- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

When young Stephanie Scheffler had to write a story for a Girl Scout project, she penned the tale of a young girl whose family fought in the Revolutionary War. What was to have been a short story, however, kept growing.

Written in longhand on notebook pages, and then typed into the family computer, the story grew into a full-length novel. At age 16, Stephanie has self-published the resulting book, “Elise the Patriot: A Revolutionary War Story.”

“It’s about an 11-year-old girl in Williamsburg, Virginia,” Stephanie explained in a recent interview. “Her brothers and dad are fighting in the war, and when she hears they’ve been captured, she makes a plan to go to prison camp and save them.”

The fledgling author is the second of the Schefflers’ 10 children who are being taught at home on a 40-acre homestead in Peyton, Colo. Mother Shari Scheffler, the family’s principal educator, uses a unit-study approach to guide the crew who range in age from Stephen, soon to graduate at age 17, down to Faith, who at age 4 isn’t formally schooling, but loves to join in anyway. Sixteen-month-old Adam is also learning, but not yet schooling.

God, family, flexibility and freedom are important guiding principles for the Schefflers’ educational approach.

“I try to instill in them the love of learning: Once I can teach them to read, they pretty much can find out about anything,” Shari explains.

With an abundance of space, the Schefflers are able to study science firsthand.

“Stephanie really, really wanted a horse,” recalls Bob, her dad. “We made her work for it, learning all the aspects of caring for the horse, etc. Then, we got her a sort of ‘demo horse.’ For several years, she just took care of that horse, really becoming an expert and showing she was responsible. Bit by bit, we added more, and now there are 10 horses in our stable.”

The horses aren’t lonely. The Schefflers practically have a private petting zoo. Rabbits and chickens, turkeys and ducks, goats, beagles, birds, cats, fish, a turtle and a gecko — all are cared for daily by the Scheffler children.

Stephen has turned his animal husbandry interest into a thriving business. Starting with hatchlings, he raised about a hundred chickens, ducks and turkeys, and sells them, as well as collecting eggs for use and sale. He plans a career in finance, with a side interest in agriculture.

Stephanie has a full series of novels planned — the second is already finished — tracing the fictional McKale family’s descendants through key wartime periods in U.S. history. Still, she’s not sure if literature is her ultimate vocation, “perhaps something with horses and history.”

Like many home-schooling families, the Schefflers encourage the unique interests of their children, whether it be art, cooking, writing, music, dance or business, incorporating learning into virtually every aspect of their day. Since Bob owns a business creating computer components, the kids do some part-time clerical work there, learning the nuts and bolts of running a company.

“The thing I like about home-schooling is how they can relate to anyone,” Shari says. “And they have an excitement and interest in learning, all the time.”

To get a glimpse of the Scheffler family’s learning approach, check their Web site (www.theschefflers.com), where Shari posts photos and stories. She shares their educational philosophy and the adventures of schooling on their windswept expanse of Colorado prairie, waking up each morning to the vista of Pikes Peak in the distance. It’s a delightful reminder of the opportunities that educating within the home offers.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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