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Homeschooling is the practice of educating kids at home or out in the world instead of traditional schooling. While the concept might be different or even radical for some, it’s on the rise. Since 2012, homeschooling has grown consistently by 3-8% per year.
So what’s the appeal for parents and for kids?
Well, that’s what we’re going to find out today!
Aaron and Kaleena Amuchastegui are parents of 4 and the authors of the Amazon Best Seller, “The 5 Hour School Week: An Inspirational Guide to Leaving the Classroom to Embrace Learning in a Way You Never Imagined”.
They crafted this book in the midst of their family’s journey into homeschooling and today we’re going to learn more about how and why they went this route for their family.
Andy Hill: What originally got you interested in the concept of homeschooling?
Kaleena Amuchastegui: Yeah, so we actually had the three older girls in a private school. Our oldest had been in school since she was three years old. We had just put her in a traditional pre-school right away. We loved our community and we loved our private school community.
One of our favorite administrators, the Vice-Principal, told me one day he was leaving the school and I was heartbroken.
So I invited him up to coffee, just to say like “Where are you going? What are you doing?” He told us about a new path that he was taking, that he was starting an acting academy, which is unconventional education, it’s entrepreneurial based school. They start at kindergarten and they go all the way through high school and it really prepares kids for the real world, for becoming an entrepreneur, to starting their own businesses.
It was the first time I heard anybody doing something different and I really respected this man, and all of a sudden it got all of my wheels turning at the time, because we weren’t very happy necessarily, with giving our kids up all day, every day. And he started to speak of something new and the world opened up to us.
Aaron Amuchastegui: Our journey into deciding to homeschool was this really long process. So for the longest time, we had our kids in school. We were doing everything that we were told we were supposed to do, and we would drop the kids off and they would be in a good mood and when we picked them up they would be tired and cranky. But we thought that was just the way it was, so we kind of just accepted, that’s what you do, that’s what I did.
You just deal with it and its real life and sometimes life is hard, and when she talked to Matt (the Vice-Principal friend) that was kind of the first time that we could say that we could start to question this. Maybe there is another way. So after that, we looked at Acton Academy and he was starting and we started to look at all these different things. That was probably a twelve-month journey of all these different experiences that led to going “You know what, homeschool is our answer.”
What did you do for a living to make homeschooling financially possible?
Aaron: I am an entrepreneur that owns a couple of different businesses, but most of the businesses are real estate based businesses. We would buy houses and we would fix them up and we would rent them out. We would buy houses, we would fix them and sell them.
Right at this time when we started questioning what was going on and what we should do; one of the first things we did, we just had the family traveling with me on some of those things. So I had a conference I would go to out in Florida and we would just pull them out of school for the week and we would go to Florida and I would do my work conference and Kaleena would hang out with the kids, or I would have business in Texas and so I would go out there.
It was really like, “You know what? Even though we don’t know what we are doing yet, let’s try doing some more real-life activities as a family.” So part of my job in the business was traveling for work, and they started traveling for work with me.
How did you get your start in real estate and entrepreneurship?
Aaron: I graduated in construction management and I worked for a home builder, and I was in the home building industry for a few years. First, I started out at the height of the house building boom and then a few years later the housing market crashed.
I worked for someone else for a long time, but we knew we wanted to become entrepreneurs. A big part of that was when our second daughter was born so early, we had this new family value deal where we were looking and we need to do something different. I started buying houses and fixing them up and Kaleena became a real estate broker and she would become the one selling them. So we built this large house-flipping company, and she was working full time and I was working full-time.
Kaleena: We both had this massive business and it was one or two houses as our goal and before we knew it we were flipping 30 houses a month, and I was the broker of record.
In the middle of all this happening, we are having babies. We started the business we had Madeline, who was 18 months old and then Charlotte, who Aaron said, was born seven weeks early and was in the NICU, which just completely freaked us out.
I was getting up at 4 am and taking my brokers exam while I’m nursing Charlotte. And shortly after, 16 months later, we have Isabel, our third girl and I’m building a massive brokerage at the time. So we are sending Maddie off to pre-school really early, earlier than she needed to be. We had nannies raising our kids and I was working 70 hours a week.
I think we fell into that, no matter what field you are in, it is really easy to fall into that work cycle of “We just need to get ahead. We just need to build this business.” And I woke up one day and other people were raising my children, and I was really discontent. Financially we were very well off and every other area of our life had fallen to pieces.
At what point did you stop doing real estate and focus on homeschooling, Kaleena?
Kaleena: It started as me just being a stay at home mom. I got pregnant with our fourth child, our son, and Aaron’s business was doing fairly well on his own and I was able to step out of the real estate.
He had moved a lot of his real estate out of California and into Texas, and I didn’t have my Texas license yet. Aaron said, “Can you get your Texas license?” And it was a time where I said “I don’t need to get my Texas license. Let’s not redo all of our bad mistakes. Let’s not repeat the bad part of history.”
So I said “I’m going to cheer you on. I am going to be the most supportive spouse that I can be, as you build that part of your business, this new part of it. But I want to focus on our family. I want to build out our family and make it, its best functioning self.” So that’s what we did.
He just went and forged that new business and I became the PTO President for the kids at school. I had our first baby. I jumped in both feet to be the best stay at home mom that I could be.
Aaron: I remember thinking she was so crazy when she said: “No, I am not going to help you build in Texas.” I was like “We can’t afford it. We can’t afford not to.”
She said “Trust me. You focus on that, and you’re going to be able to do even better than that if I am supporting you and supporting the family.” And we have been really lucky and so grateful for the way that it’s worked out.
But we lost so many years with our kids, kind of doing it the wrong way, and then we had some different experiences with losing some family members and things like that, and we were like “You know what? We’re not going to that anymore. Now we are going to do experiences over things. We are going to make sure we are there for our kids while they are young enough to where they have to like us, we’ll make sure we got a bunch of experiences with them and make the most of that time.”
What were your objections to the traditional school system?
Kaleena: Essentially it was just that feeling that I was discontent. Here I was jumping in with both feet as like, the most epic stay at home mom that I could be, and honestly, the school is getting the best hours of the day with them. I mean, I was so discontent.
I would get them up in the morning, and I would have to shove them out the door in the morning, and there was that fight to just get dressed and get breakfast and get the reading slips signed, and do all the things. And I was picking them up at 3:30 and they were cranky and tired and burnt out, and I had to force them to do homework, and get to soccer, and get to karate, and do all of those things. I would tuck them in at the end of the night and I didn’t really know who they were.
The school is getting the best of them, and I am getting the leftovers, and that’s where my initial feelings started. Then where I was volunteering in the classrooms, it became really apparent how inefficient school was.
Aaron had been speaking to the philosophy of The 4-Hour Workweek, and here we had our kids in school 30 hours a week, and it didn’t make any sense to me anymore, honestly. So that was my first initial “This is really inefficient.”
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My oldest daughter was going into 3rd and 4th grade and was starting to develop anxiety issues with a lot of the projects and a lot of the testing. We were starting to deal with social problems because even in a really nice private school kids are mean, and it’s hard to take charge of 30 plus kids in a classroom so that people are treated fairly.
I thought, you know, as soon as you open your eyes, you start seeing the bigger picture around everything and that is what happens.
Aaron: Another part of that too is there’s really so much pressure on kids. So many people say, and even we said, “I went to public school when I was a kid, I had this normal thing, my kids are going to do it too and it’s okay.” But I don’t remember having to do homework when I was 6 or 7 years old. I didn’t remember hours of homework and all these extra projects, and then the class projects become so intense they become these family projects. The parents need to make the project because it’s so intense a kid can’t.
How were the first couple of weeks of homeschooling?
Kaleena: We’ve been working our way up for the last 12 months, “maybe we want to get out of here, maybe we want to do something different” and Aaron had booked a trip to Yosemite the previous year before this had even been on our radar. So we pulled the kids out of school, we go to Yosemite and we forget their homework.
We got their school to give us their homework and we left it at home on accident. There is no cell service, so we are just in Yosemite and we’re going to put everything that we’ve been talking about or reading about and wanting to do into practice, right now, and see how it goes.
So we just spent 7 days learning from Park Rangers and going on huge hikes and we had our 5-year-old hiking 7 miles, and we’re getting really out of our comfort zone and it’s amazing.
Like it’s this amazing week. I mean there are tears and there is struggle, and every night we are going to bed like, so proud of ourselves. We get home though after that week and we’ve got a week’s worth of homework that needs to get done for school that the kids haven’t done.
What are we going to do?!
So we get home and I am unloading all of the stuff and Maddie’s starting to hyperventilate almost like “I have to got to get my school work done, I have to be at school.” Aaron’s like “You keep unloading, I am going to sit down with her and show her that we can get through this.”
And no joke Andy, in less than 2 hours, Aaron had Maddie through an entire weeks worth of school work, and Charlotte our Kindergartner. So, and now they learn all new process, they learn long division, right.
There is this all-new process. So I take her to school on Monday, she has all of her school work done. I pick her up and Maddie goes “They didn’t even finish long division Mom. They haven’t even got there. I am way ahead of the entire class! No one in my class even knows long division.”
It hit me like, “In less than 2 hours, she did an entire week’s worth of schoolwork, learned a new concept and was ahead of her class.” I think at that moment it really just hit me, like “I can do this. I can do all of this. This is possible.”
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How are you implementing a 5-hour school week today?
Kaleena: The kids get to sleep in until they wake up pretty much, which is usually between 8 and 9 am. They wake up super rested. And they have now just organically fallen into this awesome rhythm where they get up and they make themselves breakfast. Each of them is really independent, they dress and shower. They just move throughout the morning, they all have these daily hacks and lists, a lot like what we have. The things they want to accomplish in their mornings.
On Mondays, we set out what our week will look like. So we make goals for ourselves of things we want to learn, and we just start, usually around 11 to 11:30 we’re sitting down together and they are each telling me like “We’re going to attack this,” or “We’re going to learn this.” Sometimes Maddie will spend an hour on Social Studies and that’s all she’ll do in one day, and Izzy will just work on Language Arts because reading is really important to her right now.
So we really give them the freedom to decide what it is that they are jumping into. I use an online curriculum, it’s really simple, I mean it’s one of the most simplistic ones you are going to find, it’s called Time for Learning, and it just moves them through the basics like at grade levels.
That being said, even though she’s a 6th grader, Maddie is doing 7th and 8th-grade work in Social Studies, but she is still lingering at 5th-grade math because she just doesn’t have a passion for that right now. I’m okay with that. I don’t spend a ton of time on grade levels, it’s just like where they are comfortable and where they want to learn.
We spend about an hour in a traditional curriculum. We spend about 20 to 30 minutes reading together or working on a growth mindset piece, so whether that be vision boards or big life journals, setting affirmations for a week.
There are just 20 to 30 minutes that we spend together discussing something important to us of actual value. The kids independently read, but I let them do that whenever and wherever they’re comfortable and when they’re ready to. Then they spend the rest of their time doing what they love. They play outside. My oldest Maddie is obsessed with making stop motions right now. So she’ll spend 4-5 hours a day, making hundreds and hundreds of videos and pictures and putting them together, piecing them together.
Play legos, playing dolls, just imagining …
We go on a lot of field trips, we do tours around the house, and going to the grocery store is a field trip; we spend time talking about what we are putting in our body and where food is made and how it’s processed. I mean just everything that we focus on as adults, I try to implement that into their daily life. When we talk about pick your 5 people, those same philosophies that are so important to us as growth mindset people and entrepreneurs, those are the things that I focus on daily for them.
Every day is a little bit different, but we fit in an hour of academics, of hardcore academics, of their choice and then we move on to stuff that’s actually of value.
How do you find time for yourself as a Stay-at-Home Mom?
Kaleena: I love that question because everybody asks, I think that’s most parents’ biggest fear, right, is that “Oh my goodness, my kids are going to be home 24/7.” The amazing thing when you do it this way and you give them in this way when you give them freedom and you encourage independent learning, is that they become independent learners and they actually don’t need you by their side 8hours a day, right?
My kids get up and they move throughout their day very independently now, and it takes time. I don’t say that like, “That just happened naturally,” like that’s not the piece at all. But just encouraging that, like “Honey, you start the program by yourself. “Okay you work on that, and I’ll come back around and I’ll check on that.” So that’s part of that, is that they are very independent in that way.
I also set goals for myself with them. They sit down and they know. Right now I am training for an Ironman, for an example, and then we sat down and I say “Mom’s training for an Ironman. This is what I am going to need from you.” My time gets on the calendar the same way that their time gets on the calendar because it’s about equal respect in our house.
So “I support your dreams and goals and I make space for that,” and in the same way, we ask our kids to do the same for us. There’s gym time that’s on the calendar, and what’s great about that, is our gym has fun things for the kids to do while we are working out, which is like social and play for them.
They know I have my journal time. I am somebody that gets, up and I get up an hour to an hour and a half before them to get in my journaling and my reading and stuff that’s really important to me. It’s not this huge sacrifice that people think that it is because we are just living life together.
They know that I have goals, they know that The Five Hour School Week Community is really important to me, and so … because I am working on that, I’m trying to help support other parents and the girls get really excited about that. So when you have open communications with your kids and you share your dreams and goals with them simultaneously, you have room for yourself, you make room for yourself and your family.
One of the arguments against homeschooling is that parents are afraid kids won’t be social. What do you say to that?
Aaron: That is like the most common thing why people don’t want to homeschool, they go “Well what about me time?” Then the first thing people ask whenever they meet us and we say we homeschool, they go “Well what do they do for socialization?” And it’s such a huge topic, because I think people, when they say socialization, they mean “Hey, are they going to be weird? Aren’t your kids going to turn out weird?”
They’ll start “What are you doing for healthy socialization?” And something that we’ve kind of learned with that is we turn it around and say “Is a public school situation, normal socialization? Like is that practical real-world experience too?”
I went to pre-school with 25 kids. When I graduated from high school 25 of those kids were in my graduating class of 100. So I grew up and knew the same people I was in the class with the same people, so a traditional school you are friends with the people you sit next to you. Not because they are good people or bad people. You don’t get to choose your friends, whoever sits next to you becomes your friend that year and that’s who you hang out with, for better, for worse.
So, I didn’t learn good social skills, because when I was young enough, they became my friends and as I got older and the nerves of life come in, I didn’t need to meet new people, and I went off to college, and I didn’t have the skills to be able to meet people.
I was not social, and I was in this normal environment, but for me, because it didn’t really prepare me for that. So part of that answer is going “What’s your goal for your social experience?”, and “Is the one that your kids are in, a healthy one? Is it helping prepare them for the world?”
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What’s the proudest moment you’ve had during the past 3 years of homeschooling?
Kaleena: A few months ago we were in Haiti. We like to go, it was our second trip and we got to bring all four of the kids. I mean it gets, overwhelming. I mean kids don’t travel to Haiti.
For parents, it was uncomfortable and a little bit nerve-wracking and scary. So we were staying on the top of this mountain in this resort and as soon as we get there we walk out of the gates to go into the village. I remember my kids, all holding hands and leading the pack right out of these huge gates into the village, and swarming them was two dozen little village children.
We were talking different colors and just so many different things and they were not necessarily the cleanest, and it’s a bit terrifying, it’s overwhelming.
Just watching my kids embrace them and hold hands with these kids, and play ring around the rosy, and embrace something that’s so scary that most adults … Like we try to invite people to Haiti with us all the time and we can’t get families to go. To watch my kids bravely walk out there and socialize, like we have language barriers and all this stuff, and they are just comfortable.
My kids are comfortable and happy. We have a lot of little moments like that and there are learning moments where you see the light bulb go off, and they figure out “This is how multiplication works for me,” or “This word concept works.”
We have lots of little moments like that all the time, but watching my kids fully embrace life, like live a life different than most kids live; those are my proudest moments.
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