This article features a brief conversation between myself and Chenning Peng. I was honored to have Ms. Chenning’s daughter in my class a few years ago. (That’s where I learned that she had previously taught homeschool students!) I am so grateful she has joined our team to teach both writing (using IEW History-Based Writing) and now Earth Party Science. Enjoy!
~ Christine Echeverri, June 8, 2023
You initially taught in the classroom. Why did you decide to homeschool?
Teaching students in the public school was a great blessing to me and taught me so much. However, when I started having my own children, I realized that we enjoyed learning together – and actually did it very naturally. We also enjoyed being with one another! The fact that our family could learn together, nurture the parent child and sibling relationships, and tailor each child’s education were the major reasons we decided to homeschool. Now that my kids are quickly growing up and growing in independence, I love that homeschooling gave our family the precious gift of time together. Homeschooling has also allowed us to travel together during the school year – our whole family has been able to learn from the cultures and experiences from our different destinations.
You have 4 kids! How has your homeschool approach changed from your first to your last child?
I do have 4 kids! I have always been pretty eclectic in our homeschool style and curriculum choices. As each subsequent child began homeschooling, I became at the same time more relaxed and more forward thinking. I have more insight now that every child is unique with different styles of learning and different interests. I have more patience and trust in the process of my kids learning and growing. I now see that things like reading aloud to the kids, spending time cooking, gardening, shopping at Costco…these are mundane things we spent time doing that have paid us back 100 fold. I realize how precious those moments are! I’ve let go more, but enthusiastically support my children’s interests and provide opportunities for growth.
Homeschooling is a rich experience. Share a few favorite memories from your time homeschooling.
There was a Valentine’s Day when my kids were 8, 5, and 2 (didn’t even have my youngest yet!). We had just moved to a new city and knew almost no one. We decided to have a Valentine’s Day party with just our family. We got out all of our construction paper, recycled magazines, yarn, lots of found materials and had a Valentine-making workshop. I helped the younger kids write messages. We each made a valentine for each member of the family and also made large woven heart envelopes to fill with our “loot.” It is one of my fondest memories, and we have some of those valentines to this day!
Another time shortly after that, we did a unit study on apples. We went to the local farmer’s market and bought one of each kind of apple. We measured, weighed, drew the apples, and conducted taste tests with our own rating system. I also checked out apple-themed books from the library to read with the kids.
Another vivid memory is doing the “Read A Book A Day Challenge.” We got the idea from a homeschool podcast and decided to dive in. Basically, for one month, I read one book per day aloud to the kids. They were all picture books, and we had put many on reserve at the library that were recommended by friends. Our extended family and some family friends also participated, and we ended up keeping a record and trading ideas on social media together.
Three of your kids homeschooled through middle school, and then transitioned into full-time highschool. Your eldest just graduated from USC. How did the adjustment from homeschool to full-time school go?
There was some anxiety for sure! We had each child take summer school that summer before their entry into high school. It gave each of them a chance to get acclimated in a group and make friends (or at least good acquaintances) before the first day of school. It also allowed them to get a preview of what traditional school would be like academically. This worked well and made the actual first day of school much easier! Their academic foundation from homeschooling gave them confidence in the classroom. This allowed my kids to focus more on navigating socially – making friends and learning to communicate with their teachers.
You taught homeschoolers for a number of years as a writing teacher at Classical Conversations; what do you most appreciate about teaching homeschoolers?
I appreciate that homeschooling families are so invested and supportive of their children’s growth and education. These are all families that realize how valuable it is to have a close nurturing family, are independent thinking, and love to learn! I love that homeschoolers feel free to be themselves and exhibit creativity and ask questions!
Your youngest took the Earth Party class last year; as a parent, what did you appreciate about the class?
I loved that the class is literature-based and hands on even though it is online! Lily enjoyed the books a lot, using the microscope, and getting to choose the subject of the independent project. She loves animals (so does our whole family). For her final project, she sewed a wombat stuffed animal out of felt.
This next year you will be teaching Earth Party. What most excites you about the class?
I’m so excited to be teaching this class! My own daughter Lily had such a positive experience with this class, learned meaningfully through literature and hands-on activities. I cannot wait to lead students through the discovery of the natural order, diversity, and beauty of the living creatures on earth! It will be really fun to see which species are the favorites among the students. I love high quality literature, and I am looking forward to reading Karl, Get Out of the Garden and Tree of Life with the kids and sharing the gorgeous illustrations with them. It’s going to be a great class!
Experiences with science can be as transformative as the feeling of a lightning bolt striking us. What is one of your favorite memories from childhood or as an adult, where life science was made real to you?
As one of our homeschooling experiences, we raised silkworms. A woman from our co-op gave several to each family and a handful of mulberry leaves to start. It was so amazing to see them grow visibly day by day, eating voraciously through the leaves that we had to replenish daily from a neighbor’s mulberry tree. The internet told us about how the life cycle should progress, but we were in awe when one by one the silkworms began spinning silk. When the silkworms emerged, we marveled when we saw their feathery antennae, furry white bodies, and their non-existent mouths. My kids and I still remember the binomial nomenclature for silkworms – they are called Bombyx mori.
If you had 2 weeks of free time and an unlimited amount of money to travel, take a class, or pay for expertise, what area of science would you explore?
I would take a course to become a doula (a childbirth assistant). I read many books during my pregnancies and during the postpartum period – I am fascinated with pregnancy, birth, and babies! I would love to learn more about the biology behind it all and how to assist someone practically in this special season of life! I would love to accompany midwives or doctors to births and be trained to both understand the process and how to educate women so that they can have a safe and meaningful birth.
What is your favorite state or national park?
My favorite national park is Yosemite! Last time we went, we stayed in the tent cabins in Curry Village. I loved waking up and being surrounded by the redwood forest. In the evening, we went hiking through the meadow and saw a stag standing right next to the trail. It was truly amazing!