Updated: Sep 4
by Kristen Kucharski
ORGANIZING, PLANNING & TEACHING AT HOME
This school year has been different for every family. Some moms have decided to homeschool for the first time, while others picked up right where they left off. COVID-19 has changed many lives in countless ways, especially when it comes to school. We caught up with three west suburban moms who are currently homeschooling their children. Here is their story.
Mikaya Huggins of Sugar Grove
Although very pleased with Kaneland’s curriculum and efforts, Mikaya’s pursuit of homeschooling her first grader (6) and kindergartner (5), with a one year old (1) in the background stems from the uncertainties, complications and risks associated with COVID-19.
Now in their sixth year operating the Sugar Grove Pumpkin Farm, a wholesale and retail family business raising beef cattle, chickens, goats, rabbits, barn cats, fish, two dogs and a hedgehog, Mikaya knows that homeschooling will offer it’s challenges while running a seasonal business and coordinating with her husband that works full-time at the Township Road District; but, she feels confident her background and networking connections will prevail.
“I am currently working on a co-op with Alyssa Dekoker of Sugar Grove,” she says. “We were introduced by our sons becoming best friends in Ms. McDonnell’s Kindergarten class, then we both transitioned to homeschooling this year.
She formulated a very small group of homeschooling mom’s and children, PreK-2nd grade. Together, we are very excited to share advice, support, organize STEM lessons and educational experiences while our children benefit from small group socialization with the use of Village Bible Church’s gymnasium.”
With plans to re-enroll with Kaneland after COVID-19 is effectively defeated, Mikaya’s day is structured to match their ongoing curriculum and scheduled breaks; and although choosing to remove their children has been a heavy, difficult weight, she feels confident homeschooling for now is best for their family. -Kristen Kucharski
Becka Butler of the Tri-Cities Area
Becka was homeschooled through 4th grade and has great memories of that time. She wants to procure the same fond memories for her 3.5-year-old triplets and 16-month-old toddler.
With a background in special education and work experience at Krejci Academy in Naperville and J.B. Nelson Elementary School in Batavia, Becka brings a unique perspective and skillset to her home-schooling classroom.
“I’ve seen firsthand (as a teacher) just how intense some of the state standards and expectations can be and I’m not always in agreement with the aggressive goals of CCSS (Common Core State Standards),” she shares. “I think as a framework, they are great; but, when used as a timeline of skills that kids must have by a certain date, I don’t quite agree.”
With restrictions on movement and outdoor time in a traditional classroom setting, Becka, a hobby runner and biker, encourages open-air activities, sciences through exploration, movement and team-building skills, social awareness and self-management skills, along with interactive language arts and math.
She is planning a play based PreK homeschool with a fluid schedule based on planned toys and specific activities.
“I have triplets, so we are a unique family. I think homeschooling for me will be different because it will be like having a small PreK class of children all the same age,” Becka adds. “Having a 1-year-old too will make leading the triplets in an activity a little more challenging, but we can work with his nap schedule if something has small parts or requires more of my attention.”
Becka enjoys being a teacher and looks forward to working with her own children and shares her thoughts with the community via Instagram @mymom_wife_life. -Kristen Kucharski
Karen Sue Smith of Wheaton
Karen’s undergraduate degree in Psychology, Masters in Divinity, current studies for her Doctorate, various ministry positions, Life Coaching certification, and self-publishing experience have provided a solid foundation over the past 19 years for homeschooling her three children, Sara (21) an active nursing student; Hannah (20) an active Animation student; and Jonathan (15) through his High School years.
While some things have changed since COVID-19, such as limited dance, tennis, and guitar lessons, other things - such as beginning each day with prayer have not.
“I love experiencing things together as a family,” Karen says. “For example, we read all the Little House on the Prairie books together, and then we planned a trip to Missouri to see the house that Almanzo built for Laura. We also made family vacations a priority. We explored caves, climbed mountains, and played in the ocean. This has not only given us wonderful family memories but has also added a new depth to our reading. When we read about a forest, we can recall our own walks through the trees.”
Real life in books can also be found in Karen’s authored book about her personal experience living through losing a child - “Learning to Parent in the Light in a Dark World, My Journey of Sorrow and Joy.” It was this experience that made her live each day very intentionally for her children, striving to make each moment the best it could be while tailoring their education to meet their unique learning styles and skillsets.
Karen finds Wheaton and the surrounding cities packed full of resources that make homeschooling easy, and as a family they have immersed themselves in the community through activities at the Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton; Pioneer Girls and Boys Brigade at College Church; and the abundant offerings at Lincoln Marsh, Rice Lake or Blackwell Forest Preserve.
Amy Schlenbeckerof Naperville
Although homeschooling may be a new thought for many families this year due to the pandemic, Amy has been teaching her kids Danny (15) and Katie (14) for the past six years.
“Honestly, I was completely against it at the beginning. I had all the typical "public school mom" questions - "How can I teach my kids?", " How will they socialize?", "What about extracurricular activities?" "Prom?", "Can I deal with having my kids around all the time?", Amy shares. “Since we started, I have seen so many benefits. My daughter, who was behind in a few subjects, quickly caught up because we were able to tailor her curriculum to her needs. I see how we can use real life to help us learn as well and we do field trips and hands on learning to solidify what we have learned and encourage the love of learning.”
Amy has found there are many homeschool networks in the Naperville area community that keep them connected to various events that provide age appropriate socialization as well as organized curriculum-based field trips. There are also different ways to play sports as home schoolers, such as football with Crossroads Christian Youth Center in Big Rock, and some high schools allow you to play sports with them if you are enrolled part time.
Serving on the board for the football team, as well as the Activities Chair for Boy Scouts, and actively volunteering with Harvest New Beginnings Food Pantry in Oswego keeps the Schlenbecker kids balanced with social, emotional, and civic skills.
Homeschooling allows for individualized education plans; flexible schedules, as well as varied learning spaces such as the kitchen table, outside patio, couches, trampoline, you name it; however, also comes with the expected normal challenges of teaching your own kids.
All in all, Amy has found that the benefits of watching her children learn and grow far outweigh any negatives and looks forward to an exciting new school year of new opportunities. -Kristen Kucharski