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Meet Penny Ross of Tools for the Home Educator in Torrance

Today we’d like to introduce you to Penny Ross.

Penny, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started looking into homeschooling when my oldest child was 5. His preschool teacher was concerned about his readiness for kindergarten — though he was teaching himself to read, he couldn’t button a shirt or cut with scissors. In short, he was bright, gifted, and out of sync with the developmental timetable public school was fashioned around.

I originally intended to homeschool for just a few years. As soon as my son “caught up” with the public school kids, I intended to enroll him. I didn’t plan on falling in love with the idea of educating my children at home or with it working so well for our family. We ended up having 3 children and all were taught at home from kindergarten through high school graduation. All have since gone on to earn college degrees and integrate successfully into the adult world.

When I started homeschooling in 1987, many people had never heard about it. I spent as much of my time explaining that it was legal as I did answering questions on why we had chosen this type of education for our children. Over the years, I held many varied leadership positions within the homeschooling program our church established, Hope Chapel Academy, in Hermosa Beach. After my last child graduated, I began working full-time for the church, running the homeschool program, and becoming more involved in CHEA, the Christian Home Educators Association of California.

As I became more involved with homeschoolers outside of Hope Chapel, I began to realize that there was a real need for the type of services I provided our homeschool families within the church: help them get started, choose curriculum, overcome learning obstacles, and find resources to teach difficult subjects. As more and more homeschool programs were started and curriculum was written, the sheer number of choices available to homeschooling parents became mind-boggling. Many of them appreciated some assistance in navigating the maze of options.

In Spring 2014, I took the plunge! I retired from Hope Chapel Academy and began Tools for the Home Educator in Torrance. At an age when many of my friends entering full-time retirement, I am busy getting a business off the ground!

While homeschool consulting and curriculum counseling is the mainstay of my business, I also sell gently-used curriculum, tutor English and composition, administrate standardized tests, write a blog (sporadically) and speak to homeschool groups throughout Southern California. My email newsletter, THE Home Ed Toolbox, is becoming known as a top source of tips, techniques, activities, and events for South Bay homeschoolers. In fact, many subscribe throughout the Los Angeles area.

Has it been a smooth road?
My biggest struggle has been getting the word out to the homeschooling community about Tools for the Home Educator. There is no one homeschool magazine or newspaper in which to advertise. In fact, it is this disjointedness that is one of the main reasons I began my business. I would talk with a frustrated homeschool mom who was unable to find the assistance she needed when a different homeschool program just a few miles away might have the tutor, class, or mentor that she needed. But there was no easy way to connect them. But this disjointedness that proved the need for my business also meant that I would have a difficult time in spreading the word once I opened my shop.

I also struggle with the fact that I am a solo entrepreneur. There isn’t enough time to do it all! But my business is not yet at the point where I can hire all the help I need so I am constantly learning new things and implementing them immediately. The high cost of leasing office/retail space in the South Bay is a challenge as well.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Tools for the Home Educator – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I specialize in personalized homeschool consulting. Many curriculum companies and homeschool programs provide assistance to parents in their particular teaching style, education approach, or program requirements. But I feel that my giftedness is in helping parents identify the circumstances unique to their family’s lifestyle and student’s development and in helping them tailor home education to meet those needs. I am independent, so parents don’t need to worry that I will only “push” one particular publisher or method.

As most homeschoolers purchase their curriculum online or at homeschool conventions, there is also a need for them to have a place to “see” and compare different resources. If your student is having difficulty with her 3rd grade math book, it can be beneficial to sit down with 3 or 4 different books to compare the way the material is laid out and how the concepts are explained. I have a big easy chair in my office and offer complimentary coffee and tea, so that a mom can take her time to look over the books and ask me questions throughout the process. I am only aware of one other used curriculum business in the Los Angeles area.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love the diversity of LA’s inhabitants! I deal with parents who are quite academically-minded and are turning to homeschooling to help their children gain admission to the most highly selective colleges, with parents who believe in play and informal learning experiences, and everything in between. I also love the variety of educational experiences and activities available here.

Traffic is my biggest beef about LA. As it gets worse and worse, I am less likely to want to get out to different places in other areas of LA and I find many of my customers feeling much the same.

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