Meet Patricia Zaballos, a columnist for home / school / life magazine. She has written her column, The Wonder Files, since our second issue. She has homeschooled three children. One of them has already graduated from college. A second is in college, and her youngest is still being homeschooled. She says she has spent twenty years teaching herself how to write, and if you've read any of her work, you'll know she has mastered her craft. Her columns are a favorite in the magazine not only because they offer comfort and guidance to homeschooling parents but because they are so beautifully written. She also writes on her blog Wonder Farm.
Me in 100(ish) words: I am a writer, a knitter, a beekeeper. A greedy reader of essays and memoir. An aspiring photographer. A vegetarian for 29 years and a wife for 26. I’ve known my husband since we were eleven, but we didn’t date until our last year of college, when I chased him down because I know what I like. I'm the mother of three kids, aged 22, 19 and 13; nothing has defined me as much as being their mama. I love little in life more than gathering around a table to eat, drink and talk. If I like you, I will cook for you. And if I really like you, when I laugh at your jokes I will sometimes snort.
How I started homeschooling: When my oldest was three, a friend asked me to go with her to visit and interview some homeschoolers she knew. The family was warm and wonderful, but I remember the mother saying that the year before, when one of their daughters had gotten very ill, they had done little in the way of formal homeschooling beyond regular trips to the library. At the time, being a recent elementary teacher, I thought: That's crazy!
(Of course, I totally get it now: Homeschooling allows you to focus on what really matters as a family, it keeps you close during difficult times, and you can learn an awful lot from time spent happily reading.) Anyway, crazy as what they were doing seemed to teacher-me, I couldn't get homeschooling out of my mind. I read all I could find, and started taking my young kids to a local homeschool Park Day. Soon there was no turning back.
My homeschool style: I’ve never found a prevailing style that felt like a fit for us. We found our own way. We’ve had a regular time of working together most days. My kids’ learning has always centered on their interests, but I guide them too. They have a say; I have a say. We start with what they’re worked up about and move out from there.
What a typical day looks like in my homeschool life: It’s changed from the days when all three kids were at home. (Now one is in college and one has graduated and is making a career as a cinematographer in New York.) Still, from the beginning our days have almost always started with me asking, What do you want to do today?
The kids would offer suggestions, I’d offer mine, and they’d be off, either with me or on their own. I read aloud lots, always. The older two loved making things; my youngest is more of an idea guy. He’s been designing games of one kind or another since he was small, and he tells me about them. Big chunks of our day are devoted to simply talking. Our time together tends to go for three hours or so, with time for reading, computer-surfing and trampoline-jumping along the way. Ideally, we have three or four days home each week, plus a variety of activities outside the home on other days, and some afternoons. Every Thursday has been Park Day with our support group—for seventeen years! That’s sacred.
Favorite readaloud: Frances the Badger books by Russell Hoban when my kids were little because Frances’ parents were such wise badgers. Also, the Alfie and Annie Rose books by Shirley Hughes. The Milly Molly Mandy stories by Joyce Lankster Brisley with my daughter. My boys particularly liked the The Great Brain books by John Fitzgerald, and Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books—and my daughter and I enjoyed them too. And Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events books have served as an epic literary subtext for my kids’ childhoods.
Favorite driving music: My kids and I have always been such audiobook fanatics that we hardly ever listen to music together in the car. When I’m on my own: Conor Oberst, Wilco and other alternative folksy stuff. Give me strummy guitars and lyrics like poetry and I’m a goner.
Things I like: Funky shoes, laden fruit trees, hip restaurants. Quirky indie romance films. Spicy condiments, knitting lace, honeybees. Dancing with my husband. Essays with collaged bits that come together at the end. Old churches. My family of five around the kitchen table.
Guilty pleasure: The Indian dive where I eat every Wednesday night before I go to write, where they just smile and write down my chana masala and roti order, and all I have to say is hello.
What I love about homeschool life: That there has always been so much time to watch my children unfold before me, and so much freedom to allow that unfolding. This sounds like hyperbole, but I mean it: the grand joy of my life has been helping my kids become who they want to be.
What I love about home/school/life magazine: That it exists! Eons ago, when my oldest was three, I looked for a magazine like this. One that spoke to a range of homeschoolers, covering a variety of approaches, and not pushing a single agenda. And was it too much to ask for beautiful layouts, fonts and photos? Apparently it was. It’s been a long wait, but I’m so pleased that home/school/life is here now, and I’m delighted to be part of it.