November 14, 2002

front page
more news
ad information
contact information


Teach your children well—
Going to school at home in Yellow Springs

Tammy Corwin-Renner, working with her daughters, Emily Rose, center, and Allegra, during a recent home school session.

Six-year-old Allegra Corwin-Renner sits by a freshwater spring in the mid-morning sun arranging seashells with her older sister, Emily Rose.

“I am the queen, and you must protect me from the fairy goblins,” Allegra says.

“She always wants to be the queen, so I just let her,” says 10-year-old Emily Rose.

The girls are in their backyard on South Tecumseh Road for a Monday morning home school session with their mother, Tammy Corwin-Renner. They base their curriculum on the Waldorf method of education, which emphasizes learning through stories and body movement.

Out in the Vale community, on a similar Monday morning, Nick Eastman, 15, crouches over a geometry textbook at the kitchen table while his brother Luke, 11, reads aloud the words for a spelling test for his visiting cousin. They are getting ready to have a home school biology lesson with their grandfather Walt Tulecke, a retired Antioch College biology faculty member, who lives downstairs.

“Would you like an apple?” Tulecke asks Nick as he passes out fruit to his grandchildren.

Nick grabs an apple, takes a bite and continues punching keys on his calculator. The house is quiet, even with three cousins, who also home school, visiting from Vermont. The cousins’ mother, Kim Beyer, is coordinating today’s program while Heidi Eastman, the boys’ mother, is assisting a birth.

One of the most important things about home schooling, both families agreed, is taking the opportunity to form a deliberate family relationship and a stronger family bond.

“I felt home schooling could give our family a chance to grow together and form a strong foundation,” said Beyer, who grew up in Yellow Springs. “Our socializing is based on the family not because the family is perfect but because I value taking time to handle issues that may come up.”

For Corwin-Renner, home schooling her children facilitates something she calls “familization.”

“Children learn how to grow into adults through their parents, family and friends,” she said. “Having intergenerational peers for [the children] is a more natural model to learn from than what they would experience at school.”

At regular school, it might not be easy, for instance, for a first grader to be friends with her fourth-grade sister because it wouldn’t be “cool,” Corwin-Renner said, watching her daughters chase each other. “But look at them, they’re best friends,” she said. “That’s one of my greatest joys.”

Parent-as-teacher has other benefits that the children see as well. The Eastmans attended the Antioch School for many years before they decided to home school.

“I like my mom as my teacher much better,” Luke said.

His cousin Marcianna, 13, agreed. “You can get more frustrated with your mom, but they know you better and can explain things the way you can understand,” she said.

In the living room of the Corwin-Renner’s home, Emily Rose lights a candle and a stick of incense to set the stage for a story about the “c” and the “k.”

“Once upon a time there was a king . . . and he had a cat,” Tammy begins in almost a whisper. The girls listen intently to their spelling lesson, and then blow out the candle to begin their workbooks, colorful oversized booklets of blank sheets of paper. They will create their own textbooks through guided writing and drawing exercises.

For history and geography, Emily Rose explains a detailed map she drew of her house and property along with the history she researched about their 19th century English stone farmhouse.

“My strongest hope is to raise my children with a very strong sense of themselves, a strong self-esteem,” Corwin-Renner said. “The lessons are taught in a magical way to keep their imaginations always bright.”

Education should increase one’s curiosity about the world, Beyer said. She hopes the historical novels she and her daughters read together will give them courageous models to learn from. Both she and Tulecke believe science is about wonder.

“I just teach them the essentials and encourage them to have an interest in the subject,” Tulecke said.

Home schoolers have an array of educational methods from which to pick and choose, and then integrate into an individual program that best suits them. The Eastmans use various textbook series for math and science, and they choose literature from a long reading list of classics and historical novels. In the afternoons they participate in language classes, art and music lessons, and other activities outside the house and with other home schoolers.

One of the biggest challenges for some of the families is finding time and energy to coordinate group activities with other people. Both the Eastmans and the Corwin-Renners find that it takes work to get involved with others. “It can be lonely if we don’t find ways to do that,” Corwin-Renner said.

And the children, especially those who have experienced institutional schooling, notice it too.

“I thought about going to the high school this year because it’s fun to be with other kids,” said Nick, who has been home schooled since the fifth grade. “When I was at the Antioch School I was always doing stuff with my friends.” But Nick decided to home school at least another year.

The kids have choices and so do their parents. For a parent, deciding to home school requires a certain amount of confidence as a teacher.

“My biggest fear is that my own public school education limits my confidence and ability to provide for them in their learning process,” Beyer explained.

And the learning process can be a mutual one. “I’m reclaiming and healing parts of my own childhood by relearning it with my children,” Corwin-Renner said. “I see this as a spiritual journey for us all.”

These home schoolers may very well turn out slightly different from regular school children. Many of them don’t have a TV through which to plug into popular culture. They spend a large portion of the day with their parents and siblings. Some of them will have fostered a blurred distinction between reality and imagination. They have chosen to forge their own path.

The studying makes Luke hungry, and he comes to the kitchen to make himself a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich. The others, drawn by the smell and camaraderie, slowly congregate there. Marcianna draws up beside her mother and nearly smothers her with a hug. And they keep hugging for several beats.

Soon Dana Beyer, the youngest cousin, waltzes in with her shoes on the wrong feet. “Oh, your shoes are on backwards!” Tulecke says as he picks her up and kisses her. “But they look very nice that way.”

Home schoolers can create an individualized classroom and a whole world the way they think it should be. Emily Rose and Allegra will continue to make up stories and develop their own way of being and designating the queen in their fairy home by the spring.

“It’s not a game really,” Allegra says. “We’re trying to figure out how to live there all the time.”

—Lauren Heaton