“Mom do you see the green spark?”

It’s a daily question for the Wagner kids. Each day the Wagner family watches the sunset or sunrise as a family. When home in Ponce Inlet, they watch the sunrise over the Atlantic but when they are away in Nicaragua, they watch the sunset over the Pacific. Each night, they look for the mythical green spark over the Pacific. The green spark is said to be the very last spark of color before the day fades into night.  “We’ve never seen the green spark but we always look for it,” said Jen Wagner, mom of two boys. 

Their eclectic blend of homeschool takes them to many new places, like Nicaragua, where they adopted the ritual of looking for the green spark. It’s one of the many incredible perks to their eclectic blend of homeschool. 

Their homeschool journey began in 2020, before Covid hit. It wasn’t because they were unhappy with the school system, indeed the opposite, they loved their school. It was a decision to try something different that created more opportunities to travel without being bound by the school calendar. 

I caught up with Jennifer Wagner to discuss how she made the world the classroom for her two boys. 

What made you decide to switch to homeschool?

Our primary reason was for the freedom and flexibility to travel. Secondarily was the ability to teach our kids at their own pace, level and interest. 

What is your background?

My professional background was in sales and marketing. I left the corporate/9-to-5 world when our oldest was starting Kindergarten at public school. I wanted to go on field trips, volunteer in his class, join the PTA, be home to help with homework and be a part of the community of kids and families at our school. My active involvement through those few years helped me to learn my kids academic strengths and struggles, how they learned best, what we liked about traditional school and what we didn’t. 

What are you guys doing? 

We have been homeschooling/“worldschooling” for the past two years. What that looks like is a constant evolution. We are currently dividing our time between Nicaragua, Colorado and Florida. We also mix in camping trips, road trips and bucket list trips. Florida will always be our home base. It is where my husband and I grew up and where both our families still are. It is important to us to maintain roots for our kids there. We spend holidays in Florida to maintain important traditions and spend time with family.

How did you come up with the plan?

I’d like to think of it more in terms of family and lifestyle goals, not necessarily a plan. Our plans change pretty regularly, but our goals and priorities have stayed consistent. When we chose to settle back in Daytona Beach after college and living elsewhere in our early twenties, we made a commitment to make traveling a big part of our lives. My husband loves to surf and I love to travel. We have been working towards structuring our lives in that way ever since.

What are your boys like and how do you customize your curriculum?

My boys are ages 9 and 11. We started homeschooling them when they were in first and third grades. They are both very hands on and active! We tried Florida Virtual School initially with a few elective classes. I thought I wanted/needed the structure and direction from an actual teacher. We quickly realized virtual school was not a good fit for us. They found it boring and redundant. I found the technology of submitting assignments and testing to be cumbersome. I also did not like having to be on someone else’s schedule of assignment submission, tests etc. It just didn’t jive with our traveling lifestyle. Even though the thought of choosing and implementing a curriculum myself seemed very intimidating, I knew that was the best choice for us at that time. Two years later, we still do what is termed “eclectic homeschooling”. We do not have an all-in-one curriculum. I chose various learning strategies such as game schooling (learning through games), world schooling (learning through travel), homeschool hybrid drop-off classes (this provides me time for grocery shopping, appointments, etc), field trips (hands on learning) and traditional curriculum (math, grammar, etc). 

How do you approach socialization while homeschooling?

My boys are super social and so am I! When we decided to homeschool, I made a commitment to the kids and myself that maintaining our valued friendships would be a priority. It definitely takes more effort on my part, but it is worth it. We also have made many new homeschooling friends. In my experience, we have a very large and active homeschooling community in Volusia County. We could participate in a homeschooling activity, field trip, class, or meet up every day of the week. The term “homeschool” is actually a misnomer as we are out of the house more than we are actually home. One of the best parts of socializing as a homeschooler is that you learn to engage with kids of all ages both older and younger. 

What is your most important value that you wish to instill in your children?

A lifelong love of learning and traveling. Learning can happen anywhere and at any time. 

How do you teach foreign language?

We found a local Nicaraguan teacher to teach us (me included), “Nicaraguan Studies.”  We learn the language, culture, nature, wildlife, currency, food, geography, history, etc. Very rarely do we take part in table learning – mostly adventure learning. It has been one of the highlights of our experience there. The boys have taken Spanish classes with Florida Virtual School and used several apps such as Duolingo, but have by far progressed the most from learning the language while experiencing it. 

What’s been your greatest resource?

Other homeschooling parents! Both sharing with each other in person at homeschool meet ups or in social media groups. I also love the FPEA Homeschool Conference. It is amazing to see how large the homeschooling community is in Florida and the abundance of resources that are available to us. It is such an inspiring event. Drop off homeschool classes are not free, but they have also been a lifesaver for me. I get a brief reprieve to grocery shop alone, exercise or go to a doctor’s appointment. It helps keep me from getting homeschool burnout. 

What’s been the greatest obstacle?

My own self doubt. Am I doing enough? Am I teaching the right things? Will the boys be prepared for the path they chose later in their academics or professions? 

What’s been the best part of designing and taking charge of your own curriculum and homeschooling?

The flexibility to pivot if something is not working, to slow down if something is not sticking, speed up if they have mastered something quickly or spend more time on a subject that they are passionate about. I also can cater to their individual learning styles. 

What have you learned about your family through this experience?

We created a few success measures early on to help us evaluate whether homeschooling was working for us or not. They were not academic measures, they were all about the health and happiness of us as a family and individually. Did we have more good days than bad days? Yes! Had we strengthened our relationships instead of strained them? Yes! Were we all happy with our decision to homeschool? Yes! 

Will you ever return to standard school?

My oldest will be starting middle school next year. We will definitely continue homeschooling through middle school for both kids. We will re-evaluate as a family when it is time to transition to high school. There are so many options now with virtual school, dual enrollment, and hybrid programs mixed with traditional school. Kids can participate in electives and extracurricular activities at traditional schools while still homeschooling. We will see….

What would you like to share with others thinking about homeschooling their children?

The decision to homeschool is not permanent. If it is not a good fit for your family, kids can return to traditional school at any time. That takes a lot of the pressure off of making the jump. Also, there is no right or wrong way to homeschool, only what is right for your family. It can look a million different ways depending on your priorities and goals. Florida laws are very pro-homeschool. We have a lot of rights and privileges, without much regulation or requirements. COVID “homeschooling” was not really homeschooling. It was taking traditional school and doing it at home. If that did not go well for your family, do not write off homeschooling. Take from that experience what worked and didn’t work and design your homeschool experience with that in mind. Even though I am the predominant facilitator of our kids’ education, homeschooling is a total family commitment. It is very important that both parents are on the same page and in support of this path. 

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