Home » Guest Post: Commonwealth Homeschooling with Valerie Harmon

Guest Post: Commonwealth Homeschooling with Valerie Harmon

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Last Updated on June 3, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Hi, friends! Leslie here. As we continue to explore options for our children’s education, I wanted to feature a good friend I just made, Valerie. She has been “homeschooling” for over a decade and has a unique opportunity: commonwealth schools.

What is Valerie’s Background?

Hello! My name is Valerie Harmon.

I have seven children (4 still at home), and I have custom educated my children for over 18 years.

What Is a “Custom Education”?

Some call at homeschool, but I find that a misnomer. Homeschool suggests everything takes place within the home, and in my experience, a “home education“ takes place all over the community, and even the world.

A “custom” education focuses the education on the child, not on the method. Throughout the years, my children have had classes within the home, with co-ops, commonwealth schools, private schools, tutors, and public schools. 

What Homeschool Advice Does Valerie Have?

For those thinking of homeschooling for the first time, my advice is this: Plan just a year at a time.

If there’s anything that 2020 has taught us, it’s be prepared for change. But this happens in vanilla years too.

Each year a child is in a different age group and might need different classes or environments than the year before. Customizing the education to the child means harnessing the wonderful offerings in your community and online, replacing curriculum that didn’t work well the year before, and matching the child’s current interests with mentoring experts.

What Does Custom Educating Look Like For Valerie?

This year I have a senior, sophomore, 7th grader, and pre-schooler. This is what fall semester currently looks like:

  1. We all will attend a commonwealth school once a week (more on this below).
  2. My children will be taking Shakespeare, a study skills class, a literary analysis class, and a goal accountability class.
  3. For math, we have a once a week math tutor who answers math questions from the Teaching Textbooks curriculum. We continue this through the summer.
  4. My teens will attend a once a week AP World History class, an ACT study class, and a religious study class. 
  5. We also host a Teen Club once a week to build friendships between other custom educating teens.
  6. For my senior: he is finishing up the Automated Manufacturing Program at the local tech college (in my state high school students can attend tech colleges tuition-free), which will also earn him an Associates’s degree.
  7. For my sophomore: she is taking the second year in Speech and Debate with Wasatch Independent Debate League, which holds classes and tournaments for about 200 custom educated youth in my state. She is putting together a once a week preschool to pay for her dance and voice lessons.
  8. For my 7th grader: he is taking Dave Ramsey’s online financial course for teens and Learn Essay Writing the Fast Way middle school online course.
  9. For my preschooler: he is learning to read with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. He uses Starfall and he just registered for Waterford Upstart, both free online reading programs.

What is a Commonwealth School?

There are commonwealth schools in the western United States, not just my state (there’s even one in Tanzania).

A commonwealth school, based on the Leadership Education Mentoring Institute (LEMI) and A Thomas Jefferson Education book, is limited to 30 families who all contribute to the teaching and work of the school.

According to the LEMI website, a new commonwealth school is:

The New Commonwealth School gives concerned parents an affordable school environment that does not surrender control to an inflexible school administration and secular humanist trained teachers.

It is a great option for parents who want to give their children a quality educational experience without having to rely on pricey private schools. 

The New Commonwealth School is a community created school that provides mentoring for students in the Scholar Phase. 

What Else Are You Doing To Educate?

Above are the visible, school-looking parts of our education.

In actuality, custom educating is a lifestyle.

When we go to the store to buy groceries, my children help me find the best price. We listen to books on Audible and read aloud together. We have chores that they must finish before they earn media time. We have devotionals almost every morning and often take “field trips.”

Learning takes place within and beyond the texts and classes. 

What If I Want To Custom Educate?

If you’re wanting to customize your child’s education, do some reading.

  1. Read about learning styles and personality types, so you can learn how to fit the education to your child’s needs.
  2. Talk to your child. Discover what they want to learn more about, and consider what skills they need to accomplish their goals.
  3. Think about their future and what knowledge and experiences will best aid them in that future.

While in high school, our eldest daughter (now 23 years old) decided she wanted to turn the book character Anne of Green Gables into a modern times YouTube channel (Green Gables Fables).

This project led to a successful Kickstarter for recording season two in Canada, and she now works as a Creative Director at the top of her career, even though she is so young. She was able to accomplish an amazing project because of a customized education (she did all the work, we just gave her support and room to thrive).

There is a huge list of reasons why people choose to custom educate their children. Figure out your why, and your vision and mission for your family, so that custom education isn’t something that happened because of COVID-19. Create your education style around your family’s needs, not the other way around.

Questions? Leave them below!

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