If you’ve ever thought about homeschooling your kids, you’re not alone — so many parents have considered the benefits of helping their children learn in a way that best suits their own unique needs.
At the same time, it’s an intimidating prospect, and understandably so. Here, Lisa Violo, founder of Happy Homeskool, shares her valuable insights into the many forms homeschooling can take, and why learning isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Tell us about your journey and experience with homeschooling.
My husband and I are out-of-the-box thinkers that try to live life to its fullest. We were always interested in homeschooling and we read a lot about it when our daughter Mara was an infant. We had many reasons for wanting to try it, but it was mainly to spend as much time as we could together as a family. Initially we sent our daughter to school because our work schedules had been too busy to keep her home. But for grade three, we decided to take the leap so we made adjustments and started homeschooling.
We’re glad that we sent our daughter to school first. It wasn’t a good fit for us, which gave us the confidence to start homeschooling. We love homeschooling for so many reasons, and we don’t ever imagine sending our daughter back to school.
With so many philosophies and methods available today, can you give us a quick overview of some of the trending methods such as radical unschooling, world schooling, and traditional homeschooling?
Yes! There are many homeschool philosophies and there isn’t one “best” approach. I could go into great detail on all of them, but the simplest way to describe it is that some families use a full curriculum, just like at school. Other families unschool, allowing children to take the lead on their own learning and learn through experiences. Worldschoolers take the approach that the world is a classroom and educate their children through travelling. Some families do it full time, others have a home base and take multiple trips throughout the year.
I’m asked a lot about our family’s homeschool style, and we use a hybrid approach. In fact, many families I speak with use a hybrid. For example, we don’t use a single curriculum. We source multiple resources, in-person and online, to help educate our daughter. We also take many days off school to incorporate free time and allow our daughter to explore her main interests. Educational vacations and field trips are a big part of our program as well. Last year we went to Boston to visit the Museum of Science, Harvard University campus, Fenway Park, and more. I also took her to see two films on social issues at the Toronto Film Festival. We also regularly hike, go cycling, visit antique malls and more. A few hands-on experiences lead to more learning than weeks in a traditional school environment.
No matter which philosophy you choose to embrace, there will be a period of deschooling for the entire family. This is the adjustment period that you and your children go through when leaving school and starting to homeschool. It’s a period of time where everyone needs to reprogram away from school expectations and develop a new approach that will work at home. Stay positive — this may take your entire first year of homeschooling, and that’s okay!
You’ve mentioned that some common fears parents have around homeschooling include fears around not doing a good job, not being a teacher, fears around teaching math, the list goes on. What advice do you give to parents considering homeschooling?
There are many fears around homeschooling, and I understand why. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our kids won’t succeed in life if they don’t attend school and get As, but this simply isn’t true. Parents also fear that they aren’t smart enough to teach their children. I’m a part-time university professor, and I can tell you that formal education is not the best or only approach. Homeschooling is a customized approach that can be tailored to your child’s specific needs.
My favorite quote related to parental fears around teaching their children is:
Don’t question your ability to teach your child. Question putting your child into the same system that left you feeling incapable of teaching your child.
The author is unknown, but whomever it was hit the issue on the head. Most of us went to primary school and high school, right? If we learned and retained so much knowledge in that system, then why are so many parents incapable of teaching their children grade three math? The truth is, many of us don’t remember much of what we learned in school. I tell parents that are deciding whether to homeschool to think of themselves as a manager or facilitator of their child’s learning — you don’t have to be their only teacher. In fact, if desired, you don’t have to be their teacher at all. There are so many resources out there to help you. Overall, you and your children are the most qualified people to guide their lifelong learning process.
How do you guide homeschooling parents around finding a curriculum to follow that fits their child?
We don’t have a lot of experience with fulsome curriculums because we don’t use one. As mentioned prior, we use a hybrid approach and multiple resources. First, I tell parents to ask themselves, “Why do we want to use a curriculum?” Sometimes it’s only because they thought they “had” to. In this case, I discuss other approaches so they can consider all options. If parents feel strongly about using a curriculum, I provide them a list of well-reviewed and respected curriculums and point them to where they can trial it, buy it or learn the pros and cons. Curriculum selection also depends on whether a family is secular (like us, we are non-religious homeschoolers) or if they are faith-based. There are both secular and faith-based curriculums out there to meet the needs of all families.
What are some of your favorite homeschooling curriculums out there?
We use a hybrid of sources. We love Outschool.com. We also use IXL, Prodigy Math, Duolingo, Khan Academy and more. Some popular “full”curriculums include: Oak Meadow, Torchlight, Blossom & Root, Beast Academy, Learning House, Build Your Library and more. If you are looking for something faith-based, Abeka and Tree of Life may be good options for you. You can also use the Canadian Curriculum books, which are available at many retailers. There are curriculum options that include all subjects but many families also use a number of programs for various subjects.
Any favorite books for homeschooling parents?
One of my favourite books of all time is The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. I read it six years ago, and it was one of our first inspirations to try homeschooling. It’s not about homeschooling, it’s about how to best parent your child by letting them take the lead in their own lives. I re-read it every couple of years so I don’t slip backwards in my approach.
Two homeschool books I enjoyed are The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart and the Call of the Wild And Free by Ainsley Arment. That being said, I am hesitant to recommend books on homeschooling. Philosophies and ideas presented in books about homeschooling or unschooling can be polarizing, depending on the parent’s personal views and life circumstances. I suggest reading homeschool books with an open mind, realizing that you may have different values or choose to do things differently.
Any advice for parents who are strongly considering homeschooling but struggling to commit?
The best piece of advice I can give is that there is no risk in trying because your decision is always reversible. I recommend homeschooling for at least one year and if it doesn’t work for your family, you can send your kids back to school. If you love it, then you can keep going.
Also, you truly need to enjoy spending time with your kids as you will spend a lot of time with them. Lastly, make sure you have support so you can book “me” time. A burnt out mom, dad or guardian won’t be at their best for their children if they aren’t taking care of themselves.
What trends do you see on the way for homeschooling?
The biggest trend I am seeing is the increase in families considering homeschooling. Many families are seeing homeschooling or unschooling as real possibilities for their family. The reasons I’m hearing are health concerns, dissatisfaction with their school’s performance and a desire to live more consciously. This pandemic has been a wake-up call for some families who realize that if you are lucky enough to have your health, spending time with your children and family should be at the top of your priority list.
What were the biggest successes you had (and perhaps something that didn’t work as well) from your own homeschooling experience?
The successes are many. We are even closer to our daughter than we were before because we spend more time with her. Our daughter really enjoys being able to have influence over her day instead of having a strict school day. She loves that science can include an experiment or building a lego creation. We love the trips and mini field trips we take, which are both fun and educational. My daughter also launched her own business on Etsy creating and selling home décor items. Overall, we’ve been able to spend more time together while allowing my daughter to spend more time on her passions.
An idea that didn’t work as expected was attempting to follow a schedule at the beginning. During the deschooling period, it takes a while to figure out what works. We initially thought that a strict schedule would be the best approach. However, it was clear over time that a flexible routine was a better fit for us, and sometimes we even skip the planned routine altogether. We wrote a blog post here on schedules which may be helpful for parents that are starting to homeschool. Also, for working parents out there like us, it was a bigger struggle than expected to balance my remote work and homeschooling, which led me to reduce my workload and seek family support to balance everything successfully.
Any suggestions for parents who are thinking of homeschooling but prefer to avoid or keep tech at a minimum?
We live on three acres in the country so we use the outdoors as one of our biggest teachers. I recommend getting outside to learn about gardening, animals, plants and more. You can also source books from the library, print free online resources and order paper-based curricula. We also use a lot of educational board games, which are both fun and educational at the same time. A few of our favourites include Prime Climb, Wingspan, Scrabble, Catan and many more. Lastly, we use lots of hands-on materials such as Legos, science kits, a microscope, a telescope etc. Our daughter is nine, and we do allow technology for educational purposes, since there are many great free online learning resources. At this age, we believe it can be used safely in moderation. Overall, homeschooling can definitely be successful with or without the use of technology.
We love that your company mentors parents who are embarking on the homeschooling journey. Can you give a quick overview of your work and how can parents learn more about your services?
I see that many parents struggle with their decision to homeschool and how to prepare for their first year of homeschooling. I help parents through this process including their motivation to homeschool, the pros and cons of homeschooling, creating a support system and more. I also help with resources such as a creation of a schedule or researching resources that are best suited to a family’s needs. Overall, I offer homeschool coaching services aimed at helping prospective and current homeschool families as they progress through their homeschool journey.
Lisa is the founder of Happy Homeskool, and she homeschools her creative, fun-loving daughter Mara. She balances homeschooling along with her career as a Human Resources Consultant and part-time faculty member at a university in the Greater Toronto Area. She is very passionate about living life to its fullest with her family, and on their own terms. In 2014, Lisa and her family moved to three acres in the country to be surrounded by nature and give them lots of room to put up a basketball net, which is her family’s favorite sport. When her daughter would have been entering grade three, she and her family decided to try homeschooling, and they’ve never looked back!