Interview with Kendel Ricker

My name is Kendel, I am a mom of two. I am an intermediate/senior level teacher by training but am currently home educating my two children. Though my daughter would technically be entering 1st grade this coming fall, and my son would be starting Junior Kindergarten, the beauty of home educating is that they are both working along at their own pace, and we have been learning together at home since day-one.

I have many reasons for choosing to home educate, but one of the many wonderful benefits is that I can customize an education for each of my children, curtailing learning opportunities to their interests and instructing them at an optimal level to thrive. I do not adhere to any one educational philosophy and take full advantage of the freedom of choice I have in customizing a rhythm that works best for us. I pull from many educational pedagogies and philosophies creating an eclectic mix of all of the best elements of methods such as; Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Waldorf, Reggio, Montessori, self-directed learning and more. My main aim is to capitalize on any sparks of interest that my children show in a given topic/theme or project. This is something that some refer to as, “Delight Directed Learning” which require the ‘teacher’ to set aside their narrow agenda and instead follow the student’s lead. I definitely attempt to follow this ideology as often as I can as I see that my children are so much more engaged and immersed in the learning, and in the end retain so much more information, when it is a topic that they have naturally shown an interest in on their own.

As my children get older I hope to switch into more of a facilitation role, encouraging and supporting their self-directed learning in various ways. While they are still young, I currently take a more hands-on approach and teach via various themes and topics. I weave reading, writing and math, at each of their levels, into these fun topics, while also learning the science, geography or social factors that are interwoven in the given topics that we are exploring. I also strive to provide as many experiential, adventure-based learning opportunities as possible where we can explore things in a tactile way, learning through doing and experiencing in real world environments.

For home educators, one of the trickiest things to do is to find time for self-care habits and professional development. In terms of a “work/life balance” there really isn’t one, because we are with our children 24/7 and, especially with having young children, sometimes finding any ‘alone time’ can feel next to impossible. But the expression, “You cannot pour from an empty cup” is so true. If we are to be at our best as home educators, it is crucial to make time and space for ourselves as well.

One way I have found that I can promote healthy habits is by incorporating things into our days that I enjoy doing or that bring me a sense of accomplishment or relaxation but that are also wonderful learning opportunities for the kids. That way I get a bit of leisure and hobby time, mixed in with involving the kids in fun new projects that they learn a variety of life skills from. Examples of this would be gardening (veggie container garden and cutting flower gardens) playing piano and singing (while the kids play their basket of instruments along with me) and baking/cooking, where the kids help out in the kitchen. In all of these instances, I am doing an activity I enjoy and the children are gaining skills and knowledge of these activities in the process. I also incorporate journaling and art (watercolour painting and embroidery) into my months, and when I do these projects I am sure to set up my children with a similar art activity, such as scrapbook collaging, painting or drawing, so that we can do these activities in tandem. I recently realized that it is so important for my children to see me, as an adult, doing projects and activities that fill me up emotionally, and make me happier and healthier. As afterall, I am raising little adults whom I hope will be happy and healthy, doing things that they love in life when they become adults. Modelling this healthy habits speaks so much louder than anything I can tell them.

Growing as an educator and professional development are also important to ensuring I am doing the best I can as a home educator. Some may think that home educators are simply parents who stock their homes with curriculum and that’s all there is to it. But once you dip your toe into the world of home educating you find out that there is so much to learn and so many ways that you can bolster your understanding of the many facets of home education. My main source of professional development, day-to-day, comes from podcasts. I try to find time each day whether it is in the car, or while making dinner or cleaning etc. to listen to some educational speakers and to some of the great home education and self-directed learning podcasts. I also always have an education, homeschooling or parenting book on the go as well (even though getting through a book is slow going at times when noise interruptions happen on the regular). I also take time each month to research new learning opportunities, classes, curriculums and activities that I can incorporate into our home school, ensuring that we are always growing and changing for the better.

I view myself as somewhat of a leader, but perhaps “advocate” and “community builder” would be more appropriate titles. Over the past 5 years I have formed OCHE (Oxford County Home Educators) and have hosted many meetups and events for the group. I also created and facilitated an eight part monthly Art program for the group and have organized and facilitated a number of field trips, parties and a track and field event. I love to see the home education community grow and always take the time to mentor and encourage any parents who join our group and have questions about how to get started and what home education looks like day-to-day.

I think it is key for a leader to truly care about those whom they are learning. To take ownership of the outcomes of their group and to be willing to come alongside their team and encourage and support them. Not just leading from the top down, but integrating themselves into the group to model the characteristics and actions that will help the team achieve their desired outcomes.

If I had to prioritize one main objective over the next year it would be working on trusting the process. As an eclectic home educator who is aiming for as much self-directed/delight directed learning as possible, it is hard to trust the process sometimes. With our children’s future at stake, it can sometimes feel daunting that ALL of their learning falls on my shoulders. It is easy to fall into the pattern of structured/classical education that looks more like ‘school-at-home’ where we worry about the future and try to force standards and objectives and “grade level appropriate” work onto our kids. It is easy to plow through, ignoring those sparks of interest that our children show, in favour of a schedule and a laid out curriculum that we may feel is a safer path to “success”. But over the next year I want to continue to remind myself to trust in the process of intrinsically motivated and self-directed learning and to remind myself that true success is whatever my individual children define it to be for themselves. To trust that this method of education will promote life-long learning and foster a thirst for knowledge and understanding in my children. Learning for them won’t be to get an ‘A’ on a test but to learn for the sake of learning and benefiting their lives.

My advice to new home educators is often, “Don’t take my advice.” At first this surprises them, but I remind them that the whole benefit to home education is that it can be completely customized to their children and their family dynamic and needs. Their homeschool shouldn’t look like mine or anyone else's. I do often encourage them that “homeschool” doesn’t have to look like ‘school-at-home’, pointing out some of the amazing flexibility that home educating allows from things such as time of day, style of instruction, full year schooling, medium of teaching tools and even down to the environment/space where learning takes place i.e. learning on the couch, or in the forest, or even taking their ‘schooling’ out to the library or the local cafe. I do encourage them not to necessarily go out and purchase 100s or 1000s of dollars worth of curriculum right away, but instead to ease into learning at home with their children. I often suggest that they get feedback from their kids, finding out what they would like to learn about and pursue, as that is always the best starting place. I often also direct them to some great online resources, books/authors, speakers and podcasts to get them introduced to the world of home education.