You know when you’re sitting around a table in a meeting and, with a quick glance of an eye, can communicate with the like-minded person across from you that: a) you are totally on the same page; and b) that you should totally grab a coffee after? Well, that is what Charlene Hess of Hess Un-Academy and I were able to do while working on a project involving many collaborators, albeit digitally from opposite sides of the world.
I was immediately struck by her unique approach to homeschooling and to education in general. Graduation in the Hess home, for example, must include launching a successful business. After exploring further, I found that in addition to homeschooling using entrepreneurship, she and her family were working on so many great projects that seemed fresh, fascinating, and impactful.
What follows is a Q and A with Charlene (our virtual cup of coffee, if you will) where she lays out her core educational beliefs and introduces her exciting projects.
What inspired you to launch Hess Un-Academy?
I have been homeschooling my kids for their entire educational careers, and in that time, I have never met anybody who homeschools the way we do. Our homeschool is fun, carefree, and has minimal stress, but we still have highly motivated, intelligent, well-learned kids. People are always asking me questions about our homeschool lifestyle and I finally decided there was a greater need in the world than I could fulfil all by myself. So I took our homeschool online where we will (hopefully) be able to change the lives of more people.
Having seven kids, were you ever intimidated to take on such a huge responsibility?
Definitely not. My husband and I have been entrepreneurs for our entire marriage. If I had tried to take this project on at the beginning, I definitely would have been intimidated. But we’ve had 12+ years of books and education and mentorship and knowledge and experience backing us up. Do I know everything? Absolutely not. Will I ever know everything? Absolutely not! But when you know how to learn and where to go to look for knowledge, large endeavors like this are a lot less scary.
What can you share about your homeschooling style and philosophy?
I guess you could say we homeschool with the end in mind. Graduation requirements for our homeschool include being able to start and run a successful business (successful being relative to their age and financial needs). We believe this kind of life experience will give our kids the background they need to lead an independent and successful life (and thus a life full of service for their fellow man). Because we have this goal, we have an easier time deciding what to teach our kids while they are young. We allow them to explore options related to possible business ideas they have, and decide for themselves if that is something they want to pursue, or if they want to find something they will like better. We also believe that there is something to be learned in everything around us, so we spend a lot of our time out exploring the world and soaking up knowledge that way.
Your focus on Success Principles for Kids is very interesting. Can you describe what this entails and how it works into your homeschooling?
Ben’s parents are entrepreneurs, and Ben has been watching them and other successful entrepreneurs for his entire life. He has spent decades reading success books and soaking up business knowledge. Naturally, he wanted to pass this knowledge onto our kids. Unfortunately, we could not find a resource that was geared towards young children that appropriately covered this knowledge. So Ben decided to write his own series of children’s books – Victorious Kids. The goal with these books is to take adult-level success principles and teach them to kids in a way they can absorb and understand.That way, the kids who are exposed to this kind of knowledge from a young age can start out in life that much farther ahead.
Your Victorious Kids series looks wonderful. Can you walk us through one of the books?
Let’s take a look at our book, Michael Says. This book was written to teach kids proper leadership skills. You see, leadership is more than just bossing other people around, or being ‘placed in charge’ of other people. In this book, Michael is put in charge of a couple of other kids. They are trying to build a tower. Michael starts by trying to boss everybody else around, but nobody wants to listen to him. They didn’t know him, or respect him, or trust him. So why should they listen to him?
Michael decides to take the time to get to know the other kids on an individual basis. He asks them questions and builds a relationship with them. If they have a problem or a goal, he works with them to get them what they want. Soon Michael has a relationship with all the kids. Then he starts to build the tower again, this time on his own. Because the other kids have a relationship with Michael, because they like and respect him, this time around, they volunteer to help him with the tower. Michael teaches them the best way to build the tower. He compliments them on their hard work, and the kids listen to him and implement his advice. When the tower is completed, the other kids are happy with their experience with Michael. They continue to ask Michael for advice on other projects from then on out.
This is a classic example of the 5 levels of leadership (often talked about by John C Maxwell). There are steps that need to be taken in order to be effective in any kind of leadership position, and these steps are usually taught in such a way that a lot of grownups can’t even understand them – let alone kids! You can read this book in its entirety here https://hessunacademy.com/michael-says/
What other projects are you currently working on?
We are currently working on a series of Field Trip Curriculums. The tagline for our Field Trip Curriculums is ‘Turning fun family adventures into exceptional educational experiences’. It’s kind of a mouthful (we might edit it in the future) but the basic idea is taking venues and landmarks and other fun places that families might like to explore together – such as amusement parks, bowling alleys, and more – and providing families with the resources needed to count these family outings as school. Some people live in states where there are strict requirements as to how many hours they must be ‘in a desk’ and how much time must be spent ‘working on education’. These families are caught in a place where they want to give their children fantastic educational opportunities, but they feel like their hands are tied by the state. And even families who don’t live in states with these strict requirements sometimes feel pressure to make sure their kids are learning everywhere they go, but they don’t have the resources to give their kids that knowledge on the spot, or they don’t want to take the time to do all the research and create all the enrichment activities for their kids to back up the time spent at these fun locations.
Our Field Trip Curriculums are designed to take all the work out of going on an educational field trip so families can focus on the best part – having fun!Each of these Field Trip Curriculums also includes a success principle that goes along with the topic at hand, so that kids can learn things applicable to their daily lives, regardless of what they want to do with their futures. You can read more about the Field Trip Curriculums here https://hessunacademy.com/field-trip-curriculum/. We are very excited about this series and can’t wait to see where this project goes!
Do you have any advice for people considering homeschooling? Are there any misconceptions about homeschooling that you want to set straight?
My advice to people considering homeschooling is not to worry too much about all the how-tos. How-tos will come as you get into the homeschooling world. And honestly? The how-tos will change throughout your homeschooling experience. I can’t tell you how many times we switched around what we were doing before we finally settled into what we are doing now. What you REALLY need to decide is WHY you’re considering homeschooling. Why does this lifestyle appeal to you? What is your motivation for possibly switching to homeschooling? Because when you have your why, the how-tos will fall into place. And while we’re on that subject – the most common misconception about homeschooling is that silly socialization myth. Being homeschooled does not negatively affect your child’s socialization skills. My kids are much better at talking to strangers than I ever was as a kid (or even than I am now!) and they are not in any kind of organized sport or class or even regular co-ops. They are just exposed to people in their daily lives and their social skills are definitely on-par, with minimal effort from me. The idea that homeschoolers are unsocialized is 100% a myth.
What would you say is the main difference between unschooling and homeschooling?
That’s a trick question! Unschooling IS homeschooling – it’s just a different method of homeschooling. There are actually SO MANY different methods and styles of homeschooling. And different families can either fit nicely into one style, or kind of blend between a couple of styles. Unschooling is merely a subcategory of homeschooling. So no, there is no difference. The unschooling method takes a uniquely child-led approach and allows the child to direct and dictate his own education – and the parent is there to support, encourage, and provide the necessary materials and experiences. Much like any other homeschooling family.
As a homeschooling parent, is it difficult to balance the role of mother and teacher? At some point does the teacher hat come off and the mom hat come on? Are the roles kept separate, or does the role of “Mom” expand to include teaching to be part of the relationship?
The roles are not different at all! (at least for me) If you think about it, we all ‘homeschool’ our children for their first few years of life, regardless of the chosen education method taken through the older years. We teach our children to talk, to walk, to express themselves. We teach our children to recognize their colors and numbers. We teach them proper kitchen safety and proper hygiene skills. Mothers are always teaching their kids. The hats are not different going from ‘school’ to ‘home’, merely the chore or project you are working on switches.
Ok, rapid-fire questions. Please let me know your-
Go-to resource for lessons: When we are not working on math or reading practice, and we are not exploring the world through field trips, we get our lesson material mainly from The Family School online.
A favorite website or YouTube channel: We really like looking up Animal Planet’s The Most Extreme videos on YouTube.
Suggested resource for prospective or new homeschoolers: I would reference the HSLDA website so they can look up homeschooling laws in their own state. And then Pinterest for any future ideas or inspiration. (SO many ideas on Pinterest)
Educator who has inspired you: I was never really inspired by any educators. I guess that’s a big part of why I was okay with deciding to homeschool – not everybody has an impactful teacher experience.
Inspirational book: I enjoy reading the scriptures for inspiration.
Guilty pleasure: My guilty pleasure is watching Boy Meets World reruns on Hulu
Source for a needed boost: I have a natural, healthy energy drink (XS Energy Drink) that I drink when I need a pick-me-up. I also have a couple of favorite Spotify playlists when I need some extra motivation.
If you are interested in learning more about Hess Un Academy or would like to get in touch, here is how you can reach Charlotte online:
Academic Adventurers is our project that introduces renegades in education. We hope to profile educators who are shaking things up, changing paradigms, and contributing new ideas. By sharing their stories, we hope to pass ideas on, start a discussion, and inspire other educators.
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