A Typical Thursday in May

A typical Thursday

I’ve talked plenty over the years about how we don’t have a typical day for our homeschool.  The only thing predictable about our schedule is its unpredictability.  🙂  That said, I’ve also talked about how we homeschool through the seasons, making the most of what type of learning each part of the year is suited for.

There are so many reasons to homeschool by the season.  It keeps things fresh and new for everybody (parents included).  It allows you to seize opportunities.  It encourages diversity in your homeschooling.  And it incorporates rhythms into your homeschool, which are really comforting and satisfying for kids and adults alike.

Fall for us involves lots of work in the gardens and foraging, putting things up and processing.  It teaches life skills with a heavy focus on nature study and economics.  We’re outside as much as we’re inside, and we relish the beauty of the season.

Winter is a time for holidays and putting aside traditional schoolwork, then for diving into lots of books and projects once the holidays are over.  It’s a time for snuggling up in blankets and watching fun educational shows, gathering for great read-alouds, doing lots of art and science, practicing handwriting and playing games as a family.  It’s also a time for lots of baking and making use of all the goodies we put up in the fall, and getting snowed in and catching up on all the things we kept meaning to get to the rest of the year.

And then it goes with spring and summer, and so on, and every month is a little bit different.  June will see the frenzy of pageant rehearsals for Daryl and the three younger kids, as they practice for the play every week night.  July will see the magic of performances every weekend, with thousands of people coming to take part in that magic after dusk by the banks of Plum Creek.  And on and on.

Yesterday was a typical Thursday in May for us, then.  We spent a lot of the day puttering in the garden.  Fiona helped me plant more potatoes and water the gardens.  The boys did math on the homeschool computer and had Nerf battles outside.  Alex read a Garfield book. Fiona drew lots of pictures. Daryl took some of the kids out to forage wild asparagus, and brought back over a pound (it’ll start popping like crazy in the next few days).  He also went to Worthington to shop and run errands with Toria and Fiona.  The younger kids watched some TV and the older kids spent some time on their computers.

It was warm enough that there was no excuse to say no when the kids asked if we could go to the lake in the late afternoon.  All 7 of us climbed into the van and drove to Lake Talcot, about 15 minutes away.

The younger kids waded and splashed.  Rhia took pictures and read a book.  Toria chased a tadpole with the little ones, read, hiked and looked for fossils, arrowheads and shark teeth.  She found a gorgeous piece of petrified wood that made her father jealous.  Jack waded in the lake, careful not to get his cast wet on his broken arm, and then went on a hike with me.  We talked about stinging nettles and adrenaline and lightning.  I read a catalog of unusual bushes, trees and vines that produce edible fruits and nuts and watched the kids play.  Alex ran, splashed, climbed and explored.  Fiona collected rocks and caught a toad.

On the way home, we checked on lots of flowering trees and shrubs that we’ll be watching for their fruits to come.  There are wild plums, gooseberries and more.  We’ve learned how to find them and when to start checking them for fruits to beat the birds and other foragers (don’t worry, we leave plenty) while still allowing them enough time to ripen.  At home, Daryl started a pot of rice and went to check on a few other asparagus patches to bring me home enough for dinner.  I made a simple rice casserole for the kids who don’t like asparagus and mushrooms, and cooked up the wild asparagus with mushrooms, butter and garlic for the rest of us.

Friends stopped by later in the evening and we were all out in the dark street, laughing and greeting them.  I fed them leftovers and we chatted while the kids played for an hour.  Then some of the kids and I watched a couple of shows on Hulu (The Goldbergs with just about everybody, and then Blacklist for me and Toria).

Today, Rhia is off at garage sales with her boyfriend and Toria is at an art conference with Daryl.  We’ve been gardening again and playing outside.  We cut bouquets of lilacs that we brought into the house.  I had Alex do a couple of worksheets of spelling/handwriting.  The boys did math on the computer and Fiona drew me a darling picture.


The day is young and I don’t know what else we’ll do.  I have to work in some math with Alex and go over the driver’s ed book with Toria.  I’m hoping to have the kids watch an episode of Maths Mansion and maybe start on one of the Crash Courses for history or science.  We’ll read lots of books.  We’ll probably go walking.  We’ll talk a lot.  Daryl bought a spelling card game he wants to play with us when he gets back.

This is typical for us in May.  Or this May, anyway.  Sometimes we’re in Florida or Nebraska too.  It’s always different, yet there is a familiarity in this.  It’s the perfect “schedule” for us.  🙂


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?

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 XtraMath.com 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!”.  🙂

Folktales, Freebies and more

Jason snatches the Golden Fleece. Greek Vase from the 5th century BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York).

Here’s a round-up of stuff I’ve been meaning to share…

Fairy Tales, Folktales, Fables, and Folklore

This great web site contains hundreds of stories from mythologies around the world.  From Finnish folk tales to Anderson fairy tales to parables of Buddhism, there’s something for everyone.  This would be great to combine with studies of countries or family heritage.

70% of science fair winners are children of immigrants

Only 12 percent of Americans are foreign-born, the NFAP report says. Even so, children of immigrants took 70 percent of the finalist slots in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search Competition, an original-research competition for high school seniors.
Of the 40 finalists, 28 had parents born in other countries: 16 from China, 10 from India, one from South Korea and one from Iran.
“In proportion to their presence in the U.S. population, one would expect only one child of an Indian (or Chinese) immigrant parent every two and a half years to be an Intel Science Search finalist, not 10 in a year,” wrote the report’s author, NFAP director Stuart Anderson.
…”Our parents brought us up with love of science as a value,” David Kenneth Tang-Quan, whose parents emigrated from China to California, told Anderson, according to the report.
Pinterest pages
I’ve heard about Pinterest, where you “pin” web sites you like and can see what others pin, but I wasn’t all that interested.  Until I saw this mom’s homeschool pins and realized what fun this site could be.  I could lose a lot of time here!
Newest homeschool writings
Here’s what I’ve been churning out in the HS front lately at the examiner, on everything from free transcript templates to how Montessori changes from middle school to high school years…

And here’s the latest in other subjects…

And a little sap…  🙂

The Never-Ending Parent

On the personal front, the baby is now very, very wiggly.  He/she doesn’t have a certain time of day or night to bounce around.  It seems to be most of the time!  Hopefully we’ll get an ultrasound next month and finally get to know whether it’s a girl or boy.  I’m so impatient to know.

Victoria is visiting homeschool friends a few hours away this week.  I’m impatient for her to come home, even though I’m sure she’s having a blast.

Anna is taking Irish step dancing lessons for a performance she’ll be doing with a small group of girls in the pageant this year.  The teachers are local homeschool graduates who taught themselves to do Irish step dancing years ago and have performed all over through the years.

Jack and Alex are currently helping Daddy at the cabin and museum.  They’ve been spending much of their time outside and generally end each day covered in mud, sand, scrapes and who knows what else.  I do like summer!


Lesson Number One of Homeschooling

I’ve been talking to a lot of new homeschoolers lately and while there has been lots of excitement, I’ve also met up with so much fear.

If you are new to homeschooling, I have something I have to tell you.

There is absolutely nothing to worry about.


Do you know what you need to have a successful homeschooling environment for your children?

  • Enthusiasm
  • Access to a computer
  • Nature
  • A public library
  • Love of learning
  • Love of your children
  • Curiosity
  • Some good people to support you (even online)

Really, that’s about it.  And even some of those are optional.

Think about it…

What did you need to teach your child how to walk?  To talk?  To ride a bike?

How many things do you teach your children as a natural part of their lives…

How to make pancakes

How to swim

How to use the lawnmower

How to set the VCR

How to use the computer

How to fix it when you hurt a friend

We teach our children every minute we spend real time with them.  When we tell stories, answer questions, read books, take them to new places (or old!), play games, give advice, talk about that TV show we just watched together…

Homeschooling is no harder and no easier than parenting or living.

It is simply an extension of both.

Listen, there are about 85 million free resources on the internet alone that will help you do anything from explaining reproduction to teaching algebra.

There are web sites, email groups, local coops, books, newsletters, magazines and Facebook pages devoted to nothing but helping you find more than you could ever need to homeschool.

There are historic sites, parks, nature centers, science museums, art galleries, trails, beaches and other places to discover that can teach your children more than any classroom.

If you cultivate an atmosphere in your homeschool where learning is fun, it will be easier than you’d ever believe.

Treat it like the adventure it is.  Let the kids take the lead.  Go places.  Do experiments.  Make messes.  Follow rabbit trails.  Be a team.

Last week, my friend Tiffany told me a mother put her small child in time-out at their gym day care because the child had one of her arms inside her coat against her body instead of inside her coat sleeve.

If you are that sort of parent, I guarantee your child will hate homeschooling.

If you make it a battle, try to force a school atmosphere, dictate, punish, nag, belittle and create absolutely meaningless rules, then it ain’t gonna be easy.

So don’t do those.   🙂

Relax, moms and dads. You probably felt much the same when you first brought these children into the world.  And you’ve handled that pretty well, without anybody from the government having to come and teach you how to do it right or do it for you.

You are about to embark on an adventure.  It won’t always be easy (what adventure is?) but it is something you are absolutely capable of.

This is an opportunity to reconnect with your kids, to spend real time with them, to pass on some pretty amazing bits of knowledge that only you possess, to learn along with them, and to show them that education is actually a pretty fabulous thing.

Have faith in yourself.  Have faith in your children.  This is going to be fun.

Okay, most of the time.  😉

Want to read more of my yappings?  Here’s my most recent post over at Examiner.com:

20 Ways to put more joy in your homeschooling day

Happy weekend!

10 Signs You're Doing Something Right as a Homeschooler

It’s easy to doubt yourself when you homeschool.

You find out the neighborhood school kids are studying calculus in second grade.

The other parents in your homeschool group brag that their kids are six grades ahead of where they should be.

You read homeschool blogs where parents explain how they schedule and organize 18 children on a hundred acre hobby farm in an immaculate home full of elaborate craft projects.

You can’t remember the last time you finished a lesson plan, and your kids stare at you blankly when you ask them how many states there are.

Nevermind all that.

Here’s 10 ways to know if you’re doing okay anyway.

  1. Your children view trips to the library with the same enthusiasm as trips to the ice cream store.
  2. Science supplies are considered cool toys.
  3. Your kids know how to google or otherwise search out information on whatever subjects spark their interests minute by minute.
  4. You have so many books that you could build a guest house in the backyard with them all (though you’d never do such a thing with them!).
  5. You need a break from all the socialization opportunities your family is taking part in.
  6. You can turn absolutely any errand, TV show or innocent question into something educational.
  7. Your dining room table is piled high with art projects, lapbooks, science experiments, math manipulatives and other non-dining related items (bonus for each type of mess it houses!).
  8. Your kids feel bad for kids who go to SOTH (school outside the home).
  9. You consider museum memberships, zoo passes, magazine subscriptions, art supplies, karate classes, electronic gadgets, trips to ethnic stores and restaurants, Netflix subscriptions and overdue library fines “educational expenses.”
  10. Your kids still get excited about learning.

See?  I bet it turns out you’re rocking it after all.  😉

Any you’d add?  Leave them in the comments!


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