“Wow, I can really relate to what they have been through!” These were the words going through my head as Lyndsay Lambert was reading some of the comments from the nomination forms for the THSC 2008 Support Group Leader of the Year award. Little did I know that she was talking about us! Lyndsay announced our names, and I dropped my head and cried. What an incredible honor—I could not believe they had chosen us. This was the biggest surprise of our lives … We checked the name on the award clock dozens of times throughout the night just to be sure that there was not a mistake.
Please allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the Phillips family: Kent, Shanna, Madison (10), and McKinley (7). Three native Texans and one “I got here as soon as I could.” We live in Houston and are just kicking off our eighth year of home schooling. For the last four years, we have been involved in the leadership of West Houston Home Educators (WHHE). We have just finished a two-year tour as support group leaders and are now serving on the Board of Directors for WHHE, Inc. Through these leadership experiences, we have learned so much, expanded our comfort zone, made many friends, and developed a new appreciation for those who serve the home school community and those who paved the way for our home school freedom.
Our home schooling journey began rather unintentionally. On March 30, 2001, I walked out of my window office in Corporate America and began my new job as Stay-at-Home Mom. I took to my new job quite enthusiastically. Being with my girls was amazing. We joined an academic playgroup at our church that very first week. Through that playgroup, I found out about home schooling. Home schooling was the answer to the education dilemma we were already addressing, even though our children were so young.
Kent and I felt strongly that we should homeschool our children, but we never really knew why we felt that way. It was important to us that we were the primary influence in our girls’ lives, we wanted them to have a Christian education geared to their pace and style of learning, and we wanted them to have the very best education possible. We named our school The Odyssey School at Park Hollow. “Odyssey” captured our desire for education to be a quest or adventure. It was also appropriate in that we spend a lot of time in our Honda Odyssey van. Our school’s motto: Where life is learning and learning is life.
It was not until we discovered that both of our girls are dyslexic, however, that we truly realized the benefits of home schooling. Madison was reading single vowel words at age three and then lost the ability to read at all when she was five. My mother’s intuition told me that this was something that needed to be addressed. Thanks to an experienced diagnostician and the Neuhaus Education Center, I was able to get the training I needed to help Madison over the hurdle of severe dyslexia. We often hear McKinley proclaim, “Mom, Madison has her head in a book again, and she won’t play with me!” Those are sweet words to the parent of a dyslexic child.
Our experience with Madison’s dyslexia helped us to recognize problematic issues in McKinley. We were led to just the right doctor to be able to manage McKinley’s vision problems (muscular in nature) that caused her dyslexia. McKinley is participating in an at-home vision therapy program as well as the same reading therapy program that helped Madison. Home schooling enabled us to customize the girls’ education in order to give them the best possible chance at achieving a love of learning even though they had learning challenges to overcome.
You could say that our approach to home schooling is eclectic. I call it “Experiential Education.” Basically, we have tried just about everything and keep coming back to the unit study approach, with a heavy emphasis on real life experiences. We read lots of great books, but our favorite way to learn is “being there”—or as close to it as possible. Sometimes we recreate environments or events in our home—like the time we turned our schoolroom into a rain forest. At other times, we pack our bags and go to the source. The best example of “source” schooling was the “Big Trip” that we took last fall.
The culmination of four years of dreaming and planning was a trip in a motor home that lasted a total of 9 ½ weeks. Our Big Trip took us 12,000 miles and through twenty-three states. The first part of the trip was to Michigan, to participate in the final year of a great Phillips family tradition of making molasses the old-fashioned way. Part two, separated from part one by just over a week, was to visit every state from Texas to Maine. Our goal for the trip was for the girls to get an up-close and personal education about the history of our country and God’s hand in that amazing story. A huge bonus for us all: my parents were traveling with us—it was their motor home. The chance to spend that kind of time together, both for grandparents and grandchildren, was priceless.
I will point you to our blog at www.odysseyschoolers.blogspot.com for details about our trip. Meanwhile, here is the “short list” of what we did: we witnessed the pinning of a Navy Chief; felt the name of a friend on the Vietnam War Memorial; dealt with the effects of a trip-changing car wreck; felt the cramped, stinky quarters on the Mayflower; became celebrities for a day at Williamsburg; walked the battlefields at Yorktown; boarded the Godspeed, Discovery, and Susan Constant at Jamestown; fell in love with our nation’s capital; walked “next to” Laura Bush in the White House; climbed the stairs that George Washington climbed in the Capitol; heard Ben Franklin’s glass armonica; visited the homes of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington; ate lobster in Maine; gazed upon the gorgeous fall colors in New England; skated on Olympic ice in Lake Placid; stood at the feet of the Statue of Liberty; and cried at Ground Zero.
The trip ignited a passion for American history in us all. It has impacted our lives in ways we had never imagined. Almost daily we are reminded in some way of all that we did and learned. And it was all possible because we homeschool.
We are a family of activity! Madison is a competitive ice skater, and McKinley’s passions are ballet and swimming. Kent and I volunteer in many capacities for our support group, church, and children’s activities. Oh yes, and the responsibilities of home schooling keep us pretty busy too. We are so thankful to be on this home schooling journey with so many wonderful people and so thankful to God for continuing to bless our efforts to “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)