it any way you want to. This kid will do his work on his head, on the floor, upside down, with his animals, outside on the ground in the grass. It doesn't matter as long as he gets it done, he's happy about being very comfortable while doing it.

Janna (27:40): Well, I like to be comfortable while doing my work too. So I think that's a great hack. People would be happier if we were all more comfortable, don't you think?

Cash (27:48): Yes.

Janna (27:49): All right. Well, I appreciate you guys coming on today and talking about your homeschool experience. Cash, thank you so much for sharing your experience with BookShark and the books that you love. I know that a lot of people are going to be excited to listen to this. And Christal, thank you for all of your wisdom. Thank you for what you contribute to the homeschool community. We really appreciate all that you're doing.

Christal (28:13): We love it, and I'm so glad you invited us to do this. I had no clue what he was going to say, so it was kind of fun for me too to hear these answers. And yeah, I knew about the math thing, but yeah, feel free, anytime. If someone thinks they need help or some guidance or just a watch, the day-to-day meanderings of another homeschool family, you can find us on any platform at Mama Suite baby.

Janna (28:43): Well, thank you guys for listening. Until next time. Bye-bye.