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Interview Feature with…is a favorite feature of myself and readers. Designed to encourage busy moms by sharing interviews with homeschoolers that are not only homeschooling but juggling other things as well.
I love connecting with these amazing busy moms.
I really appreciate learning how they overcome the challenge of being a mom and all that comes with that, of being a homeschool mom and taking on the challenge of educating our children and add in the challenge of working.
I am happy to introduce you to Joan Concilio of Unschool Rules. Joan works full-time outside the home as a web developer and loves living life together with her nontraditional family, including Sarah, 17, a unschooler.
Question 1: Please share with us what made you begin the homeschooling adventure with your children?
Oh wow, I actually had so much “story” about this that I wrote a three-blog-post series about it.
The short version is that Sarah had been in public school until the middle of sixth grade, and she was absolutely having a hard time, not at all because of her ability to learn, but because of a bunch of “infrastructure” things that were a struggle because of things like being on the autism spectrum, having executive functioning challenges and struggling with learning differences like dyslexia.
Despite us being very involved every year, by sixth grade, Sarah was pigeonholed into all learning-support classes, even in areas where she had college-level subject knowledge, because of things like trouble with testing, trouble knowing what books to bring to class, needing more explanation of assignments, etc.
We had been thinking about bringing her home in seventh grade, but by January of sixth grade we knew it wasn’t going to work; she had such anxiety and stress that she was physically ill, and we needed to help her right then.
Question 2: What is your homeschool guiding principle?
We use the phrase “uncurriculum, unformal, unbelievably joyful” to describe who we are and what we do.
That sums it up pretty well – and yes, I know “unformal” is not a word, but that’s kind of the point – it actually conveys who we are – a little off-kilter – all the better for it. We have a longer mission statement that we wrote right after starting our homeschooling journey that sums up pretty well what we are and aren’t.
Question 3: How would you describe your homeschooling style?
We are radical unschoolers, which means we both follow unschooling principles as they relate to things many people would consider traditionally educational, but also that we use the same principles of relationship and consensus in our family outside of traditionally educational spheres.
That doesn’t mean that Sarah runs the house, or that all we do is play video games. It means that we work together as a team and treat Sarah as a whole person right now, not someone who is “going to be” someone someday.
Question 4: What is the hardest homeschooling challenge you have had to overcome?
People’s ideas of what Sarah is or isn’t capable of, and what her future might hold. “Oh, she’s not going to college? Oh, she has trouble writing/spelling? Is that because she’s homeschooled?”
Um, no, actually, she’s WAY further along than she was when she was in public school, and even more importantly to us, she’s happy and comfortable with who she is. I would trade that for anything she would have experienced in public school 10 times out of 10 – and in fact, I still have flashbacks to her coming home and crying that she was stupid, or a failure, or worthless.
If someone is convinced that public school is the only right way, I know I’m not going to convince them otherwise.
But I’m happy now that I’m at the point where those criticisms just don’t matter anymore – I know my daughter, and I know how much better our lives are, and that’s what matters.I know my daughter, and I know how much better our lives are, and that’s what matters.Click To Tweet
Question 5: Share a homeschooling win with us that stood out to you?
A couple of months after we started homeschooling, we took a whirlwind trip to the beach and just had an amazing time. It wasn’t anything that would have looked major to anyone else, but going from the state of stress and anxiety that Sarah was in, to a day where she was relaxed and running through the ocean… it just made us sure we were doing the right thing.
I’ve had hundreds of more moments like that in the past six years, but that’s the one where I just became SURE that we were where we needed to be.
Question 6: If you could go back and redo something in your homeschooling journey what would it be and why?
That’s easy: We’d have started sooner.
I kept thinking that it would get better, that I didn’t want to give up the support services potentially offered by the school, that sort of thing.
Now I just wish I had trusted what I already knew – that Sarah would thrive where she was valued, at home.
Question 7: Share with us how you find time to fit all the moving parts of homeschooling your children, your website and “life” in your day today?
So I’m really lucky – we have a large, nontraditional family and I’m not by any means the only person helping Sarah pursue the things she’s interested in.
A day in Sarah’s life might include time with me; with her dad, Chris (my ex-husband, who lives with us); with my fiancé, Dan; with my mom, also Joan; with her pets; with friends; at a theater group; any number of things.
Dan, Chris and I all work full-time about an hour away from home, so many days include Sarah and my mom home during the day.
Other days, I work from home and pop in and out of what she’s doing. Chris works primarily nights but has midweek off days – Wednesdays and Thursdays – that he spends primarily with Sarah.
Our schedule is nontraditional, but it works because we all take the moments where we can. It’s nothing to find Chris and Sarah watching a movie at 2 a.m. when he gets home from work, or for Sarah and I to have a deep talk about philosophy while getting haircuts.
Question 8: What do you wish non-homeschoolers knew about homeschooling?
That it doesn’t need to look like school at home or school-in-a-box.
Those are absolutely great methods that work well for some families, but I often hear from people who think they can’t homeschool because that wouldn’t be a good fit for their family.
It’s so great to be able to show them that there are other ways.
Question 9: If you could give a piece of advice to a parent who is considering homeschooling, who is also working, what would it be?
I actually wrote a whole guide to homeschooling as a working mom – but the short summary? Embrace flexibility, and focus on where you are and what you can do right now.
If you can’t spend 8 hours a day homeschooling, figure out what you can do in 6 – or 4 – or 2. If you can’t deal with another night of dishes, buy some paper plates. If you can’t attend a late meeting at work but have an hour commute, suggest a call during that time.
In a lot of cases, life is more flexible than we think!
Question 10: When children that are homeschooled are talking to you, what is the one thing you wish you could tell them?
To enjoy the time they have to focus on their passions.
In unschooling, that’s pretty much all the time; even in a more regimented homeschooling style, there is still more time for this than in public school in most cases.
On a more personal note, I always encourage homeschoolers to talk to their parents if something isn’t working for them. It’s very easy as parents to think we know what does and doesn’t “fit” our kids, but we’re wrong. A lot. So tell us!
Question 11: Your website offers so much information for parents, can you tell us what your favorite parts are?
Oh, wow, where to start? Here are a few favorites:
- The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript – This has resulted in multiple college acceptances – which is funny for a high-schooler who doesn’t plan to go to four-year college! The point is that you can absolutely create a valuable transcript that appeals to what colleges want, even with a more relaxed homeschooling style.
- The Ultimate Guide to Learning from Movies and TV Shows – Sarah knows more about World War II than I ever did, thanks almost entirely to… the dude who plays James Bond. Movies and TV shows are AWESOME and how we do a huge part of our learning.
- The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling With Biographies – Learning about people is the best way to learn about anything, in my opinion. Here’s some more about how we do that.
- Unschooling, 12th-Grade-Ish Style – This post looks at some of the things our family is pursuing together this year, and also includes links to similar posts from what would have been Sarah’s 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th-grade years (not that we ever work at anything that resembles a consistent grade level, but it helps to know how much mandatory reporting we have left!)
Thank you Joan for sharing your homeschool and work journey with us.
Read the rest of the series: Interview Feature With…