Jack Killian sorts through the books that come with his schooling program. The curriculum that Amanda Killian chose is heavily focused on reading and comes through the Medford, Wis., school district’s Rural Virtual Academy.
Jack Killian sorts through the books that come with his schooling program. The curriculum that Amanda Killian chose is heavily focused on reading and comes through the Medford, Wis., school district’s Rural Virtual Academy. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    WHITEHALL, Wis. – A growing sense of sadness that followed Amanda Killian around as the first day of school approached each fall led her to take a leap of faith, both in herself and her family. She feels the leap is paying off in dividends.
    Killian, along with her husband, Steve, milks 75 registered Holsteins and Jerseys on their Dirt-Road Farm near Whitehall, Wis.
    Their two oldest children, Sam, a 17-year-old senior and Chris, a 15-year-old sophomore, both attend Independence High School. Olivia is 12 years old and is in seventh grade at a parochial school in Independence, Wis. Bo is 10 years old and in fourth grade, while Jack is 7 years old and is a second grader. Both are in their second year of homeschooling.
    “I was always so sad to see the kids go when the first day of school rolled around,” Killian said. “I felt like we weren’t seeing the kids enough. They were spending over two hours a day just riding the bus.”
    The Killian’s two oldest boys have been involved in sports for several years, and Olivia is following in her older brothers’ footsteps. Between chores and sporting events, Killian found herself floundering in the chaos that had become their family life.
    “The younger kids would get off the bus, and we’d literally turn around and pack them off to a sporting event,” Killian said. “They weren’t getting any downtime. It was difficult to deal with homework, and they weren’t getting any time to spend on the farm.”
    Last summer, as the Trempealeau County fair wrapped up in mid-July, Killian said the impending sadness of the first days of school began to rear its head.
    “It was like I had an epiphany of sorts,” Killian said. “I realized that if it felt this wrong, it might actually be wrong for us. I had a good friend who homeschools, so I talked to her about my feelings and how I was wondering if homeschooling might be right for us.”
    Killian began looking into homeschooling in earnest. She chose the Rural Virtual Academy, which is a charter school program offered through the Medford School District. She traveled to Medford, Wis., to look through the curriculum offered and chose what she felt would best fit the needs of her two youngest sons.
    The Medford School District provides the curriculum, as well as laptops. Each child has a licensed teacher available to them via a website if needed, giving Killian a back-up if she feels there is a concept which she is struggling to communicate.
    Once the decisions were made and the curriculum ordered, school days began at the Killian household with the family settling themselves into a routine.
    Often times Bo wakes up before Killian comes in from the barn and begins his coursework on his own. She comes in around 7 each morning to make breakfast and see the three oldest off to their schools. Then she settles down with Bo and Jack to take care of the day’s lessons.
    “I love seeing the things that excite them as they learn,” Killian said. “I really feel like we’re getting the best of each other’s days, instead of just the leftovers. Bo’s curriculum is based on a lot of writing, and a while back, he had to write a character description. He chose to write one about me and in it he described me as happy. That really hit home.”
    The curriculum is focused on reading for content and understanding, and Killian has been amazed at what the children have learned from the books. The reading curriculum for both boys is based on read-together books that are paired with independent reading material.
    “Before, I didn’t really consider Bo to be someone who loved reading,” Killian said. “Now I would say he is definitely an active reader. We all enjoy the time reading together, snuggling on the couch together.”
    Bo said he enjoys learning at home and does not miss the traditional classroom.
    “I still see my friends at games and things,” Bo said. “But now it’s special instead of an everyday thing. We have so much we can do together now.”
    Bo enjoys being able to work at his own pace, as well. He also admits he was never a fan of reading until recently, and enjoys reading the history and science books in his curriculum.
    “I can get my stuff done fast and not have to sit in a desk all day,” he said. “I have more time to go out and work on the farm with my mom and dad.”
    Jack likes working on learning new math skills and enjoys the read-together books he shares with his mom.
    “‘Ribsy’ was a really good book,” Jack said. “I like being able to be with my brother and my mom and dad all day.”
    Killian said homeschooling has been an opportunity to learn for her as well.
    “It’s been fun to learn as an adult right alongside the kids,” she said. “The science books all come with website links that you can use to get more information and watch some two- or three-minute videos on the topic. The things they are learning about are just fantastic.”
    Killian appreciates she is able to tailor the learning speed to each of her children, giving extra time and attention where it is needed, or offering challenges and extensions to keep them engaged in their learning.
    “The curriculum is set up for four days of lessons, with Friday being for extra enrichment or things like that,” Killian said. “We often times take the kids along with us to different things. We are firm believers in exposing them to adult stuff. Last winter, we took them to a meeting with an udder dissection. They loved that.”
    Killian has not regretted deciding to homeschool Bo and Jack, and feels she and Steve have gotten to know their two youngest children better as people and learners.
    “I really had no idea that I would love teaching them so much,” Killian said. “I feel like Steve and I have a lot to offer our kids, and now we have the time to share with them.”