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Note: This interview has been condensed.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Celtic fiddling and step-dancing sensation, Natalie MacMaster.  She’ll be performing a sold-out Christmas show in Ottawa this week along with her husband, musician Donnell Leahy.  Not only do they tour roughly 100 days a year but they also maintain a family beef farm and raise six young children.

A common misconception of homeschooling is that it is done by two-parent, single-income families. My experience is that a high percentage of families are dual income and a surprising number are single-parent.  The MacMaster/Leahy team are a visible example of how people work homeschooling into the existing life they have, whatever that is.

SWMBO: What is your homeschooling style? Do you adopt an unschooling approach to maintain your sanity?

NM: We’ve only ever homeschooled our family.  Mary Francis was 3 1/2-ish and I thought I better try this if we’re going to be touring.  I had hoped I would never have to homeschool.  But I have a teaching degree from teachers’ college and I thought I better be open to it because look at what we’re doing.  How can our kids ever go to school?

I thought I’ll just order a couple of books and see what it’s all about.  I found it very difficult at first.  I think I started her too young.  I think I was overly eager.  Too much for too young an age but I kept it up and here we are with 5 in school.

Now I split the homeschooling with a retired teacher of 30 years.  She does two days and I do two days a week.  And then when I’m on tour I do the schooling solely or if we have a project of some sort like a recording project, she can take on more if I need.

I follow a bit of a curriculum with the Seyton program and then we have Saxon Math.  Now that I’m on tour, I brought with me science, journal-writing, religion and math.  And we try to do that four days a week.

SWMBO: On the road, do you run into other performing artists homeschooling their kids? Is it more prevalent than people might think?

NM: NO!  No. No. No.  Not a lot of people in this industry have children.

SWMBO:  What is the typical reaction you get when people find out that your kids are on the road with you, performing and homeschooling?

NM: Well, I don’t really know.  I don’t think they really tell me.  They must think something.  I don’t make it [homeschooling] public knowledge.  If someone asks me, I tell them.  Some people say, “Oh wow.”  Or “How do you do it?


Y2K: Natalie MacMaster in 2000 at the Kingston Celtic Festival with young fans Chelsea and Aric McPherson. Photo credit: Ingrid McPherson