Meet Tanya, a mom to three kids ages 7, 4, and 2. She educates her son at home using BookShark Level 1 and is an active YouTuber at Project Happy Home. We had the opportunity to chat with Tanya and find out why she homeschools and why she loves using BookShark with her active seven-year-old boy who loves history and language arts. Plus Tanya shares tips for getting started with a new BookShark package, dealing with overwhelm, and book storage.
BookShark: Tanya, how did you come to homeschool your son?
Tanya: I worked full time, and my son Gabriel was in preschool from age three. When my daughter came along, I ramped down to part time work, and my son went to kindergarten. I really had no intentions of homeschooling.
My son is super, super bouncy! He has ADHD, and he's very social. Because of his behavior at school, he had been moved to quieter and quieter tables and then eventually to a table by himself. I didn't like that. I think that public schools are not very well equipped to deal with any kind of atypical learner. I've been to grad school twice, so I obviously love school: sitting down, being a teacher’s pet, etc. But my son does not.
The Turning Point with Dandelions
Homeschooling is probably the best thing I've ever done. When I worked full time, I used to count the number of hours until I would see my kids again. It made me sad to consider the sheer number of hours I was seeing them versus the hours my nanny or Gabriel’s teacher was seeing them. So much of who they were becoming was based on other people instead of me and their dad.
They were becoming people, not that I didn't like, but that I didn't know everything about. Here’s a story to illustrate. We have a family tradition of making dandelion wishes. We hold the dandelion and make a wish as we scatter the seeds with a puff of breath. One day when Gabriel came home from school, I saw a patch of dandelions, and I started to pick them. Gabriel refused, saying “No, I can't. The teacher told me I can't blow the dandelions because they are weeds, and the wishes don’t come true anyway.”
That was a turning point for me. I said, “No, no, no. You're not going to stop making dandelion wishes. They make flowers, not weeds!” I told him that when he’s on school property he shouldn't blow them as per his teacher’s rules, but when he’s with me, he can make dandelion wishes as much as he wants.
We're secular. We don't homeschool for religious reasons, but this situation with the dandelions did not sit well with my beliefs. He was six years old! It’s appropriate for a child that age to blow dandelions and believe in wishes coming true. It seemed the teacher was putting down part of our family culture and ruining the natural joy of a child. I think six year olds should be doing a lot of running around outside or running around inside. Wherever they are, I think they should probably be running around. And this teacher was stifling that.
[You can learn more about Tanya's decision to homeschool by watching the video embedded above.]
BookShark: That’s such a poignant story. I know it will resonate with many moms. So you've been homeschooling for just about a year, and you started with BookShark Level One, right?
Why BookShark? What Makes it a Good Fit For You?
Tanya: Yes, I did a lot of online research, and I was sold when I discovered that BookShark is a secular, literature-based curriculum. My husband grew up Catholic; I grew up Islamic. Now that we have three kids, we go a Unitarian Universalist Church. Having a secular program is a perfect fit for us. I plan on sticking with BookShark next year too.
Gabriel and I are both really enjoying the program. The best thing for me has been seeing him laugh so much during all the read alouds.
I also love the variety of activities that touch different types of kids and different types of moods. I view each week in the Instructor’s Guide as a smorgasbord—I pick and choose what I want. And I didn’t always follow the outline exactly. Although we follow the order, we may do more or less on any particular day, depending on how it suits us.
When I initially looked at BookShark, I worried I would get tired by all the reading aloud. But I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I really like reading to him! But a lot of the things we do aren't reading aloud; we add on activities from the reading, and I let him work with his hands during the reading, maybe playing with LEGO blocks or drawing a picture. While I read, I let him do whatever he wants as long as it’s quiet. He always knows what's going on in the story, and we use oral narration as we go.
I love the Charlotte Mason method, but I can't commit to it fully. BookShark uses the best parts of Charlotte Mason in the curriculum. So after we read something in science, we may be told to go outside and look for a certain kind of plant because people used those kinds of plants in Egypt, for example. That kind of extension on the reading is really fun, and it's all in one place with BookShark.
I look at the Instructor's Guide as a starting point and not as the be-all-end-all kind of checklist. The IG is a lot, and it becomes even richer if you use it as a general framework. Instead of going straight through and checking off every assignment each day, choose from what suits your mood and skip around a bit if you like.
BookShark: I love that you feel that freedom to make BookShark your own! That’s wonderful.
Tanya: Yeah I really do, and I would say the other thing is I really love BookShark's customer service! Every single time I call that number, they're super helpful even with my silly questions (like not being able to find something in the Instructor’s Guide). BookShark is incredibly simple to follow, so I don't have to call often!
Besides the customer service, I've been impressed with how everything in the lessons coincides. There’s a lot of planning that may not initially be obvious in the Instructor’s Guide, but once you start using it, you see how the spelling words match the words in the readers, and so on.
BookShark: What your son would say about BookShark if we were to ask him?
Tanya: He likes it, especially the History and Language Arts! I asked him if he wanted to continue with BookShark again for another year, and he answered, “Yeah, I love it!” He was an early reader, and most of the the read aloud and reader selections have been great for him.
Tips for Other BookShark Parents
BookShark: That's wonderful to hear. Do you have any tips that you would share with other BookShark parents?
Tanya: Do not wed yourself to a regimented checklist system. When you start, maybe just read the books. Don’t even put them into a planner. Give yourself at least a couple of weeks to get into a rhythm to see how much your child can comfortably do in a day.
If you start to feel overwhelmed like you are getting behind, just let go of that feeling and enjoy the ride. The further we've gone with BookShark, the more on track we stay. It’s really about finding your rhythm. The schedule that BookShark lays out is very helpful as a guide, but I think people should remember that it's just a guide not a mandate.
When you first put together your binder, it can be overwhelming. It’s like getting that college syllabus and fearing you’ll never be able to do all the work. So instead of looking at the whole year, separate a few weeks at a time from the IG to refer to. I take out five or six weeks at a time and focus only on that. We use a year round model, so we school for about six weeks, and we take a break.
I color-coded the books so I could easily see what were his readers or science books. All those books in your BookShark package are lovely for someone like me who hoards books, but it can be a little bit complicated to keep track of them. So we keep them all on one shelf, and as we finish a book, we move it to the left. I like how our bookshelf shows us our progress through the curriculum.
BookShark: Tanya, thanks so much for sharing your BookShark experience with us!
Tanya: You are welcome! I really appreciate you guys so much. It's great to have a resource like BookShark.