In a classroom just outside Bonne Terre, the teacher wears house shoes. Sometimes, she teaches her students in the tree house. That’s OK, the teacher is also the mother of her four students.
Since August, Melissa Sheldon has been teaching her children at home. Blake, 12, is in seventh grade. Kaylee, 11, is in sixth grade. Chase is a 9-year-old fourth-grader and McKenzi is 7 and in second grade. Before they were born, their mother was a first grade teacher in Festus. Their parents say the Sheldon kids were good students in the public school system, but they just wanted more for them.
“We had a very good experience in the school system, but we knew God was telling us to do this,” said Melissa. “This year our kids would have been in four schools in two different towns. We wanted to cut down on the chaos.”
At the Sheldon house, there is no frantic shuffle out the door on weekday mornings. There’s no homework to do at night. There’s no rushing to an open house, concert or ball game.
“I get to spend more time with them and it’s the best hours of the day,” said Melissa. “The teachers were getting those best hours before.”
Shawn Sheldon agrees that when he would come home and ask his children how their school day was, they would simply say “okay.”
“Now, they go on and on about what they’re learning,” he said. “They’re able to learn at their own pace and there’s no wasted time. And we get our kids at their best, rather than the leftovers.”
The Sheldons had friends who home-schooled and helped get them started with faith-based materials. Melissa said she understands more about how her children learn and she believes their love of learning has grown. Every day their mother reads aloud to them and they discuss what they’ve heard.
“The kids are learning to think for themselves instead of getting a textbook with a paragraph about a subject,” said Melissa. “We’re gathering information from all kinds of sources. “
During the election, Melissa gave them a lesson on the electoral college. They plan to study the inauguration when President Obama is sworn in. When Shawn Sheldon was laid off from his job, he gave his children a lesson in economics. Sometimes, when they read the daily “This Day in History,” it evolves into a lesson for that day.
For P.E., they may hike for two hours or go ride the Katy Trail.
“We ended our walk on a tree limb that had fallen over a creek — it was like a balance beam,” said Melissa.
For a lesson in art, they went to the St. Louis Art Museum. For music, they watched West Side Story while studying Shakespeare and on Elvis’ birthday, they watched some of his videos on YouTube.
They study math with lessons on DVD called “Math You See.” The kids watch and then their parents review them and they do practice tests.
Another family now joins them for history and science lessons. Melissa would like to know about other home-school families. She thinks they might be able to build upon their lessons together. To find out more, call her at 573-358-5451 or via e-mail at email@example.com. The Families for Home Education has information about setting up school at home and what Missouri’s law requires. On the Internet, go to www.fhe-mo.org.
The Sheldons start their school day with quiet time, Bible reading and prayer. That’s an important part of what makes their school days different than they were before.
“Schools were started in the first place by churches and people who wanted to share their values and religion,” said Shawn. “Home schooling is the best option to do that now.”
At one point in their interview with a reporter, Chase came in to say it was lunchtime. He keeps the family schedule. Blake made the lunch. A cooking lesson can become a part of his extra-curricular learning activities, just like when he transforms a lawn mower into a go-cart. Kaylee sews. Chase collects rocks and learns about them.
Their school days last from 8:40 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., with the last hour reserved for “productive free time.” There are no phone calls when school is in session. They’ve had no snow days and only one child has missed school because of sickness. Their school year will end on May 8.
The Sheldons say how long they continue their home-school routine will depend upon their kids. They all say they want to keep school at home next year.
“This is too good,” said Blake. “I’ve learned way more this year.”
But, Blake believes he might want to return to public school for high school in two years. Kaylee thinks she might like high school, too. They still get to see their friends through church and other activities like dance and baseball. Melissa says no matter how long they choose to continue to be schooled at home together, it’s the right thing for her family now and she’s happy with the choice they’ve made.
Donna Hickman is a reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact her at 431-2010, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.