Lauren and her husband Joe have four children, some fostered, some adopted and some biological. Lauren shares about her unique experience working within the government foster system and outside the public schooling system.
Interview with Lauren Jones | mixingplaydough.com
Hi Lauren, thanks for making the time to chat. Can you tell us a little bit about your unique family and where you live?
My husband Joe and I live in the US (the Colorado Front Range) with our four kids ages 9, 6, 2 and 1. We spend quite a bit of time outdoors exploring, racking up huge library fines and causing a general ruckus just about everywhere we go.
We’ve been fostering for the past three years. In that time we've had seven kids come through our home. Some for as little as a few days, some for 6-7 months and one we've adopted. We are also waiting to finalise the adoption of our littlest one this summer.
I am the primary home educator/money spender and my husband spends quite a bit of time travelling in his job designing and installing AV systems. We started an organisation, Treasured Kids, this year with the mission of getting heirloom quality picture books into the hands of foster children in the US.
What has fostering and adoption looked like for you?
I think we've had just about all the experiences you can imagine. We've had kids live with us and be reunited with their mother. We've had an open relationship with the bio mom of our boys we've adopted. We've also had foster kids live with us for a little bit and move on to another foster home to be with siblings. They all have their stories and adventures attached.
It’s been in many ways a huge period of growth as a family unit. Both impossibly hard and wonderfully good. It’s never been easy to say goodbye to any of the kids and we have been grateful for time to heal in between each one. We can’t imagine life without our adopted boys, and I wouldn’t have ever traded that - even knowing now what it was like to go through.
How long have you been homeschooling for?
While we legally aren't allowed to homeschool foster children, we can still homeschool our biological and adopted kids. We’ve homeschooled our eldest from the beginning. It's been a learning experience of what is realistic and what is too much in both areas - homeschool and foster care.
What considerations and factors came into your family's decision to homeschool?
If I’m totally honest, the real reason we didn’t send our oldest to preschool was that we couldn’t afford it. Turns out, it was a really good fit. When he was old enough for Kindergarten he had a very scattered skill set, and public school didn’t seem to fit the bill.
We had quite a lot of discussions and what it came down to was time. We wanted our kids to have an exorbitant amount of time to just 'be' and grow and learn and felt like homeschool was the way to do that.
There have been seasons when some of your children have been enrolled in school, while you've homeschooled others. What was that like?
It was super crazy hard. Part of the problem was the school. They weren’t supportive of our foster kids, and everything seemed to be a problem - from 'lovies' (security blankets or toys) to schedules. Having them in school though was the best fit for them. It was one of the consistent parts of their life, and we knew that long term they were going to be in public or charter schools.
It also made that particular season a little bit more bearable for us as a family with five kids under eight. We did pretty well with getting them to school on time and picking them up, but it was extremely disruptive. My daughter had a hard time not getting to go to school with her foster sisters, and in retrospect, we should’ve tried a few more options with that.
Our family felt split. I refer to it as our time as a tale of two families.
The adventuring/the world is our classroom during the day and the pack lunches/eat dinner/take a bath/bed by seven during the night.
Do you gravitate towards a particular style of learning or home education approach? Why have you chosen that style and why does it work for your family?
We started off with Montessori as I have a certificate in Montessori Early Education for 2 to 5-year-olds and it was a good fit for the early years.
We have played around with a few ideas for my daughter including unschooling and Waldorf. In the end, Charlotte Mason (specifically the program put out by Ambleside Online) has seemed to be the best approach for us as a whole family, and we’ve used that for the past few years. We love the short lessons and massive amounts of literature along with the emphasis on time outdoors.
During really busy seasons of fostering we’ve been able to pack up our books and do school on the road or in coffee shops.
It’s given us the freedom to stack subjects if we need or spend more time on subjects as well.
On occasion, we’ll get calls for some last minute care, and we can shelve our studies for a bit for what we call “service days.” Those days are spent loving on kids in our community that need it.
Your situation is unique in that you're working inside the government foster care system, but outside the public schooling system. Can you unpack the complexities of that?
It’s so complex! In a way, when you opt out of government schooling you are making a statement that you feel you can do better. At the same time, when we signed up to foster, we ultimately surrendered quite a bit of our life to be under their watchful eye. We had to parent in ways that they approved of, and have our home regulated to the highest of safety standards.
It’s hard for me to have to fill out paperwork every day with medication reports or statements about how new bumps and bruises came about.
We also have to log our miles or go to the doctor for every fever or rash. I think a lot of times we end up in little bubbles of homeschool world and fostering bursts that every single time with every single kid that comes through our home.
One of our fears going into homeschooling was that we would be removing ourselves from the community. I think that by opening up our home to fostering we negated that concern. I’m not sure there is a better way to be fully involved with your community than by opening up your home to the kids that don’t have one.
What does your typical home learning day look like? Is there a routine or is it different every day?
Each season has its own routine. Right now, we aren’t taking any more kids for long term placements, so we’ve been able to find a good rhythm. We have about three days of lessons, one day of an enrichment program and one day of nature study a week. We can usually fit in everything we need in that time!
The kids have lessons outside of the home for music and foreign language, so that becomes part of our routine as well. Some days we don’t start school until 4 pm (seriously!) but those days are my favourite. Other days we are done by 10 am and I’ll never complain about that either. We do well with weekly goals and generous margins to get it accomplished, so we have lots of time for adventures.
If you had to pick one, what is a mantra, quote or principle of education that you live and plan your homeschool days by?
Always Make Brownies.
What is the primary belief, attitude or value you hope your children will take into adulthood, based on the unique upbringing you’re giving them?
I think a lot of foster parents worry about what fostering will do to their biological kids and a lot of homeschool parents worry about what homeschooling will do as well. I hope that they grow up to become compassionate leaders with an eye for change and a heart for the hurt.
I think that they’ve loved and lost just as much as we have as adults and while I don’t know what that does, exactly, to them as children, I think they will have an incredibly unique perspective on the world. I cannot wait to watch!
What advice would you give to families considering fostering or adoption?
Do it! I’ve spent most of my life jumping in head first and figuring out how to swim after the fact.
Fostering will change you forever but in a ridiculously good way.
Adoption is its own beautiful adventure, and even though it’s sometimes sticky, we are so over the moon to have the chance to love our boys.
What advice would you give to families considering homeschooling their children?
Don’t overthink it! You are more than equipped to education your children simply because you are their Mama (or Dad). Don’t ever think that you aren’t qualified. Give yourself, and your kids grace to figure out the best method and the best timing. Find a community that supports and encourages you - Mulberry Mama’s are the perfect way to start.
A tricky season is not reason enough to not do it. We’ve had seasons where we just didn’t do any lessons at all. But as I look back I can see that those are the seasons I think we learned the most.
Lauren was interviewed by The Mulberry Journal Editor, Grace Koelma.
Have you had experience with fostering or adoption, and mixed that with homeschooling? We'd love you to share in the comments below.
Lauren is a Bio/Adoption/Foster Care Homeschooling Mama of four kids 9 and under. If you can't find her adventuring in the mountains or baking in the kitchen, Lauren is probably scouring vintage shops for beautiful books. As a family, they founded Treasured Kids, an organisation that gets beautiful books into the hands of treasured foster kids in the US. You can follow Lauren at @mixingplaydough on Instagram.