The Dystopian Homeschool


Well, that was quite a week.

I’m not going to go into any of my feelings about the election here.  I’m sure you can guess them, or you can take a look at my Facebook page to see them (along with a lot of articles I’ve been writing for my new gig at Inquistr).

I went to our little UU church yesterday hoping that the minister would somehow rally us up, give us inspiration and new energy and directives to go back out there and magically make things better.  I realized afterwards that I sort of expect her to be like the pit crew that services the race cars in the Indy 500.  I screech in when everything is blowing and failing, and she is supposed to fill my tank and fixes my shortages, then I go speeding back into the fray again.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, she offered a scrambled-up sermon reworked from one she had already planned on preaching yesterday.  It turns out she didn’t plan on these election results either, and had originally written an intellectual sermon on dystopian worlds.

(Yeah, UU churches are like that.  Don’t come expecting a lot of talk about sins or bible quotes.)  😉

But in her mixed-up, crazy dystopian sermon, she said something that took me by surprise.  She said that dystopian stories are always written about some terrible time to come, but at some point we needed to acknowledge the truth —

We’re already in the terrible time, and we were before Tuesday.

“an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”

Not exactly a cheerful thought, huh?

But it’s true for much of the world.  Sure, some of us have been existing in a fantastic little bubble for a while.  Some of us are white, straight, upper class, two-parent families who have been awfully blessed.  But for the poor, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, people of color, people of other religions, LGBTQ families, refugees and others, things have already been unpleasant and bad.

Our environment is already degraded.  Climate change is a reality that’s affecting us more every year, from unpredictable winters to droughts to super-storms to rising sea levels.  Animals are going extinct at unprecedented rates.  Our air is poisoned.  Our water is contaminated.  The average child now has at least one chronic illness, not to mention the average adult.  We have finally reached the generation that is expected to live shorter lives than their parents. Scientists have been warning us for a while that it’s already too late to stop the catastrophic changes coming, and unless we radically change our ways of life very soon, we can’t even slow it down.

Well, huh.  Okay then!

While this is a pretty bleak conclusion to reach when one is already feeling pretty bleak, it also can be seen as liberating.  As Janis Joplin once sang, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

And how does that translate to homeschooling?  Or even parenting?  How do we protect our kids and give them hope, when things feel hopeless? 

Well, first we look to the people who already knew all this, who have had boots on the ground for a long time while.  DAPL protesters at Standing Rock.  Black Lives Matter organizers. Environmentalists. Even parents of vaccine injured children driving buses across the country to tell their stories.  People who act to be the change they want to see in the world.  They’re happy to train us, happy to have our help.  (Miley Cyrus has already set up a web site to match people to local organizations who could use help in whatever issues are close to your heart.)

And we teach our children.  We teach them how to make positive changes in the world and help others — and also how to take care of themselves when they’re feeling fragile and shocked by the dark in the world.  We need to model that, too, and take care of ourselves in the midst of all of this darkness.

We prepare them for all kinds of futures — not just a straight line into college and some utopian job waiting at the other side, but for learning trades and volunteering for the Peace Corps and taking gap years and starting businesses and doing freelance work and all of the many ways that we can live in the modern world.

We teach them how to live well on little money, how to meet their own needs, how to survive — not in some melodramatic sense like the zombie apocalypse, but in the sense of knowing how to do well in unpredictable times.  And how to share that knowledge to help our communities.

We fight the good fight, and raise aware kids who do the same.

And then we hug them and love them and read them stories and watch silly TV shows and play, because now, more than ever, they need boatloads of that, too.







Back From Nebraska Again

We’re back from a short week at the fabulous home of Tiffany and company again.  Most of us went this time (me, Fiona, Alex, Toria and her boyfriend Gabe this time!), leaving Daryl home with Jack and Rhia.

We only went for 5 days and bunked in different spots around the house, but we had a fabulous time.

It is so fun to have kids so well matched.

When we visited for the very first time (10 years ago!), I was pregnant with Alex.  Tiffany had Jessie and Jack, and I had Victoria, Annalee (who now goes by Rhia) and Jack.  Her daughter was right smack in the middle of the ages of my daughters, and our Jacks were just about the same age (her Jack has Downs Syndrome and is a year older, but they were really wonderfully matched).

Tiffany and Jack, 2009

Tiffany and Jack, 2009

Our kids were stair-steps in ages, but Tiffany lost baby Jacob the year before I had baby Alex, and that was such a terrible loss.  It left a gap in our families, in every way.

When I got pregnant with Fiona years later, she was very much an “oops!” baby, and then a year later, a wonderful “oops!” miracle happened for Tiffany too– Millie.  She was born a year after Fiona and we were back in stair-step.  🙂

Jessica and Fiona, 2011

Jessica and Fiona, 2011

Millie, 2012

Millie, 2012

Now, after all of these years of friendship, our kids are still so well matched up:

Victoria (18)

Jessie (17)

Rhiannon (16)

Jack (theirs) (14)

Jack (ours) (13)

(Jacob would be 10)

Alex (9)

Fiona (5)

Millie (4)

Their Jack and our Alex are now good friends too, and happily play Minecraft and bounce on the trampoline and have all kinds of wonderful fun.

It is surreal and special to see these two new little girls of ours, starting their homeschool adventures in our bonded families.  They have really grown up with each other as family, which means so much to me.  My kids couldn’t ask for better homeschool cousins, so to speak.

It’s a pretty magical homeschool.

Now if we could just get back to more science lessons….

(Excuse the absence of any current photos!  My devices were all dead and I always happily abandon them all when I get there.  I planned on swiping photos from someone else’s Facebook or Instagram to blog, and there are none to swipe!)



The Tricky Part of Blogging in the Teen Years


Some of you know that this blog has been around for a really long time (originally at Homeschool Journal).  I’m not sure how long.  Maybe 8 years?  It’s been a while, though, and I have always been a rather transparent blogger.  I believe in full disclosure, shots of messy houses, confessions and real stuff.

Which all gets tricky in the teen years.

You may have noticed that I don’t blog nearly as much as I used to.  Part of the reason is because I’m pretty darned busy.  I have 5 kids to homeschool now, plus I write four columns, cook three meals a day (or so) from scratch, do several billion loads of laundry per week, do all kinds of crazy homesteading and foraging jobs, and occasionally try to check in on two blogs.  And that doesn’t even get into all the housework I should be doing.  🙂

But it’s also because my little homeschool students are growing up, and they don’t necessarily want me broadcasting their news to my world.


Look how that little girl that I kept accidentally giving mullets to over the years has grown up!  And she’s the little sister.  🙂

My big kids don’t necessarily want me broadcasting their lives, and I don’t blame them in the least.

But still, this is hard for me, for many reasons.

  1. I love them and am proud of them, and still want to tell all about their current loves, interests and accomplishments.
  2. I have always used this blog to try to share advice and support from a BTDT perspective, to help others who might face the same issues.  This worked fine when I shared information on surviving your four year old, but it’s not really okay to share specifics on surviving your sixteen year old when said sixteen year old may have friends reading (I’m surprised and confused at how many of my teens’ friends apparently read this blog!).
  3. Their lives are a big part of my life, which makes it hard for me to come here and talk about my own life if I need to respect their privacy.
  4. It seems disingenuous to blog about fluffy things when big things are a big part of our life at times.  During those times, I stay silent because it feels fake to just talk about the little things.

So I’m still trying to navigate these years as a writer/blogger/jabbermouth.

I respect my kids and will not post about things that are personal to them, but I also believe in the community of blogging in order to support each other and form a new sort of network for this new age.

And considering how many bloggers have completely given up on the idea of blogging for connection and community and have instead embraced blogging as a way to try to make money, there are fewer and fewer authentic blogs out there of moms just trying to support each other.  I don’t want to give up being a part of that.

Good grief, do I know how much we need connection, community and support during times in parenting, homeschooling, and yes, raising teens.

Luckily, I still have little ones to write about and design lesson plans around and all that fun stuff.  And I hope to start posting about them soon, too.

But I also hope to post more about the teen years here in the near future.  All with permission, of course.  Because frankly, we need each other in those times as much as the others.

And I miss the blabbing.  😉




What I Learned the First Dozen Years of Homeschooling


Okay, there is no way I am really summing up twelve years of homeschooling in one blog post. 🙂

It just occurred to me today that I’ve been officially doing this for 12+ years, since we decided to homeschool for Victoria’s preschool years and then kindergarten and so on, and she’s now in 10th grade.  Counting two years of preschool, that would make this her 13th year of homeschool.

Add in an eighth grader, a fifth grader, a first grader and a toddler, and that’s an awful lot of homeschooling.

No wonder I get a little burned out once in a while.  😉

I honestly have no idea what big lessons I’ve learned along the way, now with five kids of all ages.

But I think the biggies for us would be…

  • Kids learn best when it’s fun.
  • Kids learn best when they feel control over what they’re learning and how.
  • Homeschooling isn’t fun for anybody if you don’t keep it fun for kids and parents.  And yes, it can be fun for parents too.
  • Your homeschooling should fit your personality, and your children’s.  If you love schedules and deadlines and following directions, you’ll thrive using “boxed” curricula.  If that’s not how you roll, don’t try to make that your homeschooling MO.  Likewise, don’t try to make your kids homeschool in ways that fit your learning style and preferences and not theirs.
  • Everything is easier when it’s hands-on or there’s a pile of fun books to expand the learning.
  • Learning opportunities are everywhere.
  • Games are invaluable as educational tools.  All types.
  • It’s okay to hang around in your pajamas and play unschoolers for a while even if you’re not unschoolers.  “A while” can be however long you need.
  • Never underestimate how much your kids can learn just through copious trips to the library and huge piles of books.
  • Scope and sequence lists are for suckers.  Teach each subject until it’s fully mastered to your satisfaction and your child’s need, at whatever pace that takes, in whatever order works for your kid.
  • There are excellent free educational materials out there for every grade and subject.  Sometimes you just need to look a little bit to find them.
  • There are also more and more free educational materials that are not excellent and have ulterior motives.  From free history curricula that teach political agendas to free nutritional curricula that are paid for by GMO companies, there are lots of organizations working to buy off your family with a free poster and some lesson plans.  They are not worth it.
  • Your enthusiasm will set the tone for everybody else’s.
  • Sometimes the best way to teach a difficult subject is to step back from it for a while and do something else.  Nine times out of ten, it won’t be as difficult a subject next time.
  • If you homeschool, you have even more of a moral obligation to provide your kids with things to fuel their passions.  That means you consider it an educational expense to buy cool science materials or zoo memberships or art supplies or legos (I recommend thrift stores for those or you’ll need to start selling body parts).
  • Life is too short to stick to the lesson plan.

Okay, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the things I learned the first dozen years, but those are some big ones to come to mind.

Any you’d add?

Our January Homeschool

It would seem insane for my cold-loathing self to love January in Minnesota, but I have finally come to embrace that fact.

I love winter this year.  I love the temperatures that are so bitterly cold that Daryl and I made vaporized hot water clouds in the street over and over again for the kids.  I love having so much snow that schools are canceled again.  I love going for a walk with the dog and my hubby in a world so white and blustery that we feel as if we’re the last people in some strange snow globe world.

Every time one of my Facebook friends posts another gloating message about how fun it is to live in Arizona or some other place that gets no winter, I think to myself that they just don’t get it.

Yes, it’s brutal.  It tests us.  We miss the sunshine.  We miss being able to spend lots of time outside.  We miss our gardens.  We get cabin fever and we snap at each other and drive each other a bit mad.

But it’s also so much more than that. I talk all the time about how we homeschool by the seasons, and I do believe there is a need for every season that we live.

We are so busy as a family during every other season.  Spring is full of gardening, traveling, rejoining the world.  Summer is pageant time, nature studies, gardens, foraging and a million opportunities that never seem to come up any other time of year.  Fall is harvest season, more foraging, more travels, more opportunities, conferences, our anniversary (and new wedding every year) and so much more.

And in winter, we rest.

I love the forced solitude and quiet of winter.  You’ll stay home, inside with your family, like it or not. 🙂

Sure, we get out a lot to trek to the science museum or go grocery shopping or meet up with other homeschoolers for tubing and winter fun.

But we also hole up inside…

We read piles and piles of library books we’d never get to any other time of year.

We do melted crayon art experiments.

We play on the computer.

We watch family movies.

We read family read-alouds.

We talk.

We play piano.

We do homeschool projects.

We take pictures of frost on the windows.

We simmer pots of scented water on the stove all day to humidify the air and then track the difference it makes on the gauge on the wall.

We take long baths with books and magazines.

We take silly selfies with each other.

We assemble racetracks and marble runs and makeshift forts.

We cook and bake with all those wonderful treasures we grew and foraged and carefully preserved last summer and fall.

We learn new things.

We sleep in.

We have long talks.

We breathe.

I’m getting ready to head out in the morning with Anna and Fiona for a week in the Twin Cities with friends (old and new).  It should be fantastic fun.  I am so glad that it’s in the midst of this calm so we can truly savor it.

And I’m so glad that there’s lots of cold, gray, white, miserable winter left before life bursts out for us again.  🙂





Ho Ho… Nah

So far, this holiday season is not looking like it’s going down in our family history as one of the best.

Everything is just a little off…

We didn’t have snow until the first of December so it didn’t feel like Christmas until very recently.  I’m busy with baby Fiona, so I have less time for holiday magic.  We haven’t taken our holiday picture, finished our cards (we hand make around 50 every year!), written our annual letter, put up lights outside, decorated inside (other than the tree and Christmas lights in a couple of the kids’ rooms)…

Balancing my writing (which is really starting to be a good source of income) with homeschooling 4 kids at very different levels, cooking, cleaning and trying to meet the needs of 5 children (one of whom is a newborn!) is a challenge right now.  It is very cold so we’ve been stuck inside, and the isolation of living in a small town is not helping.

Alex has been really bouncing off the walls and driving us all more than a little crazy.  He’s a sensory seeker (he likes it loud, likes to move, barely feels touch unless he runs into a wall and then is likely to like it) and in a small house, that can lead to more than usual mayhem.  I’m really brainstorming about how to meet his physical needs this winter, since there are no gyms nearby and it gets so bitterly cold outside.

I’m also trying to figure out more social interaction for the kids.  They get plenty of “socialization” but the girls don’t have any friends nearby that they really click with and I know that’s hard.  Jack has a new friend next door, but he’s not necessarily the best influence.

It’s funny — we have a newborn but it is the older kids and other responsibilities that are pulling me in all directions and making life challenging.  Fiona is a fairy tale baby for the most part:  she sleeps through the night next to me and she’s a very happy and easy-going baby (as long as she’s held most of the time, which isn’t really a problem in this house).

Trying to parent five children well is a bit tricky!  I’m feeling like a bit of a failure at it all right now… Anna misses her friends, Jack wants more time with me to do things like cooking and crafts, Alex needs more time outside and direction, Victoria craves quiet and wishes she were closer to her friends, all of the kids want more one-on-one time with me, the boys need more read-alouds, we haven’t done fun homeschooling projects in far too long, Jack has been bored and stir crazy, Anna feels that she has too many responsibilities around the house, Alex seems to have a Omega-3 deficiency (he has “chicken skin” and “alligator skin,” plus hyperactive behavior), the kids are all getting on each other’s nerves and fighting, Jack wants me to start making green smoothies every day again, computers keep breaking, all of us need more exercise… and I have a two month old nursling, 4 columns to keep up with, a house that’s far too messy, daily migraines and chronic neck pain to deal with and things like cooking most foods from scratch.

Most days I feel pretty great about the life we’ve created together, but some days I feel as if there are just too many balls to keep in the air and I’m dropping most of them.

I have a full day ahead of me today, though, and I guess I’ll just do my best to be as fabulous as possible today.  Or at least not suck.  😉

ho ho nah



I Love This Kid

Someone commented on this video that she just wanted to share the gospel with this kid.

I know a lot of people have posted the whole “it gets better” thing for all the kids getting bullied.

But you know what?

Kids shouldn’t have to get enough religion that they can bear to stand their lives (or enough religion to change who they are so people won’t be horrible to them).

It shouldn’t have to get better in adulthood.

It just shouldn’t be okay for any people (little or big) to be violent or hateful to any other people (little or big), especially not to the extent that is ACCEPTABLE if it’s happening to kids.

You tell ’em, kid.

If a child is being bullied and it’s not getting better, the child deserves to learn/live/be somewhere better. That should be a basic human right.

Homeschooling is an option for any child.  Alternative schooling is an option.  There are lots of options besides letting children live through hell and calling it a normal part of childhood.

Of course, in a perfect world it’s the bullies who’d have to go find somewhere else to be.


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.  🙂