Imagination & Baby Steps in Charlotte Mason Homeschooling (with JoAnn Hallum)

JoAnn Hallum Charlotte Mason Homeschooling

Are you interested in Charlotte Mason home education, but you’re not sure if that works for real-life homeschool moms? JoAnn Hallum is one of my favorite people to follow on Instagram. Her beautiful words, hysterical stories, and real-life reminders of what is truly important always make me think and make me smile. She likes to remind me that she’s a writer, not a podcaster, but I think you’re going to definitely want to hear more from her after you listen to this conversation! No wonder Mariel told me that JoAnn needed to be next on my list of podcast guests!

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JoAnn Hallum Charlotte Mason Homeschooling interview

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Who is JoAnn Hallum?

JoAnn Hallum homeschools her four boys in the Central Valley of California. To make it interesting, she and her husband Derrick added two Great Danes, a neurotic rescue cat, various minor pets and stringed instruments for all. She loves to read, was a Printmaking major for no apparent reason, and dreams of peace and quiet just to be contrary. You can find her at @funnyostrich on Instagram.

JoAnn Hallum Charlotte Mason Homeschooling

Watch my Homeschool Conversation with JoAnn Hallum

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Amy: Hello, everyone. Today I am joined by JoAnn Hallum. JoAnn homeschools her four boys in the Central Valley of California. To make it interesting, she and her husband, Derek, added two Great Danes, a neurotic rescue cat, various minor pets, and stringed instruments for all. She loves to read and was a printmaking major, for no apparent reason, and dreams of peace and quiet just to be contrary. That’s not really like a homeschool mom thing. You can find JoAnn @funnyostrich on Instagram.

That’s where I have been following you for a little while. I just absolutely love the things you share there and you came very highly recommended from some of my past podcast guests as well.

I’m looking forward to just chatting with you today. Could you start and tell us a little bit about yourself and your family and how you guys got started homeschooling?

Getting started with homeschooling

JoAnn: Thank you for having me, first of all, and I think I told you most of my stuff in the intro, I’m not that exciting. I do love to read and I do have too many pets and quite a few kids. I grew up on a walnut farm. That is a fun fact about me. I raised pigs in high school. That’s something I did, I guess, and I also like gardening. Roses and salvia are my top two, but the roses are sentimental to me because my grandfather grew them first. My garden has sentimental purposes.

Amy: I love that. We are trying our hand at gardening. I call it a micro, micro garden because it’s like 2×2.5 ft. We’re not going to be surviving off of our garden but we also did– my daughter tried planting some bean plants around. She wanted to make a bean teepee, but the really adorable bunny rabbits have been eating all of our plants and they’re no longer looking so adorable.

JoAnn: I have the worst luck with vegetables, I don’t know why. I can’t do anything useful with gardening. The grasshoppers eat it. I’m sorry about your beans.

Amy: Yes, but at least you have beautiful roses and good memories of your grandpa.

JoAnn: That’s true.

Amy: Well, how did you guys get started homeschooling?

JoAnn: I come from a long family of educators. My great-grandma was a teacher, my grandfather was a superintendent. My grandmother was a teacher, my parents had teaching credentials.

I went to public school, so homeschooling was not a part of our family culture at all. I just always, in the back of my mind, I thought it sounded cool and eventually, I decided, “No, we’re doing this.”

My son went to public school until he was out of first grade. It’s literally right around the corner from my house, I can walk there. I took him out and started homeschooling when my youngest was a baby. I did not know what I was doing.

Starting home education from scratch and growing into Charlotte Mason

Amy: Wow. Over the years, how has your approach to home education grown and changed?

JoAnn: Since I started from scratch, it’s definitely been a journey. I just started by copying the one person that I might have known that homeschooled and just bought whatever curriculum they were using. I started and then when I got the curriculum, coming from a public school background, I looked at it, and I was like, “This isn’t enough. We’re never going to spend six hours of our day with this minimal workbook thing.”

I joined a co-op and then through that, then we started a co-op that I ran for, I think, two years, and then we disbanded and I switched to Charlotte Mason.

It’s been a journey, and I’ve been doing Charlotte Mason for, I think, four years now.

What drew JoAnn to Charlotte Mason homeschooling

Amy: What was it that drew you to Charlotte Mason?

JoAnn: Well, my co-op wanted to do a literature curriculum that I didn’t think was going to be the right fit for my son who was going into junior high and they wanted me to run it. I started researching other curriculums that had a good literature base and I found Ambleside and I said, “I would like to do this.”

I read Know and Tell by Karen Glass. My co-op was like, “I don’t think. No, we’re not going to do that.” Luckily, my friend said, “You can’t do both,” because I was definitely going to try to do Ambleside and my co-op curriculum. Since she said I couldn’t do both, I was like, “Well, I’m going to try the thing that I want to do.”

Two weeks before school started, I prepped for Ambleside and never looked back.

Amy: Wow. That is amazing and actually, I think that’s a real encouragement to moms because sometimes we feel like we have to have it all figured out before we’ve even started homeschooling and you change gears halfway through, right?

JoAnn: I change gears. Yes, I did, and I also changed gears with two weeks to prep, and I think I did it wrong, mostly, but I still had a good year.

Amy: Well, hey, you started with something that you were excited about and that is always helpful and lots and lots of good books. Karen was actually a previous guest on the podcast, so I will try to remember to put that link in the show notes so people can go back and listen to my chat with her. She’s a great resource for homeschool moms.

JoAnn: Yes. I love her from afar.

Amy: [laughs] I think we all do, although she’s back stateside now. Maybe we’ll run into her at a grocery store somewhere. You never know. It can happen.

JoAnn: Maybe she’ll vacation near me or something.

Favorite Parts of Homeschooling

Amy: What have been some of your favorite parts of homeschooling?

JoAnn: Well, my kids, I love the music that they’re in, and I feel like them being able to play their music and have time to practice has been a real benefit because I feel like kids who practice and go to public school have no spare time sometimes.

That’s been a blessing, and I also love their narrations. In Charlotte Mason education, you read these amazing books and sometimes they’re really heavy and difficult. Then you ask your kid what it’s about and the stuff they say, I’ve laughed so hard. “Francis Drake’s relative died by drowning on a boat named the Squirrel.” I had a picture drawn for me in graphic detail of that incident which is not really funny but it actually is funny.

I feel like kids’ perspectives give you a new perspective on the world. Even on peril at sea, there’s something amusing about what’s happening in this world.

Starting narration with older kids

Amy: Was it a transition since you hadn’t started with a narration base? Was that a tricky transition to do that with your older kids?

JoAnn: It was. My older kids were used to being told, “This is the answer, remember it.” I have one child who really wants to know the right answer and get the good grade and achieve success and me just saying, “What did you learn?” He was like, “I need the answer, please.”

He was very concerned that I was ruining his education because I didn’t give him any tests, like bubbles to fill out. He was like, “What are you doing to me, mom?”

Amy: Would you say that after a few years of persevering, is it a little bit easier now?

JoAnn: Yes, they’re used to it now. I really think you can get used to anything over time. Probably. I haven’t heard any complaints lately.

Challenges of homeschooling

Amy: How about the challenges of homeschooling? We all have our own challenges but what have been some that have stuck out to you in your homeschooling and how have you sought to overcome those challenges?

JoAnn: I feel like I have had so many challenges, sickness, pandemics, interpersonal relationships, character flaws, other people’s character flaws. It’s just been a regular life and then you try to add education to your day and still go to the dentist. It’s a lot to handle. Have you seen What About Bob? the movie?

Amy: Yes.

JoAnn: That’s my metaphor for homeschooling. I took my pet goldfish in a jar around my neck and I thought we have to go to this destination. Sometimes, it’s just baby steps to the elevator. It might take me all day to get to the elevator but I’m going somewhere. Hopefully, by the end, someone will tie me to the mast and I will be a sailor and sail and achieve my dreams. That’s how I handle adversity. It’s just part of our journey.

Hopefully, we can make it into something that is useful and worth our time. It gets us somewhere, hopefully, but I don’t really try to necessarily get rid of adversity because it just seems to just show up all the time. Is that a good answer? I don’t know.

Amy: Yes, definitely. In fact, what I love about that is so often we think the challenge of homeschooling is something about homeschooling itself. Well, if we just stopped homeschooling, life would be easy, and that’s such a myth because life itself is challenging. This side of Genesis 3, every day is challenging. To just remember that it’s not necessarily the homeschooling is challenging, it’s just where we’re broken people, we’re dealing with broken people in our families, there’s sickness, there’s just the ordinary challenges of life that we face.

Then when you add the homeschooling in, of course, it magnifies and exacerbates it, but just to remember, it’s persevering. It’s not fixing everything or making everything easy somehow but just doing that next little thing, those baby steps like you were saying.

JoAnn: Sometimes, it’s slower going than I think we would ideally have it be and that can feel defeating but we’re going to get there, you guys.

Amy: Yes, and it’s actually a really good, humbling reminder as moms. Missy Andrew, I don’t know if you follow the CenterForLit or BilblioFiles podcast, but Missy Andrews talks about this performancisim that we can have. She wrote a memoir. She’s graduated five students from homeschooling and her memoir is My Divine Comedy. I always highly recommend it. She talks about performancisim and how dangerous that is and how it can really destroy relationships and is not good. I find that a big temptation in my own heart, like wanting to do something great and amazing when maybe what God’s called me to is just something pretty ordinary.

JoAnn: Yes, it’s a good point.

The best homeschool early education

Amy: Well, I’m going to read to you an excerpt from one of your Instagram posts because I just thought it was fantastic. This is what you said on one of your posts. You said, “If you want to give a seven-year-old an excellent education, read them good books, fairy tales, myths and fables are foundational. Take them outside and give them a box. I think we have undervalued imaginative play and overvalued facts. We need to focus on cultivating imagination when our children are young. The way of education isn’t filling in boxes, it is in filling up boxes.” I just love what you said. I think there’s so much there.

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I would love for you though to flesh it out a little bit for us here because this is a great idea. Then we have this real homeschool day with our very active seven-year-old and we’re trying to make sure we’re doing all the right things. Every home school mom’s like, “I just want to do it right.” What does this idea look like in a homeschool with our young learners?

JoAnn: Well, so the curriculum I’m using isn’t a whole day. I don’t fill his day, so I think that would be my first step is he does get several hours of no one getting in his business, and sometimes, that involves a lot of scotch tape. I don’t really monitor what he’s up to during that time as far as like I’m not, “Hey, make this boat to these specifications.” He just does what he wants. I’m always surprised what it is.

I think respecting that time is important. I think we’re just really focused on being useful and making this subject a useful subject that we forget that imagination is what we need just to do anything. Just to homeschool, we need an imagination.

My older kids are not graduated yet and so I’m imagining it’s going to be fine. If we take that away from our children, they lose that habit. They just become more like in the real world and the real world isn’t necessarily how things are going to be in the end.

I don’t think, as a Christian, that the world we’re in is the ultimate reality and we need imagination for faith, really, to be able to see that our circumstances are not the end of the story. I don’t know if that fleshes it out. I think I’m still fleshing it out but just giving space, I guess.

Amy: I think that’s a good reminder because it can feel like we’re supposed to even have the empty space of the day filled with like productive play. The play has to also be teaching them something officially. Just to remember that, sometimes, just that exploring, the cutting papers into millions of people and we end up with pieces of egg carton duct-taped together, and I’m not exactly always sure what they are. That’s not something that you could be like, “Oh this is a STEM activity or whatever.” There’s so much that is going on in their little minds as they’re exploring and just envisioning something outside of the immediate reality, I guess.

JoAnn: Yes. George MacDonald says, “The duty of imagination is worship and work.” We’re teaching our kids both of those things by just letting them use our– It’s simple, but I think we overthink that part. They’re not computers. We don’t just insert worship into their systems.

Amy: We’re not just programming little robots in our homeschool.

JoAnn: No. Hopefully not.

Amy: Hopefully not.

JoAnn: We can try it but good luck.

Amy: Yes, it is not going to work. I sometimes say, “The homeschooling isn’t vending machine. You don’t just push the right buttons and get out your product.

JoAnn: I was going to say, I think, too, we need to value imagination more because I was reading Faber, he’s that famous naturalist from the 1900s. He had limited equipment, so he was studying these animals or creatures, I guess, a larvae isn’t an animal, but he was like, “I don’t know what this is because I can’t see properly what it actually is,” so he has to imagine.

Even in the sciences, they have to go together. You only have what you can see in front of you in science. Asking the scientific method questions, you need imagination that’s properly ordered, obviously, not suggesting crazy imaginations.

Amy: I think it’s connected with the idea of wonder which is connected with ideas of humility and worship which is all linked to, really, the purpose of education. It teaches us who we are, who God is, love of God, and love of neighbor. You can’t have that if you don’t have that wonder.

JoAnn Hallum homeschool conversations podcast interview

Pursuing a Charlotte Mason home education with older students

Amy: You have, I guess he’s not quite so little anymore. My youngest is seven so I’m determined that that is still very little.

JoAnn: My youngest is seven too.

Amy: We’ve got these little guys but you also have some older learners in your homeschool. What tips or encouragement would you have for the mom who’s wanting to pursue a Charlotte Mason education with her older students? Do we have to start doing things the way everyone else is doing them just because they’ve gotten to the teen years?

JoAnn: I don’t think so. I think coming to Charlotte Mason later in the game was a blessing in disguise because I’ve done the way that everybody else does things. I feel like I’ve tried it. I don’t necessarily personally feel like I need to do that.

I would say don’t make choices out of fear because I feel like as they get older, we’re like, “We need a transcript. How is my kid going to be a successful person if I’m not doing it this specific way that everyone else is doing?” That doesn’t mean that that’s the right choice if you’re making it based out of fear.

I think, too, I’ve noticed people see Charlotte Mason’s early years and think it’s the same for the older years, but it changes a lot.

If you look into the philosophy, no one’s playing with cardboard boxes as much when they’re 14 years old.

I would say, look into the philosophy and see what you’re going to be doing before you just dismiss it because I think it is pretty rigorous. So far, I’ve had rigor.

Amy: Yes, definitely. I think about people I know like Dawn Garrett at ladydusk online or Jami Marstall who actually came and did a whole podcast episode about Charlotte Mason High School, specifically, and it’s just really encouraging to see what they’re able to do and pursue with their teens. I think what you said not just assuming what you see online like little pictures of little kids playing in the dirt and with a box and think, “Oh, that doesn’t seem like it’ll work for high school.” There’s a lot more going on, do a little research and understand the principles.

JoAnn: It changes dramatically. No one told me that. I was like, “Oh, this is more work than I thought I was going to be.”

Amy: Yes. Well, I’m always seeing the books you’re pre-reading or reading beside alongside your kids on your Instagram. That’s always fun. Definitely, if someone was like, “It doesn’t seem very rigorous,” they haven’t seen your book stacks.

JoAnn: I know. Sometimes, I’m like, “Am I going to survive this book? It’s the baby steps to the elevator thing again, we’re going to read one paragraph and hopefully, we’ll get it eventually.”

Amy: Well, and really great books grow with you. It’s actually part of the process of learning that when you first read it as a teenager in high school, you’re not supposed to understand at all. In fact, if you come in and think you have fully understood this great work of literature at 15 years old and you’ve got it, maybe you didn’t read it quite as well as you thought. There are books like Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. My two older children just read that in their great books class in this past spring semester and I was telling them how I’ve read that book four different times in my life starting when I was a teenager and I need to read it again.

Each time I start maybe starting to see it, but I still don’t feel like I’ve really seen it clearly and that’s almost– I don’t know. That’s a really important lesson to learn too with some of these books.

JoAnn: Yes. It goes back to what you said about humility and education and sometimes not getting it right is an education in itself.

My son, we do term exams, and he didn’t know who Martin Luther was. I was like, “How is this possible? Then after that whole incident, he just kept popping up everywhere in our life, and my son was like, “I guess you’re right. He is important,” because he had failed and realized that it was on his radar screen now. Suddenly, Martin Luther was everywhere. It was really funny.

Amy: That is really funny.

JoAnn: I know.

Amy: Sometimes, there’ll be these things that I’ve also remembered to teach, some of the older two, and then my middle daughter, I’ll be saying something like, “Well, you know when I read this out loud.” Or, “You know when I told you guys about that.” She’ll be like, “No, mom, that never happened with me.” I’ll be like, “I remember it,” but I’m remembering it with not her, apparently.

JoAnn: Oh, my goodness. When you have more than one kid, too, you could lose track of what’s happening sometimes.

Amy: Yes. I’m glad it’s not just me.

JoAnn: No.

What JoAnn is reading lately

Amy: Oh, JoAnn, here at the end too. I want to ask you the questions I’m asking all my guests. The first is just: what are you personally reading lately?

JoAnn: Oh, okay. I am finishing up The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. I’ve read it before, but I was doing it with an online book club. I’m reading her Book of Comfort, which is an anthology of poetry for comfort. She categorizes everything that we have in the world for comfort, not everything, but into categories. The first section is nature. Nature is a comfort, so it’s thematically put together. I read her Book of Faith, and it was really good.

I’m reading aloud Summer of the Monkeys and The Avion My Uncle Flew, and we love the Summer of the Monkeys, but The Avion My Uncle Flew has been a trial because I don’t speak French and they pepper a lot of French into the book, I think, for kids to learn. I butcher it and my children think that’s hilarious. I’m excited for that to be done.

I’m also pre-reading a book about George Washington that I forgot the name, Founding Father, George Washington. I’m pre-reading that for next year. It’s really interesting so far.

Amy: I think one of the most fun things in homeschooling is getting to learn, right? We have the excuse of, “Oh, I got to read this book for school. Sorry.”

JoAnn: Yes. I consider it my job and I love it. I should have said that’s the best part but I thought narrations were funny. Many best parts.

JoAnn’s Best Tip for Helping the Homeschool Day Run Smoothly

Amy: Many best parts of homeschooling. That’s right. JoAnn, what would be your best tip for helping the homeschool day run smoothly?

JoAnn: I think maybe making sure that you’re physically well, your children are physically ready to learn has been really helpful to me. If they’re not having, I guess, routine would be the key to that too, because you need to get enough sleep. I think it’s good for kids to know what’s coming. We pretty much do similar things every day. We do have certain times where I throw it all out the window because I need my freedom as a human, that’s important, but routine, I guess. I don’t know. Is that a good answer?

Amy: Yes. Well, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s what works for you.

JoAnn: There’s got to be one. See where my son gets it from.

Amy: You feel like, “No, but I need to know, is this the right answer? Do I get an A on this podcast?”

JoAnn: It’s been working for me so far to have a routine. If you’re taking baby steps, you have to do baby steps on a consistent basis, or else, you get nowhere.

Amy: With a routine, do you do things in the same order, or do you have certain times that are hooks for at like, “Nine o’clock, we always do this,” or what does that look like?

JoAnn: I do wake everyone up at the same time, basically, and then we do morning time at a regular time, but if I need to get something done, then they know they can do their free reads or practice something independent like practicing their instruments. We do school without interruption for the most part until it’s done, and then it’s free time, but I don’t answer my phone during school. Usually, I just try not to have a lot of interruptions. It’s a job to me. I don’t know.

Amy: I like thinking about that as a job that comes with being prepared ourselves, right? Not just going by the state of our pants too much. Of course, we all have days where that happens, but taking it seriously, I guess, what we’re doing is important, and we want to do a good job. Also, taking the time for professional development like that homeschool conference, this professional development or reading that book or learning from that mentor, those are all ways that we’re getting better at our job too. JoAnn, thank you for chatting with me. I’m glad that I got to be your very first podcast. I feel so honored.

JoAnn: Thank you for trying me out, I guess. [chuckles].

Amy: This was really fun and I just really recommend that people follow you over on Instagram, and I will put that in the show notes. For this episode over at Thanks, JoAnn. Have a good rest of your day.

JoAnn: Thank you, you too.

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