School vs. Education (with Mariel Howsepian)

Mariel Howsepian Public School Home Education homeschool conversations charlotte mason
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Public school teacher and homeschool mom Mariel Howsepian joins us for an absolutely delightful conversation filled with rabbit trails, reality-checks, and a refreshingly unique perspective. We talk about embracing the challenges of homeschooling, what it’s like homeschooling an only child, what it looks like having Dad as the primary home educator, and more. Hold onto your hats and get ready for a ridiculously fun and thought-provoking chat!

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Mariel Howsepian Public School Home Education homeschool conversations charlotte mason

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Who is Mariel Howsepian?

Mariel Howsepian is a current public school teacher with more than 17 years of classroom experience. She and her husband homeschool their 10 year old daughter in Santa Monica, California. Mariel very recently started a second master’s degree – this time in Christian apologetics. She can also be found sewing 18th century costumes, dissecting sea creatures, playing escape room games, and Instagramming at @marielhowsepian.

Watch my interview with Mariel Howsepian

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Amy: Hello everyone. Today I am joined by Mariel Howsepian who is a current public school teacher with more than 17 years of classroom experience. She and her husband homeschool their 10-year-old daughter in Santa Monica, California. She very recently started a second Master’s degree, this time in Christian apologetics. She can also be found sewing 18th-century costumes, dissecting sea creatures, playing escape room games, and Instagramming.

I will have a link to her Instagram in the show notes. We have actually already been having a great conversation for quite some time here. I cannot wait to share this conversation with the podcast listeners. Could you just start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your family and how you guys came to homeschooling?

Mariel Howsepian: Like you said, I am a current public school teacher, and I’ve been doing this– I’m in my 18th year. I recently transitioned to a fully online independent study program. I have fourth graders, and I meet with them every morning for three hours, and then I facilitate their independent study program. There’s a whole online curriculum that I don’t have any control over that they do. There are lots of parent conferences via Zoom and emails and lots of paperwork. It’s quite different than being in the classroom.

I started an apologetics masters. That’s brand new, and that’s really humbling, because I’ve always been really good at school, and a lot of it was easy for me, and now I’m having to wrestle with these ideas that are just huge and mind-blowing, and really worth wrestling with, and it’s not easy. I can’t just answer the question and get full credit, which makes me a little bit more excited about it too, because I just turned in my thesis statement for a paper and I got a 24 out of a 30. No, I was really, I looked at it, and I was thinking, “Oh my goodness, this is like the lowest score I’ve ever gotten on anything.” It was actually that my spelling and grammar and all of that was– I got full credit on that, and I got a really low score on my content. It’s going to be work, and I’m excited about it.

Amy: Yes, it’s definitely worth working at that. I can’t wait to hear all you learn.

Mariel: My husband, Pete and I, we were both public school teachers before we had Gemma. We were married for 10 years before we had her. In that time, I got a master’s degree in creative writing, and I moved up on the pay scale whereas my husband, he did not pursue a master’s degree, and so when we had Gemma, financially, it made more sense for me to be the one to go back to work, even though in every other possible way, it didn’t make any sense. He became the stay-at-home parent, and I went back to work when Gemma was four months old.

We didn’t always know we wanted to homeschool, and because we were both public school teachers, we figured that eventually, Pete would go back into the classroom when Gemma went to school.

So I lean Charlotte Mason, but what I’m about to describe is very anti-CM. If I had to do it over again, I would do it the same way. I wouldn’t do it for the same reasons, but what happened is, I was having all these conferences with parents about their children’s reading scores. I was having to show them the data about how their children were testing on these reading tests. I kept having to say, “Your child is below grade level. Your child is far below grade level.” I didn’t ever want to be the person on the other side of the table.

Because of that, I believed that since Gemma was going to go to public school, I better teach her how to read. From my experience, many public school parents think that their children will learn how to read because they will give their children over to a teacher who knows best and that teacher will teach them how to read.

It’s also been my experience that public school parents often don’t read aloud to their children. They get to a point where they believe that their children can read, or maybe they should be able to read, and so they don’t read aloud after that point to them if they were, to begin with. I was going to work, I was coming home. I was teaching fourth grade at the time in a classroom. I would come home and Gemma wanted my undivided attention the moment I got home from work until she went to sleep. I was tired, but I wanted to spend time with my child.

I don’t do imaginary play very well, and so I needed some sort of something to do with her where I wasn’t feeling exhausted. What I would do is I would stick her in the bathtub and I got these bathtub crayons, and I would write– Have you ever used those?

Amy: No, but I have heard of those. They sound so fun.

Mariel: They are really fun, but they don’t wash off as easily as they say they will. I would write on the tile in the bathroom, and I would write CVC words, so consonant vowel consonant words, like cat, and pig, and log, things like that. I would do that with her, and it was great because she was contained, and she loved it, and she got mommy. I would use the Distar orthography and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Did you ever use that with your kids?

Amy: Not with my children, but I’ve used it when I tutored someone.

Mariel: So you know the whole deal with the dots underneath each letter, or each sound, and the arrow, and how Distar orthography works. I would write the CVC words on the wall, and I would put the dots under the sounds and the arrows, and Gemma just started picking up everything really quickly. At a certain point, Pete and I realized that the problem was not going to be that she couldn’t read in public school, it was that she was going to be way far ahead.

When she was three or four, she took, I think it was three, she took down a science fiction novel that my husband had been reading, and she read the first couple of sentences. We both realized that “Okay, this little kindergarten thing isn’t going to work.” That’s how we came to homeschooling. Fortunately, we had relatives on either side of my family who were homeschooling, and so it wasn’t something that was like out there. It wasn’t something that those weird, unsocialized people do. It was–

Amy: A viable option.

Mariel: Exactly, exactly. It’s like my aunt and uncle did it, and my aunts over here. My aunt and uncle over here did it, and their children are lovely, and we like spending time with them. [laughs]

Amy: They’re relatively normal. [laughs]

Mariel: Yes, exactly.

Mariel Howsepian Public School Home Education homeschool conversations charlotte mason

Developing their own unique homeschool approach

Amy: You start homeschooling almost by happenstance, you realize, in a sense, not being forced into it, but like, “Wow, this really isn’t going to work. We need to continue doing this at home. This is a good option.” But over the years, as you’ve been homeschooling, how have you seen your approach to homeschool philosophy, educational thought grow and develop? I know you mentioned you’re now more interested or influenced by Charlotte Mason. How did you go from CVC words on the tile to where you are now?

Mariel: There are multiple parts to this, because when I was in the teaching credential program in my early 20s right out of college, I had one sort of educational philosophy, and that was the educational philosophy that would get the full credit on the exam, and it was the educational philosophy out of the textbook. It was the one that the professor wanted me to answer and it was the one that when I had to write an educational philosophy to go along with my cover letter to apply for jobs, that was very different than the educational philosophy I have now, and it was actually very different. The educational philosophy I developed, as soon as I got into an actual teaching position, where I saw what the reality was versus the theoretical.

When I started teaching, I was teaching middle school. I taught middle school for seven years and then I went to teach fourth grade. The philosophy that developed while I was teaching middle school, I started to understand the importance of mastery, which it seems so obvious to a homeschooler but I started teaching sixth grade English and history. Then after three years of that, I was teaching math and science.

When they told me that I had to move to sixth-grade math and science, I actually cried. I did not want to teach math. I was terrified to teach math. I actually ended up enjoying teaching math and science more than I had enjoyed teaching English and history, but what I saw was that students came into sixth-grade math, which is you’re getting into pre-algebra there and actually I had an honors class and so a lot of my students ended up going into algebra for seventh grade.

What I saw was the kids who did not have the skills, the prerequisite skills, there was no way they could catch up in the system, the way the system is. I began to understand that things like social promotion is just completely wrong. [chuckles] I don’t understand why anyone thought that was a good idea and people still do think that’s a good idea. Administrators will still tell you that’s a good idea. That really shaped a lot of what I do now with Gemma because there are–

Okay, so with reading and writing and maths. Reading, writing, and arithmetic, those are skill subjects. You have to learn skills in sequence in order to be successful in those subjects in order to do them well, in order to progress and then there are other subjects that are content but they do have skills but something like history where you, well, we’ll get to history later, but [chuckles] I have opinions about everything.

There are certain places where you can go off on rabbit trails, but math is not one of them in terms of skills. There are areas of math where you can go on rabbit trails and they are fabulous, but it’s like you can’t just say “Okay, we’re going to learn two-digit times two-digit multiplication today,” when you haven’t learned that three plus one is four.

When I started teaching elementary school, I moved from teaching sixth grade to teaching elementary school. That was really eye-opening to me because Gemma was four months old. I had a backpack breast pump. I was pumping at recess and pumping at lunch. I wanted to be gone the moment the bell rang, that way I could get home to my baby. I had seen what the students needed for middle school and so all of the stuff that was happening in elementary school that was so cute and like these cute little bullets and boards and these cute worksheets and things that other teachers were doing. I had an aversion to all of that because I just didn’t see them as being as valuable as actually preparing kids for what they were headed for if that makes sense.

I can give you a really good example, which is– I’m horrible with bulletin boards, I’m horrible because I don’t really believe that having every kid make a leprechaun out of construction paper and stapling that to a board is really a value when there are so many more awesome things you could do.

One year I adapted The Tempest into a 45-minute version, and we had full costumes. Some of the parts they doubled up on because we had so many students and there aren’t enough parts, but I would just much rather do The Tempest than make construction paper leprechauns and things like that.

Amy: What I hear you saying is that a lot of what you were decided to implement in your homeschool came from things you saw that weren’t working in the public school system where you were. You had this bigger picture having worked in middle school and elementary school, the things that were maybe cute, but not as an efficient or productive use of time and that didn’t mean you were just like, “All right, so no fun and games, we’re just going to drill, drill, drill and be ready.”

You were still finding these creative, unique ways to learn, but in a way that was going to actually teach children something significant, more than scissor skills so that really then influenced, I can hear how that just really influenced the way you were thinking about what you wanted for your own daughter.

Mariel: Thank you so much for making what I just said make sense. I appreciate that so much. That’s very good. That was a very good narration. Thank you.

Amy: Thank you. Well, I have been influenced by Charlotte Mason.

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Some favorite parts of homeschooling

Amy: As you think about the homeschooling then over these years with your daughter, what have been some of your guys’ favorite parts of homeschooling?

Mariel: Favorite parts of homeschooling. I love the independence. I don’t want someone else telling me what to do. I don’t want to meet with an educational facilitator to show her work samples once a month, the way that some homeschoolers have to do with charter schools. That was never appealing to me.

The idea that I would have to meet with someone who possibly had less experience teaching than I had so that they could then just check off boxes. I didn’t like that idea. It’s funny, a lot of the questions you’re asking me and my answers, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t like that, I don’t like that, I don’t like that,” and so–

Amy: You’re a rebel.

Mariel: I’m a rebel. All of those don’ts influence the dos. I love the flexibility with scheduling because okay, so we’ve talked about Charlotte Mason. With Charlotte Mason, you have short lessons. It’s like a party. It’s like you want to arrive late and leave early. While the child is still interested, you have cliffhanger endings of chapter books and things like that.

I love the short lessons, but I also love if you’re doing a science experiment that requires a longer amount of time that you can do that. Oops, if you didn’t do a spelling page, or you didn’t do a grammar sentence, or whatever, there’ll be time for that tomorrow.

Rabbit trails, I love being able to go off on rabbit trails. We are reading Genevieve Foster’s Abraham Lincoln’s World right now. Have you read that with your kids?

Amy: Yes, I have. I really enjoy her history books, how she weaves in the stories from all around the world.

Mariel: It’s amazing because I feel like the way I went through history in school was everything was in a vacuum. It’s funny because I didn’t understand really until I was in the teaching credential program, or I was preparing for the teaching credential program. I had to take a test, a certification that proved that I had a general knowledge of everything.


Mariel: I know it all. I know everything.

Amy: You knew everything.

Mariel: I took a test and the test said so. I had to take this test because what happened was I was an anthropology major. I was not a Liberal Studies major, that’s the major most people that go into teaching choose. Because I was an anthropology major, I had to take this test. It was like a five-hour test. Am I exaggerating? It was a long test. There were sections in every subject including art appreciation. It was amazing. I had to do picture study basically on a standardized test, which is very un-CM. When I was preparing for that test, I made a timeline on the wall. This is in my early 20s. I made a timeline on our kitchen wall and I put events and I color-coded it for different civilizations so that I could see what different civilizations were doing at the same time.

I stepped away from the wall and I looked. I was like, wow, all of that was happening at the same time. It was the first time that I’d realized that really. That is one of the reasons why I love the Genevie Foster books and keeping a timeline book because you get to see that all of these things were happening at the same time in different parts of the world. Sometimes they influenced what was going on in different parts of the world. That’s fun. I’m getting to save my own child from having to wake up in her early 20s and have that realization. I was going to say rabbit trails. Sorry.

We are reading Genevieve Foster’s Abraham Lincoln’s World. We’ve been reading about Queen Victoria and Gemma is old enough now to where she appreciates the TV series Victoria. We’ve been watching that together. She just absolutely loves it. It’s fun because I had already seen it. I’m able to get excited with her as she’s watching it and asking questions and wondering about Tories and wigs and parliament and how things worked and what certain etiquette was and things like that.

Amy: That is really fun. History is one of our favorite subjects and I joke with the kids. No one woke up one morning and was like, “Well, the Middle Ages are over. Now it’s time for the Renaissance.”

Mariel: Nice.

Amy: Sometimes we think about history or history can be taught like that. One of the joys of being able to read books like the Genevie Foster books, or just bring in a wide range of stories, as you start seeing how the interconnectedness is happening, how there’s not these rigid boxes of people or places or ideas. It’s a flow. These are real people living their real lives.

Mariel: Exactly, exactly. Well, see, that is one of the issues that I had when I was teaching fourth grade, because in California, fourth grade is California history. Students would come into my class and I was supposed to teach them about the California Mission System, which started in the 1700s, but they don’t do American history until fifth grade.

I was having to explain to students why there was this big rush, why the Spaniards wanted to colonize California, and why there was a rush to do it when they didn’t understand that California wasn’t part of the United States. They didn’t understand what was going on on the East Coast. They had no background knowledge. They had no context for any of it. Because Christopher Columbus is such a controversial figure now in public school, they had never heard of him. When I said things like, “Well, in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and the kids were like, “Who?”

Amy: Without that context, how can you understand the motivations, the implications, there’s no way to truly understand what’s going on if you don’t have the broader context.

Mariel: It was things like that that made me want to use a more chronological approach to teaching history so that there was that background knowledge and that when we did find something that was interesting to go off on, there would be something to attach it to. There would be that spine.

Mariel Howsepian Public School Home Education homeschool conversations charlotte mason

Challenges of homeschooling

Amy: Well, I’m hearing all of these wonderful benefits of homeschooling, especially in contrast to some of the downsides you were seeing in the system. We know homeschooling isn’t always easy and there are challenges that come along with this homeschooling life as well. What have been some of the challenges of homeschooling for your family and how have you guys sought to overcome those?

Mariel: Like I said early on, my husband and I have done this together. My husband has a really unconventional background. He’s a Renaissance man. He’s a musician. He was a Marine. He’s a former Marine, but his hair is down to his waist. He can fix any car that you put in front of him, but he can also beat me at Jeopardy. That’s true love right there. I can fall in love with a guy who can fix any car and beat me at Jeopardy.

Amy: Awesome.

Mariel: My husband likes to say that he dropped out of high school. What happened was he took the GED so he could just be done with it. His idea about education is that a lot of it should be self-directed. He let me do all of the planning. Isn’t that nice of him? He let me do all the planning. Is that so sweet? He let me do all of the planning and then he would make sure it got done during the day.

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I didn’t really have a say in how it got done, but it got done. A lot of that meant that he was the one that was getting to read Viking Tales with Gemma. He was getting to read the Burgess Seashore book with her, which he loved, which was so cute. He would narrate to me about it but there were other things where I would– They were just not how I would do them.

When I would see what other homeschoolers were saying, I would think, wow, that’s not how it looks in my house and I don’t have any control over it and I have to be okay with that. That is one of the challenges. Homeschooling together is awesome. People who are parents who are able to do that, do it.

There are also challenges because you have to recognize that your husband is going to not do things exactly the way you do them and you are going to do things that aren’t exactly the way he would do them either. He would probably rather me let Gemma do her own thing and not hover as much. I think that’s actually a good thing. I think that in this whole whatever God’s plan was for all of this, I think God wanted me not to be hovering. Does that make sense?

Amy: Yes, definitely. I think a lot of times on this show, we talk about how homeschooling is like parenting, only more so.

Mariel: Parenting on steroids.

Amy: Right. When you are sharing homeschooling with a spouse, which actually I’ve had two other guests, well, one is that the dad is the full-time homeschooler and then the other one, the mom and dad share the homeschool teaching similar to you and your husband.

In that case, it really is also not just the parenting, but it’s also like marriage on steroids, because you’re having to just learn to live and work through those relationship issues, but in the context of homeschooling. I’m sure that is challenging, but also has probably brought some really good opportunities just for communication, for growth, for working through that hard stuff together.

Mariel: Absolutely. Another thing is there is no way that anything I’m ever going to face in homeschooling is going to be as hard as classroom teaching. When I was teaching middle school, the first year that I was teaching middle school, I had 42 students in one period and 39 desks.

Amy: Oh my goodness.

Mariel: It was an English learner history class. That was the period right after lunch. I had students in my class who didn’t speak any English. They were at varying levels of English proficiency, but I had a handful of students who couldn’t speak any English. What I would say is the last three kids in the room just had to sit on the floor because I didn’t have enough desks and it was my first year teaching. I didn’t even know who to ask for desks. It’s like, you don’t know where the copier is. You don’t know where anything is. Nothing is going to be harder than classroom teaching in my opinion because even if I had multiple children, I only have one and I know we’re getting to that, but I don’t have 30 children.

Amy: I don’t know anyone who does.

Mariel: We’re not supposed to. We’re not giving birth to puppies. We weren’t meant to have–

Amy: 30, 40, 50 children.

Mariel Howsepian Public School Home Education homeschool conversations charlotte mason

Mariel: Exactly, exactly. I think there’s a misconception in that sometimes moms think that this homeschooling thing is so challenging, but I actually think it’s supposed to be challenging. This is hard because I’m not saying I don’t think it should be easy. I just don’t think it should be without challenges.

Working from home while homeschooling has been another challenge. It’s also meant that I can be here and that I have more flexibility and that I can read aloud something to Gemma, or that I can go over Latin with her or that we can sit together and read Much Ado About Nothing together and do voices and stuff like that.

We live in 400 square feet. Being in a really tiny space, I know that that is an issue for some homeschoolers. Then you put working from home in on top of that, and it’s even more challenging. We’re also in tweenagerhood. The changes and the attitudes and the desire for independence and the need for more executive functioning skills, all of those things, those are challenges. Like I said before, I didn’t think this was going to be easy. It’s like, I just go, “Well, these are today’s challenges.”

Amy: It’s a hard that’s worth it. It’s a hard kind of like when you climb a mountain or you do anything that’s hard in the moment it’s not always fun. It’s not always like a game that you’re just like, “Oh, yes, I want to do this all the time.” At the end, you’re so glad you did it and it’s totally worth it.

Mariel: I love Instagram but it’s not all Instagram. It’s not all enchanted. It doesn’t all have a filter on it. The thing is it’s your job. For me going into a classroom, or now going into Zoom, I look at that and I think the perspective I have or the lens that I’m viewing this through is that okay, I’m dealing with my job’s challenges. It’s not like I wake up in the morning, and I think, “Oh, I’m going to go to work now, and oh, fingers crossed. I hope there aren’t any challenges.” I don’t mean to say that to diminish any mom’s experience, like what another mom is going through in terms of challenges. I just for myself, because I have that to compare it to, it’s a blessing because I can look at it and I can say, “Well, at least there aren’t 42 of her.”

Amy: I think so often, our expectations can really set us up for failure because if we wake up in the morning, and we sometimes I think subconsciously do think today is going to be the perfect homeschool day and none of my children will ever complain or ever fight with each other. Everything will go smoothly. Everyone will understand fractions the first time I explain them, it’s just all going to be great. Then you walk out of your room, and people are fussing and things break and something happens.

It’s just not this perfect ideal you had in your head and then you’re frustrated when really that’s normal. That’s ordinary life is normal. That’s what God calls us to live in is in the midst of that ordinary, messy, fallen, and yet still beautiful life. It’s just all very ordinary. If we can just wake up and start our day thinking, “Okay, there are going to be problems.” Like you were saying, there will be challenges. Then when the challenges come you’re just like, “Okay, well, here’s the challenge that God has given me today and that’s okay.”

It’s not like, “Oh, no, why has something hard happened today? This is terrible.” It doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t cry in the bathroom with our chocolate, but to just keep that perspective in mind that it’s okay when things are hard. You’re not doing something wrong just because it’s hard. You’re not a bad homeschooler, you’re not a bad mom just because you’re having a hard day or just because every day has something hard in it. That’s normal human life, right?

Mariel: Exactly, exactly. I don’t know maybe if we had checkboxes next to challenge. On the day’s to-do list, it’s like, give yourself three challenge checkboxes and it’s like, okay, well, there was one, check. Awesome. I marked something off the to-do list.

Amy: At least there would be one thing we would always get done every day.

Mariel: Exactly, exactly.

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Homeschooling an Only Child

Amy: Let’s transition and talk a little bit specifically about homeschooling one child. I interviewed Jessica Waldock in the past and I think it’s really helpful. I know there are a lot of people who are homeschooling a single child either because they have one child or because they have children in different educational situations and maybe are still just homeschooling one child while they may have other children, other places. I would love to hear your tips and strategies, what advice you would give to a homeschool family who’s homeschooling one child.

Mariel: Well, one of the things that I love about homeschooling an only is that all of my homeschooling time and all of my homeschool budget can go to one child. It doesn’t have to be divvied up. I don’t have to say, “Okay, well, you can’t have X because your brother needs Y and your sister needs Z and we can’t afford all three of those things.” There might be times where I can afford something that is a little bit more pricey but like one thing that’s a little bit more pricey that I wouldn’t be able to buy if I had multiple children.

Amy: Speaking as a mom of five, I will say that’s very accurate. There are times where a ticket price, you think, well, that’s not that much for one ticket but multiply it by five kids, and it’s just not doable.

Mariel: Oh, goodness. One of the things that was wonderful about living in Los Angeles County is we used to have access to a lot of museums and live theater and concerts. There’s this one theater that would do a series of family concerts on Saturday mornings so it’d be around the world. One Saturday, it would be Celtic music, and a month later it would be Polynesian music and things like that. To be able to say we can afford to do this because I only have to buy one ticket or to be able to say we can do whatever, we can do this because there are no scheduling conflicts. No one has a soccer game. No one has somewhere else that we have to be. Those are nice things.

Also, if I had multiple children, I would definitely do a morning time. I love the idea of morning time. I also love the idea that I don’t have to because I don’t have to come up with any group lessons that are differentiated. I don’t have to keep the toddler busy with a sensory bin and while I’m begging the high school student to please sit down at the table and participate with us for a short amount of time before they go off and do their independent thing. Do you know what I mean? Does that make sense?

Amy: Yes.

Mariel: I know a problem that some moms express is what do I do with my other children while I’m doing a one-on-one math lesson with this child? I don’t have to worry about that.

Amy: It’s all one-on-one.

Mariel: It’s all one-on-one and there we go back to the hovering issue. It is a balance because the thing is, there are a lot of good things about having to stretch your budget and having to be a good steward of the time that you’ve been given. I don’t think I would be a better homeschool parent if I had an unlimited budget. If I could just buy whatever I wanted, I think I would actually ended up with more than what I was going to use. I think I would also not put as much thought into what I really valued, because I was just able to get what I wanted. I think that’s a great life lesson is you have to actually think about what you want to spend your money on.

Then having multiple children and having two children play together while you work with one child, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. Having your children learn to love each other, spending time with each other, that’s a good thing. I’m trying to think.

Other tips. The hovering, because with an only child, there is the risk of hovering. There are certain areas where I have said, “Okay, you know what, you are going to be responsible for this.” One example is math. Gemma is very advanced in math. The reason for that is because we homeschool year-round, we don’t take breaks from math, and I was always using a skills-based approach, and it was always mastery. She’s actually taking an online course through Arizona State University’s Universal Learner Program. Are you familiar with that?

Amy: No.

Mariel: It’s really cool because it’s designed for high school students to be able to get college credit while homeschooling. The course that she’s taking right now, it’s college algebra. We were using Life of Fred up until that point. She started this in April and she has a year to complete it. She’s actually more than 75% done on her little pie chart that they show on the screen, but that’s an area that I have stepped back from and said, “Okay, you know what, you want some more independence. You can have some more independence. Here you go. You can watch these videos. You can read the explanations. You can work through it.” Because one of the things she doesn’t like doing is, surprise, surprise, she doesn’t like writing down and showing her work in math.

Amy: Yes, does any child? No. Shocking, right?

Mariel: Having taught math in middle school, it just makes me cringe, because I’m like, “Just write it down. It would be so much easier if you just wrote it down, because then I could see your thinking process, and then I could tell you where you were going wrong.” That’s when I have to pull back and go, “Oh, hovering. Okay.” The advice I would give is to look at what you can let your child do independently and let them.

Amy: Embracing the joy and the benefits of the undivided time, the undivided attention, the divided budget, while also finding ways to bring in an external, I guess, limit that you can impose on yourself. It’s letting them find outside teachers or have their independence and learn to work on their own. I guess you have to make a point to do that a little bit more than those of us who are like, “I’m sorry. I can’t get to you right now. I have to do that. You’re just going to have to figure it out.” It happens a little bit more organically. The things that I would have more prioritize purpose to do which would be one on one time are going to flow more organically for you and the things that would be a challenge. I guess it goes back to the challenge. Every homeschool family has their own unique challenges and benefits. We have to be able to identify them so that we can work through those in a profitable way for our family.

Jessica Waldock homeschool Interview

Mariel: When we were talking about just general challenges, you and I had a conversation online about the way curricula for homeschoolers is being made schooly. This is a challenge that I’ve seen other people having, but also, there are times when I go looking for a specific something. What I find looks like a lesson plan I would have to do in a public school classroom.

You and I talked about this maybe being the result of a concern that a lot of homeschoolers express when non-homeschoolers ask homeschoolers, “How long do you plan to do this?” The cool answer is to say, “Oh, we’re taking it year by year,” because that ends the conversation, and it prevents the conversation from going somewhere uncomfortable, and it prevents the mom from being put on the defense, and having to defend the choice of homeschooling. If I can say, “Oh, we’re just taking it year by year,” then the other person they’ll be okay with that because someone who doesn’t believe in homeschooling like a Santa Claus, he don’t believe in homeschooling. Someone who doesn’t believe in homeschooling, they can’t possibly imagine that you would be qualified to teach high school, that you would be qualified to prepare your child for college.

The “Oh, we’re taking it year by year.” It’s a much easier answer, but what happens is we’re taking it year by year is mimetic. It’s this idea. It’s this American homeschooling culture idea that it spread, and it’s continuing to spread, and it’s spread into the homeschooling curricula industry. It’s making it harder to find materials and resources that don’t have a very schooly vibe and aren’t common core because I think —

Amy: Align with the curriculum.

Mariel: Right. Because curriculum companies, they want to create something so that a homeschool parent can take their fifth-grade child and homeschool them for fifth grade, and then, “Oh, you know what? Well, we tried that. I’m going to put them into sixth grade. I want them to be prepared for sixth grade. Everything that I use at home needs to be the same as what the public school is doing.” I’ve already explained to you that that is just wrong. [laughs]

Amy: You’re like, “I’ve seen what’s inside the homeschool system. You don’t want to be aligned with that.”

Mariel: No, you don’t. You don’t.

Amy: This has been such a lovely conversation. Thank you for sharing your stories and the rabbit trails. I love it. It’s been really fun.

What Mariel is reading lately

Here at the end, I’m going to ask you the two questions I’m asking everyone this season, and the first is just what are you reading lately? I’m assuming some apologetics books for your classes.

Mariel: I am. I have like a stack right here. One of the books I’m reading right now is called Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age. What it’s about so far, is the way that God has created the physical and spiritual to be interconnected and interactive, and everything in creation is connected, and everything in our spiritual development is connected. Me talking to you right now and talking with another Christian and encouraging each other, that is going to nourish both of us in terms of our spiritual formation. It’s things like that. Then, I’ve got this, I guess, Christian apologetics and Stand Firm, but I’m also reading David Copperfield with Gemma as one of our bedtime stories. We’re loving that. It’s really funny because there are times where I’m really tired and she’ll say, “Mom, do you want me to read aloud to you?” I’ll say, “Yes, please.” She’ll read David Copperfield to me. It’s so funny because I feel like I did something right with David Copperfield. Dickens is funny. Dickens, he’s a master with character. Have you read David Copperfield?

Amy: I have, but it has been-

Mariel: Forever.

Amy: -more than a decade.

Mariel: I don’t know if you remember the scene. We read it a couple of nights ago. The scene between David and the waiter when he’s going off to school and he stops and he has this meal and the waiter comes to David and asks him if he wants his ale. Then he tells him, but someone died drinking this ale a couple of days ago. “If you don’t want it, I’ll drink it for you.” Then the waiter drinks his ale for him, and then the waiter brings out his food and then proceeds to eat three-quarters of his meal for him. Then the waiter brings out the dessert and the waiter has a tablespoon and David has a teaspoon. Obviously, the waiter eats more of the dessert than David, but it’s just like, it’s so funny because that’s like a scene in a sitcom. Now when Gemma’s reading aloud to me, she gets the humor, and so that’s really, really fun.

Mariel Howsepian Public School Home Education homeschool conversations charlotte mason

Mariel’s best tip for helping a homeschool day run smoothly

Amy: So fun. I love when the kids start getting the inside jokes too, and you can share those together. That’s such a fun part of sharing literature together. Well, my final question for you is just what would be your best tip for helping a homeschool day run smoothly?

Mariel: Well, we talked about understanding that there will be challenges. Like I said before, I think sometimes you do have to say, “Okay, we’re going to put this on the back burner, because obviously, it’s not going to get done with the attitude that it needs to get done with.” Putting it on the back burner, coming back to it fresh tomorrow, and maybe dissecting a sea star or doing an escape room or something like that, I think is one way to hit the pause button.

Amy: Relationships are so important. If those are fractured, we’re not going to really be getting that much done. Like you were saying just a minute ago with the book you’re reading, we’re whole people, body and mind and soul. We can’t somehow isolate attitudes from the math. They’re all intertwined together. Sometimes you have to power through, but sometimes the best thing to do is just stop and drink some tea, go for a walk, maybe go to your separate corners for a little bit. Then come back and try again the next day.

Mariel: I think also like what you said about relationship. It’s not just about– This is so funny. It’s totally the ecology. It’s the ecology of education. Charlotte Mason is all about the science of relation. When I think of the word relationship in regard to homeschooling, I think of it not just people like person-to-person, mother-to-child. I also think of it as what is my child’s relationship to the subject. One thing that I knew early on was that I wanted her to have a positive relationship with all the subjects. How do we go about doing that? A lot of public school teachers, elementary school teachers have math and science anxiety and they weren’t good at math. They thought that science was icky and so those attitudes, they impacted their choices in college.

That’s part of the reason why they decided to go into elementary school teaching is, because they did not see math or science fields as being an option because they didn’t feel that they were good at them. I never want her to think I can’t do something. I want her to believe she can learn it. I want her to have a positive relationship with it. In terms of what is my best tip for helping the homeschool day smoothly, remembering relationship, remembering that I want her to have a positive relationship with each of these subjects.

Also, this ties into what we talked about earlier with I’m doing this for the long haul. I’m not doing this just for this year. Knowing that helps the day run more smoothly because if I understand this is not just one of 180 days that I have to get through. Then next year I can stick her in a brick-and-mortar school. If I understand that we are doing this, we’re doing this all the way, then whatever happens today, it’s going to be easier when you look at a few years from now as opposed to just right now. Being more farsighted than nearsighted.

Amy: It gives that bigger context. That bigger perspective. This has been lovely. Thank you so much for chatting with me today. I’m glad that it worked out and we worked through scheduling things. Could you tell people where they can find you on the internet?

Mariel: Yes, I am @marielhowsepian on Instagram. Amy will put in the show notes how to spell.

Amy: Yes. I will put a link to that over in the show notes for this episode at and I will chat with you in your DMs.

Mariel: Awesome. I look forward to it.

Amy: Bye.

Mariel: Bye.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

Homeschool Conversations Video Interviews Podcast Amy Sloan

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