This is the third installment in an on-going series of interviews with homeschooling moms. For more information about this series please see the page entitled “Interviews.”
Today’s interview is with veteran homeschool mom, Jena Borah. Jena blogs over at Yarns of the Heart and I encourage all of my readers to give her site a visit. She does not post frequently but the quality and the content of her posts is fantastic. I personally spent a large chunk of time browsing the archives when I first found her site.
Suzy: First tell us a bit about your yourself and your family. How many years have you homeschooled?
Jena: We officially started in 1994 when Peter was 5. But of course, we all start teaching our kids at birth. Peter was home all 12 years, as well as Meg. Melissa went to public school for high school because she wanted to do sports, but by the last semester of her senior year, she’d had enough, so she stayed home and did an internship with the local police department, officially graduating from home school.
Suzy: How many children do you have and what ages are they?
Jena: Peter is 24, Meg is 21 and Melissa is 19. Each of them are very grateful we homeschooled and they plan to do the same with their children. Peter was a National Merit Scholar and attended the University of Chicago on a full ride scholarship. After college, he taught himself software development and has a great job in Chicago. He says his homeschooling taught him how to learn and that has given him an advantage. Meg and Melissa are both in college right now and they feel the same way. Their view of learning is not a passive, “let me sit here while you tell me what I need to learn.” They stand out in their classes because they ask questions and go beyond what is expected. They are active learners who aren’t burnt out from 12 years of institutional learning like the rest of their classmates.
Suzy: How would you classify your teaching style?
Jena: Unschooling, interest-led learning, relaxed.
Suzy: Has it changed since you first started homeschooling?
Jena: It changed with the kids’ needs. Sometimes (usually from August to October) we were more structured, getting a rhythm down of what I wanted to accomplish, then loosened up as the year went on.
Suzy: Despite its rising popularity, homeschoolers are still in the minority. How did you respond if/when family, friends, or even complete strangers would make negative comments?
Jena: I’d smile and talk about all the “schoolish” things they were doing, like what books they were reading, what topics they were into, what extra-curricular classes they were taking (sports, music, drama, art). Usually, when a person heard all the stuff they were doing, they felt satisfied that I wasn’t neglecting them and they were actually learning. Then, all they had to do was start talking to them and they would realize these were smart, well-adjusted kids.
Suzy: Stay at home moms, both homeschooling and not, often feel lonely and isolated due to the long hours spent alone with small children. Did you ever struggle with this? And if so, what helped you through it the most?
Jena: Sure! We would go places, visit friends, get involved with a homeschooling group. In the very beginning there was no homeschooling group in my town, so I started one. We met every Friday afternoon and the moms created classes and activities for the kids. I also let them watch educational television everyday so I’d get a break and I knew they were safe and learning something. Also, my husband was great about taking them anytime I needed it.
Suzy: As moms we wear many hats and homeschooling is a very time consuming matter. Did you ever struggle to take your “teacher hat” off and reconnect with your children or your husband or even yourself- away from homeschooling? What advice, if any, would you give to women regarding this balance?
Jena: My educational philosophy is to stay away from being teacher-like, so this was rarely an issue. Life was the classroom. Family relationships were part of the curriculum. Think of if as the preschool years never ending. You don’t feel like a teacher with your two-year-old–you’re just the mom teaching him how to walk and talk, reading books and answering questions. That relationship dynamic continues forever. Stay amazed at your child and his or her ability to learn. Talk to them like fellow pilgrims on this path of life. Of course, you are still the parent and have to have rules and order, but do it in a way that makes sense to the child.
Suzy: During the difficult times in one’s life, it can be easy to focus on the current situation rather than on the bigger picture. Many homeschooling moms feel defeated after a bad day. Looking back on your years homeschooing, was it worth it?
Jena: I always reminded myself to look at the climate of our home, not the day-to-day weather. And on days when it looked like they weren’t learning anything (which is impossible), I remembered that at least they weren’t sitting in a classroom all day, stressed and harassed. My mantra was to “Maintain the Joy of Learning and the Joy of Childhood.” If we did that, it was a successful day. Just looking at their lives now and their relationships with each other, it was more than worth it. I am so grateful we did it.
Suzy: If you could say only one sentence to a new homeschooling mom, what would that sentence be?
Jena: Relax and enjoy your kids as you endeavor to maintain the joy of learning and the joy of childhood.
Thank you, Jena for your time and your thoughtfulness in answering these questions. I encourage all of my readers to hop on over to Yarns of the Heart and peruse the archives, maybe say “hi.”
If you are a seasoned homeschool mom or a second generation homeschooler who would like to be interviewed for this series then please feel free to get into contact with me.
If any of my readers have any questions that they would like to see in future interviews then please let me know in the comments.