Gena Mayo joins us on this week’s podcast episode to chat all about her experience homeschooling 8 children, with a special focus on including music appreciation in our homeschool life. You’ll also love her advice for the new homeschool mama. Read, watch, or listen to this week’s installment of “Homeschool Conversations with Humility and Doxology.”
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Who is Gena Mayo
Gena Mayo is a wife of 22 years, and a homeschooling mom of eight children, ages 20 down to 8. She has homeschooled them from the very beginning! Gena is also a music teacher and has taught music for over 25 years. IChooseJoy.org is Gena’s website to share her joy in family, home, and homeschooling. MusicinOurHomeschool.com is where she provides resources, tips, reviews, giveaways, and freebies to help all homeschoolers include music in their homeschools. And, her online course site with music courses for all ages can be found at Learn.MusicinOurHomeschool.com.
Watch my interview with Gena Mayo
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Amy: Hello, everyone. Today, I am joined by Gena Mayo, who is the wife of 22 years and a homeschooling mom of 8 children ranging in age from 20 down to 8, and she has homeschooled them from the beginning. Gena is also a music teacher and has taught music for over 25 years. She shares her joy of family, home, and homeschooling at ichoosejoy.org, and musicinourhomeschool.com is where she provides resources, tips, reviews, giveaways, and freebies to help all homeschoolers include music in their home schools. I’m delighted to get to chat with you today.
Gena Mayo: Thanks, it’s so great to be here.
Amy: Gena, here at the beginning, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself and your family and how you came to start homeschooling?
Gena: Sure. I went to college as a music major and got my music education degree, and then started teaching in the public school system. I taught for three years junior high choir, and then two years in elementary general music before I had my first child, and then I stayed home to be a mom.
My experience in the public school system helped me realize that I didn’t want my kids to be there if I could find a better way. I had seen behind the scenes, I had met teachers that hated being there.
They weren’t the best for the kids, and a lot of kids got lost in the shuffle, lost in the crowd, because we had to spend so much time focusing on troublemakers. I thought I hope I can find a better way. Homeschooling was pretty new back then. When I was teaching, I had a student come in, that had been homeschooled for elementary school. I had never heard of it before. I had a lot to do with researching. My husband was on board. By the time my first child was in kindergarten, I had five kids. That was how we got started.
Amy: Wow, that is amazing, that it was this new thing to you. I guess I forget as a second-generation homeschooler. Homeschooling has been a part of my life and vocabulary for so long. It’s like when somebody asks me, ”When did you learn to read?” Or, ”When did you learn to play the piano?” I have no memory of not being able to do those things. You’re like, ”Oh, yes, I guess this is new, you actually have to learn these things at some point.”
How Gena’s approach to homeschooling has grown over the years
Over those years then, as you started kindergarten with five, under five, which I’m sure was very loud and noisy and exciting, how has your approach to homeschooling grown and changed over the years?
Gena: I’ve always been influenced by the Charlotte Mason method. I started reading about that pretty early. She and her methods have always influenced me. Also, classical education was another method that I gravitated to, at the beginning. We did a lot of unit studies that I would plan out myself with my kids in the very early years, getting a lot of books from the library and doing lap books and making food and finding music that went with it, all those kinds of things for different subjects.
When my youngest was finally not napping anymore, I thought, ”Okay, now we can get out and do more things.” I was pretty strict about nap times, being pregnant so much and tired, and so we kept things very balanced at the beginning. Then we started going to a homeschool co-op, and we did a Tapestry of Grace curriculum there. We were part of that for seven years until it shut down from COVID. This past year, I’ve had to pivot again and figure out things how to do it with my own kids at home with two high schoolers, two middle schoolers, and two elementary kids.
I have done a few things. I’ve combined a lot more subjects together than I had ever done before and, for the high schoolers especially, found some outside help either online classes, or not so much teachers for them in person this year, but I have done that in the past. That helps me with the high schoolers not to have to focus so much one on one with them. I can still be homeschooling my younger kids more effectively. It has changed throughout the last 15 years that I’ve been homeschooling.
Amy: I think a lot of parents can relate to what you’re saying to with having to pivot, certainly over the past couple of years. Even just in the course of years of homeschooling as you have more children or children graduate, you have fewer children, or needs change over the years, it’s like we’re constantly reinventing what we’re doing. Just when you think you figured out, “Oh, this is going to be a good plan that works.” It may work for that period of time, but often we’re having to pivot and change and be flexible.
Gena’s Favorite Parts of Homeschooling
Amy: What have been some of your favorite parts of homeschooling?
Gena: I think my favorite parts are actually getting to know my kids better, being with them more, getting to teach them what I’d like them to learn, and getting to hear their own thoughts, sharing back with me that I wouldn’t have gotten to hear if they were at school all day.
Amy: Yes, definitely. My middle daughter and I have had a special one-on-one time every week this past year as I take her to a dance class, and just to be able to hear her tell me back the things she’s reading and thinking about, it’s such a precious time of relationship. Also sneakily, I’m also learning, how much are you really retaining and learning?
Challenges of Homeschooling
Along with all the fun parts of homeschooling, there are always challenges. Have you faced any challenges in homeschooling, and how do you seek to overcome those harder parts?
Gena: Some of my challenges have been related to the multiple ages, just not having enough time or energy during the day to divide everybody up into different things. I just become more creative in how I have done that. For example, this year for physical science, I’ve had my 7th and 8th and 10th grader doing that together. My 10th grader has dyslexia, so it was perfectly fine for her to do that level of science, which usually isn’t for 10th graders. Those kinds of challenges just require me to think it through and be creative and find a solution.
Amy: A lot of times people will ask, ”How do you balance things with multiple children?” I think of that a lot in the same way that you think about toddler nutrition, because in any given day or for any given meal, that toddler’s nutrition may look very strange, like they just ate a bunch of Cheerios and some green beans, and you think, ”What in the world is happening here?” Over the course of the week, you’re going to hit all those major food groups, and it all balances out. I think, as a mom of many, that’s how I feel a lot of times.
On any given day or homeschool morning, I may not actually be able to balance my time with everyone. Over the course of the week, I try to make sure to have checked in with everyone, and it all balances out eventually.
Amy: Specifically, let’s chat about music appreciation, which I know is a huge part of your life and a huge part of your online work. Why do you think that music appreciation is so important in our homeschools?
Gena: In the early ages, music really helps grow kids’ brains in a way that other things can’t to get those connections. Just like when you’re going to be exposed to a foreign language, if kids are not exposed to music before age nine, they’ve missed out on some of those pathways being established. Music appreciation is an easy way for homeschool moms to be able to do that in their home schools without having to do piano lessons or some other type of instrument if they can’t do that.
Music appreciation can be done by everyone, so that’s one of the reasons why I love it.
Also, music helps us understand culture and history in a way to really see a big picture that, if you leave that out, you’re missing it. Same with art, and even literature, as kids get older to read the literature of the historical period too. It’s really good for all kids, no matter what they’re going to do later in their life, even if they never do become a musician in any way.
Amy: I would love to chat a little bit more about that. As we’re thinking about including music in our homeschools, is this just for the naturally gifted musicians? Is it valuable even if either mom or the children maybe don’t feel quite so musically inclined?
Gena: Yes. Of course, maybe I’m a little biased, but I think everyone needs to have music in their homeschool, every year. Now, I’m not going to say you have to study it for an hour a day, even for your first grader, because I, as a homeschool mom, too, with lots of kids, know that there’s just limits to our time and our energy. I’ve created a lot of 15-minute music lessons because I have that Charlotte Mason method style in me where short lessons even can make a big difference.
You can find time to do a 15-minute music lesson with your kids.
That is one thing that I think is really helpful for the early ages, and for high school, I definitely believe that every high schooler should have a fine arts credit. If it’s not music, then art, or dance, or theater, but I hope it could be music, music history maybe, if they’re not a musician. Everyone should always include music in their homeschools.
Tips and Strategies for Including Music in the Homeschool Day
Amy: What are some tips and strategies to find that time in our day? One you mentioned already is, it doesn’t have to be a really long lesson. It can be a short lesson. I’d love to hear if there’s something specific at different ages along the way, or, again, as a mom with a wide range of ages, ideas for tips to bring multiple ages and grades together.
Gena: One thing that I’m doing with my elementary kids this year is, we do it during our morning basket time. We’re doing foreign language and read-alouds and Bible study during that time. I do a 15-minute music lesson with them every day.
I am using actually my membership where I have a certain lesson for every day of the month. Sometimes it’s a composer’s birthday or a holiday, and the music will relate to that, or something special that we’re focusing on that month, a certain topic. That’s what I’m doing with my elementary kids. I do it in the mornings, during our morning basket time.
Another great idea for some people, if they can’t do music every day, is to do it with a loop schedule. They would go through whatever things are on their loop schedule that they’re not doing daily. Then, whenever they get to the music, then they’re ready to do that one on that particular day. If people don’t know about loop scheduling, you could just do a search for that because there’s lots of great resources online.
For the multiple ages, we’re studying the late 1700s right now. That’s the classical era of music. On Wednesdays, I pull all my kids from 8-year-old to 17-year-old and we’re doing our history discussion of the week as a group. My elementary kids actually leave partway through so I can get a little deeper with the teenagers. At the beginning, that’s when I add that music lesson that relates to the history that we’re studying.
I have some music history courses for high schoolers. That’s what I’m using for this lesson, but I simplify it a bit. You can always take any curriculum and simplify it or change it up a bit to work better for your style or your kids. That’s what I do. I have the lesson on- like right now we were doing classical forms. We talked about themes and variations yesterday. I don’t play the entire piece. I explain it to them. I play part of the piece. We talk about it a little bit, but it’s short and sweet, and it’s good for my 8-year-old and my 17-year-old and everyone in between.
Those are my tips that I think can make a lot more people realize this is something they could do in their homeschool.
Amy: We love to be able to combine those kinds of subjects, like history, and really even thinking of history as a broader idea of humanities, what was going on and the ideas that then trickled out into culture. Of course, that’s going to play out in the people and the events, but it plays out in the art and the music and the science and the architecture. There’s so many wonderful, delightful, but not too challenging ways to bring in those other ideas into your discussions, even across a wide age range.
Gena’s Advice for a New Homeschool Mama
One of the questions I have been asking a lot of people recently just because I think that it’s always really insightful to hear other moms’ tips for a new homeschool mom, it’s been fun to hear, but I think even we, veteran homeschool moms, sometimes need to be reminded of those basic principles. We can get distracted and forget our why’s. If you were talking to a new homeschool mama and you were wanting to give her some advice, what would you say to her?
Gena: My biggest advice would be to relax. There are so many different ways to educate. There is not just one way to do it. You don’t have to worry that you’re doing it wrong. Whatever curriculum or whatever style you’ve chosen, your kids will be learning. If you’re doing it with them, they’re going to be learning. Maybe the next year you’ll change it up a bit and try something different, but you don’t have to worry that they’re going to miss something. Maybe the only thing you just want to do is make sure your math is sequential and you’re still doing math every year and you have taught your kids how to read. Beyond that, you don’t have to worry so much. Just relax.
Amy: I was talking to another guest recently, and she was saying just how consistency is so much more valuable than somehow picking just the perfect curriculum, but just that simple consistency makes such a big difference. All of us can do that. Just to get up in the morning and do something simple. Sometimes I think we over-complicate it and stress ourselves out.
Gena: That’s right.
Amy: Maybe that’s just me.
Gena: [laughs] No, it’s not just you.
What Gena is Reading Lately
Amy: In Season 4 of the podcast, I’m asking all my guests these same last two questions. The first one is just, what are you personally reading lately?
Gena: I always have several books going because we’re using them in our homeschool. I’ve been teaching high school literature to my kids this year and another student that comes by. We just finished Sense and Sensibility. I did that one. Then I just started Nineteen Eight-Four. We’re going to finish out the school year with that book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. For my younger kids, I’m reading aloud Johnny Tremain.
Amy: I love that one.
Gena: I love that book with the American revolutionary times. Then, just for fun on my own, I’ve been reading Irene Hannon books.
Amy: I’m not familiar with Irene Hannon. Tell me about her.
Gena: They’re just fluff fun books. [laughs]
Amy: I think it’s really important to have some fluff fun books going. I generally have murder and mystery or something.
Gena: Yes. It’s similar to that type of style.
Gena’s Tips for Keeping the Homeschool Day Running Smoothly
Amy: Then, the final question for you today, Gena, is just, what are some of your best tips for keeping the homeschool day running smoothly?
Gena: I always try, and never completely successful, but to get as many copies made before the school year starts as I can. I’ve noticed that if I’m in the middle of a lesson and I have to leave to go make a copy or find us some supplies- the other tip is to have all your supplies handy and in a good spot so you don’t have to leave to go do that, because then the kids lose focus and it’s really hard to get back into it. That’s one of my tips.
Amy: We did that this year with my son’s high school chemistry. His teacher gave us a whole list of all the supplies that are going to be needed by the end of the year. I just was like, “I’m buying them all right now because I don’t want to end up on some gray day in February,” like, “Mom, I need this one thing right now.”
Amy: Gena, thank you so much for coming and chatting with us today. Can you tell people where they can find you all around the internet?
Amy: Fabulous. I will have all those links up in the show notes for this episode over at humilityanddoxology.com. I’ll chat with you later, Gena. Bye.
Gena: Thank you so much, Amy.