Can You Homeschool Four Kids and Not Turn Into an Unschooler?

I’ve never used the unschooling word to describe what we do. It does come awfully close to how we homeschool around here much of the time, but I’ve always preferred to call us “eclectic” and “child led” and “relaxed.”

It’s not only because I’ve been kicked off of unschooling lists (true story — twice!).

It’s partly because we’re not just child-led. We’re also mom-led and dad-led and “Hey!  We’re in Sinclair Lewis’s hometown so we should study about him!”-led.  We’re led by whichever way the wind blows, and that’s all of us, even if one of us would rather stay home and watch Sponge Bob.

So that’s one reason.

And I also just hate boxes and labels. I don’t do well with rules!  So when someone tells me I can’t use worksheets or that I don’t count if I make my kids brush their teeth (even if I make it fun, for heaven’s sake), well, that just doesn’t sit well with me.

I tend to love unschoolers. They’re often my favorite families.  I’ve met one or two unschooled kids that really made me want to go find the vodka, but I’ve found just as many of any other sort of schooling that had that effect on me.  Many of my favorite kids and almost all of my favorite teenagers have been unschooled.  That can’t be a coincidence.

Just the same, I have never considered us unschoolers.  Until this year.

I am finding it more and more impossible to pretend to school my children now that there are four of them needing their proverbial buckets filled with knowledge.

Frankly, they do that themselves.

Sometimes they fill their buckets with Sponge Bob and physics games online, but then they wander out and surprise me by saying something pretty nearly brilliant and I stop thinking quite so much that I’m failing our family.

I’m stretched a bit thin these days.

I’m writing three columns and two blogs, mostly daily on all five counts (this poor blog has taken some hits though!).

I’m cooking from scratch, including meeting the culinary requirements of one vegan, one vegetarian, one flexitarian and some grumpy omnivores who miss bacon.

I’m doing a darn good job of avoiding cleaning a very messy house.  This includes doing countless loads of laundry (with my trusty assistants) that never seem to even pretend to get us caught up.

I’m toilet training my last child.

I’m reading long (but interesting) books to review.

And I’m attempting to keep up with good parenting quotas — making play dough, reading stories, taking the kids outside on snowy walks, having talks, playing games…

Now where would the two to six hours each of educating come into this, times four?

It just doesn’t.  Not this year.

Maybe next year I’ll go back to lapbooks and lesson plans.  Heck, maybe next week. Maybe we’ll all gather at the kitchen table and learn about cellular biology as a group, despite the years of differences between all the kids.

But for now, we’re this close to unschoolers, even if they won’t give me a card to carry.

I still make everybody come sit and listen to “The Long Winter” and sometimes I say “do two math pages before you get online.”  We talk about Japanese internment camps and how to make bonsai trees at the dinner table.  I still make them brush their teeth, too.

Mostly, though, I get out the educational games, I strew the good science books, I get out the microscope and watch all the kids gather round to see what I’m looking at.  I talk.  I answer questions.  I put the educational DVD’s on in the background.

And so on.

Lately, I’ve been reading blog posts about plans for the new homeschooling year. There’s a whole lot of planning going on for some people.

I even saw a pie chart.  A pie chart of what the children would be doing, extracurriculars and all.

My resolution is not to read them.

I’m resolving to keep going with my unschooly, haphazard ways.

I’ve been doing this long enough to know a thing or two. And one thing I know best is to follow the seasons.  When you have a new baby, you don’t worry about spelling tests.  The baby is the lesson, and things work out.  When your garden is full of things to put up, you don’t drill multiplication tables.  When a parent has cancer, you cuddle on the bed and read books together.  School should follow life, not vice versa.

There is a season for lapbooks and lesson plans.

There is also a season for trusting your children and making sure the books and microscope are out. I wrote about goals today (not resolutions) and had some advice about what sort to set.

Mine are easy:

  • Read to the kids every day
  • Get outside as much as possible, and when not possible (which is often, this winter!), still get lots of exercise together
  • Do some sort of fun math thing every day

I’m still not sure we’ll meet those ones.

But you know what? My 12 year-old taught a friend of hers binary over the computer last week, for fun.  My 10 year-old has been devouring historic novels.  My7 year-old has decided he loves spelling.  And my 3 year-old is obsessed with physics experiments.  They usually involve a toilet plunger, the bathroom door, or blocks being catapulted across the room, but I’m pretty sure he’s a prodigy.  😉

Lesson plans are overrated.

Maybe next week I’ll decide to make a salt dough model of Florida or do 12 hours straight of multiplication drills (okay, not really). The only thing I’m consistent about as a homeschooler is my inconsistency.

But I know it’s all good.

You’re all good too, in case you’re worried about it.

Read a little, strew a little, play a lot and love a lot. The rest will fill in the gaps, despite your worries. That’s my plan.

Happy 2011!

Teacher Tom Tells It Like It Is

I love the wisdom of Teacher Tom’s blog, for more than just preschool projects.  I love his basic philosophy on life and education.

If It’s Not Fun, You’re Not Doing It Right

This post really hits it on the nail for me.  This is why we homeschool.  This is why that BS about school outside the home preparing children for “real life” is never going to wash with me.

Most often, when someone argues in favor or the empty vessel approach to education, they do so by insisting that it’s “good for kids” to learn how to slog through dull, irrelevant coursework, even while admitting that little of the specific knowledge will be retained. This is somehow a preparation for life? I’m here to tell you that in the 30 odd years since I was last in school, I’ve never once had to slog through crap except when it was purely about money, infirmity, or death. Is that what these people are saying? Are they telling me that a teacher’s job is to prepare children for a world in which they must sacrifice fun at the alter of their personal finances and poor health?


Without fun, we learn nothing but harsh lessons. It’s fun to satisfy our intellectual, emotional, and physical curiosities, in fact that’s the only way we can do it. Fun is real. Fun is not frivolous, it’s central. Fun is the most valuable thing there is. I’m here to tell you, if it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.

Exactly.  Here’s to teaching children the inherent fun in learning, living and even (if you do it right) working.

Oh yeah, and Merry Christmas.  😉

Snowed in for Solstice

alex snow 2010

We were going to go to a winter solstice party tomorrow.  We were really excited — there was going to be snowshoeing, a solstice supper, fire dancing, and we were going to meet some homeschool friends the girls are e-pals with for the first time, plus see other friends we enjoy at a place we really like (a fabulous green organization hosted by a Catholic convent, run locally by a homeschooling mom!).

Alas, Minnesota is up to her usual tricks.  We’re snowed in.  We can’t even get out of our driveway, much less get to Mankato.

Those who have known us for a while know that we usually have our family holiday celebration on the winter solstice since we do Christmas Eve and Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa.  We were planning on putting it off (The day we celebrated was going to be a surprise– the kids were going to have to find out which day was presents and feasting when they woke that day) but since our plans for tomorrow are canceled then solstice is back on…

Which means I have a lot of wrapping and planning to do tonight.  🙂

And instead I’m drinking a glass of wine and yapping with you!

Eh…  It’ll get done!  I am not one to stress at the holidays.  That sort of defies the purpose of them, don’t you think?

We’ll probably be up late watching the eclipse and chatting with NASA astronauts (who can resist one named Mitzi???!!!) anyway!

(BTW, for those who are confused — I was — tonight is the eclipse but it’s after midnight for most of us so it’s technically on the solstice.  The solstice is tomorrow, of course!)

In any case, I’m off to do some prepping.

Happy Solstice, folks!

A Billion Homeschooling Pages

Looking for some new resources?  This page looks like it hasn’t been updated for a while, but my goodness, it’s certainly full of links for homeschoolers!

Some are arranged by grade level and others by subject…

Computers & Keyboarding
Health & Safety
History/Social Studies
Language Arts
Library: Internet Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
General: Sites of general, educational interest, homework help, etc.

Free worksheets online, as well as software to help you create
your own!

Homeschooling Links…………………………………………………………………3
Links to some other sites that may be helpful in answering
questions and finding ideas, tips, etc.

Teachers Corner……………………………………………………………………….4
All help for you, the teacher! Lesson plans, unit studies, resources.

How Do I Start?………………………………………………………………………5
Some ideas and suggestions on how to get started.

Products & Services…………………………………………………………………..2
A whole page created with products and services specifically
for homeschoolers!

I have searched through hundreds of links to find some of the
best lesson plans, activities, and unit studies that have been
specifically designed for a homeschool setting, or that can be
adapted to homeschool.
Kindergarten through 3rd Grade
4th Grade through 8th Grade
9th Grade through 12th Grade

Follow the links above or check it out from the front page here:

Homeschooling Adventures on the Web

What a great resource!

10 Fun Ways We've Learned and Played Lately

1.  Daryl ordered some free educational DVD’s (I’ll find out which ones, but in the meantime here and here are some sources of others) and he watched one on glaciers with the kids.  Afterwards, he kept quizzing Jack and high-fiving him when he answered right.  It was very cute, and Jack learned some impressive knowledge in the mere 8 minutes of the DVD!

2.  We had a snowstorm over the weekend and Victoria and I took Alex in the sled to get the mail Monday morning, since we still hadn’t dug the van out of the driveway.  🙂

3.  Jack, Anna, Victoria and I watched The Princess Bride.  We love that movie, and it was so fun to introduce the kids to it.  They love it too now!

4.  Daryl and I took turns playing Hive with various children.  I like the game because it’s a strategy game for older kids, but Alex and Jack can also use the pieces for manipulatives of all sorts.  I’ll write up a post about it soon.

5.  Victoria taught a friend binary online through chat.

6.  Anna is reading a book she got to review before it’s even published! She’s very excited.  She’s supposed to read it and review it, and then she’ll get a signed copy of the final book when it’s released.

7.  Jack, Anna and Victoria have been playing math apps on my iPod.  It’s very effective for getting kids to do math!  🙂  They particularly like a bubble math app and rocket math.  Alex has been playing a free app he loves that’s called Glow, and I’ve been playing Pocket Frogs (also free).  It has no educational value, but it’s fun!

8.  We’ve started making ornaments to replace our missing boxes of Christmas ornaments.  Our Christmas tree is utterly ridiculous this year — mismatched lights in patches, almost no ornaments, and it’s frequently got a very annoying cat hidden deep within, threatening the few ornaments the poor tree does have.  We poke at her with a broom handle and the whole tree shakes as she dashes around inside it, and then the lights go out in the mayhem…  It’s magical, I tell ya.  😉

9.  We made a fabulous, colorful mess with snow.

10. Anna’s playing Cyber Nations, so she’s learning lots about running a country.  She’s been playing since she was up north, so it’s been a few weeks now.  She’s in an alliance with Daryl and with Guy and Val (the family friends she visited up north).  I hear she owns all of Hawaii now!

I’d post more, but ten’s my limit, and a very loopy 12 year-old is waiting to yap with me downstairs.  That’s one of the coolest things about homeschooling, if you ask me.  That, and sleeping late.  😉

The 15 Most Extraordinary Homeschoolers

Have you seen this list?  What an amazing assortment of people who were homeschooled!

Some of these people were only homeschooled for part of their school years, but it’s still quite an interesting read.

From the founder of WikiLeaks to “the youngest art and poetry prodigy in history” (her paintings have sold for as much as a million dollars!), and from Margaret Atwood to Condoleezza Rice, it’s quite a group to read about!

It’s also interesting to think about who will be on the list ten or twenty years from now.  I have a feeling Birke Baehr will be there.  I’m one of his Facebook followers.

Of course, we all know the world’s most extraordinary homeschoolers are really in our homes.   🙂

Completely Non-Educational (but marvelously fun) Things To Do With Your Kids

I just read an article in the Journal of Pediatrics about how many teenagers who are survivors of cancer have to repeat a grade in high school (about 33% in this study, plus 20% of their siblings).

There is something profoundly wrong with the world when children who beat #$@$ing cancer have to worry about passing biology tests or getting “left behind” in school.

Whenever I am bothered by something I can do absolutely nothing about, I try to balance it out with better stuff.

Like in this case, utter silliness.

I rather like the idea of spreading silliness in the world!

The other day, I asked readers at the Magical Childhood blog to do silly things with their kids and then tell me about them in the comments section.

The comments made me smile and smile!!!!  And so, I’m passing them on.


  1. Lonni–  Oooooh ooooh oooh! You always know the right questions. :-) We made cut out cookies last night and at the end of 2 hours of helping my kids with them, they noticed what a floury mess my dark colored pants and sweatshirt were and busted out laughing! Then I don’t even know how it started but they decided to decorate me with more flour by dipping cookie cutters in it and rubbing it on their hands then stamping all over me! Even the teen girl got in on it. :-) They cackled their heads off so much at getting to do this! So now I think we have a new tradition to look forward to each year. :-D

  2. Sara– That’s something we do every day! :) Let’s see, we…

    * Pretended that the lines in the bathroom floor were traps we had to disable or avoid while walking
    * Made our Funyan rings talk while we ate them
    * Drew Carebears and dogs and made them talk and play
    * Made an eclair cake and stuck some of the filling on each other’s noses
    * Had tickle wars
    * Answered Jeopardy! questions with funny made-up words
    * Then talked in a made-up language
    * Ran a pet-sitting service for stuffed animals
    * Used swirly pops for microphones
    * Howled at the moon in the daytime

  3. Foxmom– My day doesn’t allow much time for big silly things since I only get a few hours in the evening with my twin toddlers. Aside from the usual silly songs and questions, etc that I think are de rigueur for this age we’re going to tackle finger painting tonight! First time so it I’m sure that silliness will abound. ;)

  4. Daisy– :) Played follow the leader with my 16 month old around a German Christmas Market. (mostly him following me following him following me… Very dizzy!)And let him play with my lipstick. Oops. The cream carpets are not so happy! But it was worth it. His hair is pink. (Like his Daddy’s was when we first met *ahhh*)

    (I love your blog. It is beyond inspiring!! And so funny.)

  5. Amelia– We built a snow dragon and a snow house (well three walls and a window made of ice)

    Not particularly silly perhaps but it made my not-quite-two year old giggle.

  6. Cindy– My four year old thought “making” the bed was a laugh riot today. Good times!

  7. sharon– the other day my mom dropped off a 1/2 of sheet cake left from a meeting she attended. my hubby and I were remembering our wedding & the cake smashing. to really appreciate it – we decided to reenact it only this time we paired up wtih our kids! what a hoot – cake and icing and giggles galore.

  8. kathy–  My favorite silly time was while driving the kids to their school. They had been arguing too much that morning so I said, “Okay, that’s it, no more talking in English. If you want to talk, you talk in another language.”

    I knew they didn’t know any other language. But lo and behold, they began to speak in their own made up languages. They were so funny we all laughed and spoke our own anonymous languages the rest of the way to school.

  9. Lonni– Smeared shaving cream on the table and the miniature road grater “plowed the snow off the roads” so the Hotwheel cars could drive around in it.

    -Grabbed the stack of 20 or so cardboard boxes we keep for shipping things and threw them all in the livingroom for the kids to play with. First it was a pyramid since we’ve just been reading about Egypt. Then it became a fort/tunnel. Lots of screaming and giggling, chasing each other thru there and when it collapses on them! Later when I show them all the socks I balled up for a snowball fight I bet they’ll be building walls to hide behind!

I love them!  I’m stealing several to do tomorrow!  🙂

I’m thinking we’ll use a giant tub of real snow and do Lonni’s snowplow idea (we have the perfect little plow!).

We have enough snow in Minnesota right now, that’s for sure.

Wanna see?

10 Fabulous Science Links

Looking for some cool ways to incorporate science in your homeschool?  Here’s 10 links to help do that.

These five were stumbled upon this week…

  1. Lick your rats and build a DNA molecule! Those are two real pages on this AWESOME site run by the University of Utah’s Learn Genetics page.  Take your time exploring this site, because there are some really phenomenal, interactive pages.
  2. Science discovery timeline: Click on any subject related to math, technology or science to see the timeline of scientific thinking and discoveries.  This is a great way to show how ideas develop, often from simple observations (such as Bacon noticing that the opposite coasts of the Atlantic Ocean fit like a jigsaw puzzle).
  3. Antimatter for kids! This CERN page teaches kids about the history of theories about antimatter, matter and what happens when they meet, in very simple, fun language.  There’s even an art gallery by kids on the subject.  Be sure to explore the rest of the award-winning site for oodles of information about antimatter for older students too.
  4. Snowflake galleries and snow science! This fantastic page is gorgeous and educational.  And you can finally find out for sure if it’s true that no two snowflakes can ever be exactly alike!
  5. The Science Hobbyist – Want to lose a few hours?  Head over to the links here then, including subjects like science fair ideas, nerd/misfit resources, kids’ science projects, “significantly worthwhile books,” videos, science myths in textbooks and TONS of links for homeschoolers.

And these five are by yours truly…

  1. Get ready for the Christmas Bird Count!

  2. Dozens of fun ways to teach about the Periodic Table of Elements

  3. 50 Things to look at under a microscope

  4. Giant ice suncatchers to root gardens: Science and nature fun for December

  5. Free science magazines for middle schoolers!

Incidentally, we got our science magazines already and Jack loves them.  So they’re marketed for middle schoolers but they’re suitable for all ages.

What’s on your science radar lately?