Laura Ehlis’ daughters know when it’s time to start homeschool -- the dining room table is cleared and their workbooks, pencils and markers are pulled out.
Laura and Frank Ehlis, who farm 6 miles northwest of New England, are the parents of Julia, age 8, who is a third-grader; and the twins, Amelia and Simina, age 5, who are are in kindergarten.
“This is pretty much school,” Laura said pointing to the table. “I don’t have a homeschool room and we enjoy it here, but I’d like more wall space. We use the fridge and folders.”
After morning snacks, the twins studied the letter “E,” while Julia practiced math equations. Then the twins were given worksheets and chatted away with one another, while Julia turned to a lesson on longitude and latitude.The lesson was one-on-one until she had mastered the concept.
“Time for recess - outside,” Laura said.
As school gets underway in the public and private schools, the Ehlis children are homeschooled most of the year, except for a break during July.
“Homeschooling takes between 3 and 4 hours a day --sometimes we do 2 ½ hours . It just depends. Sometimes, especially now that daddy is harvesting and we don’t have much family stuff going on, we’ll pull out the school stuff,” she said.
The idea to homeschool started as an experiment.
While attending preschool at New England; Julia enjoyed playing with the other children, but she was kind of bored, Laura said.
“I was an elementary teacher in Romania, so I did the homeschooling experiment with her, and forgot how much I liked teaching,” she said.
She has a teaching degree from Romania, a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Dickinson State University and a master’s degree in business administration rom the University of Mary.
“Homeschooling fits in many ways,” she continued. “One example, my husband starts harvesting in August, so we start to homeschool,and we can take a week off in October when he’s finished. Another example is I also have a business on the side -- I’m a life and business coach and I have clients in Europe and the United States. I coach over skype, so sometimes when I have a client in Europe, I have coaching sessions in the morning, which is evening in Europe and I homeschool in the afternoon. So it’s really flexible.”
Her message to anyone thinking of homeschooling: “If you want to be a stay-at-home mom and homeschool or if you’re passionate about a business, you can do both. I tell my coaching clients, you have to have a WHY that makes you cry... to keep on going when the road gets tough.”
She teaches bible lessons as part of their curriculum.
“That’s the very reason why some parents homeschool,” she said. “There’s such a variety of reasons, but for me it was an experiment when I started. Just the thought that for 8 hours a day 5 days a week, somebody else is modeling their thinking patterns and that’s what your children will carry throughout their lives. This is my biggest why combined with flexibility of family dynamics.”
Laura admits the girls don’t always want to listen or sit still.
“Don’t think it’s all sugar plum fairy tales and rainbows,” she said. “We have our days, but look at the big picture, not the day by day. We have a mini-trampoline here to reset their attitude.”
Julia loves the trampoline, and having her afternoons free.
“Sometimes I like to read books,” she said. “I like to play downstairs with my sisters. I get to spend more time with my mom and sisters, and if we want to take a trip in the middle of the week, it works OK.”
She is looking forward to attending homeschool gym this year. Last year, she participated in “Classical Conversations” with other homeschoolers, but this year they will drive to Dickinson for gym twice a month. That program starts in September.
Preparing lesson plans for two grades takes commitment, but Laura said the curriculum is pretty laid down.
“Every single day, I know exactly what to do. Some of those worksheets are things I can add to reinforce what they are learning,” she said.
Homeschoolers are entitled to enroll in certain classes in the public schools, but they need to inform the superintendent in their “statement of intent to home educate.”
“If somebody wants to start, I would say to find their why and to realize realize that it’s not a coincidence that your child is your child. God knows. Homeschooling is helping me grow as a person -- to grow and do better, to be more patient,” she said. “If parents want to start, reach out to me, reach out to Lori Wentz. Homeschool teas will start once a month after Labor Day. It’s just for moms and nursing babies -- no kids allowed. It’s a chance to talk with each other, to exchange ideas and to encourage each other.”
Classes at the Ehlis home concluded for the day at 12:30 p.m. What was on the afternoon agenda?
“Julia loves to bake. It’s a mom-daughter thing, but it’s also homeschooling because we double recipes and she has to calculate amounts. We also talk about science, we have allergies and we talk about that issue. Homeschooling isn’t four hours and you’re done.”
Whether a child attends a public or private school or is homeschooled, Laura said, ‘I strongly believe it’s what every parent thinks is best for their children… I challenge them to think of why do they want to do this. Why is the key and its determined by everybody’s personal beliefs. It’s so unique to everyone --I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer.
“Many people ask why we homeschool, but I’ve never heard anyone ask why do you send your kids to private school or why send them to a public school. Every parent, I believe, is doing the best for their kids and families.”