Sam Sorbo wears a lot of hats: actress, radio show host, writer, wife, and homeschool mom. Famously known for her role in the 1995 TV show “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” Sorbo has stayed very busy over the past 25 years.
Not only has she continued to act, including recently starring in “Let There Be Light,” but she also hosts the radio program “The Sam Sorbo Show” and has become a passionate homeschool advocate, writing two books on the subject: “They’re Your Kids” and “Teach from Love.”
Sorbo joins The Daily Signal Podcast to discuss practical tips for families who now find themselves homeschooling their children. Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Plus: Jude Schwalbach, research assistant in the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, discusses the new Heritage Curricula Resource Initiative. We also cover these stories:
- President Donald Trump warned Iran of “very heavy price” if there’s a “sneak attack” on U.S. forces in Iraq.
- Vice President Mike Pence criticizes China for its lack of honesty about its COVID-19 numbers.
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issues a statewide stay-at-home order.
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Virginia Allen: I am joined by Sam Sorbo, actress, radio talk show host, author, and homeschool mom. Sam, thank you so much for joining me.
Sam Sorbo: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Allen: Now, I just love all the hats that you wear on a regular basis. You have your own nationally syndicated radio show, “The Sam Sorbo Show.” You’ve acted in a number of films and TV shows, including your most recent film “Miracle in East Texas.” And you’re also a homeschool mom, but not only that, also an advocate. And you’re written books on the subject.
I just want to begin by talking about your own homeschooling journey a little bit. You published a book in 2016 titled “They’re Your Kids: An Inspirational Journey From Self-Doubter to Home School Advocate.” Tell me a little bit about that journey from being in self-doubt to not only homeschooling your kids, but really encouraging others to do so.
Sorbo: Well, sure. I would tell you that I didn’t think that I was up to the task. And I think that’s actually the situation that a lot of parents today find themselves in. But the school wasn’t getting it done.
The school was actually failing my child, and I don’t mean giving him a failing grade, they just weren’t teaching him properly. So I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and I thought, “Well, I could fail homeschooling him and still end up with a better relationship than I have with my child now.” So I just decided to give it a try.
I went to Kevin, my husband, and I said, “I think I want to try this.” And he was like, “Really?” And I said, “Yeah, but just for the fall, just until Christmas. When we go on Christmas break, then I’ll reevaluate. We’ll see. Maybe there’s a different choice. Maybe we’ll go private school or something.”
I would love to tell you that once I started down that road, I never looked back, but that would be a lie. And I talk about it in the book.
I put the kids back into school about a year and a half later because I thought that I was inadequate. And I just had such feelings of self-doubt. That was a disaster, so I pulled them out after six weeks.
… It was hybrid, so it was part homeschooling, but part school. I think two days of homeschooling a week that was guided by the teacher because the teacher knows best. Right? That’s what we’re taught in school. And then three days a week in a classroom situation at the school.
So after six weeks, I requested to meet with the teacher because I wanted to make sure that I was upholding my end of the bargain because the bargain is they are the educators and the child will get an education from them. All I have to do is jump through whatever hoops they give me.
I sat down with her, and for five minutes, she told me about how well-behaved my child was. And for those five minutes, I had this little voice in my head saying, “That’s not why he’s coming to school. That’s not why he’s in school.”
He’s not at school to learn how to be well-behaved. That was my job. I taught him how to be well-behaved. And for heaven’s sake, I know that he’s a well-behaved child. Why is she telling me this?
I doubted again that I had made the right decision. In fact, I’d made the wrong decision by sending them into that little school. I’m glad that I pulled them back out again.
I had a friend tell me that wasn’t it great that I could make that mistake, so that I could learn once and for al that I was doing the best by my children?
Allen: … Like you said, your whole reason of putting your child back into public education was this thought of, “Well, I’m not really adequate enough to be teaching them.” I know so many of our parents right now are in the same boat. They’re looking at their kids’ algebra homework, thinking, “Oh, my gosh. I’m not qualified to be teaching this.” What would you say to them?
Sorbo: The thing that we tend not to learn in school is that the textbooks have all the answers in them. You don’t actually need a teacher.
That’s the big secret in all of this, is that the books, if they’re well-written books, they have the lessons in them. And then, yeah, the teacher goes up on the board and she rewrites the lesson for you up on the board. But you shouldn’t actually need that.
So if the parent is struggling with algebra, first of all, there’s plenty of online resources, how to solve a quadratic equation, how to—whatever it might be. There are plenty of resources online, or there are videos that will walk you through the answer.
But seriously, all you have to do is turn back a couple pages and the book will walk you through the answer. That kind of stuff is really just learning how to manipulate the terms to get the right sentence, basically.
Math is a language just like English, or Latin, or any of the other ones. And you just have to learn the grammar. You just have to learn how it works.
If parents are struggling with that, and I get that, I get, OK, parent, you grew up feeling completely inadequate in math, I’m here to tell you that part of the reason that happened is because you were in school, because the schools are very adept at teaching us how inadequate we are. But we’re not inadequate.
We’re actually very capable. Look where you’ve come. Look how far you’ve come. Now you have children. Do you want that feeling of inadequacy for your child?
Allen: Yeah. This is so good. Sam, I don’t even have kids, but I’m feeling encouraged. Thank you. This is great.
So talk a little bit about how you balance career and kids at home. You do so much, like we said. You have your radio show, and you’re an actress and you’ve written books.
Many parents, they both work full-time. Mom and dad have jobs. Now they’re both working from home. Their kids are home. And they’re trying to figure out, “Oh, my goodness, how do I do this? How much time do I give to them, my children, every day with schooling?” What would you say to them?
Sorbo: School for younger kids isn’t more than three hours a day. Elementary school shouldn’t be more than three hours of work a day for a child. That child needs to play. That child needs to learn how to cook and bake and do fun things and decorate cupcakes and goodness knows what.
The child learns during play. And you can have guided play, where they’re playing with science manipulatables, or they’re learning about science by making a volcano, or something like that.
So for younger kids, it shouldn’t require that much time because if the child is putting in three hours, then you know darn well that the adult isn’t putting in that three hours because the child needs to do some things on its own.
You set the child up with, “Here’s your math workbook. I need three pages done. You have an hour. Go for it.” And then you have that hour to do stuff that you need to do. If the child has questions, obviously, you need to take some time apart and answer those questions.
I had a gentlemen explain to me his son was in seventh grade and was failing. And they were going to hold him back. … This guy, he was married, but his wife didn’t want any part of homeschooling.
He switched his shift and worked nights, so that in the mornings, he could homeschool his seventh-grader through eighth grade, through seventh grade and eighth grade in one year, so that by the time ninth grade rolled around, the child was reenrolled in the public school with his class.
So don’t tell me you can’t get it done. Tell me that you don’t feel like sacrificing. OK. It’s a choice. Right? In theory, we’ve chosen to have kids. There’s some more sacrifices to be made, aside from just having the kids. So we have to prioritize. And you have to feel good about that. Whatever prioritization you make, you need to understand that you’ve done so.
Allen: Yeah. And you do have several children. How did you handle teaching different age levels at home?
Sorbo: Sure. I will point out that I’ve done a number of videos, and I’m continuing to do videos. So if you go to samsorbo.com, you can find my videos there. And I’ve done a couple on multiple grade levels. …
There’s a couple of great things about homeschooling with regard to multiple grade levels. And one of them is when I would sit at the kitchen table with a fifth-grader, a third-grader, and a first-grader, I would give the fifth-grader the book and I would say, “You read the lesson.”
I would give the third-grader his book and I would say, “I need you to look at what you did yesterday,” basically to bring his memory about what he did yesterday.
And then for the first-grader, I would give her the book and I would say, “This is what you’re doing.” And I would give her the lesson. I would teach her the lesson about whatever it was, addition or whatever. Then I would … say, “Now you work on that.”
Then I’d go back to the fifth-grader and I’d say, “OK. You read the lesson. Show me how you do the first thing, the first problem.” And he would show me, and I’d say, “Great. You’re on your way. Go do the rest of them.” And then to the third-grader.
So I’d go around. It’s like a round robin. You run a round robin. And if your third-grader has a question, but you’re busy with the first-grader, you say, “See if our fifth-grader knows the answer.”
And then what happens is the kids start to teach each other. And the fifth-grader develops respect for the younger kids because he has to deal with them every day, and he sees what they’re going through. He’s got empathy because he just went through it.
And the younger kids develop a kind of a respect for the older kid. And you come together as a family.
Now what happens in school is the older child learns that he’s better than the younger kids because school teaches ageism.
Sorbo: And that’s not me. That’s John Taylor Gatto who says that. But I tend to agree.
So is it a juggling act? Absolutely. But are there tremendous benefits from having multiple kids in multiple grade levels? Absolutely.
If you want to start with the middle child, then you say to the older child, “Go and play with the younger child, and show her how to … I don’t know, work with the blocks or count pennies,” or whatever it is.
What happens is after you get into the groove of things, and you start doing a little research online—like if you go to coronavirushomeschooling.com, which is a new website that we’ve just cobbled together, we’re still working on it.
But we’ve got K through five resources over there with lesson plans and a daily planner and tips and tricks and all kinds of videos and stuff.
Once you get into the hang of it, it becomes sort of old hat. And then what happens is you make the remarkable discovery of what a joy it is to hang out with your kids, and it’s fun.
Allen: I love that. I love that idea of really empowering your older kids to take ownership and be helping the younger kids in the family. It makes so much sense. And you’re kind of achieving multiple things at once, not only on an education level, but also on a responsibility level, and that’s so good.
Sorbo: Right. And it takes some work, and you have to work at it, absolutely. But nothing worthwhile is ever free. I mean, come on. Haven’t we learned that lesson yet?
Virginia Allen: I hope so. So let’s talk a little bit more about coronavirushomeschooling.com. If I go to the website, what are the resources that I should see? And how should I kind of approach navigating the website?
Sorbo: … It’s an empowering website. It’s a website that is geared to making parents feel less inadequate because, let’s face it, we all feel inadequate. That’s how we were taught to feel, sadly. I hate to say that, but it’s just the truth.
So you go to the website. I mean, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s self-explanatory. There are lessons plans. You can find things that are geared to specific ages, not to age grade your child. Maybe you have a third grade-aged child who’s working at a fifth-grade level. What a fantastic idea, to give them fifth-grade work. You know?
When my son was in first grade, he finished first-grade math on Halloween because I just gave him the workbook. And he would come to me and say, “Mommy, can I do 30 pages today? I want to do 30 pages.” And I’d be like, “Sure.”
You know what I mean? That would be fine. I’m not going to stand in your way.
… Education should be about engaging the child’s natural curiosity. Children are born naturally curious.
I don’t know about you, but going through school was torture for me. And I was a straight-A student, and I hated every minute of it. I think I had probably the biggest truancy file in the school because I would just refuse to go to school.
My mother worked, so she would write me an excuse. Basically, I felt sick, and so she’d write me the excuse, so I never got in trouble because I was a straight-A student. But I hated it, and I hated learning, and I thought it was so hard.
I don’t know why we are engaged in teaching our children that learning is hard. We should be showing them how easy it is. And the fact is, it is easy.
So if your child comes to you—I have a lot of people asking—if you don’t know the answer, where are you going to find the [answer,] well, come on, you’re an adult. You know how the internet works. … Ask Siri, for crying out loud. Alexa, what’s the answer? I mean, literally, it’s that simple.
All we really are meant to do as homeschool parents is show our children how to find answers, show our children that learning is easy, and model that behavior for them so that they understand that they can learn anything that they want at any time.
That’s how we empower children, not by teaching them that things are hard, but by teaching them that things are easy. And that way, when life gets hard, they’re prepared for it because they have an attitude of “I can do this.”
Allen: So practical. So how do you handle teaching kids at home when there are a lot of distractions, especially now with modern technology? We have phones and various games to play and things like that. How do you really set those boundaries and allow them to hone in on school work?
Sorbo: This is actually a varied question because, really, the question that you’re asking is: What about authority?
I’ve actually done a video on that, and I’m going to do another one because what’s happened is, as parents, we didn’t realize this because we kind of got suckered into this whole public school, government school thing. But we cede our authority at the door of the schoolhouse.
The children know that because they can tell, because when they bring home something for mommy to sign and they say, “Mommy, teacher said you have to sign this,” and mommy signs it, then the child understands, “Oh, the teacher’s in charge. Mommy’s not in charge anymore.”
So when you see that your authority’s being challenged, understand that is engendered within that relationship between you and the school and your child.
So now your children are at home, and there are distractions because they have iPhones, or they have whatever tech. No. You turn off the tech. You want total control, you change the password. It’s that simple.
“What? You changed the password?” Yeah. You had to change the password because it’s just too distracting.
“There’s no ‘but, mom.’ If you get your work done, I’ll give you the password. If you don’t get your work done, there’s no password.”
All you have to do is calmly and coolly assert your authority because you still have the authority.
You didn’t realize that you gave it away. You still have it. So all you need to do is reassert it with your child calmly. There’s no fighting match. There’s no screaming match, none of that. That’s completely unnecessary.
If your child wants to scream, then you need to deal with that because that’s a discipline problem. That’s not an authority problem. That’s a discipline problem.
And so then you say, “Wow. I’m very sorry you’re so upset. This tells me that you shouldn’t have electronics, so I’m going to have to take your phone.”
Sorbo: Right? Just very slowly, and you escalate it, but you don’t escalate it in volume or tone, you just escalate the consequences, and you assert the consequences.
I’m sad that parents need to be taught that. I don’t know, it came naturally to me. But it’s the truth.
So, there are distractions. You think there aren’t distractions in school? Holy smokes, there are distractions in school. That cute guy who’s sitting across the aisle is a distraction in school.
You have fewer distractions at home. But that means that you have to shut the TV off, too. You have to shut down the phone. You have to turn off your phone. You sit down with your kids, make them the priority. You check your phone at the door, too. Right?
Sorbo: And when you can’t, when it’s, “Oh, well, daddy’s got to work now,” then you make that time. You carve that out.
You say, “Oh, daddy’s got to work now, so I’m going to keep my notifications on because if I get this email that I’m waiting for, I’ve got to jump back at work. But until then, let me help you with this.”
So you show your child time management, attention management techniques. What a great exercise for you, too.
Sorbo: This is a tremendous opportunity that we have. Yes, it’s a burden. Yes, it’s a hardship. Goodness, it’s a tragedy. But it’s also an opportunity. Let’s use it as such.
Allen: Yeah. You’re absolutely right. I think that is so powerful to think of what’s going on in the world right now as an opportunity because it’s obviously scary.
I mean, coronavirus, we don’t know what the future holds. But what we do know is we’ve all been given an opportunity. Many of us have been given an opportunity to spend a lot more time with our families, and that is a gift.
So you’ve mentioned a lot of resources, the videos and the website. Can you just kind of review for us where we can find all of these things?
Sorbo: Of course. Coronavirushomeschooling.com is an online resource that’s developed by Texas Homeschool Coalition. And right now, it’s K through five. It will be upper grades.
If you need advice for upper grades right now, or just sort of in general need to be encouraged, go to samsorbo.com. All my videos are up there. There’s also a link to the coronavirus homeschooling website there as well.
And, my gosh, there’s so many homeschool resources available to you. If you have teenagers and you don’t have anything that the school has sent home, by all means, go and get classic books, you can get them used on Amazon right now.
Just buy some classics and set your children to reading classic literature, the classics. So “Jane Eyre,” anything by C.S. Lewis—for heaven’s sake—”The Hobbit,” “A Tale of Two Cities” by Dickens, “A Passage to India.”
“Starship Troopers” is a fantastic book. It’s not a classic in that sense, but it’s a fantastic book.
“Jane Eyre,” “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” “Paradise Lost,” “Gulliver’s Travels.” “The Screwtape Letters” is a phenomenal book, phenomenal. George Orwell’s “1984.” “A Wrinkle in Time.”
There are so many fantastic books out there that you can just set your children’s minds and imaginations ablaze through reading.
And you know what is a fantastic blessing? Read with your kids. Take turns, read out loud, do voices. Have some fun with this.
You can’t be your public school at home. Thank goodness you can’t be the public school at home. So don’t try to be that. Be better than that. Be you at home as the educator, and you can be better than all of that put together. Because why? Because you love your kids.
Allen: This is so good. Sam, I love your fiery passion for homeschooling.
Sorbo: Thank you.
Allen: I hope some of our listeners are catching that passion. We just really appreciate your time today. Thanks so much for joining The Daily Signal.
Sorbo: Thank you for having me.