Tonya Schulte

Tonya is a second generation homeschool wife and mother who graduated from homeschooling in 1998. She operates a home business called Journal in a Box and wrote JournalUp: Teaching Teens and Tweens the Power of Journal Writing for Life Enhancement. See Tonya at the Arizona Families for Home Education Convention in Phoenix on July 20-21!

My mom asked my dad for a Mercedes Benz for her birthday. And thus began our homeschooling journey. She really said it as a kind of joke. He asked her what she wanted and she said a Mercedes, never thinking that he might take her seriously. But he did and they ended up at the home of a couple who were selling their used luxury car. While there, the couple shared with my parents that they were planning to homeschool their young daughter. As my mom drove away in her new-to-her car, she told my dad how sorry she felt for that poor young girl. How would the girl ever make any friends? Wasn’t she pretty unlikely to get a quality education at home? And that was the end of that discussion for a while.

It just so happened that I began reading at the age of three. My mom was really surprised by this and so she decided that I needed to be in school as soon as possible. At the age of four, my parents placed me in a private school kindergarten class. There were many things about the school that were not a good fit for our family.

So, off to the public school I went the next year. That year didn’t turn out so well either. By the end of that kindergarten year my parents were determined to try something new. What about this homeschooling idea?

So, she contacted the local superintendent of school’s office and informed them of her intentions. The woman who answered the phone told my mom that she would not be able to homeschool because it was illegal. A very small amount of research by my mom proved that to be completely untrue. Soon, the proper paperwork was filed and my mom and I were sitting across from each other in her office ready to do this homeschooling thing. Now to figure out how.

At this point, my mom had some decisions to make: What materials would she use to teach? What would be the proper method? And so she began to read. And read. And read. And read. And read.

Sometime around the start of that first year, my parents got a phone call from the trucking company where they had first met. (Yep, my parents are both truck drivers who met when they went to work for the same trucking company, but that is a different, albeit fun, story.) The owner of the company spoke to my dad and told him they were in need of good drivers and wanted to know if Mom and Dad would be interested in returning to his employ. Dad said they would indeed be very interested, except they just had one small problem and she was six years old. Well then, the owner said, we’ll just have to add a new rider to our insurance policy, won’t we? Our cross-country adventure was about to begin!

Our first year of homeschooling was spent on an 18-wheel semi truck. During that year we saw 47 of the contiguous states. There are so many funny stories from that first year. One morning my dad, excited about a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty in the early morning sun, woke me up so I could look at it. My little six year old self just grumbled, “I’ve seen it, Dad.”

It was a fun and amazing year during which many many good memories were built, but by the end Mom and I were ready to go home. We headed home just before Christmas and settled in for the next chapter of our homeschooling experience.

Shortly after we settled back in at home, my parents decided to purchase a computer. It was still a fairly new phenomenon to have a computer in your home. They headed down to the local Apple store and talked to the salesman. The first thing he asked them was why they wanted a computer. “Well, why do people have them? What do they do with them?” my mom asked him. We ended up with an Apple IIGS with a word processing program and a spreadsheet program and a Tetris game. (My new Mac has quite a few more programs!)

Sometime before that my parents had hired a tutor to teach me a bit about computer programming. He taught me the basics of the Logo programming language and how to draw with the “turtle.” It wasn’t very long after my parents purchased the Apple computer I was playing around with the Apple BASIC programming language. I was thrilled when I was able to get the computer to output “Hi, my name is Tonya” from a PRINT command in a four line program I devised. The practice I got with the BASIC language beginning at age 7 was definitely in my favor ten years later when I took a VisualBasic course at the local community college and the instructor had me tutor some of the other students on the programming concepts.

Another great learning opportunity that arose around this time was my grandparents opening up a thrift store. That store along with a retail business my mom had owned several years before and a couple of antique stores she owned subsequently were great training grounds for concepts I would later use in my career. Things like inventory control, accounting, and customer service. Adults were often surprised when I processed their sale on the cash register and counted back correct change to them. Once again, my parents could have found no program to teach me as much about these real world concepts as I was able to learn just by living life with my family.

Along with all of those experiences and learning opportunities, my mom continued to read and research everything she could get her hands on regarding education and learning styles. She wasn’t afraid to try something different when it came to helping me learn a concept. Once she either devised or read about a method for learning multiplication tables. She made ‘hurdles’ out of folded card stock and laid them out in a ‘course’ throughout the house. On each was written a multiplication problem. When I had the right result I hopped over the hurdle and moved on. It was a great and kinesthetic way to ingrain the facts into my head. My mom was a big believer in the now widely regarded Charlotte Mason idea of ‘real books.’ Not a textbook was to be found in our house unless it had been purchased at a yard sale to use as material for cutting out the pictures to use in art projects.

The older I got, the more we moved into a relaxed and child-led homeschooling style. Mom and Dad encouraged me to find subjects I was interested in and explore them to the fullest extent. Mom also continued to look for ways of interesting me in subjects with which I wasn’t always immediately enthralled. Before I entered the high school years, she hired a tutor for algebra who really opened up the world of math to me and introduced me to entirely new ways of understanding that topic.

At the age of fourteen my parents handed the ‘reigns’ over almost exclusively to me. I made all decisions regarding which materials we would use and they just approved my choices. By allowing me to have ownership of the curriculum decisions they encouraged me more than ever to pursue my passions and to take control of my education. It was empowering and exciting and made me want to pursue excellence.

During these years, among other things, I did a four year inductive study of the monarchy of England, I completed a self-led college level course in accounting and I took two courses at our local community college. I also began working at age 15. I was interested in ranching, so my mother suggested I interview some ranchers in the area and write about the subject. I did so and ended up being offered a job on one of the ranches.

I spent two years working on the ranch – as the official peon. The ranch was a working cattle ranch owned by a European conglomerate. I did all the grunt work (washing vehicles, scooping poop, scrubbing feeding containers with bleach, vacuuming floors, weeding and watering plants.) But, I also soon got to work with the ostriches that they owned and boarded there and even occasionally got to work in the clean room and lab where they candled and hatched the ostrich eggs. After working there about a year and a half I was asked by the manager if I would be interested in working more in the office on a new project that the owners were starting. They would be selling off some of their land to form a new housing development and I was asked to do some marketing research and help plan some of the magazine ads that would be run in major national magazines. I much preferred this indoor, air-conditioned position and soon grew tired of the other outside duties I still had to perform.

By the end of my junior year, I took up the offer from another homeschooling dad and business owner to be his full time office assistant/accounting clerk. My senior year of high school consisted mostly of learning real life principles in his office that carried me into the construction accounting career that I had for eight years before I came home to be a stay-at-home mom. These days I am busy running a household of my husband and two homeschooled kids with one on the way and also managing our home-based business.

Our business grew out of a desire by my mom and I to share our passion of journaling. She and I are both longtime journalers. One day she came to me and expressed her desire to help others journal without being scared of the blank page. “I wish we could give people a Journal in a Box,” she said. And, so our homegrown business came to be. Managed by my parents, husband and I, Journal in a Box has a growing line of guided journals designed to make journaling easy and fun and we also recently began to offer home studies and online courses for those that want to take their journaling to the next step.

View the complete Journal in a Box series here!

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