"We converted the old summer kitchen into a schoolhouse in 2006," Susie Thomas said. "We really needed a separate place to learn away from the toys, TV, phone and other distractions that were in the house."
Thomas began home schooling her children seven years ago, when her oldest, K.J., was 4-years old.
"My son was reading, writing and doing math at 4-years old," Thomas said. "I tried every school in the area, but they wouldn't let him in because of his age. What upset me the most was that they wouldn't even test him to see if he was ready to go, so, my husband and I decided to home school him."
Thomas is proud of the fact that home schooling has worked out so well for her family.
"They learn so easily that when K.J. was in first grade he tested at a fourth grade level," Thomas said.
Currently, the children, K.J., 10, Mike, 8, Samantha, 7, and Steven, 5, are all learning above their grade level.
Using a specialized curriculum, the A Beka system, Thomas creates lessons plans for the students a week at a time.
"When I only had two in school, I got really motivated one year and had the lesson plans for the entire year laid out," Thomas laughs, "That was harder to do with more than two students in different grades."
The school day begins each morning at approximately 8:30 a.m., after breakfast and time to wake up.
"I start my day at 6 a.m. with my quiet time, exercise and devotions," Thomas said. "Then I head in and wake up the kids. K.J. is usually the last to wake. He has a medical condition that requires more rest than the other kids, and home schooling accommodates this."
The students follow the lesson plan, which includes bookwork, and then they each have their board-work time. Thomas gives most lessons in a three-pronged approach. Reading, written and orally.
"When I first got into home schooling, I learned a lot about learning styles," Thomas said. "Some children can get the information by reading it, others by hearing it. My kids all learn differently. K.J. can absorb anything just by reading it. Mike hears what I'm teaching him and the others and retains it, and Steven is a combo kid. He can get the information multiple ways. Samantha is the hardest. She is my artsy child, and she thinks very much outside the box. It's harder for her, but when she gets it, it has more meaning."
There is no doubt that these students enjoy this schooling, they were very vocal about their favorite subjects, math and language. They are also happy to have more free time than their friends that attend a more traditional school.
"Our lessons are usually done by noon," Thomas said. "They have their independent studies that I check daily, and their reading. They read, they read to me, and then at night they each take time with (their father) to read to him. Because they are all home schooled, they get much more individualized attention. This has resulted in some very independent, secure children."
Norm Thomas, the children's father, isn't just a person to read to, he also teaches the children.
"Most people think that home schooling takes away from the children, that couldn't be further from the truth," Thomas said. "Most of the families in our co-op have fathers that teach at least one subject at home and many also teach in the co-op. My husband and I fight over who gets to teach what. We're both math and science crazy, and I have a degree in foreign languages and sociology. It really doesn't matter to the kids who teaches what, they are getting our attention and they thrive."
According to Thomas, school is also portable.
"We go camping and the kids can take their worksheets and do more fieldwork," She said. "A camping trip allows for nature lessons, physics (when they put up the tent), cooking lessons and many others.
"There isn't ever a time when they aren't learning," Thomas said. "They soak it up like little sponges. It's more important that they comprehend and can apply knowledge than they pass tests."
Thomas said that the decision to home school took their families by surprise.
"The reaction was mixed," She said. "There were concerns that the children wouldn't be socialized, miss out on school activities and not make any friends. The reality is very different. I feel they've gotten far more out of home schooling."
The children are part of a co-op that recently split; they had too many families in it.
"We have a nine-week session where we meet each week and everyone has school together. It's like an extracurricular class that enhances what we are learning on our own. We have lessons in many things, gift making, cooking, chemistry, bible studies, states and engineering," Thomas said. "Most of the parents teach at least one course. This includes many of the Dads. We even have one Dad teaching trapping to the kids."
According to Thomas, the children are more outgoing, and can easily talk to children or adults equally well. The co-op takes frequent field trips, and as a support system, can't be beat.
"A home school group is like a small community. There is always someone being supportive and helpful, and always someone that will answer any questions," Thomas said. "We also can be a force to be reckoned with. Last year, one of our mothers was diagnosed with breast cancer. Our co-op rallied around to support her, and we also had the largest team for "relay for life" and raised the most funds."
While the Thomas family knows that home schooling works for them, Susie was also very vocal about some of the drawbacks.
"It isn't for everyone," She said. "It takes a lot of patience, organization and time. Yes, lessons take three or four hours a day, but you still have to check them, and find things for them to do. It isn't cheap to home school. We just paid approximately $1,500 for the books our kids need this year. We can pass them down, but it's still a chunk when we are also still paying taxes for a school that our children don't attend. Mom has to still do the housework, laundry and cooking."
Those interested in learning more about home schooling, contact Jennifer Buell, Chairman of the Board, 812-986-6350.