Serious Fun: Homeschooling with Real Books

Kristin spoke to some homeschool parents about using real books to homeschool their children. Photos from the event are below the video.

Event Photos

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Transcript (in progress…it’s a long talk!)

Setting: This is a school room with a table at the front with lots and lots of books on them. There is an audience of about 20 or 30 parents, most of them women.


Hi Guys. We’re going to go ahead and get started. I know it’s hard for moms to get out of the house at this time of night, so we wanted to give everyone a few minutes to get here. My name is Cyndy and I have the privilege of being the EF (Educational Facilitator) of Kristin and her son Seth.

I’m the one that originally started the email but I’ve heard it made its way around and that’s awesome. I’m really, really glad you guys are all here. So Welcome.

How this all happened was, like I said I’m their EF and Seth’s in 9th grade. And we got to talking…this is my first year with them. I saw how great of a student Seth was and how well-educated he was. When I saw his star test scores from last year, 8th grade, he scored a 600 on the science which is a perfect score.

So I started asking Kristin: “How did you do this? How did you…”, I’d never seen this, perfect score, especially in science, that’s really hard, “how did you do this?” And then come to find out Seth is also dyslexic. Which then my curiosity peaked even more, even more, “how did you do this?”

And I have the interesting job of working with K – 12th graders. So I get to see all spectrums. I get to see success at the end of the road with the homeschooling. But then I get to see the struggles. And what I see a lot of is K – 4th grade boys, especially, who are struggling. And I’m hearing from moms where they’re saying my son doesn’t like to read, my son doesn’t like to write, my son doesn’t like to do school.

So I thought it would be really….I tried to tell my families individually, “you should hear about this family I have. They have done such a good job. I said Kristin would you mind speaking to my families as a group….and now most of you here aren’t my families [laughter] … that’s okay, there’s two of you, three of you here. But I’m glad to share it and then I said if I’m going to open this up to my families then I’ll open it up to a couple of other EF’s families, we didn’t open it up to everybody because of space. But I think we’ll probably end up having to do this again because Kristin has a lot to share.

And I think you’ll find it encouraging. I think you’ll find it mind-boggling the resources that she has and the journey that she’s had as a homeschooling mom. A lot of you know her from teaching her art history class as well, she teaches that. She going to speak a little about that, but she’s mainly going to speak about how she took her son who could not read or write and who was not interested very much in education to being my top star student in 9th grade who got straight As and scored perfect on the STAR test. No small accomplishment.

So I know all of us as homeschool moms need the encouragement and the wisdom that comes from a mom such as Kristin. I’m so glad that she’s here. She’s put a lot of time into this. So let’s welcome Kristin.


Kristin Draeger begins Speaking.

Thank you, Cyndy. That’s a lot of pressure. [laughter]

Let me tell you just a little bit about myself. I have a B.A. in history from San Diego State which doesn’t mean a whole lot, but…and I’m a professional artist. I studied with an artist up in La Jolla who’s a well-known international portrait artist and I’ve been teaching art history classes to homeschool kids since, I think, about 2001. And I taught about 60 kids a week in and out of my house until about 2007 when I quit to homeschool my son full-time because he had gotten into about 5th grade at that time and he was becoming a little more work then it was when he was in K – 4.

This year I started teaching Art History again. I see some new Mom faces that I just met and some that I’ve had for years and years all the way back to 2001.

Before I had a child, and I have one son, he’s 15 and in 9th grade. And before I had a child I actually didn’t really expect that I’d be homeschooling. I was a public school kid up until, 8th…9th grade and school was easy for me, I learned to read when I was three, so I thought, well, school’s really good for a kid, my son will be going to school.

So then after I had my son and he got to be 4 or 5 I realized okay, the really hard part is behind me, you know, he’s potty trained [laugher], he can talk, I don’t have to watch him so he won’t leap off the fridge or climb on the stove anymore and he’s holding a conversation, so now he’s just getting where he’s fun. And why would I send him off to school for 8 hours a day when now he’s fun. I don’t want them to enjoy what I just spent the last five years dealing with.

And he was a very active toddler. And literally my husband and I would switch back and forth until he was at least 3, someone had to keep an eye on him literally all the time he had no fear of anything. He was the kind of kid we take him to the park and we looked like these super, you know, really hovering parents, because he’d climb up to these jungle gyms, he’d climb up to the top and walk right off, just step right off with no thought whatsoever, we had to be like there the whole time.

So anyway, by the time he was five he actually developed a sense of fear, thankfully, and he was getting to be much more fun. And he was super shy and on top of that and I didn’t see kindergarten being a good mix for him, plus he was not interested whatsoever in learning to read or write, he barely even knew how to hold a pencil.

So, like I said, I learned to read at three, so I thought this will be easy, right? I’m just going to do a few phonics flash cards and we’ll be off. At three my son wasn’t potty trained, at four, well at three he could barely even speak complete sentences. So it was like an eye-opener for me. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with him. I mean a lot of boys that happens to. Boys develop slower than girls. You know, my niece at one-and-half is holding a pencil correctly and, you know, drawing things.

But, no, at three my son was pretty much a toddler. And so I thought, okay, this might be a little more difficult than I anticipated.

At five I had bought this really cool, I found it at a garage sale, Veritas Press phonics program. It’s really…not only is it good, but it’s beautiful as well. I thought this is going to be so much fun. And I also got Phonics Pathways and a couple other things and we would sit down and try and do this. And he was completely clueless. Phonics made no sense whatsoever. I mean I tried every different combination that I could think of. He had no interest at all. It was like a complete foreign language to him. There was no progress, no nothing.

So I put it away. And math was pretty much the same way. The concept he could deal with. He could count things. He understood quantity, that sort of thing. But if I sat him down with a kindergarten workbook, you know, again, just sitting down basically was a huge hurdle. I mean sitting down at the table for 15 or 20 minutes, coloring, I mean he still sees a box of colored pencils and screams and runs the other way. Coloring was nothing that we were going to do. Sitting down and circling things. These things he was just not the kind of kid that would sit for 10 minutes at a table. He wouldn’t even sit sometimes for meals. So you know and food was a big deal for him.

So the bottom line is we were both really frustrated, really early on. I know, I’m sure, all you homeschoolers know you’re not even helping your child with homework if you’re butting heads nothing works. No learning takes place when you’re arguing. At the same time, well plus, you hear from lots of different places…Susan Wise Bauer and other homeschool people that literacy is the most important thing. Literacy, literacy, literacy. I thought, oh great, we’re not going anywhere because he is not literate. I’ll tell you, leaping ahead, by 10 he wasn’t literate. By ten he could barely write his name and address.

He actually could read a little earlier than thanks to Jim Davis and bunch of Garfield books. He actually taught himself to read, not phonetically, but just by memorizing and I would read them to him and he would look at them so much that he kind of picked it up. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, if I told you, if I came up here and you knew nothing about him and I told you, he couldn’t read until he was at least eight and not well and he couldn’t write anything but his name and address by the time he was 10 you’d think here’s a special ed kid who’s going to need a lot of remedial school, if he goes to public school he’s going to be shunted into a remedial class, special ed and he’s going be labeled and it’s going to be a miracle if he graduates.

However, there were other things that I noticed. When he was three for example, even though he was wearing diapers and barely speaking complete sentences if you asked what a carnivore was he could tell you because we had read books on carnivores and herbivores and that sort of thing. And at four we had the wild experience.

Let’s see it must have been 2001. PBS had just put out, I don’t know if any of you are familiar with Bryan Green, he’s physicist and he wrote a book called the Elegant Universe. And it’s a very difficult physics book that talks about String Theory which is, well I’m not even sure I can explain it, you know parallel universes, the inner workings of the universe from an intense physics point of view.

And PBS did a 4 hour production on this back in 2001. And Glen and I, my husband, who’s in the back, by the way. Glen and I were watching this on PBS. My son didn’t get a lot T.V., that was one thing we didn’t do in the house. We did do some videos, but we didn’t do T.V. very often. So he was a magnet for when the T.V. was on. You know, whatever you’re watching he would sit and watch it. For the most part, except football, my husband was a little disappointed in that [laughter], but he does that now, so we’re okay.

He sat through, over the next 2 or 3 days, I don’t know how long it took, he sat through that entire documentary, glued to the T.V. Part of it, you know, he’s not savant by any stretch of the imagination, but part of it was, if you have older kids, it’s a great video, the special effects in the program are fantastic and it will hold your attention even while they’re discussing String Theory with physicists from MIT or I don’t even know where. So he sat and watched this, just riveted to the T.V.

And one night when I put him to bed. He’s four, and I’m tucking him in, he says,

“You know, Mom, I really, really liked that thing we watched on T.V. tonight, but I don’t think I understood it all.” [Laughter]

I said, “Well that’s okay, because I didn’t either.”


But just the fact that he recognized he didn’t understand it all let me know there was a lot going on in there….a lot going on even though it wasn’t showing in ways that we traditionally look for. So, that gave me a lot of breathing room.

At the same time I was teaching Art History and I had two or three families that came, there were three girls altogether, they were all girls, no surprise, that were particularly bright kids, kids that, I had a lot of fun with a lot of the kids I had, but these kids, they were from my very early classes and they were….outstandingly interested and asking questions and they would read every book I put in front of them and that sort of thing….so I thought I would ask the parent…I asked both their moms, “So what kind of homeschool curriculum do you use?” I think Seth was only 4 at the time, so this was CAN’T UNDERSTAND (12:50) ….and one of the moms she says,

“Oh, I don’t really use any curriculum, we don’t really do school at home.”

And these kids didn’t go to school, so there were no options there.

She says, “They read, and I just buy…” And they were fairly well off, “I just buy them all the books they want and they just kind of go from there.”

The one girl, I had one of the girls for quite a few years. I know, okay, that’s helpful.


But one of the girls, I had her for several years and when she was in seventh grade she had written a 100 page novel that she was working on and they moved to Italy for a couple of years. Put all three of her kids in public school they picked up Latin and Italian. The one girl just dropped into Bishops 8th grade and got great grades and went on to high school…I don’t know what she’s doing now.

Okay, so I thought, that’s definitely something to think about. The other student…same thing. I asked her mom, “What do you….what is your daily routine? What curriculum do you use at home?”

Not really much except they read a lot of books. She said “you know with my older kids,” and this was their youngest daughter…so they had been doing this a while, “With my older kids by the time they got to seventh grade we hired a math tutor and they went through grades K-7 all in one year and then we started with Algebra and they went on from there. And I thought, “Okay, picking good examples here, because now I’ve got nothing to go on.” And, but not really, in one sense I was like, it was frustrating because it was not like “here, [pretending to hand something to someone], this is what you need.” It was just sort of a philosophy.

So I started thinking differently and I started thinking about what is it that Seth liked to do and what is it that I enjoy doing, because I was not also working in some sort of fantasy domestic we have all week kind of thing, I was teaching 60 kids a week, I was convalescing from a 10 year illness and my husband very soon after that was laid off, I mean….life was a big deal. It wasn’t just like I just had all the money in the world and all the time in the world to be creative and figure something out.

So high on my list was…it had to be easy. Secondly, was…it had to be something we both enjoyed, because you know as a mom you have to nag about toothbrushing, you have to nag about room cleaning…if you have boys you have to nag about bathing.

More to come….

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