a homeschool life conversation with kimberly lowry
Introduce yourself and your family.
Hi, I feel honored that Elizabeth asked me to talk about how I homeschool. My name is Kimberly. I grew up in a little town in south-east Idaho. I have 7 children. My oldest daughter is 20 and is a sophomore in college. I then have 2 boys ages 17 and 15. Next, 3 girls ages 11, 10, and 8, and finally a boy age 3. We live in Fairbanks, Alaska and although we spend most of the year freezing, Alaska is a great place to raise kids. I homeschool all of my children, and have since my oldest was in 3rd grade.
I took my kids on an “Epic Adventure” this year around the western United States. We traveled 13,300 miles, visited 8 states, Canada, checked 8 things off my bucket list, and were gone for 3 ½ months. It was fabulous! What a wonderful, incredible experience we had, and I can’t wait to do something similar again.
I believe that every person is a genius, and that we have each been given a mission from God to fulfill in this life. God blesses us with talents and desires that help us prepare for and fulfill that mission. My job as a parent is to create the right atmosphere for learning to take place, including inspiring, mentoring, and modeling what I want my children to do and become. I believe children are naturally curious and love to learn, and when the learning environment is right, there isn’t anything they can’t do.
Why do you homeschool?
Hmmm, there are so many reasons that I homeschool, but I think it goes back to when I was a kid. My dad was always studying, and he taught us that we could learn/teach ourselves anything through reading, and he lived what he taught. He is one of the most educated men I know and so much of his learning was self-taught. My mom also read to us a lot when I was a kid, and between the two of them they instilled within me a deep love of reading and learning.
My oldest was around 4 years old when I heard a radio program talking about education and how the purpose of modern education has shifted from improving yourself to preparing students for a job/job training. At the time, I thought “of course education is for job training,” because even though I had a love for reading and learning, I equated it to bettering my situation in life financially and getting a better career, and not as self-improvement. I really liked the idea though, that education should help you become a better person and that the sole purpose of it shouldn’t be to make more money. The thought stayed with me and is still what I focus on in educating my children today.
When my first child went to Kindergarten, I had two friends that homeschooled and were always talking about it. One was a veteran homeschooler and the other was homeschooling that year for the first time. I had never considered homeschooling, but I became very curious about it after listening to them talk. My friend that was the veteran homeschooler gave me some books to read, and I checked out every book from the library about homeschooling that I could get my hands on. I loved the idea that students could study their interests and passions. I discovered that learning could be so much more than reading a text book and answering a few questions. I loved the idea that children are naturally curious and that they love to learn and will learn in the right environment. I loved the thought that you can become great by learning about great people, and that you can learn good character traits from reading beautiful classics. I also read about different learning styles and that because everyone is different, education can’t be a one-size-fits-all. At that time, my kindergartener was doing great academically, but struggling socially. Everyday I would drag her crying to the school bus. I had planned to homeschool the next year, but that year my husband and I divorced. I had to go back to school then, and I didn’t feel I could devote the time necessary to homeschooling her as well. Two years later, I was remarried and living in Alaska, and after dragging my daughter to the bus everyday again in 2nd grade, I decided I was finally ready to homeschool. I made the decision days before school began for my daughter who was starting 3rd grade and my son who was starting 1st grade.
What does your morning routine look like?
I always try to get up and read my scriptures and pray before my kids wake up in the morning, and I recently stumbled upon the book “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod. What a great book! He outlines 6 things successful people do every morning. They include: silence/meditation, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading, and journaling/writing. I did the miracle morning all month of November before my children got up, and I am planning on starting it back up again in January. After I finish my miracle morning, I get the younger children up (the older ones are already up and gone to early morning seminary) and the younger kids eat breakfast while I get ready for the day. After we eat breakfast, I have chore time with the younger kids. While I do chores with the younger kids, my oldest 2 boys work on school work and then go to the local high school for 2 choir classes. The older boys do their chores in the evenings. Chores take about an hour and then we have what I call circle time. Circle time is one of my favorite times of the day. We start with a song and a prayer and then we read together from our picture scripture story books, with each of the girls taking turns. After we read, we practice learning a new hymn and work on memorizing a poem. After we work on our memorization, I will usually read to them a short story with a moral or a character trait I think we should work on. I really like “The Book of Virtues” and “The Moral Compass” by William J. Bennet. Next, I read a chapter or a few pages out a book that is centered around a theme or a subject that I pick at the beginning of the year that I want us to study, like geography or ancient history. After circle time the 3 girls rotate between reading, math on the computer (we use Teaching Textbooks), and practicing piano. While they are rotating between subjects my 3-year-old will usually listen to the one that is reading or will play with puzzles and games that we usually only get out during school time. Then it’s lunch time.
My boys are up early and eat breakfast when they come home from early morning seminary, and the younger kids get breakfast for themselves while I get myself ready for the day. My younger kids have lunch when they are finished with their rotation subjects. They finish at different times so I keep easy things on hand for them to make like soups and stuff for sandwiches, and my older boys make their own lunch when they get home from choir. At lunch time I decide what we are having for dinner that night. Years ago, I made a master list of every meal I knew how to make and then I listed the ingredients needed for each meal below it. Before I go shopping, I look at my master list of meals and I make up a list of meals for 2 weeks. I also love Pinterest for meal planning. I have a board for meals I would like to make and a board for meals I have made and love, so that I can quickly find what I am looking for. Having the master list helps me quickly and easily make a two-week list of meals. I buy all the ingredients I need for those meals, so I really only need to go grocery shopping twice a month. I will run in for milk and bread or send my husband after work if we need a couple of items but for the most part I can stay away from the store which takes so much time. When I make up my meal plan for the two weeks I don’t assign a meal to each day, because some days are just hard or busier and I can’t cook a long meal, and some days I am home all day and can spend extra time cooking. I usually don’t know what the days are going to look like far enough in advance to plan what meals are going to be for which day, so I look at my two-week list of meals and decide that day at lunch. If it is something that can go in the crock pot I will get that going, if not I make sure I have everything for the meal that I am planning, and get things started that need extra time. My husband gets home at 5:30 and I try to eat around 6:00.
What does your school planning involve?
Every year I make what I call an inventory on each child. I prayerfully write down everything I can think of about that child. I write their gifts and strengths, their weakness, and their struggles. I evaluate how they are doing spiritually, physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually, and I try to fill a whole notebook page on each child. I spend at least an hour for each child praying about them and writing, and then most importantly I write down what that child needs from me, and how I can help them. I then talk with my husband about the list, and he adds things that I have missed and shares what he thinks they need from him. Next, we have what we call mentor meetings with our children. We sit down with each child, one on one, and we help them write out goals. For the older kids, the goals are more in-depth than they are for the younger kids. For the older kids we ask them where they want to be in 10 years, 5 years, one year, and what they think they need to do to get there. Then we talk about what they need from us to help them reach those goals. We then help them set weekly goals in their school subjects. For the younger kids it’s more about what they want to learn about in the next week, what we can help them with, and how their life is in general. Ideally we would have mentor meeting with our older kids each week and our younger kids every other week, but sadly I’m not that consistent. I refer to the inventory on each child frequently throughout the year and add to it and see if we are going in the right direction. I look at my job as a mentor to my children in that I help them become the person they should become. I believe each of us has a mission given to us by God to accomplish in our time here and so every person needs to learn different things. Their education should be tailored to their mission. They often times know so much more about what they need then I do, and it’s my job to guide them and help them to accomplish what they want.
How do you teach different ages/different needs?
Other than circle time in the morning, I don’t do a lot of “teaching” in the sense that everyone sits and listens to me give a prepared lesson. Rotating subjects allows me to work with my beginner readers, or help someone with a question in math or piano. But my goal for my children is to teach them how to teach themselves, so that they can work independently. By the time my children are middle school age they need very little help from me.
Math was one area where this use to be a real struggle for us. I would have some kids that needed me to sit next to them for a whole lesson. I would have to read the lesson, teach the lesson, and answer a million questions about what I just taught. Using Teaching Textbooks has really helped for this in math. Everything is done on the computer. The kids are taught a lesson, and everything is graded on the computer. If they miss more than one question they must go back and correct all the questions they got wrong. If they have a question about a problem, they can get a hint about how to do it as well. Most of their other learning is reading and projects they can do on their own.
My older kids need me to correct their writing and answer questions, but for the most part can work independently.
Also, for my older kids I don’t feel it’s my job to teach them every subject. Often, I think it is my responsibility to help them find the best person for the job. My goal is to help them get the best education they can, so if that means finding another class or person that can help them better than I can, that is what we do. During my daughter’s senior year of high school, we hired a mentor for her that she met with each week as she prepared for college. They read and discussed great literature and he helped mentor her in her goals for the future. She also took online classes throughout her four years of high school and enrolled in classes at the local university for her senior year. My oldest son has also taken online classes, piano, cello, and voice lessons, and both of my sons are currently taking 2 choir classes at the local high school.
How do you handle kids acting out, complaining, or not wanting to do schoolwork?
I usually think there are 4 reasons for a child acting out. They are either, hungry, tired, they don’t understand what they are doing so they become frustrated, or they just have a bad attitude. First, I try to evaluate which one of those is happening at that moment. My oldest daughter used to get so grouchy when she was hungry, so often it was just a matter of getting her a snack. That one is easy to fix. Next, are they too tired? Maybe they were up late the night before and they need to go have a nap. Usually the mention of the word “nap” is enough to clear up the problem, but sometimes they really do need to take a break and go have a nap. If it is a frequent problem, then I need to evaluate what time they are going to bed and adjust our nighttime schedule accordingly. Third, and I think this is the most common problem, is that they are frustrated with what I’m asking of them. They may not understand what to do, it’s taking too long, or they are frustrated with how it is going. Usually they don’t know how to put all of that into words so it comes out as acting out. I have a daughter that gets upset sometimes when she is doing math and says she hates it and doesn’t want to do it. Usually, if I just take some time to sit with her and see where she is having a problem, then the grouchiness goes away. Finally, just a bad attitude. Sometimes kids just have a bad attitude and nothing we do seems to help that day. If that is happening I give my children the option of doing chores instead of doing school work. Sometime they will choose chores over school work and sometimes they won’t, and sometimes I assign chores if they are keeping the other kids from doing their work. To me learning self-control, hard work, and learning to get along with others is more important than school work, so I try to remember that when time is taken away from school to address those other needs.
What is the general schedule of your day?
My general schedule for the day is:
- Mom up, read scriptures, pray/do Miracle Morning.
- Get boys up and off to seminary.
- Younger kids up for breakfast while I shower and get ready for the day, older boys are home and work on their own schoolwork.
- Circle time, older boys out the door to the high school for choir.
- I read aloud a chapter book to the younger kids. When the older boys come home from the high school they have lunch and work on their schoolwork.
- Individual learning and project time. This is where the kids work on the things that interest them. Science projects, art projects, sewing, audio books, quiet reading, extra piano practice, all those things happen during this time.
- Then play time with friends or outside, this is usually when I read or study on my own.
- 5 minute clean.
- Swim team. Two of my girls do swim team and between the two of them there is practice every day.
- Dinner/Clean up.
- Family Time: which can be games, a TV program, or a family read aloud.
- Family scriptures and prayer.
I try not to schedule any outside activities or appointments until after 2:00 in the day. I have learned that I have to be very protective of my mornings, because if we get off track in the morning then it is extremely difficult to get back on track later in the day.
How do you keep your house clean/laundry done?
*Sigh* Laundry is an everyday thing. I try to make sure that I do two loads of laundry a day. If I can do two loads a day I can pretty much stay on top of it. I also teach my kids how to do their own laundry when they are around 10 years old, so for the most part my boys do their own laundry. During our morning chore time is when I fold clothes. If I just have two batches to fold it isn’t too bad. If I have more to fold I have the younger kids come sit with me and I have everyone fold their own clothes and it goes much faster.
As for the rest of the house, a few years ago, I sat down and made a list of every chore that needed to be done in every room of the house. I then divided them into categories: 2 times a day, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Then I divided up the two times a day and the daily chores between me and my children. That way all of the daily chores are getting done every day. We try to do the weekly and monthly chores on Saturday. That doesn’t always happen so sometimes I give the weekly chores to children as a consequence for misbehaving or for when they don’t want to do school. I usually take a week off from school every 6-8 week so I can catch up on errands, appointments, and the weekly and monthly chores that I haven’t had time to get to.
What are your daily essentials (must-do daily things)?
I think the most important thing is my own prayer and scripture study in the mornings. If I start the day off right with those two things, the rest of the day is always better. I also make sure we do our chores every day. I cannot function in a cluttered house. And next, I always try to have circle time.
How do you know what to leave undone?
Years ago, I made a list of everything I wanted my children to know when they left my house. I also made a list of the most important things for me to be doing in my life, and I try to put those things first in the day. If the day gets off track or we get busy at least we have done those most important things. I think of it as putting rocks and sand in a jar. If we fill the jar first with sand it is full of the little things and there is no room for the larger rocks, but if we put the larger rocks in first, which are the most important things, then there is still room for the sand. If I’ve done the most important things every day that is what counts. If other things fall by the wayside that is fine because they aren’t the most important things.
What helps you on a hard day?
Prayer and a friend that homeschools and knows what I am going through every day. So often I will call up my best friend Amy, and it is amazing how it helps to just have someone listen and sympathize.
Some days, I put myself in time out. If I have a day where I can feel my patience running thin, I will take time at lunch to go in my room, shut the door, and just be by myself. I’ve learned that it’s okay to say to my children that I just need some time to myself, and I don’t need to feel guilty about it. I can’t give what I don’t have. If I’m not calm I can’t expect my children to be, so it’s okay to remove yourself and take a break.
What makes a really great day? When everyone is happy and getting along and busily engaged working on the things they love.
What do you do to rejuvenate yourself? I try to take time for myself each day to read, study, and create on my own. I really enjoy photography and I am passionately studying photography every chance I get.
I have a wonderful husband who is quick to notice when I need some time away to myself. Those times I usually go to the local bookstore and enjoy a couple hours to myself.
Also, date night with my husband rejuvenates me and keeps me going for a long time. We try to have a date at least every other week. It really does makes my whole week go better when we take the time to focus on our relationship.
What are your long-term education goals for your family? My long-term educational goals for my family are that everyone knows how to learn, that they love to learn, and that they continue to learn for the rest of their lives. I think that if you know how to learn and you love to learn there isn’t anything in the world, especially now with technology the way it is, that you can’t teach yourself. So many people have self-defeating ideas that learning can only take place in a classroom and that learning isn’t necessary after you graduate from school. But, to me learning is fun, it’s exciting, it helps me become better, it helps me grow and do new things. It helps me fulfill my dreams. Learning has meaning and purpose, and it benefits you and all those around you.
What do you love most about homeschooling? I love that I get to spend time with my children. I love that I get to help them discover the joy of learning. I also get to watch their passions and dreams materialize, and I get to help them work toward those dreams.
I also love that I get to learn right along with my children.
Anything else you can include that you think would be helpful?
My oldest daughter is home from college for the Christmas break and I thought it would be fun to ask her a few questions about her homeschool experience.
Are you glad you were homeschooled?
Homeschooling allowed me to focus on my own interests and study what I wanted. It gave me more freedom to take classes from other places other than just the local public school. I was able to take online classes and classes from the university. I participated in book clubs, and I was able to put more effort into my music lessons and sports. I was also glad I didn’t have to deal with any of the silly drama that comes from going to public school. You mean the teenage drama? Yes.
Do you think homeschool sufficiently prepared you for college?
I didn’t go into college with a dislike of learning like a lot of kids have when they leave high school. How else did it prepare you? I felt for a while I was ahead of the other kids in my English classes, because I had already read so many of the books and essays we discussed in class on my own and in book clubs. Reading so much helped my writing and my grammar, and helped me better analyze and discuss texts, which was a huge advantage when I got to college.
Do you feel like you missed out socially by being homeschooled, because that’s always the big question, “What about their social skills?”
No, because I had plenty of opportunities to interact with people and develop relationships through things like church, homeschool groups, book club, and sports. Those were the people that I liked and wanted to spend time with and not people that I was forced to be around.
Is there anything from the public school experience you wish you had had, but didn’t?
No, because if there was anything that I had really wanted to do I know I could have done it there or elsewhere, like the boys taking choir at the high school now.
One thing that dad was worried about when we decided to homeschool was that you guys wouldn’t learn the responsibility that comes with handing assignments in on time and studying for tests? Do think that is a skill you lacked or was this a problem for you when you got to college?
I felt like I learned those skills just fine through my book club, music lessons and other classes I participated in. I didn’t have a problem when I got to college.
Do you think you will homeschool your own kids?
Kimberly is an adventurer at heart. Her hobbies include photography, and reading and discussing great books. Some day she hopes to move somewhere warm and never have to wear winter gear again, but for right now she is surviving and thriving in Alaska. The best place to find her is on Instagram @KimberlyMLowry You can also read more about her crazy adventures on her blog www.64degreesn.com that sadly isn’t updated as often as it should be.