Career Advice 101

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart,…you’ll know when you find it.”
~ Steve Jobs ~


A Few Good Links

Here’s a few sites that I’ve bookmarked lately…

52 Days to Explore Outdoors features a new nature study idea (general) with links about once a week.  Recent topics include stargazing, exploring tidepools, dragonflies and rocks.  This would make a great site for weekly nature study ideas and resources.

Painting on Salt: I’ve had this craft in mind for a while now and really want to get to it soon.  I think all my kids would enjoy it, from preschool to teen.  I love the vivid colors too!

Virtual Pond Dip lets kids “dip” from a pond and then see what creatures they’ve scooped up in a pretend microscope, plus learn about them.  The creatures are all drawn, but it looks like a good primer for exploring pond life and there are lots of links to learn more.

Get Body Smart bills itself as an online textbook about anatomy and physiology.  You can explore various body systems and more.

And with that, I’m off to pretend I’m going to get lots done today…  Wish me luck!


How Do You Get Kids to Want to Learn the Boring Stuff?


A reader commented on my recent post about Victoria’s photography (“How are you going to teach XYZ?“) and made the excellent point that:

I think the question behind the question ‘how you going to teach XYZ?’ is really ‘how are you going to teach XYZ when it is so boring nobody would *want* to learn it if they weren’t forced’… isn’t it? Is that not really what they are getting at?

It’s a great point, and one I thought deserved addressing!

Before moving on, I should note that this is a common unschooling topic but I do not really consider myself an unschooler.  Those who have known me for a while may know that I was asked to leave not one but two unschooling email lists!  🙂  I use words like “relaxed eclectic” when describing how we learn, and also just try to make it all just plain fun and interesting.

If you want to toss around labels, ones that probably fit us include unschooling, Montessori, unit studies, child-led learning, Charlotte Mason, hands-on learning, Waldorf and funschooling.  But since I have been known to say “I want you to start doing every day” or “You can use my iPod but you have to do 20 minutes from the educational section first” then I’ll never really belong to the true unschooling camp.

That said, we definitely use a lot of unschooling principles in our homeschool and in a lot of ways we’re closer to unschoolers than just about anything else.

So how do you teach those subjects that kids don’t necessarily want to learn — calculus, biology, algebra, etc.?

Here are some thoughts on that.

  • Firstly, you don’t necessarily worry about them all. Just because they’re in a standard scope and sequence for your average 9th grader doesn’t mean your 9th grader needs them at all.
  • Secondly, you wait to see if your child chooses to learn them anyway. Even if she finds the subject boring, she may decide to learn it because she’ll need it for college or for a job she’s interested in for her future.  Many unschooled kids sail through their early years with no interest at all in math, for instance, and then dive headfirst into studying it in their teen years to get into a college they’re interested in.  Happily, this tends to take very little time to catch up on years of missed drudgery, once the kids are motivated.
  • Another option is to take away the boring aspect. I can’t tell you how many classes I suffered through in high school and college, that I discovered with great surprise that I loved once I was allowed to learn them in more interesting ways.  I took a geology course in college that was the epitome of boredom, for instance, but when Daryl took me rock hunting for the first time and I started to learn about types of rocks, minerals and fossils I really got into it.  Then when I designed a geology curriculum for homeschool days at the petroglyphs and we made up fun games to teach the rock cycle, found hands-on ways of classifying rocks and that sort of thing, I discovered that I really love geology.   All of my kids have always loved geology, since they grew up with geology meaning rock hunting, rock cycle games, the Moh scale, collecting fabulous treasures and so on.
  • Lastly, you can make it worth their while! No, I don’t mean bribe them.  I mean show kids how the information helps them.  Various “boring” subjects like geometry, statistics, physics and grammar suddenly get relevant when kids are involved in projects like rebuilding a car, figuring odds, remodeling their rooms, saving money, submitting an article, learning to throw the atlatl, figuring out supplies needed for a building project, blogging or starting a business.  Even hobbies like shooting pool or LEGO building can be improved with some knowledge in areas like physics and geometry.

The older I get and the farther away I get from my “official” education, the more I realize that almost everything in life is interesting. Not everything is taught in interesting ways though!

If kids need to learn something (for college, to help them with a project, out of interest or for any other reason), they’ll become motivated on their own.  The next step is to help them find the resources that will teach it in an enjoyable, accessible way.  Lucky for us, more and more of those sorts of resources exist (many of them free!).

Of course, since I am not a real unschooler, I’m also not opposed to saying things like, “Here, do this page of XYZ and then we’ll do a fun craft!”.  🙂

How Are You Going to Teach XYZ????

One of the most common questions homeschoolers hear from outsiders is “How are you going to teach ___”.  You can fill in the blank — calculus, chemistry, algebra, physics, whatever.

That question always perplexes me.  It’s so easy for people (children, grown ups, teens, anybody) to learn things!

There are books, online videos, tutors, classes, web sites, video games, scripted curricula, family friends, PSEO… Really, there are dozens of ways that are so much better than the old “30 students in a classroom with a teacher” method!

Case in point:  Victoria’s photography


Victoria is 13 years old and has become an excellent photographer.  This is despite the fact that I know nothing at all about photography or cameras.  Her dad has taught her a little bit, but she is almost exclusively self taught.

Friends sometimes tell her, “I wish I had a fancy camera like yours so I could take pictures like that!” but the truth is, her camera is complicated and it’s much harder to take good pictures with it than it is with a point and shoot.  I know — I borrowed it one night at the pageant and tried to take pictures with the thing.  It was a bit of a train wreck.

So how did she learn?  She read books, web sites, manuals and blogs.  She experimented.  She talked to professional photographers and asked questions.  She practiced.  She brainstormed.  She joined Flickr groups.  She read and studied and tried things out.

And I happen to think she’s done a better job teaching herself than most outside teachers could have!

Although I admit I may be a bit impartial.

(All photos by Victoria Bayer)

There is an old saying that teaching is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.  I love to watch my children tend their fires.  🙂

This Year's Book Lists

I’m not doing much homeschool planning right now because the baby will be coming in early October (October 10th is the official date!) and I’m not naive enough to think I’m going to stick to a rigorous homeschool schedule with an impending birth or new baby.

That said, I’m doing up some general goals for the kids and that includes a reading list for the girls.

You know I’m not really the drill sergeant kind of homeschooler and these are flexible.  In the past, there have been a few times that I’ve suggested books and they haven’t been well received by the kids.  If that happens, they’re welcome to substitute other books or come back to those books later.  There are so many great books to read that I’m not going to force a dud on any of my kids.  🙂

Having been forced through Heart of Darkness in college didn’t do anything to change my life for the better, and I want to keep my kids passionate about reading.  There are enough books that they have loved that I don’t mind if they occasionally veto one or two.

That said, here’s my tentative list for each of the girls.

Victoria (13, 8th grade):

  • 1984
  • Animal Farm
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • The Diary of Anne Frank (I’m not sure if she’s read it completely yet)
  • Atlas Shrugged
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Catcher in the Rye

Short stories:

  • Bernice Bobs Her Hair
  • The Yellow Wallpaper
  • The Lottery


  • Anne Sexton
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Survey of modern American poets

Anna (11, 6th grade)

  • Caddie Woodlawn
  • Little Women
  • Everything I Need to Know in Life I Learned in Kindergarten
  • The Little Prince
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond
  • The Castle Corona
  • A Little Princess
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Black Beauty
  • The Chronicles of Narnia


  • Mythology
  • Fairy tales from other cultures
  • Short story collections


  • Survey of modern American poets
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Edgar Allen Poe (Anna shares a birthday with EAP and likes his poems like Annabel Lee)

For the boys, I just want them to continue to read lots of books (or be read to) and love books.  I’ll pick out books from the library to strew as much as possible, too.

I’m also planning on teaching a poetry writing unit to the kids for much of the year.  I was a poet in my younger years and both girls have shown a recent interest in writing poetry.  I really like pulling out books and journals to show the girls my poems published long ago, and I miss my days of teaching poetry.  I think we’ll have a lot of fun with it.

Do you have any plans for books for your kids this year?  Any titles that are on your must-read list for kids?  I’d love to hear some more suggestions!

Five Fun Ways to Homeschool This Week

It’s been forever since I’ve done one of these posts so I thought I’d throw out some fun alternative HS ideas for the week…

  1. Play a homeschool version of Balderdash. Write up a list of vocabulary words and make up some fake and real definitions.  Challenge the kids to name the right definition for each word.
  2. Start a micro-journal. Give the kids a blank sketch book and ask them to draw a picture of at least one tiny thing viewed under the microscope each day (with labels and a bit of info).  Alternately, have them draw the pictures on index cards and keep them in a recipe box.  Have other members of the family try to guess what various micro-drawings are.
  3. Set up a math obstacle course in the back yard.
  4. Head to a local nature center and play. Most have free admission and air conditioning, and there’s generally all sorts of fun actitivities to involve the kids.
  5. Make a map dart board. Spread a US or world map over a large cork board and hang on the wall.  Take turns calling off locations and then tossing darts to see who can land their darts closest.  For younger kids, try doing this with spitballs.  😉

And with that, I’m off to catch up on 1800 hours of TV shows that my sweetie taped for me while I was off playing in Nebraska!


A Horde of Homeschoolers

We’re in Nebraska at Tiffany’s again, and have been joined by lots of fun  homeschooling friends.

We even got to meet up with some new ones, via the Unschool Bus, who were parked here with us for a few days.

Some of the highlights so far…

  • Going to the fair
  • Hitting the candy store far too many times
  • Running around the mammoth bones and other fabulous fun at Morrill Hall
  • A billion games of Bananagrams (we’re hooked!)
  • Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate
  • Trips to the lake
  • Walks to the park
  • Marathon gaming sessions on computers, iPods, Ipads, the Wii, etc.
  • New friends
  • Pom pom crafts
  • Making movies
  • Shaun the Sheep
  • Mass slumber parties in the basement
  • Total chaos

Still the come are some cool crafts, boating at the lake and all sorts of fun.

I’m so happy to be playing with some of my favorite homeschooling moms, and the kids are all having a blast with each other and all the fun at Tiffany’s.  🙂

We should be back on our home turf on Sunday.  I’m in no rush!