379 | Homeschool Q&A with Sean & Caroline Allen | REPLAY
In this episode I decided to bring on an expert. She’s a second generation homeschooler and is currently educating 7 children at home. She’s constantly researching curriculum as well as various schooling methods and she’s passionate about bringing her children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. She also happens to be my wife. In the interview I’m able to ask her about her homeschool experience growing up, what she might say to mothers who are struggling with homeschooling or who don’t think themselves equal to the task of educating their children, and much more.
Sean Allen is the founder of The Well Ordered Homeschool, husband to his beautiful bride Caroline and a proud father of eight. He has a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design and is passionate about creating materials to assist parents in the incredibly challenging, yet surpassingly beautiful, work of schooling and training their children at home.
Thank you to our sponsors!
Medi-Share: an affordable Christian alternative to traditional health insurance
Tuttle Twins: children’s books to help you teach your kids how the world really works
Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? We hope to see you there!
Sean Allen Well, hello again, and welcome to another episode of the Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Sean Allen, and I am joined today by a very special guest. I'll be quite honest with you, sometimes I get tired of hearing myself. If that's true of me, it might also be true of you. I thought, "You know, what better way to avoid hearing myself than to bring on a guest so you can listen to them? Without further ado, I will go ahead and introduce her. She is the mom, the myth, the legend, my beautiful wife, Caroline Allen.
Caroline Allen Hello. It's so nice to be here.
Sean Allen Caroline and I are sitting here at our kitchen table in our very small home. I think I've mentioned in the past that we've gone through quite an experience with selling our very large home in the city and moving into an RV for a little over six months. Then we realized we had a little baby on the way and we were no longer able to fit in that RV. Then we went looking for a house. As I'm sure many of you all realize, the housing market is a little bananas right now. And we found the place that we're in right now at the 11th hour. We'd almost consigned ourselves to renting. We found this place at literally like the last minute. It has two houses. There's two houses on the property. One is a pole barn that's about 600 some-odd square feet, and the other is a farmhouse that we're renovating. We're in the pole barn right now. There are no children in here besides our little little baby in the other room. I wanted to bring Caroline on here because—I don't know if she knows this or not, but I view her as an expert in the field of homeschooling. Frankly, there aren't that many people out there who not only homeschool but have themselves been homeschooled. Caroline's mother—which is another story in and of itself, won't go too far into it—Caroline's mother started just literally from scratch in this homeschooling movement. Nobody really knows who she was, but I view her as a forerunner in the homeschooling movement. She's really a trailblazer. I want to talk to Caroline a little bit today about her experience growing up in her home and what that was like and the things that she remembers about that because there's a lot of wisdom and just a lot of experience there that I hope that you all can glean from that and learn from that and benefit from that. Also, we're going to ask her about how she goes about her day-to-day life with homeschooling our seven—soon-to-be eight—children. We have eight, but obviously we're not homeschooling Jackson right now. So we only homeschool seven.
Caroline Allen I looked at him funny. I'm like, "That's not a pregnancy announcement. We have eight children."
Sean Allen Right, yeah. Jackson is just a little over a year old, so we don't start them out that early. But anyway, Caroline doesn't like to talk publicly, but she will talk privately. We've got her here privately, so I have some questions for her. She doesn't even know what the questions are. So that shows you the level of trust that she has with me. I'm not going to ask her anything that's too probing. We'll start out with just you talking about your experience. You can go into this as detailed as you want. Specifically, I was going to ask you maybe what your earliest memory is of being homeschooled? And then maybe share some of your fondest memories of your homeschooling experience.
Caroline Allen Well, my earliest memory that I can kind of remember with my mom was standing there—it was a cold morning—and I watched my older brother and sister go get on the bus, and I felt so special to be home alone with my mom. Little did I realize, just a few years later, my brother and sister would come home and I would never have to go on a school bus. I'm the youngest. I'm the only child that never went to a private or public school. She pulled my older sister when she was in fourth grade. This was kind of in the mid to late 80s. She just had a neighbor whisper to her, "I'm homeschooling," and it was not talked about. It was scary. Was it even legal? There was a lot of things going on at that time in the homeschooling movement. I respect all of these people back in the 80s and early 90s that just really stepped in and started homeschooling. I'm so thankful my mom did that for us. My earliest memory I have is sitting on the couch with my mom, and she has a little Abeka reader. Back then, that's kind of all they could get that they knew about was Abeka. She had a little Abeka reader, and she's teaching me my phonetic sounds. And the next thing I know, I'm reading a Little House on the Prairie book in the same house. We only lived there like six months. For some reason, I was a very fast reader at five or six, somewhere around there. My mom told me later that she went and she talked to a teacher that taught in public schools. She talked to a teacher we went to church with and was like, "Is that okay? That she's reading that well?" Because it concerned her. She just didn't know. I think it's so sweet. None of my children have taken off reading quite that fast. I wish they would have. But I loved to read and homeschooling afforded me that opportunity. I just took off and read lots of books. Then kind of my middle elementary years were kind of hazy. I have a lot of memories of just playing outside and reading tons and tons of books. I know I did all of the usual stuff, but I don't know. I just don't remember my middle elementary type years very much. I remember my high school years very, very well. My mom got sick with lupus when I was 11. When I say sick, she was deathly ill. She was in bed for the first six months when she was diagnosed. I remember going to her bed and doing school with her, or my older sister would help me. That's probably why, at 11, my middle school years are kind of blocked out of my memory of school because it was not a pleasant time. It was very difficult. But she was committed more than anything to see us through in our education. By the time I got to high school, my older brother and sister had graduated already. It was just my mom and I. Some people might— I'm going to get emotional. My mom passed away 12 years ago, so every time I talk about my mom, I cry. Some people might say, "That's not fun to be the only one left at home alone." I treasure those memories more than anything. I have the absolute best memories of being home with my mom. By that point, she had discovered Charlotte Mason and that method, and she was pen pals with Karen Andreola. They wrote back and forth, and she got lots of tips and ideas. She poured into me so much. I still have all of her record-keeping, her books, everything that she did. I will forever be grateful for all of the classical music appreciation, the art appreciation we did, the copywork, the dictation, the classical books I read, the care that she put into me. It was profound, and I'm forever grateful for who I am today because of my mother.
Sean Allen Yeah, I'd say your mother was just a shining example of an individual who loved what she was doing. She she was made for that. I think she's not necessarily unique in that way, because I think all mothers are made to do that in some form or fashion. But she really gave herself over to that, and that was one of her greatest joys, if not her greatest joy was to educate you all. She just poured herself into it and tried to find the best way possible that she could do it even though she was met with all kinds of opposition from her family and even just outside people being very critical of her and her endeavor. That being said, my next question is, what are some ways that you have tried to model your homeschool after the way that she homeschooled you and your your brother and sister?
Caroline Allen I think that I've had to come to terms that my homeschool experience with my children will not look the same because I have eight and she had three. My older sister has just really encouraged me not to model it exactly the same way. That it'd be okay. Mom would be okay with me changing some things. The vision is still the same and the goals are still the same. Some of the practical type, the methods I have to do are a little bit different. I'm not an all-in Charlotte Mason homeschool mom. I do use some type of textbooks. It just makes it easier. I teach my children to love classical music. They play cello and violin and piano. We have that love of music in our home like we did in my home. I teach them to love reading. That's just a huge thing. And it was for my mom as well. So there's a lot of things that still are the same. It's just a little bit different because I have so many different children to homeschool.
Sean Allen And your mom would be totally okay with that. That you've made it yours, and that it's unique and it works for you. Sometimes when we're on the convention circuit, sometimes you talk to people and some of the moms who were homeschooled themselves, their moms are maybe a little more—I don't want to say less forgiving—but they kind of teach or talk to them as if there's really only one way to do this, and your mom wouldn't have been like that.
Caroline Allen No, that's what I've learned after— you know, we're about to graduate our our oldest. I've got a senior this year, and I think I've learned there's some best ways, I think, but there's no right way to homeschool because you have so many different types of children and different types of mom and different situations. I work from home with Sean. I blog. I've got different things going on. I'm not just from nine to six o'clock at night poured in to just strictly homeschooling. And my mom was. That was her life. I think it's just good to look at curriculum, look at your family life, and pick what's best for you, and not get so caught up in, "This is how I was homeschooled," or "This is what my best friend says is the absolute best curriculum." Something I've also learned over the years is if a mom with two children is giving me curriculum advice, I really have to think it through, because large family curriculum— moms with large families, some of the curriculum just does not work for them. Really try and talk to other moms that have the same age children or the same type of children that you have. Sometimes that's the best way to find what's going to work for you and your family.
Sean Allen Looking at your experience, there's not a lot of fine grained details that you tried to carry over. What would be the one thing that you that you've taken from your homeschool experience and tried to carry over into how you you homeschool?
Caroline Allen I would say for sure a Charlotte Mason type method. I've read as many Charlotte Mason type books as I can. I love the method. I've tried so many Charlotte Mason type curriculums, but I've come to realize I'm more of just like a living books homeschooler. Definitely bent towards Charlotte Mason instead of bent towards a classical approach. But like Beautiful Feet Books. I like doing that for some of my high schoolers and things like that, but I'm not like an AmblesideOnline, and I've tried. I love the idea of it. I just can't seem to juggle it. We use Notgrass. We use Beautiful Feet Books, like I said. We use some of The Good and The Beautiful. We use Apologia for science. Things that maybe are a little bit more bent towards Charlotte Mason, but I'm not a diehard Charlotte Mason, just because of the amount of children I have. I just haven't been able to make it work for me, plus running a business. But I very much love nature study. I want my children to get outside. My mom taught me to appreciate nature and birds. We were always going outside. She just loved birds, so I was dragged into her bird-watching experience. Those types of things I definitely have taken and try to pass on to my own children. If I were to pick one type of method I would say Charlotte Mason.
Sean Allen For me, from the outside looking in, I would say—obviously I wasn't around when you were, well I was there towards the tail end—but looking at your whole homeschool experience, I wasn't privy to that at all. Based on what you've— that's not our baby, by the way; that's our dog squealing— I would say probably what you've tried to model is the joy of being together. It can be really hard, and it's easy to lose that. To get kind of bogged down in the minutia of the different subjects and the curriculum and "are we keeping up?" and "are we keeping pace?" It's easy to lose sight of the joy of being with your children and investing in them and being together and taking advantage of the special opportunities that you have to be a family that happens to be self-educating. I think your mother seems to have done that really well. As best that she could when she was not feeling ill. But just finding joy in this amazing opportunity that you have to be together and to learn in the same household instead of being apart all day long.
Caroline Allen Yeah, I would totally agree with that. I should have thought of this earlier when you asked, but I remember doing a unit study on the Civil War. We would sing around the piano all the Civil War songs. I still know some of those songs in my head today, and I just love that. Then doing some science experiments with my brother where we did magnetic experiments. Those types of things. It was always things connected with being together. Then watching my older brother and sister act out Romeo and Juliet, that was hysterical. Those types of things—when we did school together as a family—those are definitely in my memory. I don't remember so much just sitting at the table during my textbook. I've tried to remember that as best as I can and tried to look for ways I can have my children all learn together. A big part of that is doing a morning time. Morning time baskets— you can do it in the morning or afternoon, but they're so popular these days. Just having everybody come together. Sometimes my senior sits in, but a lot of times it's my 10th grader through my 1st grader. Well, and then our three-year-old is in the room, too. We all sit, and I'll read different things aloud. It's such a special time because then they all have to go off. The high schooler has to go and do his own algebra and that type of thing. They can't all be together for every subject, but having at least an hour of the day where they are together is really, really nice. I hope that they look back on that time with fond memories.
Sean Allen We're going to maybe transition it over into maybe some more practical advice that you can give to homeschool moms today or even to moms who are considering homeschooling. Because it seems like we live in a day in which more people than ever are giving it consideration or have tried it maybe for a year and maybe find that they're struggling with it. As you know and I know, it's incredibly difficult and incredibly challenging. For you, after having been homeschooled yourself and gone through the experience of your mother being so very ill and yet persevering through it all. With your unique situation—very much different than her—your challenges is, I think, just the number of children and the wide age range that you're homeschooling all at once. What would you say to moms who are just starting out or who are struggling or who have maybe been at this for a while and they just don't know if they can go on? If you could speak to them directly, what would be your advice to them?
Caroline Allen I would say if you're just starting out, you need to have a vision of why. You need to know why you're wanting to homeschool, because there will come a day when you question everything and you just want to send them on that bus. I never expected that I would have those moments because I was a homeschool all my life. And the public school—no, we're never doing public school. I have had moments where I've come to Sean, who went to public school his entire life, and I'm like, "I'm done. I can't do this. We must send them somewhere." He's like, "No, we can't. You know that." You need to have a vision that will get you through the difficult days. You need to have a support system, if at all possible. It's such a blessing. You need to know that you're not in this just for the academics. That's the thing that impressed me so much about the generation before us that homeschooled. It was not about the academics. It was about they wanted to pull their children out of the world. Not everyone, but generally they wanted to raise children for the Lord. They wanted to raise children to serve the Lord and to be different than what the public school was offering. We've forgotten that in this current generation. I feel it more than anything else. When I go to homeschool conventions and I go to co-ops and I just look around, I'm like, "This is not the same type of homeschoolers that I grew up with." I'm not trying to cast judgment. It's just an observation. I feel like the number one thing is we've forgotten that we need to stand apart. We need to be in the world, but not of it. It's something that we try so hard. But even in our home, I've seen the challenge it is to homeschool our teens and keep them out of the world. It's hard. It is so, so hard. You need to have a vision for why you're homeschooling and let that be in your heart. Pray about it all the time. Try and remember. Yes, you are sheltering your children. It's okay to shelter your children for a season and then send them off into the world.
Sean Allen Yeah, it sure seems clear that—like you were talking about, that prior generation or maybe two generations back even—they had a lot more at stake. It was such an unknown and uncharted territory for them, and they stepped out in faith believing that this was the right thing to do. Not necessarily that it was going to work or they'd be successful, but it's right. Therefore, God is with us, and he'll sustain us through this. We don't know where we're going to get our books. We don't know how we're going to construct our day. We don't know how we're going to arrange the room that we're going to have our schooling in. Just all kinds of unknowns, but they felt like this has to be done. A lot of individuals have lost sight of that, and it is boiled down to academics in a lot of respects. When that's the case and the going gets tough, then—if it's just about academics—you can send them to private school, you could send them to public school or whatever. What we've found is that, even with the private schools, it just seems like that's like a half step between homeschooling and public school. In a lot of instances, that's worse than just going all the way and sending them to public school. There's something weird that happens there because there's that compromise. I think what I hear you saying is that there really cannot be a compromise. When you say that it's okay to shelter, you're not talking about just totally 100% shielding them from the eyes of the rest of the world. You're talking about managing those influences and kind of managing how and when they come on so that they're better able to cope and to deal with those as they mature.
Caroline Allen Yes, that's totally what I'm talking about. I think there's just an age when it's more appropriate to let them start being exposed to all of this. I remember years ago, we sent our oldest three to a homeschool co-op. It was one we just dropped them off for the day, and they learned so many good things. But that was kind of a turning point. We look back, and we see they were exposed to a lot of things. They learned a lot of things about life there that they didn't know about, and it was things they didn't need to know about yet. I look back, if I could undo it, I wouldn't have sent them there. Even though I came to Sean recently like, "Should we send our younger three?" He's like, "No, don't you remember?" I'm like, "Yes, I remember." But I feel like there's just a time. When they become high schoolers, they can't just stay home all day and be sheltered. They've got to go into the world and start learning things. But it doesn't mean that you throw them into public school and say, "Well, I got you to this point; now, you'll be fine." You can take them all the way. You can do it. And it's the best thing for them.
Sean Allen We could go on and on about this. When you turn your children over to the public school or the private school system or whatever, you've really handed the reins over to a group of individuals that you can't be 100% sure that they have their best interests in mind. Even if they're trying to do the very best that they can at their job, they can't possibly care as much or be as mindful as you could be or as we've attempted to be with our own children. There's just no way about it. It's just seems like Satan has a field day with that. I'm not going to say that the public school or the private school system— there's obviously varying degrees there. But how good of a job do they do managing those influences? Some are better than others. In a lot of regards, because they're are around so many peers— I mean, certainly you cannot control their peers and the influences that they're exposed to. Even with this co-op that we sent them to—and it was just one day a week, if I'm not mistaken—you can't control the teachers and you can't control the children. It was just like a free for all. I would say it was way more conservative than what it could have been. And yet, you're surrounded by hundreds of children who themselves are exposed to thousands of different points of contact that I have zero control over. Now my children are learning about all kinds of things that I would not have otherwise have allowed into my home. They're asking me these questions like, "What's this movie?" and "Who's this celebrity?" and "What's this meme and this little joke?" and everything. It was disheartening. That was a group of conservative people. I think we want to see this through to the very end. Again, it's not necessarily keep them. We know it's going to happen. We have to launch them into the world at some point. But we're going to equip them and do our utmost to ensure that they are the strongest they can possibly be when they launch out into that storm. That, to us, is the travesty. We see so many people— they release their children into the storm far too early, and they are so ill-equipped to handle those things. That leads me into one of my last questions here, because we're running out of time. Maybe we'll have to do this again sometime. But we talk to a lot of moms. We know a lot of people personally and certainly we've come across people at conventions and just in different areas where you share with them or they learn that you homeschool. One of the most common responses that we get from a number of these ladies is, "Oh, I could never do that. Hats off to you. Wow. I'm so impressed. And you're an amazing person, and that's just incredible that you do that, and I'm supportive of that. But as for myself, I could never, ever do that. I just don't feel as if I am patient enough or I'm equipped," or whatever. Oftentimes, we don't respond to those people because they've clearly made up their mind and we don't want to argue with them. If they said, "Well, what do you think about that?" What would your response be to them if you really felt as if they were open to receiving counsel or to hear in your opinion when they say things like that?
Caroline Allen I think there's several things that come to mind. First of all, I would say, "God gave you your child, and you are responsible for your child. And so you are responsible for their education." I know not every mother can homeschool. I know there are exceptions. I'm not trying to sit here and say, "Every single mother— if you don't homeschool, you don't love your child." No, that's not the case at all. But I know that you can homeschool if you're given the opportunity. My mother said she learned so much. She learned a better education homeschooling us than she received in her own K-12 experience. If you don't feel smart enough, if you don't feel qualified, you don't feel you're patient enough— I believe that you have the ability to do it. Why I believe that is because God gave you that child. The second thing is, I really think it's a mindset. I've had all eight of my babies at home with midwives, and I get the same response to that. Again, I'm not saying everyone needs to do a home birth. Not at all. I've done it all unmedicated and people are like, "I have no clue how you do that." It's the same thing. It's a mindset. It's fixing your mind that you can do this, that you were called to do this, you were called a bear that child and you can go through it. You're called to homeschool that child for the 12 years they're in school. God will give you the patience. God will give you the ability. God will give you the money. God will give you the right people in your life. We've just been struggling with math. Sean and I are not strong in math in the high school years. We have been struggling trying to find the right person that could come and help. The last person I would have ever thought about, I stumbled across. It's someone not that much older than my high schooler, and he's connecting with her, and it's working out beautifully. I'm just amazed how God just put this young lady in our path. And they live ten minutes away. It's crazy. I'm just so thankful. These times when we just feel in despair and we think, "We just can't do it. Maybe we need to send them somewhere for math class because this just is not working out." And believe me, I've tried lots of online programs. He just needed somebody one-on-one to come and help, and God provided the way. It's a blessing for him. It's a blessing for her. Even when things seem— it's dark, you're in that period where you're drowning and you feel like, "I cannot do this," God will provide a way. I am convinced of that. I say that because I look back at my mom. She's on her deathbed almost. She's in bed. She can barely get out of bed. She also had epilepsy, so I watched her go through these horrible seizures. And the next day she's laying in bed recovering, handing me my homeschool saying, "Go do this." If she can do it, I know anyone can do it.
Sean Allen Yeah, I'm so thankful that your mother made the decision to homeschool you. But specifically with being the person that she is, I think has certainly helped us because whenever we've had second thoughts or doubted ourselves—or certainly you—all you have to do is look back at her and realize that she had it worse and she had a bigger challenge there. If anybody could have called it quits, it could have been your mom. She could have said, "It's my health," and nobody would have batted an eye. Nobody would have second guessed that. I mean, you probably would have wanted it to be different, but you'd say, "Well, no, obviously." She was the one that dictated that "I'm going to see this thing through to the very end." I'm convinced that if—again, she's passed on, it's been, what, 10, 12 years now—I'm convinced that even though she went through so much and her illness was so brutal to her, if she had it to do all over again, she would gladly do it. She wouldn't even think twice about it. That's just the kind of woman that she was. People like that really help us to realize just how worth it it is and really set such a bright and shining testimony before us. I think Caroline's right: you're uniquely equipped and qualified. You're qualified because you're called. God called you. That's all you really need to know. We just really buy into a lot of these narratives that are force fed to us throughout our upbringing. I was probably exposed to those things as well. I had never even given homeschooling a second thought. I didn't even half know what it was until I met Caroline. I'm just thankful that I had eyes to see when I was exposed to it and realized that it's far far better than any other mode of education that you can point to today. It's just the best option that there is available. And so why would you do anything else? And I think Caroline's right: there are circumstances in which it's nearly impossible. We want to be respectful towards those. But I think it's fewer than you'd think, it's fewer than you think. I had quite a few more questions, but there's one last question. It's kind of a maybe a fun question at the end for you because I know that you like to read— you don't read as much as you'd like to today. You much read a lot more growing up than you do today because there's just too much going on. But do you have like two or three books that you would— if you had someone that's interested in homeschooling or just learning about it or or even somebody who's in the midst of it and they're struggling— do you have two or three books that you'd just like to hand to somebody like that that maybe would be a good resource for them?
Caroline Allen I'm going to have a hard time remembering the names. One of them is called Homeschool Bravely, and I can't remember the author. The other one would be Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie. Of course, that's an excellent book. That's more of a visionary book. Not a practical book. Probably the book from Sally Clarkson that they wrote on homeschooling. I can't remember the title. That's a very, very good one that influenced my mom. I still have her copy. That was like the first edition they put out, and it's highlighted and notes all over. I still think that's a very, very good book. If you like more of the Charlotte Mason type— like Karen Andreola and I can't remember some of the other ones. There's so many good homeschool books out there now, but those are some I would start with. I still pull them back out off my shelves and read to encourage me.
Sean Allen Okay, well, thank you. Well, I think we've set it up for another interview at some point in time. I don't know if it'll be the next time because I know that you've got a lot more to share. I think Caroline obviously has a passion for this, but I think as she gets older—not that she's old at all—but as she's gone through, again, now our seventh child and soon-to-be homeschooling our eighth. And who knows if there will be more beyond that, but she has a lot to share in this area. It is a passion of hers, not only for her own children, but I think for other mothers because she knows what it's like. She would just desperately love to reach out and to lend a hand to anyone who is feeling weary or tired or worn out because she's been there and she's done that. And that's what we're here for. We would expect you all to do that for us, and we hope that we can be a help and a support to you. We're all going to admit it's not easy. I think as the years go by, I look forward to hearing more from her. I think that will probably be her next leg in this journey is offering support to mothers because her mother did it, she's doing it, and she wants to see her grandchildren continue on in this journey long after we're gone is our hope. That's why she's here, and that's why I'm here as well. So thank you, my dear, for doing this. We thank you all for listening today and for showing up. We look forward to talking to you again in the near future. So goodbye for now and have a good day.