Homeschool families make learning part of family life.
by Choteau Acantha
Source: Choteau Acantha News
August 26, 2009
Parents decide to homeschool their children for many reasons.
For Fairfield area resident Heidi Konen, homeschooling is a lifestyle and a perfect fit for her family.
Choteau area resident Tami Hirschfeld wanted Christianity to be a big part of her son and daugther’s education.
They both are veterans at teaching their children at home.
Konen, lives with her husband, Michael, and their five children on a farm east of Fairfield. Daughter Abigail is starting seventh grade; Hannah, fourth grade; Nicholas second grade; and Madeline kindergarten. Daughter Waverly is 21 months old.
Heidi Konen said her decision to homeschool came about after a friend gave her a homeschooling catalog.
“It looked so interesting,” she said, and soon the seed of interest grew.
“Learning permeates every facet of our lives — farming, traveling, serving, character training and critical thinking. We just value the constant interaction with our kids and with each other,” she said.
Hirschfeld, who lives with her husband, David, and two children on a ranch west of Choteau, started homeschooling her daughter, Hannah, in kindergarten in Vermont and continued with her son, Isaac, after they moved to Choteau in 1995.
Hannah graduated this year and Isaac starts ninth grade lessons in September.
“When Hannah turned 4, we started buying workbooks, and then we started kindergarten with her,” Hirschfeld said. Hannah loved it so much and progressed so quickly, Hirschfeld said, that putting her in a public kindergarten class that would do over material she had already learned would not have served her well.
Konen said homeschooling has provided flexibility on the one hand and control on the other. The flexibility comes in handy on the farm, especially at harvest time in August and September. The family travels in the winter for family visits to California, for example, a difficult task if the children were in public school.
The Konens also turned to homeschooling for religious reasons. “Religion permeates the curriculum,” she said.
She starts the school year with a plan of instruction and every two years as the youngest child reached school age, he or she was brought into the group.
“We do most of our work at the kitchen table and do reading on the couch,” she said, explaining that having school desks proved to be impractical when the second and third child started school. At noon, the schoolwork is set aside until lunch is over.
Konen said she learned what worked best for one grade, and kept all the materials, so as the next child entered that grade the flow of work was easier. On the other hand, Konen and Abigail experienced a new curriculum each year. While mom teaches during the day, dad goes over the children’s work at night.
The baby naps at 10 a.m. and that is the time set aside for one-on-one reading.
Konen said that when she made the decision to homeschool, she was prepared to deflect pressure from friends and relatives who thought it was a bad idea. That did not happen. More than once, she heard comments from people who thought of doing it but never did, and they responded with “good for you,” she said.
Regarding outside pressure, Hirschfeld said, “I am so blessed, both of our families supported us from day one.”
Konen said that some folks who knew that she was an elementary teacher (she taught at Greenfield and Power schools for two years and at a junior high in Washington state) assumed that it must have been easier for her to homeschool; however, Konen prefers not to judge her ability against other parents.
“I have a lot of homeschool friends who don’t have teaching credentials,” she said, adding that the most important element is a desire to educate one’s children in an atmosphere of family unity and closeness.
Hirschfeld was able to assess the young Hannah’s progress because she has a teaching degree and taught kindergarten and first grade.
“I decided to keep going. It turned out to be a real blessing for our family,” she said.
Hannah received a merit scholarship to Carroll College in Helena this year based on her 4.0 grade-point average rendered through the A Beka Book program, that is “unashamedly Christian and traditional in our approach to education,” according to the program’s Web site. The company offers a K-12 curriculum of textbooks and materials.
The Hirschfelds sent Hannah’s work to the company every six weeks during her senior year. After grading it and keeping track of her progress, the company produced a transcript that made the paperwork transition to college smoother.
Hirschfeld said that in the early years the school sessions started at the kitchen table, but when Hannah started fourth grade, they began using instructional DVDs. She then set up two rooms for the children so that one’s lessons would not disturb the other.
Hirschfeld said elementary lessons were easier than high school lessons, but still the children blossomed and have been very happy to be homeschooled. They became friends with many children through private sports programs in Great Falls, and more recently, in Choteau.
To prepare for each new school year, Hirschfeld combs through homeschool catalogs and she checks the state requirements for that grade level.
“By the end of summer I am confident of what we need,” she said. The children took nationally standardized tests to verify their grade level and participated in what testing the local public school uses for aptitude and assessment.
“In our particular case, I welcomed the testing,” she said. Legislative attempts to make testing mandatory for homeschooled children in Montana have been unsuccessful because of the activism of parents who do not want it to be mandatory.
Abigail is in junior high, and the Konens have not made a decision on whether to homeschool her through the high school grades.
“It’s a continual question, we are aware of that. We want to do the best for our child,” she said.
The Konen children participate in soccer, 4-H, county spelling bees and the various educational events open to all children. Konen added that her children learn social skills and make friends at these events and through interaction with the family. To evaluate her curriculum and to make sure she was “on the right track” she has used standard aptitude tests on occasion.
“I did not question my decision to homeschool, but I do have days and moments of doubt when under stress. That is normal,” Konen said.
“We are eight years into it. It’s not a challenge; it’s a joy. We learn together,” she said, noting that she and Michael have witnessed their children’s minds and talents develop.
Hirschfeld said she observed different learning styles between her children and adapted the curriculum to address that.
As far as teaching goes, Hirschfeld said, “I am called in that direction. It’s something I love.
However, like Konen, she said having a teaching degree is not necessary. “I know so many parents who don’t have a degree in teaching. It depends on how badly you want to homeschool. It takes patience and time,” Hirschfeld said.
The family has made friends of parents who homeschool and the children cooperated in music and art projects, AWANA, soccer and swimming.
Hannah participated in team gymnastics in Great Falls and Isaac was in baseball. He now plays racquetball in Great Falls and participated in the junior nationals in Michigan.
“I wish I had three more to home school. I am dreading the day I finish,” Tami said. “It’s brought all of us joy and happiness, and it’s been a pleasure all the way through. It brought our family so much closer than if we had not homeschooled. When I compare the homeschool experience to my public school days, one big difference is in having taken Bible classes. Hannah and Isaac have a deep understanding and a love for God. That comes first because of homeschooling.”
Konen said she appreciates the work that homeschool advocates did in the 1980s in Montana to secure the freedom to homeschool “the way we are doing it and doing it well.”
“The amount of sacrifice and commitment involved on the parents’ part is an indication of the standards of success. We expect great things from our children, and teach accordingly. Faith is a huge part of it. Homeschooling continues to be a prayerful choice. The public school did not teach the history of our faith, and we are motivated by our faith,” Konen said.