Holistic Home Learning
Kristin Crowder uses an all-encompassing method to provide a well-rounded education for her daughters.
By Dwain Hebda/Photography by Lily Darragh
Kristin Crowder isn’t what most people think of when they think of a home school parent. She doesn’t have a background in education (although many home-schooling moms don’t). She’s not philosophically opposed to or had a negative experience with traditional education; in fact she’s a big fan of her eldest daughter Camille’s one year at her Montessori school in Little Rock.
For Kristin and her husband, Tom, the decision to educate their two daughters at home after the birth of Louise four years ago boiled down to one simple element: family. “I was able to stay home for a little bit (after Louise was born); it was summertime so we had the two of them together,” she said. “They’re five years apart and we would love them to know each other more. “Plus, Tom has a really incredible job situation where he can come home a lot during the day but it also requires him to travel a lot. Homeschooling allows them to see him so much more than they would if they were in school every day.”
What followed the decision was a period of discovery both for the Crowder girls and for their parents trying to navigate the world of home education. Four years later, the family can’t imagine doing it any other way. “I don’t have to work all day, but I’m always learning things,” said Camille, age 9. “I get to read in the morning instead of getting ready to leave the house. I get up really early before everyone else wakes up.” “I like the letters. I like to plant things because I think it’s fun, and reading books and going to the library,” added 4-year-old Louise. As for having her mom for a teacher? “She’s fun. I love rainbows; she’s like a rainbow.”
If you’re wondering how Kristin makes mommy-daughter time feel like time in school, well, she doesn’t really. In fact, it’s more or less the secret of the former graphic artist’s success as an educator. “There are so many different ways to do home school,” she said. “The idea that we want to really drive home is the idea of a sustainable learning pattern that they can follow as they grow and throughout their adulthood. I don’t always set aside a set amount of time in our classroom; I really try to make sure that they’re learning in the kitchen, that they’re learning outdoors, that they know that the learning of their life is everywhere around them.”
Kristin’s teaching methodology evolved through an eclectic mix of influences. Inspired by the Montessori method, she quickly found the amount of teaching materials available bordered on the overwhelming. Her first full year as a home-school mom was as much about her education as Camille’s. While time and experience has given her a better handle on things, she and Tom still put in a lot of work to learn things in response to the girls’ questions or just to take education in a new direction.
Speaking of direction, another element of Kristin’s teaching is letting the girls’ curiosity and interest drive much of what’s studied in any given day, particularly during the afternoon, which is reserved for unstructured extra-curricular activities. This philosophy borrows from an educational model called unschooling, where the student has greater freedom to learn what they want when they want. “I found that if they’re learning on their terms, they are so engaged in wanting to move forward with learning that it’s really not work,” she said.
Kristin’s best advice to the beginner is to remember there’s no one system that works for all and to expect to learn right alongside your children. She strongly recommends leveraging local resources such as the city’s excellent library system and trusting your instincts. “Use the library, have a small, dedicated space in your house for learning or doing research and just find your best teaching style and how it can connect to your children’s learning style,” she said. “That’s all you really need. Home schooling is pretty fun; it’s really, really fun.”