Like many parents, I never planned to homeschool my kids. But an out-of-state move showed us just how irreplaceable our former Montessori school (on 6 acres of land with horses, chickens, sheep, and an outstanding staff and group of families) was.
After much trial and even more error, we decided to homeschool. I quickly discovered that doing the research on your own is overwhelming. I knew we wanted a focus on critical thinking and creativity. I also knew we needed some structure and accountability because I work from home. Everything clicked for us once I started talking with other homeschooling families and called Oak Meadow’s educational counselors.
For the past three years, we’ve been a thriving homeschooling family. Our younger son works with the Oak Meadow elementary curriculum for his grade level. Our oldest takes Science and foreign language courses through our state’s virtual school program and uses Oak Meadow for Algebra, Literature (The Hero’s Journey is amazing!) and Social Studies. We also belong to a local homeschool co-op that focuses on all forms of creative learning and local field trips. (And full disclosure: we’re extremely fortunate to have a grandparent / retired school teacher & principal who helps this busy working mom keep it all together.)
It took a little while, but we found what works for us. So we’re always excited to talk with other homeschooling families who’ve found their happy place. That’s why we’re pleased to introduce you to Amy Doughty about her unexpected path to homeschooling and how it allows her to adapt to the ever-changing needs of her three daughters. As a bonus, you’ll also hear straight from her students themselves. Enjoy!
Let’s get to know the Doughty family! What would you like our readers to know about you?
We are the Doughty family: Amy and Scott, and daughters Brooke (age 16, 10th grade), Maren (age 13, 7th grade) and Raina (age 9, 4th grade). We live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, near the southern shore of Lake Superior. We live outside the town of Marquette, home to Northern Michigan University. Our home sits on the edge of meadow, near a creek and a mixed pine/hardwood forest. Our backyard gives us ready, immediate access to play and learning outside. Amy is the primary home teacher-guide, and Scott runs his own business as a family doctor with an integrative-functional medicine focus, UP Holistic Medicine. Scott’s flexibility at work gives him time to focus on math and some science experiments with the girls.
How did you get started with homeschooling?
We came to homeschooling as an experiment, to see if it was a way to keep the joy and curiosity in learning alive and creative in our daughters. We didn’t come to homeschooling with a philosophical commitment from the outset. My parents spent their careers devoted to public school education, giving themselves wholeheartedly as fantastic teachers and as a Nationally Distinguished elementary school principal.
As a young woman, I never envisioned being a teacher, or homeschooling my children, but time/place/opportunities have led us to where we choose to be now. I firmly believe there is no one right way to learn, and no one right place to learn. We need to meet our children where they are at, and if factors line up, perhaps learning at home is an opportunity worth exploring. It is a commitment our family has taken on, along with other decisions to have Scott be primary “breadwinner” and me taking a pause in my work as a midwife to homeschool our daughters.
We are open to how life can change us, whether exploring different places or different ways to learn. Our oldest daughter Brooke started her school journey in a public school kindergarten. Hers was a unique start, on the Zuni Pueblo, in Zuni, New Mexico, as Scott and I worked in the Indian Health Service. She was the only Anglo student in a classroom of Zuni children, where she learned to speak and read the Zuni language. When we moved back to the U.P., both she and Maren were in public schools here. A cluster of unique classroom issues and learning challenges for Maren as a 2nd grader brought both her and Brooke home for the last few months of their school year 6 years ago. We’ve been home ever since, but each April we seriously reevaluate and ask some “big picture” questions about whether we need to change up what we are doing so everyone is thriving as best they can.
What have been the benefits of homeschooling for your family?
Homeschooling for us is responsive, and is about flexibility and adaptability. Homeschooling allows us to pace our days based on the girls’ growing/changing needs. Living with teenagers who need more sleep, we can adapt our daily rhythms to later wake-up times when growth spurts or impending illness need slow-down. However when the girls’ public school buddies have snow days off from school, they know they still have schoolwork because our “days off” or shortened days are defined by other issues, such as travel time to visit friends, family coming to visit, and getting outside based on weather and activities.
Homeschooling allows us to incorporate other ways and places to learn. The girls and I learn best in outdoor, hands-on settings, with room for a lot of creativity. A few years ago we took an epic family road trip, camping our way out to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Maren did her Oak Meadow “Trip Across the U.S.” project early, as she was ending her 4th grade year when we did this trip, but the project is designed to be the last project for Oak Meadow’s 5th grade year. With creativity and pizzazz, Maren made our trip into an I-Movie, integrating many skills and learning in deep, creative ways.
Brooke will be stepping out of Oak Meadow next fall to spend her fall semester at Conserve School, at the edge of the Sylvania Wilderness area in northeastern Wisconsin. While Brooke is there, she can completely immerse in all that Conserve offers in intensive environmental stewardship and sustainability classes. As her “sending school,” Oak Meadow gives Brooke room to choose what to focus on at Conserve, and creatively redesign her 1/2 half of her junior year with Oak Meadow. Oak Meadow also helps guide Brooke toward the appropriate/ required credits to graduate, consider a gap year and college options.
How did you choose Oak Meadow’s learning resources?
A dear friend I have known for decades used Oak Meadow when her now adult-aged children were younger. She was deeply influential in my life and emerging motherhood, introducing me early on to Waldorf ideas that really resonated with me. Oak Meadow met our needs for a creative, Waldorf-inspired, heart-centered homeschool curriculum.
Are your kids involved in extracurricular activities or sports? Are you part of a homeschooling co-op?
We love to get outside! Because we have so many winter months with snow, we play outside in many ways – skate and classic nordic skiing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, and winter camping.
When it is warm enough, we are outside at the lake a lot, cliff-jumping, swimming and climbing. The girls prefer outdoor climbing, but they have access to an indoor climbing facility at NMU. We travel to other climbing gyms and outdoor crags around the region.
We aren’t always outside to play, and are also involved in youth theater and aerial silks. Everyone also does some kind of music, either singing, playing the guitar, violin, cello and/or piano. The girls have had opportunities to sing and perform in nursing homes, at the public library, for our local food co-op’s Acoustic Brunch Sunday, with other professional singer-songwriters, and in a youth orchestra and quartet.
Every summer, we also drive out to a wonderful area of northern Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley, to be part of a peace-building, arts/music camp called Journey Camp. The skills, relationships, and fulfillment the girls get there carry them home throughout the rest of the year.
Where do you find inspiration for out-of–the-box learning opportunities?
Brooke: We are part of a homeschool group of middle and high school-aged students from Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Michigan. We get together to spend a week in the Boundary Waters winter camping, hiking, skiing, dogsledding, and jumping through a hole in the frozen lake after being in a hot sauna! We joke that the group is called “The Granolas.” The group also met last weekend to be part of a biennial symposium, called the Lake Superior Youth Symposium. We hope to go to Washington D.C. again, to be part of a lobbyist training program with Citizen’s Climate Lobby. I did that last year and loved it, and I learned more about the way our government works than I did in my year-long Civics course. My chance to be part of CCL came from connections I made several years ago.
My family met an amazing family who were sailing around Lake Superior. They run a program called Sea Change, where they teach sailing and offer programs on climate change. Each summer they take on college interns (and me last summer!) We sailed around the northern edge of Lake Superior, and we met with different communities, schools and groups to talk about what their experiences are with climate change around Lake Superior. It was an incredible experience!
Maren: We’ve been part of a homeschool group, called Immerse, where we did theater, movement/dance and field trips. I got to play the role of Titania, in “Midsummer’s Night Dream.” I also formed a band with 3 other kids in Immerse. Theater helped me realize how much I love acting and singing, and I’ve gone on to get involved in other youth theater, and played Simba’s mom in “The Lion King” and have a solo in a musical review of “Kids Sing Broadway.” Being part of this theater “family” has changed my life.
Amy: I look for ways to bring music/art into an already very creative curriculum. Selective internet searches, including using Pinterest and Youtube, are sometimes helpful, but I am careful to not let the searches consume too much time and energy. Our local music teacher has been a veritable “jukebox” of music resources and options for us (and Maren!)
I’ve found that homeschooling families love to share ideas, resources and networking. If one family finds out about an exciting learning opportunity, we share it, usually with a lot of enthusiasm! For example, when one family learned about a couple coming through Marquette, a group of us went down to the Lower Harbor to welcome them. We met Dave and Amy Freeman, who were canoeing/sailing from the Boundary Waters to Washington D.C. to raise awareness about saving the Boundary Waters from a potential hit to the watershed with proposed sulfide-ore copper mining. They have gone on to spend a year in the Boundary Waters, produced several incredible documentaries on the issue, and formed a national campaign advocacy group to keep the awareness going.
I’m sure we could chat about this for a hours, but what do you like best about Oak Meadow’s programs?
We have used Oak Meadow’s distance-learning program for the past 5 years. Based on the ages of our daughters, we have used Oak Meadow’s curriculum from kindergarten through 10th grade. We love the enthusiasm the distance teachers have for our creative substitutions for different lessons. We’ve been whole-heartedly embraced for the electives Brooke has sought out, the music Maren has recorded, and the creativity Raina has put into her stories. We also value their expertise as teachers, skillfully guiding the girls to improve their writing skills, and encouraging them to submit their short stories or poems to be printed in Oak Meadow newsletters. All kids need adults in their lives who cheer them on, see their potential, and believe in them – mentoring them in ways beyond what parents can do.
We’ve been blessed with time to develop a deep connection with one distance teacher in particular, Leslie Daniels, who has worked with us every year we’ve been in Oak Meadow, sometimes with both Maren and Raina, and now this year with just Raina. One year we created a special detour on a cross-country road trip, and we went to visit Ms. Leslie, hike with her dogs, and circle up around her kitchen table. Her love for our family goes beyond expectations, as I look up from the kitchen table and see the poem taped to our window that she wrote for Maren last week to celebrate her 13th birthday.
As your children progress (into higher grades), are they able to work independently?
Oak Meadow has a lovely way of designing curriculum that encourages children to unfold as they are ready, and increase their direct involvement in their schoolwork. This gradual unfolding leads them to work more independently because the lesson books are written to them by the time they are in 4th/5th grade. As lesson books for the earlier grades are written to the home teachers, there is always a sense of privilege and excitement the girls have had when they graduate to the independence of having the lesson books written to them!
Personality plays a large part in working independently. For some learners, like Brooke, they are driven and self-directed, and thrive with the independence of taking charge of their own learning. It’s really a matter of knowing when and how to get out of their way so they can find their own path and inspiration. For Maren, interaction is very important, so we can choose what projects she wants to do independently and what we do as read-alouds and discussions. The right combination of interest, enthusiasm and passion goes far to light Maren up in a creative project, whether it is learning a series of songs related to civil rights or creating an advertisement jingle about the importance of eating greens! As a younger student, Raina values time to read independently (she is a voracious reader!) She also loves time to play independently, and whole imaginative worlds get created with dollhouse figures, dress-ups, play silks and constantly changing forts, towers, farms and houses while I focus on coordinating other parts of our day or working with her sisters.
Having three students home learning can be a lot to juggle, shifting “hats” between mother and homeschool guide, sisters, daughters and learners. I really see our “north star” that guides us is: creating space and expectations to respect each other and me; taking turns sharing my time to help them with projects; listening to each other with open ears and open hearts; and learning what tools in their “tool kit” work for all of us in terms of places to learn, focus, and reset – what for us is generally the big, wild outside!
What have been some of your students’ favorite projects?
Maren: I really like the times I get to learn and record songs or make a video outside for a history or science project.
Raina: I really like writing creative short stories!
Brooke: I really like any project that gets me outside. For English, I loved reading Into the Wild, and then spending a day alone in the woods to emulate Chris McCandless’ experience.
As a seasoned homeschool family, what advice would you give someone just starting out?
Brooke: Don’t go into it expecting every day to be wonderful. It takes a lot of energy to stay self-motivated. It’s also a lot of time with your family, and sometimes that is hard. But we do a lot of extra activities with other kids, families and college students to change things up.
Amy: Homeschooling keeps me fully engaged with learning and curiosity. I am forever grateful for this intensive time home with my daughters, and I feel that even more acutely as my older girls get closer to “fledge” out of our nest. Just as the precious baby-moon times with each of my babies after their home births, I treasure the quality of this time to connect as a family.
*This interview is part of a collaboration with our partner, Oak Meadow. If you’d like to learn more about the variety of homeschooling resources they offer, you can visit their website at OakMeadow.com or call one of their experienced educational counselors at 802.251.7250 (Mon-Friday 9-5 EST). And from May 14-29, get 20% anything from Oak Meadow’s bookstore (includes curriculum) or 10% off enrollment!