Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Enticing kids to consider engineering and science

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Here’s a cool site I just discovered:

It is a web site and magazine for kids produced by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). There’s also a section for teachers with K-12 lesson plans and hands-on activities like “capture water from fog” and “build an earthquake proof shelter.” I like all of the mini-biographies of current scientists and engineers, explaining what they do for a living, where they work, etc… The artwork and design of the site are top-notch – check it out.

Getting Back Into a Routine Part II

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In my last post, I talked about getting back into a routine, so I thought I would share some of my routines with you.

New Monday Routine

0530 Wake up, make breakfast and lunch for husband

0600 Eat breakfast/read email, plan week

0645 My turn to drive kids to high school

0730 Write/work

0900 Leave for outdoor “Boot Camp”

1045 Drink a green smoothie and do yardwork

1115 Shower, dress, meditate for 25 min

1200 Lunch, work at computer

1430 Leave to pick up daughter, drop off at gymnastics, groceries

1730 Dinner, family time

Not much time for work on Mondays! But Tuesdays are better because I don’t have to drive anywhere except for my “Boot Camp” from 0930-1030. The rest of the time I can be working! My kids help with yardwork on the weekends, but there is so much to do that I’m trying to hit it for just 20 min each day.

Needless to say, routines change regularly with every season because the kids are all doing different things. We have to juggle who gets what car and when, and who drives the non-drivers to their activities.

My nemesis is errands. Errands, driving and shopping are my biggest time wasters. Although, when my kids were little and homeschooling, we put that time to good use listening to audio books in the car. Even then, we were able to do so much more when I was able to consolidate errands and kid stuff to no more than three days a week. That was my goal – spend two whole days a week at home!

Here’s my daughter’s homeschooling routine for last Fall:


9:30am – 3:00 pm “Trackers” outdoor class (Science)

4:30 – 7:30 pm gymnastics, listen to Spanish in car

Evening – write in journal


9:15 – 10:00 math (pre-algebra)

10:00 – 10:45 history reading

10:45 – 11:00 dictation

11:00 – 11:15 listen to Spanish while making lunch

11:30 – 12:30 watch DVD (geography, history or art) while eating lunch

Afternoon – art, crafts, or architecture

4:30 – 7:30 gymnastics

Evening – reading


9:15 – 10:00 math

10:00 – 10:45 history reading

10:45 – 11:30 copy work and writing

11:30 – 11:45 listen to Spanish while making lunch

11:45 – 12:30 lunch break

Afternoon – chores, then free time

4:30 – 7:30 gymnastics

Evening – reading


9:15 – 10:00 math

10:00 – 10:45 history reading

10:45 – 11:00 grammar

11:00 – 11:30 geography quiz/game

11:30 – 11:45 listen to Spanish while making lunch

11:45 – 12: 30 lunch break

Afternoon – work on writing project

4:30 – 7:30 gymnastics

Evening – reading


“Science Friday”

either field trip, or read a science book with a project, or watch a science DVD

After science is free writing

Movie night


Do one more math assignment

I’m not saying we stuck to this schedule, but it gave us something to shoot for. She did a variety of chores throughout the week too, but we were never able to stick to any kind of chore schedule (myself included).

Haphazard Science Education

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Once again, here is the new basic framework that the National Research Council has decided would improve science and engineering education in our country. I’m not going to argue with it, because I’m certainly no scientist. But they did call for state curriculum designers to come up with their own plans based on this framework (i.e. fill in the specifics), so I’m going to look at it from a self-education point of view (please scroll down).

1. Scientific and Engineering Practices
1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for
2. Developing and using models
3. Planning and carrying out investigations
4. Analyzing and interpreting data
5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing
solutions (for engineering)
7. Engaging in argument from evidence
8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information (more…)

Getting Back Into the Routine

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One of the things I hear a lot from moms as school is starting is how nice it will be to get “back into a routine.” Summer is fun but ultimately we all start itching to be more productive. The same goes for homeschoolers. Even if you are a relaxed homeschooler with no set curriculum, it’s nice to make forward progress. I am a huge proponent of self-directed education, but that doesn’t mean that our days have to be unstructured, perpetually spontaneous. It just means that instead of someone else telling us what and when to learn, we decide for ourselves.

What do you wish you had more time for? Where are you wasting time? There are so many distractions in our day that things take longer than they should, or perhaps we start our day with a lengthy to-do list but only accomplish a few things (if any).

The way to take control is to develop ROUTINES. You can have a morning routine, a homeschool routine, a workout routine, a kitchen routine, a weekend routine – whatever. The important thing is to prioritize first. Make sure that your routines accomplish something that you really care about. You cannot do everything. I repeat, you cannot do everything. Some things will have to go. Some things will have to be delegated. You may have to adjust your expectations. How clean does the house have to be? How elaborate the meals?

One nice thing about routines is that they will ultimately save you time because you will become more efficient. You won’t waste time skipping from one random task to the next – or trying to multitask (a subject for another post). Certain routines involving manual chores become more effective as they become habit, such as cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc. Other routines accrue benefits over time, such as exercise, meditation, relationship building or other forms of self improvement.

The idea is to plan your time. Plan for free time too. Planning productive work for every minute of the day would just make you crazy. You don’t have to be a zealot, or get all stressed out when you fall out of routine. In fact, just the act of writing a routine down on paper can help you focus, even if you never follow it! Putting thought into your highest priorities and analysing how you currently spend (or waste) your time is a wonderful reality check. And now is a good time for it – get back into a routine.

P.S. For a fascinating look at some famous peoples’ routines, check out this web site.

Haphazard vs. Systematic Science

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The National Research Council has just released their latest report on science education standards, called “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Cross-cutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.” The report, based on years of research and the recommendations of an elite committee of science educators, states that the overarching goal of their “framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology.”

The report claims that our current education system just isn’t doing the job. It is too disjointed, haphazard, and focuses on memorizing discrete facts rather than concepts or processes. The committee members would like to see science and engineering taught earlier and with greater opportunities for students to see science being done, not something that has already been done. They created a framework for states to use in developing their curriculum standards, but I am more interested in how homeschoolers might use this information. I’ve always thought that science is one of the trickiest things for me to do with the kids because it doesn’t feel natural to me. I enjoy reading books and watching movies about science, but it seems that every project I attempt is a flop. So, I have always outsourced our science as much as possible by taking classes from museums and nature centers. This way, my kids got to meet people who were truly enthusiastic about their chosen fields and wanted to share it with someone else. Of course, outsourcing meant that our science curriculum truly was haphazard – just what that report claims is wrong with our education system.

Here’s my thoughts on this report:  Every one of the members of this committee was either a scientist, an educator, or both. That makes sense, but what do they know about not liking science? Or even appreciating science with no intention of pursuing it? I would have liked to see a few artists, writers, musicians, farmers, and other types on the committee too.  Perhaps I’m being unfair. I didn’t read the whole report, so maybe they interviewed or included research on non-scientists in the report. The one thing that jumps out at me when I study recommendations for curriculum, is how often the recommendations reflect the strengths or interests of the person doing the recommending. Artists believe in the value of art; musicians believe in the importance of music; grammarians believe in the importance of grammar; etc… It’s all good, but we can’t possibly hope to teach our kids everything. And what happens when our kids are not interested? Do we force them to learn it anyway?

My personal theory is that teaching somebody something that they have no interest in is a waste of time. They will not learn it well, if at all. So, it’s best to stick with a student directed curriculum, even if it seems haphazard. They may eventually learn about all of the things on the prescribed “scope and sequence,” even if it is out of sequence. I wonder how many scientists actually learned in a sequential teacher-delivered fashion? Einstein skipped science classes because the teacher wouldn’t teach what he wanted to learn, so he studied on his own. Edison was a voracious reader and experimenter, but he set his own pace and followed his own curiosity. Marconi (inventor of the radio) persisted in his own experiments even while his father actively tried to stop him. Pierre Curie was taught at home, but he could not bear interruptions from his mother when he was working on one of his projects. He required complete autonomy. (more…)

A Well-Balanced Homeschool

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I recently stumbled upon another homeschooling website that I really like – a kindred spirit!  I’ve included one of her articles here, with permission of course. The information about  her website is below. ~ Jamie

The Learning Pie for a Well-Balanced Homeschool

By Donna Vail

“Wisdom is learning what to overlook.” –William James

When I first began homeschooling the only way I agreed to homeschooling is if I knew my children would have everything they needed to move forward in their life once they decided to go to college, start their own business or even work for someone else. I didn’t want them to feel like they were held back because they were homeschooled. I searched far and wide for packaged systems that met my high standards. I never found that system, so instead after years personal trial and error I created my own system that met my requirements and more.

A key element I designed and incorporated in An Inspired Education is what I call the Learning Pie. The Learning Pie creates a well-balanced homeschool and naturally brings into focus everything your child will need. Relief to the parent knowing that you’re “covering it all” without the stress and chaos associated with commonly used curriculums is an added benefit.

“The main part of intellectual education is not the acquisition of facts but learning how to make facts live.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes

The Learning Pie

The Learning Pie is to be used in a self-education environment where partnerships and mentoring are practiced. To make learning happen is not to teach. Let’s explore each piece of pie.

Parent Partnerships: This is a partnership created between the parent and child, walking beside each other. Dominating relationships always experience problems. Parent partnerships, you both stay true to learning and honor the values of each.

Critical Thinking: This does not have to be a separate program, but is woven through your partnership, curriculum and everyday living, including hands-on experience. Be conscious of your conversations and make them purposeful, engaging and a springboard for critical thinking.

Independent Study: Includes academics that must be completed by the student as well as studying about special interests. This is where the child develops his skill to be a self-educator and learns how to gather information. The depth of Independent Study will depend on the child’s age and increase appropriately.

Community Service: Involvement in the community brings the child to an awareness of his world around him. Young children can be involved through family and neighbors. When children reach appropriate ages they can be more involved in community projects individually. Serving others is one of the most important lessons you can give your children.

Apprenticeships: Learning a skill from others adds another dimension to knowledge gained. When children are young and you’re partnering with them, they can apprentice with you on life skills. As they get older and develop interests apprenticing with other experts can help build skill and clarity for their greater work to move into as adults.

Field Curriculum: Much of our knowledge is found in books however, it’s equally important to among like minded people. Taking classes and experiencing hands-on learning brings together more knowledge and experience.

Work Study: When the student is old enough to work, it’s important to choose jobs that are aligned with what is intended after completion of homeschool and moving into college or professional work. Gaining experience will add to the student’s skill level, serve as excellent material for portfolio as well as bring more clarity to his unique purpose.

As you get more into living an Inspired Education you will see the wholeness and how you’re “covering it all” and then some. Coupled with Creating this balance is key in your homeschool. It eliminates the guess work and creates a life that is rich and rewarding.

“For a person to build a rich and rewarding life for himself, there are certain qualities and bits of knowledge that he needs to acquire. There are also things, harmful attitudes, superstitions, and emotions that he needs to chip away. A person needs to chip away everything that doesn’t look like the person he or she most wants to become.” –Earl Nightengale

Parents Inspired to Action:

Get familiar with the learning pie and contemplate on how it applies to different areas of interest for your children’s learning.

Always keep their values first and foremost when determining a course of action.

Remember you don’t have to do all of the pie pieces at once.

When faced with a decision you can look at your plan and see if it’s aligned with the Learning Pie, the child’s values and the overall well-being of the whole family.


Children Inspired to Action:

First and foremost determine their values and always advance in the direction of those values. Every 8-12 months revisit values determination for changes that take place as we learn, grow and move through different seasons of life.

Discuss ways learning can be structured around these values and how each subject is an important part of living in alignment with highest values.

Have your children make a list of what they’re most interested in learning. What areas of interest do they want to explore. Choose one or two and determine ways to apply the learning pie to these areas of interest.
You might be wondering what kind of systems you can incorporate to get the results you’re looking for in your own homeschool and life. What are the daily details to make it happen? Trial and error can take a lot of time. Successful people always incorporate the help of mentors and coaches so they don’t have to re-invent the wheel. If you would like a more systematic approach that includes the details to help you produce real change fast, I recommend joining the Mentor Mastery Inner Circle. It keeps you inspired and you receive coaching directly from Donna in the most important things for setting up simple, effective systems giving your children an education in excellence while creating family harmony. It’s easy. It’s affordable. Get started today at

Think peace, live love.


© copyright 2011 Donna Vail International

All rights reserved.


Want to Use This Article In Your e-zine Web site, blog or newsletter? You have my permission, as long as you include this complete excerpt with the article: Inspired Education Mentor Donna Vail publishes the all inspiring ‘Living an Inspired Education’ e-newsletter. Every issue reveals tips, tools, and secrets to simply and confidently home school with inspiration! Start living a lifestyle of true freedom and inspire the best in your child.  Get your free weekly education and success mindset tips now at

Getting Organized for the New School Year

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In their daily “Homeschool Minute,” the Old Schoolhouse recently featured tips on organizing, and it made me think about what I have done over the years.

This may sound strange, but I LOVE organizing. It’s probably my favorite part of homeschooling. Of course, things don’t always go as planned – hardly ever actually – but fortunately I am a very relaxed and patient person so that doesn’t bother me. I often enjoyed planning ahead for the school year during the summer months. When my kids were little I would take them to our local children’s museum or park, along with two heavy totebags full of my chosen books, reference materials, and planning notebook. I would find a place to sit where I could see the kids (the museum was very small), and I would start flipping through the books, writing down cool projects, potential read-alouds, and field trip ideas. I often used a unit study approach, based on what my kids were interested in. I liked to gather the “best of the best” in activities and books, picking and choosing what I thought my kids would connect with.

When I had finished brainstorming, I pulled out my blank yearly calendar and tried to get realistic. I liked using a grid with big empty boxes for each month, so I could pencil-in unit studies based on some kind of logical flow. I always checked nearby museums to see what traveling exhibits were coming that we might want to get ready for. When the art museum featured works by Picasso, we spent the previous three weeks reading about him before our visit.  Likewise, we looked at books about inventors before heading to the Eli Whitney Museum and read books about mill workers before visiting Lowell, MA. You get the idea. That’s why I liked to lay it all out in a yearly view first. Then I would focus in to three week intervals, writing down which books I would read aloud and which projects we might do. And I always double-checked with the kids to get their opinion on the list. They were usually up for anything I had planned, with a few exceptions. I could not get them interested in the Middle Ages, or weather, or birds, so we skipped those and did something else. Overall, this worked really well for history, geography and science type subjects. (more…)

Good Books for Teen Girls

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As a follow-up to my previous post about dark books for teens, my daughter and I have been trying to make our own list of books to read. It’s tricky, because book reviews are so subjective. What one person loves may not appeal to another. So this is a list that might appeal to a younger teen girl who likes nature, fantasy and historical fiction. I haven’t actually read these yet (except for Jane Austen and Jack London), so I can’t vouch for them, but it’s a place to start:

Alexander, Lloyd   Vespers Holly series

Austen, Jane   Emma and Northanger Abbey

Bunce, Elizabeth C.   Star Crossed and A Curse Dark as Gold

Bond, Nancy  A String in the Harp

Hautzig, Esther  The Endless Steppe

Holt, Kimberly Willis   The Water Seeker

Isaacs, Anne   Torn Thread

King, Laurie R.   The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Kingsolver, Barbara   The Bean Trees

London, Jack   The Call of the Wild

Lunn, Janet  The Root Cellar

Milford, Kate   The Boneshaker

O’Brien, Caragh M.   Birthmarked

Perkins, Lynne Rae   As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth

Porter, Gene Stratton   Freckles

Reeve, Philip   Fever Crumb

On this list, you could add The Carbon Diaries, 2015 by Saci Lloyd, an “eco-thriller” which my daughter just finished. She found it interesting, and the premise made her ask questions about how much food we’re storing for a future with less carbon energy. I didn’t even know about this book, so I wasn’t trying to influence her – honest. She found it herself.

She also wants to read all of the Jean Craighead George books she missed, even though they are for a younger audience, and she might read the Anne of Green Gables series to herself, although I read them aloud to her years ago.

My boys want to add to the list the Terry Pratchett books featuring Tiffany Aching, starting with The Wee Free Men. They adored these books and absolutely cannot wait until their sister reads them.

Make the Most of Your Homeschool Budget

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I admit that I have spent way too much money for homeschool stuff over the years. Do you remember reading the Sears Christmas catalog each year as a kid? That’s what receiving the phone book-sized “Rainbow Resource Guide” and other catalogs in the mail each year was like for my homeschool friends and I. Out came the sticky notes and highlighters as I poured over every tantalizing page. There was so much to choose from! You’ve heard the term “hope in a bottle” referring to beauty creams, but these catalogs offered “hope in a curriculum.” I wanted the best for my kids – for them to learn a lot, have fun doing it, and become super genius wonder kids in the process. But I only had so much money, so I had to restrain myself. Still, I ended up buying things that I wished I hadn’t.

So, I’ve learned a few things:

  1. Stick to your menu. Clipping coupons is fine for stuff you actually need from the grocery store, but not if it tempts you to buy something you ordinarily wouldn’t. The same is true for homeschool curriculum. Come up with your plan for the year first (your menu) and only buy what you need. Don’t be tempted by good deals or shiny packaging. The exception here would be great deals, as in garage sale prices (or free), for things that might come in handy.
  2. Before you buy anything new, make every effort possible to lay your hands on the actual product. Oftentimes the packaging and description can be misleading, not deliberately of course, but because things are hard to describe. Reviews are very nice to find, but even then, we all have different needs and tastes. One person’s expectations may be quite different from yours. My homeschool group used to have a monthly evening meeting (sans kids) where we would discuss a certain topic or hold a curriculum show-and-tell for a certain subject. So, if the subject for the night was English, we would all bring in what we had for English and pass it around so everyone could see. It was a great way to see new things and hear how it worked. You can also put in a request to your email groups to ask if anyone has a certain product that they wouldn’t mind bringing to park day, etc.
  3. Search for used curriculum first. Good sources: vegsource, usedhomeschoolcurriculum, homeschoolclassifieds, and of course ebay.
    Be realistic about how much time you have. We all tend to overestimate how much can be completed in a day/month/year. This can lead to undue family stress and tension if you buy expensive products only to see them sit unused for lack of time. Same thing goes for craft projects. It’s better to expect that everything will take twice as long as you think it should and leave plenty of breathing space in your schedule.
  4. I know this sounds obvious, but learn to maximize the use of your library. Use your library’s computer system to search, request inter-library loans, place holds, and find out about free resources. Make friends with your librarians and let them know what kind of resources you are looking for. Don’t forget about audio books, music, DVD documentaries, and foreign language materials.
  5. The greatest library and source of free information is right on the Internet. In fact, if you bought nothing else for your homeschool, a simple computer with an Internet connection is all you would ever need to craft an epic education. Learn where to look and you can find anything! Here’s a few quality free sites to get you started: The Self-Made Scholar, Discovery Channel, Sheppard Software, Ambleside Online, and my number one favorite Khan Academy.
  6. Lastly, consider minimalism. There is a lot to be said for LESS stuff. I certainly didn’t need, or even use, some of the stuff I bought. Some of the things I used most were things I created myself. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination!

Tutors for Six-Year-Olds?

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Because I am a very laid-back homeschooling mom, I often find myself in the awkward position of listening to other moms agonize over their childrens’ education, wondering whether I should offer my own opinion. It’s a tricky business. I know that many times, people don’t really want advice or opinions, just someone to listen. I respect that. But then I think, maybe I’m just being a chicken for not mentioning my unconventional ideas.

It happened again this week, when two of my neighbors were discussing how to do school work with their six-year-olds over the summer. One mom wondered if she should get a tutor because she knew that her daughter graduated from kindergarten with some gaps, and she didn’t want her to get behind in first grade. My internal voice was appalled, and wanted to say: “Your daughter doesn’t need schoolwork. She needs to play!” But I sensed that she would not believe me if I said such a thing out loud, so I simply listened for awhile. The two moms exchanged ideas, frustrated that they could not even get their kids to sit for an hour a day to do schoolwork. They knew I had homeschooled my kids, so one turned to me and said the same thing I have heard a million times: “I don’t know how you do it. I could never have the patience – we would be fighting all the time!” (more…)