Archive for the ‘Home Schooling’ Category

Hire More Staff for Your Homeschool

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Homeschool help

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that homeschooling parents have to know everything from grammar to calculus because they will be directly teaching it to their children. Not so!

Of course, knowing a lot of stuff is helpful, and I am a huge advocate of parents learning at the same time their kids are learning. But there is no need to know everything about everything as long as you know how to find somebody else who does.

I’m not just talking about the ability to look things up to find answers – I’m talking about mentors. Mentors are other people in your child’s life who are willing to share their interests and experience. They can be youth leaders, teachers, museum volunteers, coaches, tutors, neighbors, family or friends. They can even be virtual mentors: those that are too far away or too famous to meet, but an inspiration nonetheless.

The great thing about mentors is that they can help your kids see what is possible. If your son enjoys playing the guitar, he will be even more inspired by seeing a talented musician play. If your daughter can’t resist climbing on things, sign her up for a class at a real climbing gym. Whatever their interest is, mentors can take it to the next level. They are an invaluable part of your homeschool staff.

Mentors can also inspire greatness. We all need role models, but sometimes it’s hard to find the right role models in our media driven culture. If you ask kids who they admire, they may only know the names of movie, music or sports celebrities. That’s why you need to introduce them to other role models that might appeal to their personal interests (unless their ambitions point toward movies, music or sports). Maybe an animal lover would like to know about Jane Goodall or Eugenie Clark. Maybe an adventurous type would like to know about Ernest Shackleton or Jessica Watson. Find movies or books that will help introduce these people to your kids, then see if they want to learn more.

Here’s a source of role models I came across recently: The (En)Rich List. This is a list of 100 inspirational individuals around the world whose work contributes to a prosperous and sustainable future. Their work may not appeal to young kids just yet, but older kids and adults might want to find out more.

These famous people may not know it, but they can be mentors in your homeschool. You don’t even have to pay them. Their example can work right alongside yours, providing motivation and inspiration to your kids. Meanwhile, real in-person mentors can be teaching your children new skills and higher expectations.

There is so much to learn in this world that you cannot possibly teach your kids everything. Nor should you try. Let other people help you. Then, when you get a chance, pass it on. Share your skills and experience with someone else. You and your kids will learn more, meet new people, and have a much better homeschool experience.


photo credit: DailyPic via photopin cc

Creative Rebellion

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I love serendipity! I’ve been thinking about this blog post for some time now, and just came across this video in my Facebook feed:

This video captures so well what I found in my research of famous homeschoolers. All of the people I studied had an independent streak, even as children. Some of the adults around them, particularly teachers, called them trouble-makers, or doubted that those “difficult” children would ever amount to anything. This is what happened to Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Mary Leakey, Quentin Tarantino, Walt Whitman, Ansel Adams, and countless others.

It can be very hard for some adults, set in their ways and opinions, to see the value in eccentricity, especially when all they see is boredom, inattention, and disruption. Teaching a classroom full of children is a TOUGH job. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it, especially when someone else is telling you when, what, and how to teach.

The thing is, kids shouldn’t have to be troublemakers or rebels. We are the ones who make them so, by attempting to force them into a one-size-fits-all system. Our current educational system virtually guarantees that only the most independent, feisty, and stubborn children will make it through with their original creative instincts intact. The rest of us, the more timid and obedient ones, are easier to mold into what society expects from us.

But what if we had an educational system that honored each child’s unique interests and learning style, with no pressure to become something they are not? There would be no reason to rebel.

It would be hard for public schools to do this because they have so much pressure to be accountable, and not enough money to hire the teachers that would be needed. But private schools and home schools can do it!

I am assuming, since you are reading this post, that you are either homeschooling your kids or thinking about homeschooling. If I had just one message for you it would be this: don’t try to re-create public school at home.

New homeschooling parents are understandably worried, and not sure what to do, so they fall back on their own school days as a model to follow. Public schools have become so much a part of our common culture, everyone just assumes that school is the best place for learning to happen, or that the way schools teach is the only way for students to learn. But from the examples shown in the video above and from the famous homeschoolers I studied, it’s clear that the greatest creative breakthroughs occurred when people busted out of the societal box that held them in.

Creativity requires a certain amount of freedom to thrive. If that freedom is taken away, the feistiest among us will rebel to get it back. Even homeschooling kids will rebel if home is just like school. Maintaining good order and discipline for behavior, chores, manners, etc. is a great thing for parents to do, but learning and creativity are very personal endeavors. No two kids will have exactly the same interests or learning styles, so trying to follow a prescribed curriculum will be hit-or-miss. The best thing to do is create a “curriculum” largely dependent on each child’s inclinations.

There will be gaps in what your child learns, but there are also gaps in what a public school child learns. There are always gaps, because none of us knows everything there is to know, and we never will. Learning is a lifelong pursuit. That’s why the best thing we can do for our kids is keep their learning instincts alive, show them how to find what they need, and not squash their natural creative spirit. Let them choose what, when, and how to learn; follow their interests; and solve their own problems. You’ll still keep plenty busy helping them find the right resources and mentors, taking them places, listening, reading aloud, playing with them, answering questions, and otherwise guiding them along their way to adulthood. But you don’t have to be the mean ol’ schoolmarm.

You will be amazed at what they do, even without grading or coercion. Give freedom a chance!

How can “Unschoolers” Plan Ahead?

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Summer, for many homeschooling families, is the time to plan for the school year ahead. Tis the season for dog-eared and highlighted homeschool catalogs, used curriculum swaps, and agonizing decisions over which methods to use. It’s kind of fun actually.

But what should you do if you’re more of an unschooler – someone who doesn’t believe in coercing kids to learn stuff?  All those lovely curriculum plans, with daily to-do lists, learning objectives, and directions to read aloud don’t really work for you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead. Unschooling doesn’t mean that everything has to be spontaneous. It just means that the child should be given the freedom to direct how, what, and when they learn.

We as parents help make that happen by providing our time, resources, experience, and attention. Some people might be fine with winging it everyday, but for the rest of us (kids included), it’s nice to have a little structure. It’s also nice to have time to get things ready. If your child really wants to take up rocketry, its not something you can just pull out of the closet the very day he mentions it. He needs to research what is involved and what equipment is needed beforehand.

So, don’t be afraid to plan ahead. Just because your child is in charge of their own learning doesn’t mean your days must wait on their whims. Of course, the process of planning will be different depending on the age of your kids, but here’s what I recommend:

For Younger Kids

Structure their days but let the year evolve with their interests. Younger children seem to benefit from a regular schedule, even if the blocks of time are understood to be free play. Set up times for meals, chores, reading aloud, outside time, free play, art (this is when the messy supplies come out), naps, games, errands, play dates, field trips, outside classes and anything else you normally do. Some of this time involves you, some of it doesn’t. Let them choose the books to read and games to play, but feel free to suggest something you think they will like. Their interests may swing wildly over the course of a year but you can accomodate them with trips to the library or making/borrowing materials as needed.

If you are really ambitious, you might consider making ahead some hands-on Montessori type materials to have ready for your kids to work with if they are interested. Kids are usually so eager to learn and try new things that they will gobble up whatever you give them. I’ve always thought that this would be a good project for a homeschool group: have each family make one or two quality Montessori type items, then everyone regularly swap materials.

The key with scheduling your days is to leave plenty of time for outdoors and free play. Don’t over-schedule outside activities or you’ll spend all your time in the car, and everyone gets grouchy.

For Older Kids

Help set goals for their year but let them structure their days. Once kids are old enough to start planning ahead (you’ll know when because they’ll start doing it), make a list together of all the things they would like to learn or do. Don’t judge or worry about how to do all of it in one year, just brainstorm. If they have trouble getting started, you can remind them of the things they are already interested in. You can even suggest things you think they will like. If there is a class at the Nature Center or upcoming exhibit at the Museum, throw it out there. If your child likes making things, let them peruse books of projects and put sticky notes on the things they want to make. Write down the books they want to read. If they don’t want to commit to anything or have only three items on the list, that’s OK.

Then, once you have the master list, you can either work with your child to prioritize and plan it out, or do it by yourself. In my experience, kids really aren’t interested in this level of planning and would just as soon have you do it. My caution here is DON’T OVERDO it. Just because they made the list doesn’t mean you can go crazy with it. It just means you can start researching and collecting the best books and materials within your budget, and block out times when you can go through items on your child’s list.

One of my sons wanted to make cheese from scratch when he was around 8 years old. I had no idea how to do this but found a cheese-making kit online, and set aside a day to do this with him. It wasn’t something he could have done alone because it required a huge pan of milk on the stove and keeping track of lots of steps. In fact, it wasn’t something I could have done alone, but together we had a great time.

The point is that making cheese was on my son’s list, but I had to plan ahead and purchase a few supplies to make it happen. You know best when you will have time to spend the whole day making cheese, or driving to the beach, or building a tree house. I usually started with a yearly grid of 6 boxes per page labeled with each month. I penciled in certain projects to go with the month that made the most sense. I tried to group things together, including books to read, making our own loose unit studies. Once the big things were on my yearly grid, I planned out more details a month or two in advance. This gave me time to find, borrow or buy things we would need.

As for structuring our days, I still had meals at the same time, and I spent the morning doing things with them, but after that it varied from day to day depending on what my kids were up to. Sometimes they needed my help, sometimes they didn’t. Some days we were gone all day on a field trip or other outside activities.

For Teens

Teens have to start looking even farther into the future, particularly if they might want to go to college. Here is where you shift into “Academic Advisor” mode to help them plan out studies that would satisfy college admissions offices. For more information on this, please click here. But if they are not at all interested in college prep, don’t push it. There are lots of other wonderful things they can be doing with their time. Get them out of the house meeting people and doing worthwhile things as much as possible.

Enjoy your summer, play with your kids, and don’t feel guilty about planning out your unschooled school year.


Homeschool Graduation?

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It's hard to believe this little guy is all grown up . . .

Today is the day I picked for my son’s official high school graduation date. It was an arbitrary decision, made last Fall, and based on the graduation date for our local high school. But it doesn’t really seem to have any significance because nothing has changed. He hasn’t dropped all his books and exclaimed, “I’m done!” A lot of the things he was doing yesterday, he will be doing again tomorrow.

He finished Physics and Calculus a month ago, but he still subscribes to the math and science channels of Reddit because he likes that stuff. He’s also finished with his official English class at community college but he still reads books all the time and writes daily in his journal and customer support emails. I put “Computer Science” down as one of his high school courses this Spring, but he will still be doing that for years to come because things are always changing and there is always more he wants to learn.

With our self-directed homeschooling style, learning is so much a part of living that there doesn’t seem to be a difference between the two. There is no “graduation.” There is no ending.

So, while everyone around us is buying decorated sheet cakes and planning “Safe and Sober” grad night parties, we feel somewhat at a loss. Should we be doing something? Everyone likes to be appreciated, and fussed over, but I think we’ll wait until he turns 18 in August. The transition from “child” to legal adult is an undeniable milestone. On that day, he will be able to sign all of his official paperwork, vote, keep his bank account private, enter legally binding contracts, and be drafted (oh joy). Who wouldn’t want to celebrate all of that? 🙂

An even bigger transition will happen when he leaves home this September to go to University of Washington. On my part, it will be an occasion for mourning. But he is excited, and I’m sure that after I get over the initial shock, I’ll enjoy watching him create his new independent life.

With that in mind, does anyone have any ideas for appreciating and fussing over  a soon-to-be 18 year old?

A Typical Day of Homeschooling – 13 Years Ago

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Since writing about how great journaling is for remembering our homeschool days, I went back through some of my old binders and found this piece about “My Typical Day,” which I wrote for my local homeschool newsletter in 1998. Jesse was seven, Aengus was five and Emma was two.

I have been trying to decide what a “typical” day is like at my house but it seems that just about every day is different. So I’m just going to tell you about a single day in my house – yesterday.

I woke up at my usual time of 8 am and tiptoed out of the bedroom leaving Emma still snoozing in my bed (my husband Pat is long gone – he leaves at 5 am for work). Jesse is still asleep. Aengus, usually the first to rise, is playing a computer game called “Reader Rabbit’s Kindergarten.” As soon as he hears me moving around he smiles, says “Hi Mommy!” and follows me upstairs. The kitchen is still a mess from the night before, so I make an effort to clean up while my tea brews. I’m not really very productive until I’ve had my morning tea and toast. Aengus fixes himself a waffle that we have made ahead and frozen. Later, he makes Emma a waffle too.

After my breakfast I tackle the kitchen and Jesse staggers in to watch me. Eventually he gets himself some yogurt. When Emma wakes up she needs to be cuddled before she can eat her waffle. She takes exactly 3 bites then asks to watch our “Barney” video, which is her 2-year-old equivalent of tea. I let her watch it while I shower and get dressed. Finally, at around 9:30 we’re ready to start “school.” I call the kids to the dining table and we all write in our journals for about 15 minutes. Aengus can’t write much yet, but he draws pictures and writes the date at the top of the page. Jesse doesn’t like to write, so he usually draws and labels pictures. Emma prefers to water-paint.

Next we pull out the Cuisenaire Rods since this is math day. I’m following along with the Cuisenaire curriculum index cards and today they’re making staircases. The boys are absorbed with this for about 45 minutes. Emma is tired of watercolors and wants better paint so I reluctantly give her some acrylics since I’m all out of kid paint. She paints squiggles and lines and spirals all over each page of her notebook.

I leave them to it while I finish the kitchen and put my daily load of laundry in the washing machine. I hit “touch-up” on the dryer to get rid of the wrinkles that have settled overnight in the load I should have folded yesterday. Then Emma calls for more paint and I see that she has painted her whole naked body and hair with green paint, and is smearing her fingers on the highchair. I rush her into the bathtub and clean up the mess.

The boys are done so we head outside in the garden. Jesse looks for snakes, Aengus and Emma play on the slide while I pull weeds and pound in stakes to support my sagging tomato plants. Jesse and I then fill a paper bag with pears to finish ripening them inside. We pick more zucchini to make zucchini bread. By this time, everyone is hot and thirsty but we first give our ducks more food and change the water in their swimming pool. The kids check the mama duck on her nest to see if her eggs have hatched – not yet. We should be getting ducklings any day now!

Time for lunch. Jesse helps me make a Boboli pizza and we all play “Rhyme Out,” where we each think of words that rhyme until the last person runs out of words (this is the kids’ idea – not mine).

After lunch, we head for the porch to read books. Today we’re reading Dorling Kindersley’s book about eggs because Aengus wants to know how they get in the mama duck’s tummy. Then we read “Horton Hatches an Egg” by Dr. Seuss and “The Halloween House” by Erica Silverman because Jesse likes spooky stories. Right about this time, I have to attend to some emergency potty training with Emma. While I’m gone, Jesse reads our book about koala bears to Aengus, who adores koala bears.

Afterwards, it’s naptime. Aengus trots off to bed and promptly falls asleep. I lay down and nurse Emma to sleep on my bed while I read a book. When she finally conks out, I sneak out and find Jesse playing with his Star Wars Legos. My only goal before dinnertime is to fold the clean laundry that has been accumulating in baskets all week long. But first I have to find a certain receipt. I hit the “touch-up” button on the dryer again and head to my desk. I can’t find the receipt anywhere and I waste a whole half hour digging through the garbage for it. How frustrating! I only have time to pull out the dry clothes and put in the wet ones before I start dinner at 5 pm.

I ask Jesse to vacuum the living room before Dad gets home and I rush back and forth folding clothes and cooking dinner. When Pat walks in at 5:25 pm, there is laundry piled all over the dining room table and dinner is still not ready. He only sighs and pours himself a bowl of cereal. I clear off the table, finish dinner and leave them to it while I go to the Navy Base to exercise. When I get back at 7:30pm, Pat is playing chess with Jesse while Aengus watches. Emma is leaping off the footstool over and over. After the game, Pat heads to bed and I read to the boys a chapter from “The Fallen Spaceman.” Aengus goes to bed, Jesse goes back to his Legos and I go back to the kitchen for more clean up. Emma keeps bothering Jesse, so I fill her little pink bucket with water, give her a clean sponge and tell her to wash. She loves this, and “washes” everything 3 ft and under – walls, piano, chairs, floor, dog, everything!

I turn National Public Radio on low and listen to the news while I do the dishes. Afterwards, I get ready for bed and remind Jesse to turn off the lights before he goes to bed. Emma and I head downstairs and I read her the same four picture books that I read to her every night (at her insistence). Then she nurses to sleep while I read my book. This is my quiet time and I relish every minute of it! I finish the book at midnight and turn the light off.


Looking back on this day in my life, I found so many things that I had forgotten. My poor husband didn’t have much time at home because he had a long commute to work, so most of our time together was on the weekends. We didn’t have any family in the area and not much money for babysitters, so the only time I could get a break from the kids was when he was home. They were good times though – I wish I had written more journal entries with this much detail. In fact, I wish I had more detail in this one! Like, what did I make for dinner that night? I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my cooking and I’m sometimes surprised to stumble across old recipes I used to make all the time but somehow forgot about. It’s amazing how the most mundane details can trigger so many memories!


How Do You Know if Your Homeschooling is Working?

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This is my son's way of letting me know he is not excited.

It’s getting toward the end of the school year now, and you might be looking anxiously at all the chapters/lessons left to be done in your textbooks. Some of you might be administering mandatory tests for your kids (and wondering if you covered everything). You may notice with chagrin how much of your to-do list for the year never got done. This is a perfectly normal phenomenon. Please do not be alarmed.

But, this is a good time to ask, “Is my homeschool working?”

Here’s how you know. A successful homeschool is not measured in pages completed, facts memorized, or improved test scores. It is best measured in perfect moments of lucid learning. And this isn’t really that hard to do. We are never going to be able teach our children everything – there will ALWAYS be things that your child has never covered. There are endless things that we adults don’t know anything about either. More important is the desire to keep learning, and the ability to do it. Effective education is not about stuffing kids’ heads full of facts. Real learning comes from inside each person: making connections, observations, and personal discoveries.

Think about the last time your child was completely absorbed in something, or the time her eyes lit up with some revelation, or the time he couldn’t wait to show you something he figured out. Those are the moments that really matter. Some homeschoolers call them “Aha!” moments. When our kids are charged up and sublimely focused, everything just seems to happen all at once. This is when learning is real – not just busywork that will soon be forgotten.

I don’t mean to imply that all your days should be filled with starry-eyed wonder (if so, then we would all fail), but it’s the direction you should be aiming for. I think Pareto’s 80/20 Principle applies here. Have you heard of this? The basic idea is that 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your inputs. This rule seems to work eerily well for everything from economics to time-management. I am suggesting here that 80% of your child’s true learning is coming from only 20% of your efforts. The trick is to figure out which 80% constitutes true learning for your child, and to figure out which 20% of your efforts are actually helping (keep in mind that in this case, “helping” might really mean leaving your child alone). Then you can focus more on what works, and cut back on your wasted efforts.

To figure out your 80/20, I highly recommend keeping a journal about your days together. Be sure to note the interesting conversations, questions, and current concerns of your kids. What are they preoccupied with? What is boring? What kind of games do they play? What books do they want to read? Did they have any “Aha!” moments? You will learn SO MUCH by keeping a journal, because it forces you to observe and reflect. You don’t have to wait till next year to get started, just start right now. Record your summer too – kids learn all year long.

If you don’t write these things down, you will forget. Trust me. Just like everyone always tells new parents to “Take lots of pictures!” or “Enjoy it now because they grow so fast,” I am saying that you will forget where your days went. Your kids will forget too. That’s why when Grandma asks, “So what have you been learning in homeschool?” your child will say, “Nothing.” “But hold on,” you say, and whip out your journal, “we listened to Redwall on tape and you made a comic strip about Martin the Warrior. We’ve been letterboxing with Mike and Robbie and you learned how to use a compass, and tell the difference between a Red Oak and a White Oak.  Remember when you realized that two 1/4 cups equals 1/2 cup of water? And what about . . .” “But that’s not homeschooling,” your child argues, “we do that stuff anyway.” Then you have to explain to everyone in the room that just because it doesn’t look like school, doesn’t mean you are not really learning.

Journaling helps you remember what you did more than a week ago.  You will also realize how rich your days truly are, and how much learning gets done despite the unfinished workbooks. With time, you will indeed know if your homeschooling is working.

Homeschooling Planner for Mac Users

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Finally done! I’ve just finished a nine month work marathon fixing and beta-testing our homeschool planning software for Mac users. Now it is finally for sale on our brand new website! Boy if I had known how much work this was going to be ahead of time . . . Of course, that’s what I said about my book too. But now that the making part is done, it’s all worth it to have the finished product.

This planning software is something that has been brewing in my mind for years. When my kids were little, and before I became addicted to the computer, I was content to use homemade forms in 3-ring binders for my planning and record-keeping. It was a lot to lug around though. Seems like I always carried a canvas tote bag around with my binder and a few books so that I would be ready to take some notes or fill in my homeschool journal.

Later, when my boys were approaching high school age, I decided it was time to keep better records in anticipation of creating high school transcripts. So I purchased software for my Windows computer. But it took me a whole year to figure out I wasn’t using it correctly – there were so many customizable options that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do or which way would work best for me. It did the job, but it got me thinking how I would do it differently.

In the meantime, I had bought a Mac laptop to write my book and found that I really loved Mac! My Windows computer was on its last legs and I only kept it alive to use my homeschool software. Since my son Aengus was an avid (Windows) programmer, I asked if he could try to make me a homeschool database for my Mac. That boy loves a challenge, so he started from the beginning learning how to program for Mac.

That was about three years ago. He learned all about database design, Cocoa programming, and Core Data. I used my recent training in graphic design and information architecture, and homeschool experience, to sketch out designs and flow charts. We tried different things, re-arranging and adding features till we finally thought we had it all and offered it up to beta testers last Fall. But we ended up re-working everything again as we got feedback. What a process!

Now that it is finally done, I don’t have anyone left to homeschool 🙁

But I hope that others will find it helpful, and my son is hoping that his efforts will help pay for his college tuition! The application is called “OLLY” which stands for “Organized Life and Learning Yearbook.” He’s almost done with the iPhone version and has a good start on the iPad version. So if you use a Mac, or know someone who does, please visit and let us know what you think!


Math Picture Books

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Math is everywhere in our lives, not just textbooks. Reading math picture books or storybooks to your kids will help to show them the friendly approachable side of numbers and patterns. There are TONS of these kinds of books, but I’ll just show you a few of the ones we used in this video. You can find a lot of these in your library or Scholastic warehouse sales.


The books I reviewed in this video are:

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table and Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, both by Cindy Neuschwander (there are other books in this series as well)

Opt: An Illusionary Tale by Arline and Joseph Baum

Polar Bear Math: Learning about Fractions from Klondike and Snow by Ann Whitehead Nagda and Cindy Bickel

If You Made a Million by David M. Schwartz

Big Numbers and Pictures that Show Just How Big They Are by Edward Packard

Big Book of Time: A Magical Adventure through the Seconds, Seasons, and Light-years of the Universe by William Edmonds. This book is no longer in print, but I found a similar book here.

Incredible Comparisons by Russell Ash. I can’t seem to find this book online, so maybe it is out-of-print, but here is a similar book by Russell Ash.

Math Practice for Kids who Hate Math

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If you want your kids to practice basic arithmetic, but they hate using textbooks or workbooks, try using resources from Scholastic Professional Books. These fun books are written for teachers and classrooms, but most can easily be adapted for homeschool use.