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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Homeschooling Against All Odds

Let me say from the outset that we are not what I picture to be “model homeschoolers”. We do not own a rocking chair, nor a front porch, we are not soft-spoken, crafty, nor patient people. The education of our children is surprisingly not our primary goal in life, but definitely ranks among the Top Five.

Being able to earn money and house, clothe, and feed our family comes earlier in the listing lineup. Which is not so simple these days, and which means: we parents must work.

If our children did one of the online or DVD curricula, no problem. They would do their schooling, whether in a separate room tucked away at our office, or we would work from home, while they continued to do their lessons.

Only one catch: our children do not, or rather did not, speak English. All four came from Russia at older ages, and some had never even been to school. Now that’s a different dynamic.

It’s best for us to keep in mind that, while Rome wasn’t built in a day, it could certainly burn in a day. That broad subject of education involved learning about family life and cultural norms on top of “If a train traveled for 30 miles at 60 kilometers per hour, would the passengers be drinking Voss, San Pellegrino, or Gerolsteiner sparkling water?”

For us, family had to come first. We sensed great (internal) pressure to get that educational speed train chugging, but until we got on the right track, nobody would be going far.

We had our work cut out for us. Benedetto and I would switch off and on, overseeing the kids’ lessons while squeezing in our own work morning, noon, and night. One hour of ESL in a public school setting would not bring them up to speed. They required six to eight hours of daily instruction in Russian and in English.

I still have the little notebook of cheat sheets used when Petya first arrived home: “adjective, adverb, sentence, paragraph”, all looked up in handy-dandy English-Russian dictionary, long before there were online translators. I would stay up till all hours reviewing every word of every lesson. It worked, both in bringing him up to grade level, as well as bringing me up to double my chronological age.

Now that I’m older and wiser, and I have older and less wise students, I’ve loosened the reins some. “Sink or swim” is my new philosophy, or if that’s a mixed metaphor, it’s “Gallop, or be thrown from the saddle.”

Rather ominous, but it gets the point across.

Any way you slice it, disaster looms on a daily basis.

“Ghenry Ford,” Mashenka reports after listening to an educational CD in Russian.

“Henry Ford?” I break into her dreamy-world.

“Mozhet bweet,” (Maybe) she replies through no real fault of her own.

Which I consider a problem, but then I am able to be troubled about many issues simultaneously, sort of mental multi-tasking. If the kids are picking up basic information in Russian-English and the names have been Russified, who in Detroit would know about Ghenry, since there is no pure “H” sound in Russian?

So even my once-a-week, 30-minute break backfires. And that leads us to multiple kids in multiple grades. How do we do it? Like anything else, with much trepidation….

Often, a homeschooling family that has several kids in the same age range will group them together. It helps to dumb down the eldest, and to accelerate the youngest.

No can do. In our case, we needed to accelerate the eldest, and dumb down the youngest, making the gap between them wider than the English Channel, or a long jump undertaken with springy shoes under conditions of weightlessness.

Cosmonauts, they are not.

Consequently, we hop from child to child, our fourteen-year-old high school freshman studying college level stuff, and our ten-year-old mixing letters of various alphabets frequently in each sentence, occasionally in each word.

“Sashenka!” I remind, “you cannot use an English ‘n’ for the ‘p’ sound. Your ‘mem’ in Hebrew is like a capital ‘N’, not a backwards one like the ‘ee’ in Russian. In Hebrew, ‘who’ means ‘he’, and ‘he’ means ‘she’….”

Keeping them in several languages a day seems to be the only subjects we can do together for now. Or, assign all of them essays and the eldest is expected to use more mature language and vocabulary. Doesn’t always work like that, but that’s the general idea….

“Eating vegetables makes me wealthy. My parents want me to be wealthy…” one reads from the essay in question.

“Healthy,” I intone, “healthy.”

“The population of Stah Lawes increased to 100,000 – 6,000,” another reads aloud about industrialization.

“Where are we talking about?” What is the place name?” I ask.

“Stah Lawes-!”

“And what is the number?” I look over the shoulder and glimpse 160,000. “I have a feeling something’s not right there…. Do you understand what you’re reading?”


“Spell the name of the place,” I coach.

“S-t-period, L-o-u-i-s.”

I keep my deadpan face and now understand why Russians don’t smile on the street if they deal with kids like these at home.

Should the children not be learning boatloads, I am. As long as we don’t run aground any time soon, there should be more smooth sailing on the horizon.


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10 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Ivanka says:

    Homeschooling for the faint of heart. I think it most ideal for kinders, beyond that one could exacerbate ones parents or teacher far too easily. But I do love that YOU are learning lots and spending time with them each. That might be the real beauty of homeschooling or travelling here and there and still able to complete school work. Oh, if I could be like you. I wish to accomplish so much in one day. Admirable, you are. Please tell us the real nuts and bolts of your schedule. A typical day.

    • avatar admin says:

      Now THAT’s an article, how to earn 10 Ph.D.s by homeschooling your children-! I knew this would be marketable…. An average day–okay–I can do this. It might make everyone tired and feeling that they’re on a merry-go-round and have to get off. At least they can get off, I can’t-! I wish I had just one day that was “typical”, lol. Then I would know, if it’s 7 am, this is what we’re doing, etc. But I’ll give it a shot. Thanks for asking, Ivanka! Stay tuned….

  2. avatar Theresa says:

    Thank you for a realistic peek into homeschooling older children from other cultures and languages! I too often learn more than my children, but then they also are pulled into my excitement as we learn new together. I would be interested to know what Russian educational CDs you have used. I would like to preserve their Russian as well.

    • avatar admin says:

      Theresa, we got a number of materials from Multi Language Media: http://www.multilanguage.com/rus/Default.htm#dramatized%20stories. They used to have dramatized stories in Russian (CDs or cassettes) for historical figures – Booker T. Washington, Louis Pasteur, Henry Ford, etc. Now it looks like mostly Bible stories (our kids listen to those, too). You might want to call them. They also have motivational books in Russian for teens on the same page. There are many Russian bookstores online that can also help if you tell them what you’re looking for (DVDs are great). Hope this helps!

  3. avatar Phyllis says:

    Oh, that was such fun to read! “Diaster looms on a daily basis,” and “double my chronological age.” lol When we studied Christopher Columbus, one of the boys told his dad that “Columbus, Ohio discovered America!” I know I didn’t teach that fact. : ) I could see where that came from, but still.

    Our first round of homeschooling is worlds apart from this round!!! I sometimes feel like we are still trying to find ANY train tracks to use. : ) And even at that, we are having a “wonderful” year compared to last year! I’m actually seeing some progress. But, the Lord made it extremely clear to us last summer that this is what we need to continue to do. So, we continue to obey and trust that He will see ALL of us through this. : )

    Great post! And I liked the previous one on Mothers.

    • avatar admin says:

      This is no joke: for the past year, I thought I was a year older than I was-! I guess I just can’t count that high. So glad to have caught up this year, lol.

      Some homeschooling days are hard, then I think of the alternatives (me re-teaching them at night, pushing to get the homework done, etc.) and I realize: we can do this….

  4. avatar Kathleen says:

    We are considering jumping into homeschooling for our soon to be 8th grader, adopted from Romania several years ago. She hates the idea because she won’t see her friends every day. How does that work for your kids? I’m sure it is an even bigger challenge with your busy travel schedule, so I’m thinking if you can make it work, maybe I can too.

    • avatar admin says:

      I don’t know, I’m too tired to respond…. 🙂

      I believe that’s a valid concern, not being around friends. Of course, you could always see them at other times, but most kids have friends built around certain activities, whether school, church or synagogue, sports, etc. You need to be proactive and maybe schedule them to be in similar after-school activities, whether classes or sports, to keep up the connection in a structured way.

      Years ago, when we first thought of adopting, we consulted a pediatric head of dept. at a top teaching hospital and asked if he thought we should have kids with our schedule. At the time, we were considering babies. He said that younger kids attached to people/parents, not places, but that around the pre-teen years and beyond, the children would have more need of their own connection with friends and activities. Youth groups are good opportunities, neighbor kids if you have them for after-school play, lots of homeschool groups have co-ops for different classes or field trips. And of course, once you have a few, brothers and sisters can turn into okay playmates if they’ll admit it-!

      Come up with a few pros and cons that you can discuss with your daughter. Most homeschoolers never want to get back to the traditional 8-3 (or whatever) locked-down time schedule because they have the opportunity to do so much more than the average child. But there are drawbacks, too. Most non-homeschoolers cite socialization as a potential major problem, and while it’s really not, if they have specific friends whom they’ll be missing, it’s smart to not ignore that.

      Kathleen, I think if I’m doing this, we can rest assured that you can probably do it better!

  5. avatar Sybil says:

    After a week long project of studying all about Martin Luther King in grammar school I asked my daughter one question. “What did Martin Luther King want?” She thought and thought and then thought some more. Finally, she brightly said, “He wanted to be King!” and after a second of initial shock, I said, “that’s right honey!”

    • avatar admin says:

      Sybil, it makes absolute sense to me…. With some of the answers I have come to realize they have a greater grasp than many of the adults in this world-!

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