In the very first interview on The Happy Homeschool Podcast I interview my oldest daughter and her husband. We talk about things like expectations, developing priorities, the trouble with comparisons, and adjustments when dealing with health issues.
Rich: It’s frustrating, but there are also times like that where when you’re 20 minutes into an archeological dig that is plastic pigs and cows and things from the kitchen she’s used repeatedly and she’s like “Hey, wait a minute.”
Heidi: Just put the pieces together all of a sudden
Laura: I recognize these artifacts
That was a snippet from the interview that I have for you today. It is me interviewing my oldest daughter and her husband. They are homeschooling their young children. They both come at it from very different backgrounds. And so the interview covers everything from them communicating and making these decisions together, to dealing with people’s assumptions and perceptions about genius and also dealing with very serious health problems. I think the interviews are going to end up being longer than the other podcast episodes, but I didn’t want to cut people short. So, without further ado, here is the interview.
Laura: Hello, and I am very happy today to be starting my series of interviews with my oldest daughter Heidi, and her husband Rich. Rich in particular was a huge encouragement to me in even getting the Happy Homeschool blog and podcast going. And so, we’re going to start just like we would with anybody, because even though I know them very well, I know that you don’t know them that well. So, Heidi and Rich, can you take turns and tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Rich: Oh, yeah, hi. My name is Rich and I wasn’t homeschooled. I went through just a standard public education system until oh, probably grade 11 ½, maybe a little (query). Didn’t know anybody that was homeschooled growing up until I met Heidi. So this has been kinda a new, strange trek for me over the past, probably 12 years.
Heidi: So I was homeschooled the entire way through. No public school apart from a band class that I took for a couple of years. That was interesting. We’ve been married since 2009 and the children that we are homeschooling are 2 and 6. But we have two older kids that aren’t really involved in that whole side of things. And we’ve been in Idaho for a long time, so we’re familiar with the laws and such around here a little bit more than anywhere else. But it’s a good place for homeschooling.
Laura: Okay, so you probably both came at deciding if, when, and why you wanted to homeschool from different trajectories based on your experience. So maybe you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Rich: So different!
Heidi: I was always in favor, that was how we were going to do it – well, we originally weren’t going to have kids, so there’s that. But I was always in favor, that was how I wanted to do it, I knew all the good reasons why. And so when we first started talking about it there was a lot of “So, Rich, what do you think about homeschooling?” and then just waiting very patiently for him to actually process that thought.
Laura: Good for you.
Rich: Yeah, I didn’t have any grand designs on homeschooling. I thought it was good. It helped having dated Heidi and been around all of the Blodgett kids and some of the friends of the family and stuff like that. So I wasn’t anti-homeschooling by any stretch. I had kind of really had it in my mind that if we were going to have kids, they would probably go to a private school. Some kind of private school that had, that was based on kind of the Greek trivium or something like that. Where they could learn Greek and Latin and logic. That was kinda what was pretty heavy in my mind, just stuff that I was reading at the time and I really wanted the kids to have that. That has died in various incarnations over the past few years. But when we decided that we were going to homeschool, everything kind of just changed for us.
Heidi: I don’t think we actually made the decision until Cori was four. Until then we were kind of looking at here’s a kindergarten, or you know, here’s an elementary program. And how much does this cost? And it is very expensive to put your children into private school. Very expensive.
Rich: And my motivations have changed as well. Some of those things that I really wanted back then that I thought I was going to get out of a private school. One, I’m not very convinced I would have gotten those things and two, most of them I don’t even really want anymore. I wouldn’t mind the kids learning some Greek or whatever just so that they can (query) around in the New Testament. I don’t think it’s by any means necessary. It would be fun, but…
Laura: Not as foundational anymore?
Rich: No, huh uh.
Heidi: I always, because of my experience as a child, thought that I would have a very strong influence and hand in whatever the kids were learning. So if it came around to it, I was willing to try really hard with homework, but I always would have much preferred to be the one in charge of the lessons.
Laura: So, how many years have you been officially homeschooling at this point?
Heidi: I would say this is the first.
Laura: Oh, okay.
Heidi: We basically, started any sort of …
Rich: Well, it’s like anything else though, I mean, when does homeschooling start? Cori probably should have been in school for almost three years now. So if everything you do, she learns from…
Rich: So that’s been just life. Her learning things, us explaining them. Her being home. That kind of thing. We’ve been doing things like devotions and stuff for years. So she’s been interested. I think this is the first year though that we’ve actually kind of resorted to curriculum.
Laura: Or at least a schedule or plan?
Heidi: This is the first year that we’ve really decided to sit down and push for some things like reading, any sort of formalized math. Everything was just kind of as I felt like it, I would show her. Go outside and draw a bunch of letters on the sidewalk with chalk and see how many she could pick up on. Do some basic math with insects or count while we’re making cookies. It was all very, very much as we live life these are the ways we use numbers or letters. And right now she actually has some structured parts of the day where she has to sit down and read and she has to sit down and write. And when I get around to it, she has to sit down and work on her math. Which, technically, we’re doing a first grade math book, but she knows pretty much everything in it already.
Laura: So it’s all review?
Rich: That’s part of the thing of this is the first structured year. But, all the way up to halfway or more through the Saxon math, which she’s on level for right now, it would be her grade. She already knew it, sitting down. We were having to flip and look for things she didn’t know in the first grade.
Laura: Well that’s rewarding.
Rich: Yeah, I guess it was a little closer to what people were calling Unschooling? Although I wouldn’t have necessarily termed it that.
Heidi: It wasn’t our goal to stay in an unschooling sort of area, but we started there.
Laura: And now you’re sort of finding out where she is to do things in a little bit more planned way?
Heidi: Yes. Her birthday falls such that she would either be a very old 1st grader, or a very young 2nd grader next year. Because she’s a month after the cut off for most school programs. So when we were originally looking at preschool stuff we were saying “She’s going to be 3, she’s going to be 4,” but it wasn’t available to her for another year in all of those situations. And there are advantages and disadvantages to looking at those ages. She can do the first grade math, but reading right now has been a little bit more of a challenge. And she is reading now. But we spent probably 5 months of this year, 4 or 5 months of this school year quote unquote with intensive practice to get her where she is now. Took a lot of effort.
Rich: It seemed like the beginning of the year was a bit more strenuous as we were just trying to find a pace that worked and not exhaust Cori and not exhaust Heidi. Still kind of keep her learning.
Laura: So why do you think the reading was such a trial, if you don’t mind me asking? Do you feel pressure about it, did you feel like you weren’t meeting her where she was at with it? Or were you just trying to figure it out?
Rich: I can answer. Mainly because I applied pressure. So, when you approach these things from the perspective of this is what we did in school, and not only this is what we did in school, but this is what we would have gotten out of a private school. So my goal was definitely like, she’s gotta read, she’s gotta read right now because we need her to start reading all of these great things. So I applied a lot of pressure. We tried various things. And there were times that I just had to decide that really maybe what I wanted wasn’t best. Or at least it wasn’t worth the amount of pressure that was being given.
Laura: And I think a lot of people go through that with their first child. I’m sure I’ve told the story in at least an email newsletter and I’ve probably told it to Heidi because it involves her. But I remember trying to sit down and teach her penmanship for the first time. I’m like “Why can’t you form your letters?” I didn’t remember learning so much, and I just thought she should be able to write just because I told her so.
Heidi: I will say that Cori can write like a champ. She picked that right up. The reading was a little bit stressful. And I also think that she does have some, like, hyperactive tendencies.
Laura: She’s a very energetic young lady.
Heidi: Absolutely. She would so much rather be doing than be sitting anywhere for any period of time. Even when you sit down to read a book to her, half the time she’s up and running around again in five minutes. She does not sit still a lot. And that is very much the opposite of me as a child I would think?
Heidi: So there’s a little bit of a culture clash in some aspects, because I’m like, “Look this is so interesting!” And she’s like, “There are bugs outside, waiting for me.”
Laura: But of course you realize that one of your brothers was like that, that he didn’t hold still.
Heidi: Exactly, and that gave me some insight into, okay, she needs to run around for a minute or do something active and then we’ll come back.
Laura: Right. Just a different need to be physical in different kids.
Heidi: As I approach her studying now, I try to, if at all possible, I try to give her a couple of minutes between things. Go do that, go do this. And some days it works, some days it doesn’t but we try.
Laura: We’ve kind of touched a little bit on your concerns Rich, but the next question maybe you want to talk more about it, both of you? What were your biggest or some of your biggest concerns when you started this effort?
Rich: I think that for me homeschooling wasn’t super ideal. I definitely had my own goals. And I had to basically come down to where I realized that, well, in the very beginning, homeschool was better than public school. Not what I want, but it’s what I’ll settle for. It’s what makes Heidi happy. And then, as the school year … well, school year, it’s summertime and we’re still going, it’s not like there is a school year for us. But I guess it is, things sort of kept going. I guess a big fear of mine is that she wasn’t going to learn to read fast enough. She wasn’t going to learn math, she wasn’t going to be, right off the bat, where all the other kids that just go to school were.
Laura: Supposedly were, if I can interject.
Rich: Yeah, exactly. But you know, and I’ve said this to Heidi. First grade, this wasn’t a thing. We got taught our letters and we got taught this and we got taught that and we were given readers and it just sort of worked. I guess the thing that was nice, sort of, about that fear and it kinda led me into feeling like homeschool wasn’t a compromise but it was better than what I wanted? Heidi and I we kinda had this mini argument about, I wanted the reading and writing and the math. And she started every morning with the Bible. And of course that progressed into her reading her Bible for herself and that kind of thing. And I told her, “If she kind of poops out, why don’t you just have her read or something first, do her phonics first?” That was never really a thing for Heidi, she basically, that was not going to happen. And I got to watching some other things and realized that this is a responsibility of ours. What separates homeschool, at least for me, from public school and private school is that they are our kids. And it’s a tremendous opportunity. It’s not an opportunity, it’s a responsibility to disciple your kids at home. And once I realized that I cared more about who my kids were going to turn out as rather than how much Greek and Latin I could shove down their throats, I got way more comfortable with the whole thing. Pretty much all my worries, I guess, back to the question, you know knowledge and that sort of thing all of that sort of just went out the window. And then, without me even interjecting it, and probably because I didn’t interject it, it just started happening. The rest of it just came together.
Heidi: I think that there are people who have had a lot of personal success within the public school’s process. For example, Rich, when they started to teach him how to read, he just did it. We know other people who went through several grades without actually knowing how to read and had to get one-on-one help way later. Because they were not able to keep up with that. And one of the things that I feel like, for Cori, she has this mental wall where if something is hard, she just doesn’t try. She is incapable, at this point in her life, of taking that first bite to eat the elephant. She doesn’t grasp that. And we’ve tried over and over to explain it to her, but unless we’re right there helping her, she doesn’t. So I think there’s a distinct disadvantage for certain personalities, at least in certain subjects, when you put them in that type of a cookie cutter program. And that’s even aside from the responsibility to develop your child’s moral character.
Laura: So seeing what their weaknesses are and being able to address that individually. In ways that they would not get addressed in an institutional system. At least probably not soon and probably not before there were a lot of other frustrations.
Heidi: I never felt like, throughout my entire life to this point, that if I hadn’t learned something during those first twelve grades, I couldn’t just go figure it out right now. I have a lot of personal confidence in my ability to go fill in any gaps I might have. And I’ve felt like that basically since graduating high school. I’ve never felt like, “Oh, no, my teacher didn’t tell me about the mesozoic era, what am I going to do if that question comes up?” And I feel like there’s this burden on parents that their kid has to learn this right here and this right here and this right here. But in reality, you’ve got to teach them to read at some point. You’ve got to teach them some basic math at some point. How to write at some point. And different kds will learn some of these things at their own speed. But the goal is to turn them into productive, responsible adults who can figure out things they need to figure out.
Laura: Well, obviously as a mother, to hear you say that, I’m like “You go, girl!”
Heidi: And as Christians, our primary goal being to turn them into Christ-followers who glorify God in their everyday lives, aside from the academic side of things. If you don’t have that time in the day with your kids, where they’re understanding that this is important. You’re allowing them to get their level of importance from other places and then you’re coming along later. “Oh by the way, here’s a little side dish of you’d better read your Bible everyday or I’ll be mad.” It’s not the same.
Laura: Right. And one thing that has been foundational advice that I have given people is if you address character and self control and habits from the outset then the rest of the learning comes much more easily and much enjoyably for everybody.
Heidi: And there’s a point to the learning. When you’re teaching a kid who God wants them to be. There’s a point to the learning, there’s a reason for it.
Laura: Right. It’s not just something to fill their time or to irritate them or frustrate them.
Heidi: It’s not somewhere I’m sending them to be babysat, it’s not somewhere I’m sending them to be socialized. There are things that we are doing and there’s a purpose behind it and I’m happy to explain that to her, unless she’s in the middle of a math test and needs to pay attention.
Laura: Right, she doesn’t get to ask all of the time just because it’s a better time than what she’s doing.
Heidi: Oh yeah, she’s an expert at, “Oh, yeah, this is a very deep question that I’d like to ask now while I’m supposed to be doing this other thing.”
Rich: It’s funny, though, that you’d bring up the babysitting. ‘Cause, you know, for me, wrapping my head around homeschooling was so hard. ‘Cause that’s what we did. We got dropped off at the babysitter and that happened every year for twelve years and here I was. Pretty hardened anarchist for five years, wanting to drop my kids off in a school, not public school, thankfully. Still wanting to drop them off somewhere else. I don’t care where you drop them off, I don’t care how much they politically align with you, or philosophically align with you, or something like that. They’re not going to, they’re not going to line up everywhere. And really they can’t. Your responsibility to teach your children how to live is just that, it’s your responsibility. And I came across two verses that were pretty instrumental to me. That kinda took homeschooling out of the “Hey this is pretty good” or “This is probably something we should be doing”, to something that, at the risk of sounding dogmatic, this is something everybody should be doing. And one of those is Deuteronomy 6:6-7 “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart, you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise.” And that was a responsibility, the Jews had for their kids, was to teach them God’s law, how to live. And just to have the New Testament side of things, which this one kind of really turned me around was Luke 6:39-40. “He also told them a parable, ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?’” Which to me is like public school right there, you know. Can’t have blind people just leading your kids. But this part is great. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” And so as we started to, or at least as I started to think, “What do I want Cori to be like, what do I want her to value?” Those obviously were very important to me, those verses were eye-opening, they took homeschool from this is good, or this is ideal, to this is our responsibility.
Laura: Yeah, the idea of it as something that requires a more constant engagement. A really living with someone. Both the Deuteronomy and the Luke passages. And that the people you spend your time with, I mean that’s kind of a proverb even among the average person, if they don’t know the Biblical part, but the people you hang out with are the ones you become like.
Rich: Oh yeah, sure.
Heidi: Yeah, I mean if you want to have any chance of passing your culture on to your children instead of the state-authorized culture or the Lord-of-the-Flies culture, you need to be actually spending time with them.
Rich: And that would go for any culture I would say. Obviously if you have values that you would like to instill into your kids, they’re not going to get them from someone else.
Laura: So, you’ve kind of answered all of the questions in the middle here as we’ve had this conversation. Let’s just go to talking about, have there been any particularly enjoyable results or moments for you in this short time, maybe three, maybe one year that you’ve been doing this?
Heidi: On the side of things that I’m really appreciative of would be this idea that she’s starting to value reading on her own and she’s starting to pick up chapter books. So I do have her read to me from the Bible every day. That’s the only daily reading out loud that she does at this point. We do have some other books that we’re trying to work through. She’s currently reading Charlotte’s Web out loud to us, but it hasn’t been something we’ve been able to do on a daily basis, partly because we’ve been sick over the last couple of weeks. But she, in her bed at night, she wants to read and she gets upset if the reading time isn’t available to her. And that’s really precious to me, because reading was always a huge part of my childhood. And I wanted her to develop that love of reading, that curiosity about books. And of course I want her to do it in a safe environment, so I’ve gone through her books to make sure they’re all okay. But I was worried… and I knew that reading wasn’t necessarily just snap your fingers for me.It took a lot of effort on your part to teach me that no, I didn’t know what things were because I didn’t know how to read yet and you did. But I felt like there were some traumatic moments in trying to get her to focus and learn how to read. We were like, “No you have to sit down, you have to do this.” And she would say, “I hate this, I don’t want to.” And so there’s always that little bit of concern you have that once you get past that barrier they’re not going to find any enjoyment in it, that it’s just going to be a chore every time that you want them to read something. And that’s thankfully not where she is. She is interested.
Laura: I would say that the whole story as you’ve laid it out, about the different attitudes and the progression of attitudes towards teaching her, that in spite of you guys also coming to agreement about approaches and all of that, that she’s come out okay in it. Because you still have her best interest in mind and you’re working with her.
Heidi: Definitely. We’ve made it pretty clear to her that we value her progress. And even when she’s not interested, I think that helps. I was a little – on the side of unexpected things, you know, I’ve worked with her on numbers and counting and some basic addition and we play a lot of board games, that sort of thing. I was not expecting her to have completely surpassed a first grade math book. And we’re using the Saxon Math 1st grade book, so it’s not just math, they build a lot of things into there. And so it’s been really useful as far as the calendar and the days of the week. She didn’t really have a concept of the passage of time on a daily or monthly or yearly basis. And so I’ve really liked that part of it, but when we get to the point of what’s this number, can you count to one hundred, or some basic addition stuff, it’s so easy for her and I love that.
Laura: Yeah, that’s encouraging
Heidi: It makes it something that, she feels that math is an adventure. What project are we going to do, how is this going to be exciting and colorful? Instead of, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” And I think that’s a balance of she already knew so much and the approach that they’re taking in the book. What about you, anything particularly unexpected or enjoyable?
Rich: Her insights frequently, just kind of amaze me. Sometimes you’ll be talking to her thinking “She’s not getting anything out of this.” And a lot of times she’s not. But there are other times where sometimes she doesn’t even seem to be paying attention and I’ll ask her about it and she’ll not only recall everything I was just talking about on what we were just reading, but she’ll sum it up and articulate it back in her own words and then ask an intelligent question about it. Knowing her even just six, seven months ago, I had no idea that that kind of stuff would happen so fast. And I think that, if I could look at the questions here of 6, 7, and 8 and kind of meld them together would be. “What would you have done if you had started earlier?” “What would you do differently?”, and “How did your approach to homeschooling mature?” And I think all of that for me was just chilling out. That it comes, understanding that things don’t necessarily have to be done a certain way. You’re learning how to deal with your child and their unique needs. And they’re learning your expectations of them and at some point you get past that courting phase and stuff just starts to work out. And that’s been really neat for me, just watching that.
Heidi: I feel like it was about, maybe 2, you started reading to her every night. And it was generally some sort of devotional or a tiny tiny little Bible lesson and then a prayer. And the amount that she has gleaned from that consistent behavior over the years is just astonishing. Because when they’re two, they’re not paying any attention to you, you have no idea whether they’re listening or not. But even when she was three and four, she started to say things back, and we started to realize she was absorbing every little bit of that. And she loved the consistency, she loves her time at night with Dad, where they’re listening to the Bible and she just has started putting all of those pieces together.
Laura: That reminds me that one of my observations and concerns was being careful about what children are exposed to for that very reason and that it’s not that necessarily something is super bad, but when they listen to certain movies or stories over and over where there are the wrong lessons taught, then they develop those ways of thinking.
Heidi: Yeah, they start to incorporate whatever it is that they’re regularly exposed to.
Rich: Particularly the train of thought where, you know, the seven-year-olds get together and after being told “no” several times they decide to go ahead and do it anyway and due to their not following advice or listening to their parents, they’ll save the day or something.
Laura: Those aren’t really the kinds of stories that you want your seven-year-old to be reading a lot of.
Heidi: I knew from anecdotal experience talking about “How does your approach to homeschool mature?”, I knew from anecdotal experience and from being a kid that nothing’s ever perfect, but I personally still had pretty high expectations of being able to sit down and do things for certain hours or certain lessons every day. So I’ve had to be pretty forgiving of myself if something doesn’t go exactly the way that I wanted it to. I was trying to hit reading and writing and English and spelling and math and I thought “And if I have extra time I’ll just throw in some piano or science.” And she’s not ready to sit down that long. And with Milli running around and the other responsibilities I have I can’t sit down and necessarily just point my finger at her paper for hours and hours and hours every day. So we try to keep it to about an hour or two every day and I start with the most important thing and as far as I get, that’s as far as I get for that day.
Rich: Every once in a while we will cook, so I’ll have her grab a cookbook and read the instructions to me.
Laura: There’s some practical reading.
Rich: Yeah, ‘cause hey, “Step one, read it to me.”
Heidi: And she wants to cook, like desperately.
Rich: And that’s been good for her. I think our history book had a neat suggestion about – we were reading about the Summerians and what they turned into – and how we actually learn about history, whether it’s been written down or things people dig up. So we went out into our flower bed. Heidi and I hid a bunch of farm animals and…
Heidi: A vase.
Rich: A vase. And she was digging them up. We were asking her, “Okay, so what does this tell us about this civilization?”
Heidi: About three objects in, she was like, “Did you put these here?”
Rich: Which was funny.
Heidi: Which was funny because they’re all things from our house. It was like, “These are all very familiar to you.”
Rich: There are times when it’s frustrating, but there are also times like that where when you’re 20 minutes into an archeological dig that is plastic pigs and cows and things from the kitchen she’s used repeatedly and she’s like “Hey, wait a minute.”
Heidi: Just put the pieces together all of a sudden
Laura: I recognize these artifacts
Heidi: “Are these my toys?”
Laura: Are you guys at a point yet where you’re getting asked questions from other people about homeschooling from friends or family or even just people in general?
Heidi: Well, I think a lot of Rich’s family thinks we’re crazy. So they ask him once in a while “So how does that work again?”
Rich: It’s funny though, because they think that we’re crazy and then they say things like “Cori’s a genius!” And you know…
Laura: Don’t say that in front of her!
Rich: And don’t say that in front of your own kids, please. A, every kid’s different and where she is with what she is good at seems very impressive to my family, but we have some bright kids in my family and I’d hate for those kids to overhear their parents saying “Oh, she’s a genius.” And they’re like “Well, what’s wrong with me?” Because they’re a lot of bright kids. But we get asked, whether it’s people in church, people at work. My boss actually talked to me about it quite a bit.
Heidi: Doesn’t he also homeschool?
Laura: So that’s a source of encouragement for you guys then?
Rich: Yeah. I would say that as far as our church goes, I think it’s about 95% of the people who go there have kids that are homeschooled. So it’s neat in that there are questions being asked both ways.
Heidi: Yeah, I’m about two years ahead of one of the other mothers and so when she asks stuff, I get to sound like I know what I’m doing. The other thing that comes up, for me personally, I don’t know how much outside observers are looking at it or not, is that Cori has been articulate since she was two. Very articulate, complete thoughts, she will have a conversation with you. And to some extent you can tell that the things that are important to her are the things that are important to a typical 3, 4, 5, 6-year-old. Milli is not articulate.
Laura: And she’s how old?
Heidi: She’s two. She’s almost three. She’ll be three very soon.
Laura: And at that age Cori was speaking in complete sentences.
Heidi: Exactly. So I feel like, to some extent, kids who can talk have a leg up on perception. Because there are things that Milli knows, that I know she knows, that no one else in the entire world will know about until she can say them clearly. Like, she’s got her colors down, she knows a lot of letters, and she’s constantly telling me “Two of this, two of that, two of the other thing.” “I want both.” She’s got some of these constructs mentally down that she can’t express.
Rich: And distinguishing between both and all.
Heidi: Yeah, both and all. She was talking to us and she’s like “I’m daddy.” And Rich said, “No, I’m daddy.” And she said, “We’re both daddy.” And then I said, “Well, what am I?” And she said, “We’re all daddy.” And so I was just kind of floored, because she’s expressing these concepts and she knows these colors and things like that and she’s definitely absorbing information. But it makes me think about other kids and how they’re perceived, because they can’t say it yet. So there’s a little bit of a perception that Cori’s this ultra smart, ultra advanced genius whatever and you know, emotionally, she’s a six-year-old. In her ability to do most things, she’s a six-year-old. She can just express herself really well.
Laura: Yes, comparisons are often poison.
Heidi: So I wouldn’t want, I’m going to be trying to avoid measuring Milli by Cori. Trying to find her own strengths.
Rich: Well conversely, we can’t get Cori to really eat, but Milli’s super good at that.
Laura: So, we know that Cori had major physical defects when she was born. She had her abdomen sewn up when she was, a week old?
Heidi: She was four-days-old when they did the first surgery for the omphalocele.
Laura: Which is, the omphalocele means that her muscle wall, her abdominal wall did not close properly so part of her intestines and her liver were protruding through at birth?
Heidi: I think it was just liver, if I remember correctly, but they had it all wrapped up by the time we saw it…
Rich: I thought it was intestines and liver. Because they said, so minor and major they were explaining, the minor is if it’s just intestines and major is if it’s both.
Heidi: The major omphalocele is if it involves an organ, and it involved the liver. But honestly that was so emotional I don’t always trust my recollection on the details.
Laura: And then you found out after a couple of months that all her heart pipes weren’t connected right, so she wasn’t getting oxygen, so she had open heart surgery at two months?
Heidi: Two months, yes.
Laura: So do you feel like that affects your approach to teaching her, your concerns, your observations?
Rich: Energy levels.
Heidi: She has always been a little more tired than other children. She napped through five-years-old and Milli barely napped until two, just as a comparison.
Laura: But she’s also, but Cori’s also on the move all of the time, too.
Heidi: She runs around like a crazy person, absolutely. So there have been concerns on our part, I would say that if she’s fragile or if she’s sick and she doesn’t eat very much that all those things can contribute. You know, she prefers sugar to any other nutrients, which I hate to call sugar a nutrient, but there you go. She’s always been a fan of the quick energy. And she had some other issues over the past year that made us have to sit back and kind of evaluate her diet. She basically was not eating and so she wasn’t growing and so we had to start tracking some of that. So there has been a lot of time in her day taken up with these other concerns. Just in terms of time, when it takes us, and it’s not that way at the moment, right now I’d say it’s more like an hour per meal. But there was a time late last year where we were spending two or three hours per meal trying to feed her. There’s not a lot of time left in the day after that. And that was happening while we were originally trying to teach her to read. Which meant that her entire day was turning into stress. So from a very real point of view, if you have a serious issue with a kid where they’re taking these amounts of time to work through basic functions, you have to be really patient with anything else.
Laura: Right. Because just like character is foundational to much of learning, the physical needs are foundational to everything else.
Heidi: Exactly. And we’re pretty convinced at this point that the lack of nutrition and the presence in sugar in her diet was causing a lot of attention issues as well. So the sugar has been more or less cut out, she still gets treats here and there. But as much as we can, the sugar is not part of her daily experience. And we still, every so often, sit down and calculate, okay, what did she eat today, is she still hitting her goals? And a lot of it on a day to day basis is estimating because we’ve been feeding her for so long, the same things, that we have a good idea of what she has to eat to meet those goals. And she’s starting to get used to the idea that these are goals she has to meet, even though she still doesn’t like it. I mean, she told me, just the day before yesterday, “But you know I don’t like to eat. I’m never hungry.” And it’s hard for me to say how much of that is her just mimicking back something we’ve said to her. Because she said one time, “I don’t like to eat” and I said “You never like to eat.” Or she’ll say “I’m not hungry” and I’m like “You’re never hungry.” And I didn’t mean to make that part of her identity, but kids do that. I was trying to convey that this is not the basis on which you eat or don’t eat.
Rich: But this is an example of why the homeschooling for us, another reason why it works so well. Because who is going to do that for your kid? Who is going to say, “Kid’s fallen off the charts and we need to make sure that we’re hitting macro and calorie.” Just to get some food in her, who’s going to spend that time and who’s going to back off some of the requisite learning stuff just to make that happen and feel that out. It’s a good positive.
Laura: Well, is there anything else you want to throw in here or anything that you would like to ask me? Of course, you guys can ask me whatever you want all of the time, so that’s nothing special.
Rich: I love curriculums, like I think that was one of the ways that Heidi got me engaged was just to have me looking and doing research and stuff like that. What’s your thought on curriculums? Do you like them, are you a person who more likes to come up with your own sort of curriculum? Do you look for things, or did you look for things?
Laura: I think that the attitude toward curriculum is the most important. I think that the more boxed, the more all-encompassing a curriculum the more stifling and time wasting it tends to be. More stressful. That’s not to say that there can’t be some things that are useful in their programmed approach. But I don’t think that any curriculum has to be used as quote unquote as the designers or the experts say. Because you can find it fits or doesn’t fit in any particular time period or any particular child. I know we had some history books, I used to joke that in order to teach Heidi all I had to do was give her a book and she would just read it. But then I found that those same books for other kids were just too try, they weren’t interested. And so we dropped them. We went on to something else that was more interesting to them.
Rich: So even within your own family there was a lot of diversity in how you would present information and maybe curriculum that worked for one just wasn’t a fit for the other?
Laura: Right. And I think, again, it’s kind of how you define curriculum. Because some people define curriculum as an all-encompassing thing that one company provides for all subjects.
Rich: Oh, okay, no, I don’t think…
Laura: You don’t, okay. And some people think about, it’s whatever you use to teach your kids, it’s any kind of programmed thing. And I did find different resources for different things that we wanted to approach that helped to lead us through those things. But always keeping in mind being flexible for what seemed to come up, anything from it’s not working well with a child to, “Oh, hey, we’re moving to Taiwan in two months, what shall we do there?” Because that presented some unique opportunities for those kids that Heidi never had. Heidi didn’t get a course in Chinese history that included multiple trips to the National Palace Museum.
Heidi: Nope, I just have to ask you guys all my questions.
Laura: So does that answer your question about curriculum?
Rich: Yeah, yeah.
Heidi: We have a mix and match approach too, we both have a soft spot in our heart for the Saxon math and I fondly remember quite a few different English and literature studies. But that’s because those were my favorites. I made it through the history, but I remember falling asleep while reading history. It was hard sometimes.
Laura: Well, even with Saxon math, we didn’t use it for the lower grades. I don’t think that the curriculum for the lower grades had been developed yet when you guys were being taught? But they came with instructions that were emphasized over and over that in order to get what you need to from this program you absolutely need to do every single problem. No you don’t. We did every other. They self corrected some of them, I corrected others of them. If there was a particular type of problem that they were getting wrong, then they did all of those problems. Because at that level at least, Saxon math had the spiral review, so that they didn’t just teach one concept and leave it behind, but they had you reviewing it for quite a while to get it more
solidly entrenched in the mind.
Heidi: There’s a little bit of that in the first grade book where you do a thing and then two days later you revisit it and two days later you revisit it and kind of try to build. But you’re building on a couple of different things and you’re constantly reviewing certain basics, so they definitely built some of that in, it’s nice. And they actually added some aspects of weather and natural science which Cori just finds fascinating. We got to cut apples open and count the seeds, that sort of thing.
Laura: So, making math more practical, making it something they can relate to, instead of a dry subject.
Heidi: Yeah. I’ve come to the conclusion that handwriting curriculum, you’ve just got to pick one and do it, but we’re enjoying a lot of the English and writing things that we’ve selected.
Rich: At what point did you kind of introduce spelling for the kids?
Laura: You know, I can’t say that I remember for sure. And again, I tried some workbooks, probably in the later grade school time period, after reading was more solidly established and we were trying to actually write, like composition kind of writing. And again, different kids did okay with that. I think that Heidi liked to fill out those, like let’s fill in the spaces, let’s get it done. But I think she already knew how to spell and that’s why there was no stress to it. You know, it was just a coloring book in a manner of speaking.
Heidi: It was fun.
Laura: Yeah, but for another child, spelling was a great challenge and I tried about three or four different ways of approaching it until I found the curriculum Spelling Power, which again, I then modified to fit him. And then spelling was a breeze after that.
Heidi: We’ve been kind of using the AlphaPhonics book as kind of a basic spelling approach. So she can practice spelling words that she’s supposed to know how they’re basically constructed. But her favorite thing so far has been doing word searches. I build them out of the words that she’s supposed to be learning, she reads it and then she goes and finds it. And I’m just trying to emphasize, you have to have these letters in this order to make this word.
Laura: Right, and if she thinks it’s a game and that’s interesting, then that’s great. Well, thank you very much for doing this, it’s been a great way to kick off the interviews.
Heidi: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Laura: Okay, that’s a wrap. If any of you have questions, in particular for Heidi, as she’s someone who was taught at home and who is now teaching her children at home, you can submit them to me and I will see if she’s in the mood to answer them. But for now, thank you for listening and we will see you next time.