playing hooky : my writing internet vacation

I’ve been writing a weekly column for my newspaper for nearly four years now (wow!), and for the first time, I’ve decided to take a break. I’m going to extend that vacation to blogging and social media as well. Good-bye, Internet….for a week or two.

Meanwhile, if you’d like some reading material, here are some of my oldies but goodies.

Have a wonderful two weeks! I’m still available by e-mail if you’d like to chat: shellipabis (at) gmail (dot) com

Embracing the Chaos

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 17, 2013.

One day when I was pregnant with my first child, I stepped into the entryway of a neighbor’s home. She homeschooled her children, and, in fact, she’s the person I learned about homeschooling from, but at the time, I wasn’t considering homeschooling. I hadn’t even had a child yet.

While I was speaking to her, she excused the state of her household because they had been very busy, and she didn’t have time to clean that day. I had not noticed the interior of her house, but when she said this, I glanced over into her dining room, and I could see her table was littered with toys and other stuff. You couldn’t see the top of her table.

Politely I told her to not worry. I certainly didn’t care, and I didn’t think badly of her for it, but I fully admit that as I walked home, I thought to myself, “I’ll never let my house get THAT messy.”

Yes, what a jerk I was! It seems to be an epidemic among some childless people. And once multiple children arrive, especially if there are some boys in the mix, you shake your head and think, “Now I know. Now I know.”

And I know too well. Most days, chaos reigns in this house. Every tabletop is strewn with toys, and the floor doesn’t look much better. The activity room is usually covered with some kind of project, such as paints, markers, stencils, sewing kits, Legos, glitter, or a combination of those. Glitter is permanently embedded into our floors.

Before I had children, my porches were filled with potted plants. Now they are dusty, muddy and full of dirty toys. The yard of my dreams has taken a huge beating, and our big “puppy” has pulled up garden borders. We’ve always had two dogs, and I never thought a different dog could possibly make things any worse, but this one has. She brings mud into the house, and the boys’ shoes track mud in behind her.

I clean, I straighten, I mop, and the boys know how to pick up their toys, but none of that matters. In five minutes, the mess will be back where it was before. My attention is diverted from one person, activity, chore, or “fire” to put out all day long. There’s no quitting time, few breaks, and no weekends. It’s enough to make a mama a little nutty.

I won’t lie and say it hasn’t caused me frustration and fatigue, but after almost seven years of child rearing, I can say I’m embracing the chaos. I picked this life. I better embrace it.

I was chatting with a friend today about how it’s easy to let “perfect” people get into your brain. You feel their criticism and sense that they’re looking at you down their noses. But in reality, that person has barely given you a moment’s thought. You’re the one who is criticizing what you deem to be an imperfect life.

I’m sorry to say that I’m guilty of this, but I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. I’m exorcising those self-appointed critics, and I’m reminding myself why I love the glitter and the mud. I got into this homeschooling gig because I wanted my kids to have more time to play, create, move, and think independently. And I get paid by living a fun, creative life.

Sometimes moms feel like we have no time to do it all, but actually, there will always be time to clean the house because the house will always need cleaning. What we don’t want to do is miss the moments with our kids as they grow, get paint in their eyes, and mud in their hair. We don’t want to miss a single, sweaty hug. Their three-year-old giggles won’t be here tomorrow, and once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

A lot of older people say that they wish they had spent more time at home than at the office. The time goes so fast. At least I know that won’t be me. If I have any regrets, it won’t be that one. Nothing worthwhile is neat and tidy.

Be sure to check out Embracing the Chaos, Part 2 where I explain exactly how I’m handling the chaos!  And please tell me, are YOU embracing the chaos in your life? 

Worthy Reads


**My condolences to the marathon runners and the people of Boston for this tragic event.**


My Worthy Reads are slim on articles about homeschooling in the media. Part of the reason is that all the articles I’m finding mostly have to do with the Romeike case, but I’m washing my hands of that. Thanks to everyone who commented on my  post about that case. If you haven’t read those comments, I suggest you do. It’ll give you a different perspective on that case than has been portrayed in the media.


A definition of study – FIMBY – I like this post because it explains what I’d like to tell a lot of people: Parents can homeschool their children, and homeschooling will look different because homeschooling a small group of your own kids is much different than trying to control a large classroom.

18 Reasons Why Doctors and Lawyers Homeschool Their Children – Children’s MD

Project-Based Homeschooling Q&A: Getting Started – Raising Cajuns – Michelle has been writing a great series on PBH that you won’t want to miss!

Amy Hood ArtsThis isn’t a specific post. I just wanted to give a shout out for Amy’s blog because it’s chock full of good ideas for making art in your homeschool more intentional.

Second Year Anniversary – Luminous Fire – I love to hear good, honest news from homeschoolers who have children older than mine!

“How to Start a Project Group” + Friday Link Round-Up – Camp Creek Blog – Lori always gives the best quotes from articles that I’d like to be reading and sharing with you, but I just don’t have the time, so I’m glad she’s doing it! Plus, her guide on how to start a project group sounds great!

Homeschooled Kids, Now Grown, Blog Against the Past – The Daily Beast – This kind of stuff is upsetting. Not sure how to digest it.

“We were told that suffering is a good thing”: Former homeschool students blog about abuse – Daily Mail


High School teacher brings history to life – CNN Schools of Thought – An inspiring teacher!

Some types of TV might improve behavior in kids – CNN Schools of Thought

Raising and Educating Boys

Why I Want My Boys to be Just Like Pa – Bloggin’ ‘Bout Boys – We love Little House too! I agree with Jennifer about male role models in this post.

The Little Projects: Project-based Homeschooling

{A.K.A. I don’t plan any crafts in this house.} {In between projects} {Exploring mediums}

I’ve written about what I’ve considered our “project-based homeschooling” in terms of long projects in which my son learned about a specific topic and also spent some considerable time constructing something, such as in Building the Titanic and Rockets and the Benefits of Failure. But to tell the truth, he spends most of his time doing what I think of as “little projects.” That is, they are projects he has come up with on his own, but they aren’t tied to what I consider a long-term study project. Not that they couldn’t become that, and in a way, you could consider some of what he’s doing long-term study in that he’s learning some skills such as sewing.

For me, this is what homeschooling is all about. I want my children’s imaginations to be unfettered. I want them to have fun. I don’t want them to be told what they can or can’t do. I want them to have the time and the resources (to the best of my ability) to develop their imaginations and real, quality skills along the way!

I’ve already written about how my boys love to build. You can read about many of the building and art supplies we keep on hand and ideas my son “found” last year in Boys Like to Build. You can read about the benefits of building with Legos or blocks in Little Builders.

Here, I want to show you examples of other projects. For lack of a better term, they’re kind of “artsy.” How did he come up with these ideas? Many different ways:

  • He “finds” ideas in television shows, such as Blues Clues, or he happens to find an idea in a book or on a pamphlet at Hobby Lobby, and he tells me he wants to make it.
  • Some ideas are from pure imagination.
  • Some ideas I lead him to. Occasionally I’ll see something online that I think he might like or could easily do, and I show it to him. If he likes it, he wants to make it.
  • For holiday craft ideas, I don’t plan anything. I let my son google “Easter crafts,” and then we look at the zillion of images and he picks what he likes!
  • Most artwork comes from just playing with different mediums. I keep all art supplies out where the kids can reach them at any time. Here’s a short list of what we’ve got:
    • paints, brushes
    • construction paper
    • markers, crayons, pens, pencils
    • glue, tape
    • lots of fun stuff such as sequins, pom poms, little wooden cubes, etc.
    • modeling clay
    • recently added: watercolor pencils and watercolor paper!
    • sewing stuff: fabric, felt, fabric scissors, craft thread, needles (but the needles are kept in a safer place)

We have one section of the wall in our kitchen that is our “art gallery.”

I am the “YES” Mom.

Part of “project-based homeschooling” is creating an environment where supplies are on hand and easily accessible to my children. From the time my son was three- or four-years-old, I’ve been doing simple art with him – nothing stressful for me and nothing that needed a lot of pre-planning. For example, when he was two and three, he just liked to cut paper, so I turned his paper bits into animals. We did that for the longest time, and sometimes my boys will still ask me to make them a paper animal!

We have a routine, and there are things that I require of my children, but I try very hard to always say “Yes! Go ahead!” whenever they want to paint, draw or create something. It doesn’t have to be a certain time of day – I just let them do it. The only time that I may say no is when it’s, say, fifteen minutes before our evening routine begins, and someone wants to pull all the paints out. Then I’ll say, “Well, you’re going to need to get your bath in a few minutes, so why don’t we plan to paint tomorrow?” But if it’s crayons or markers, I’d probably be inclined to say “Go ahead!” even at that time.

My kids don’t “create” everyday or every week, but looking at all the pieces of artwork in the house, I know that they’ve had a lot of fun and freedom. It does make for a messy house, and even though I always make the boys clean up after themselves, there’s still a lot of mess left over waiting for me to pick it up. (And it can just keep waiting.) I’ll be writing about this “chaos” and our messy but productive environment in upcoming posts.

Art Lessons

It’s always in the back of my mind to get a little more formal with the art. Show them different mediums, artists, and styles. I’m really looking forward to reading more of Amy Hood’s amy hood arts blog for ideas on teaching art to my children. But right now I can hardly keep up with my son’s ideas, so for awhile, we’ll just go with his ideas.

Here’s a few of his self-made projects:

Making a bed for one of his stuffed animals. He used a box, fabric & a glue gun. He’s never felt the need to paint the boxes or add embellishes.

Making an alien puppet. This idea came to him after we made the dinosaur puppets below.

Here it is!

I saw the dinosaur & rocket puppets online & thought they’d be easy to make. The six-year-old made the one in the middle. We both worked on the green one. I made the one on the right.

The rocket puppet. I cut out the pattern & the six-year-old sewed it.

I started this lizard for a Christmas gift, but I don’t have the patience my son has, so he had to finish it for me. ;o

Our Thanksgiving wreath. Idea given to us by a friend. (Once my six-year-old hears good ideas, there’s no stopping him.)

My six-year-old found this pamphlet with instructions on how to make a lion puppet at Hobby Lobby. He bugged me for months to make it, and we finally did. The instructions were not good, by the way, so I had to improvise on some of it. I helped with the sewing/cutting on this, but the six-year-old did a lot of it!

Nature art. My six-year-old did this all by himself. He got the idea after seeing some similar artwork at the Botanical Garden.

Clay is a huge hit with my boys! My six-year-old watched this tutorial on how to make this car.

This tree was his idea.

I’m really impressed with how my son has taken up sewing. (I don’t sew.) He saw this snake fabric at the store, and he said he’d make a snake with it. And he did! I helped, but it was all his idea, and he was very fussy about how it needed to be done.

Every day my son carries some little toy around the house all day, and at night, he puts it to “sleep” on his nightstand. One day he had the idea to make a bed for his toys! I didn’t even know what he was doing until he was almost done. 

I can’t forget the three-year-old! He LOVES to paint, cut paper, glue, build with blocks, make pretend food, paste things into his “notebook,” and create different things too. At Christmas, I got him these little wooden cubes and sticks. I let him make all the messes he wants to. (This picture was taken the day after Christmas, which is why there’s a lot of odd stuff in the room.)

The three-year-old doesn’t have the motor skills to make things like my six-year-old, but he’s often creating interesting things with blocks or cards or anything he can stack.

The three-year-old made this flower face with some wooden shapes. I think the six-year-old had showed him how to do this once.

The Benefits

I know there are more benefits to living this lifestyle than I’m even aware of, but I do feel confident to say that my boys are developing their imaginations, self-esteem, fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, and a general awareness of how things work. By experimenting, they are learning how things work together, and learning how to deal with the frustrations that come with trial and error. I try my best not to interfere with how they plan out their work unless they ask for my help or get very stuck. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next!

Note: I have noticed that in most of my photographs, especially these, my boys are in pajamas. Ahem. Just so you know, I do dress my boys! But with that thought, I’ll leave you with this quote:

Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.  ~Lewis Carroll

Please share your children’s artwork with me!

Is Homeschooling a Human Right?


Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 10, 2013.

If you are a parent, do you believe you have the right to decide how and where your child will be educated? This is an issue that has been brought up recently by a German family who was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2008 after being persecuted in their country for homeschooling, but now they are fighting deportation after that decision was overturned.

The Romeikes’ are an Evangelical Christian family who wants to homeschool their six children, but German law prohibits homeschooling. They have been charged with $9,000 in fines, and at one point authorities came to their home to forcibly take their children to public school.

On February 11, 2013, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) posted a news release by Michael Farris, J.D., LL.M., HSLDA Founder and Chairman, titled “German Homeschool Case May Impact U.S. Homeschool Freedom,” and since that time, many offshoots of that article have made it into (mostly) conservative news media outlets.

The HSLDA is a nonprofit organization that defends homeschoolers’ rights and family freedoms. It’s a very conservative organization, and not all homeschoolers agree with every stance they take, but they have done a lot of work to defend the rights of many homeschoolers.

Their news release states, “The U.S. law of asylum allows a refugee to stay in the United States permanently if he can show that he is being persecuted for one of several specific reasons. Among these are persecution for religious reasons and persecution of a ‘particular social group.’”

Later, Farris writes, “But my goal today is to not belabor the nature of German repression of homeschooling; rather I seek to reveal the view of the United States government to all of this.” He says that while the U.S. argued many things in their brief, there were three specific arguments we should know about.

  1. No one’s rights were violated because the German law bans homeschooling for everybody and not for select people.
  2. The Romeikes’ case failed to show that there was discrimination based on religion because they couldn’t prove that all homeschoolers were Christian or that all Christian homeschoolers believe they have to homeschool.
  3. The U.S. government says that Germany’s ban on homeschooling does not meet the standard of belonging to a particular social group because the family can stop homeschooling and put their kids into public school at any time.

Farris concludes his press release by stating, “When the United States government says that homeschooling is a mutable choice—they are saying that it is a characteristic that a government can legitimately coerce you to change. In other words, you have no protected right to choose the education for your children.”

In an article on titled, “Home Schooling German Family Fights Deportation” writer Ben Waldron got a quote from Karla McKanders, an asylum and refugee law specialist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Among other things she says “that immigration officials may be wary of setting a precedent that establishes homeschooling as a means for asylum. ‘They don’t want to open up the floodgates for similar asylum claims based on these grounds,’ she said.”

An article in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail quotes Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security.  He said he could not talk about any specific asylum case, but that the basis for any asylum grant is that “They have to claim that their government can’t protect them from persecution because they’re part of a specific group.” Are homeschoolers a specific group? That’s a hard one.

Of course, I hate to see this family forced to return home to exorbitant fines, prosecution and to possibly have their children removed from their custody. Every parent has the right to educate their children as they see fit whether or not I agree with how or what they teach.

But the greater question here is what Farris and many other media outlets claim to be a threat to our American rights to choose the education of our children. Is this case telling us that we should be concerned that our rights could be taken away? I would be curious to hear from a variety of homeschoolers. What do you think?

Note: If you’re interested in helping the Romeike family, the HSLDA has started a White House petition to stop their deportation. They need 100,000 signatures by April 18th in order to get a response from the White House. You can find out how to do that here:

[They received the 100,000 signatures that they needed yesterday! Read more here.]

And I do hope you’ll comment here and share this with other homeschoolers. I really want to hear from a variety of homeschoolers.

Inspire Kids: Coastal Plains Herper


My six-year-old and I are almost finished with his snake book. I’ll write about it when we’re finished, but in short, it’s a 3-ring binder “book” we started nearly two years ago because snakes are my son’s passion. At least, he tells me he wants to learn about snakes and that he’s going to study snakes when he grows up – he’s been saying that since he was four (almost five). He’s been able to learn about and touch a lot of snakes at the nature center, which is where this obsession started. So we bought him a “Snakes of Georgia” poster, and a long time ago, I suggested we make a book about those snakes in the poster. One page per snake. (Little did I know I was silently feeding his interests.)

And this is where Brandon’s Herp Adventures come in. Because our routine with making this snake book includes letting my son watch a video about each snake, and as we started looking up videos, we came across Brandon’s videos quite often.  Now I always search for one of his videos first because I know they’re good, and he’ll give good information. And I love how this young, amateur herpetologist/film maker has used the Internet to educate people. I think he’s a good role model for my son.

I wish Brandon posted an e-mail address so that I could write him and say thank you for his videos and let him know how much my six-year-old enjoys them. I also think he might enjoy viewing our own Backyard Adventure involving a black rat snake eating a squirrel!

Anyway, I can’t embed one of his videos, so I invite you to click on the above screen shot and go to his YouTube channel. If you have a budding herpetologist in your family, you won’t want to miss any of his stuff!

pink columbines Be sure to check out the other posts in this series under the tag “Inspire Kids.”  If my six-year-old likes it, then maybe your children will too!

Mr. Rogers Is My Hero


Image search through creative commons
found via creative commons image search

Note: This column was published in Barrow Journal on April 3, 2013.

We just passed what would have been Fred McFeely Roger’s 85th birthday. If you are like me, you remember him as “Mr. Rogers,” and you couldn’t wait to visit him everyday in his friendly television neighborhood.  Recently I discovered that I could share my childhood favorite with my sons because many of the full episodes are available for viewing at

My six-year-old loves it, and watching the show with him, I can see why I loved it too.  Mr. Rogers doesn’t speak down to children. He treats them with the respect they deserve, and every episode deals with real situations that children encounter in their young lives like having to share, fighting with friends or having to buy a new pair of shoes.

Mr. Rogers is my hero for many reasons, but what I most admire about him is how he saw the potential to use television for good, and he didn’t just give that lip service – he actually got into television to try to change it. He says he went into television because he hated it.

As a mother living in a time when many parents restrict media for their children and scoff at other parents for using it, I find his stance refreshing.  He saw television as I see it: a valuable tool.  In a video clip I watched of him online he said,

The space between the television screen and the person…whoever happens to be receiving it…I consider that very holy ground. A lot happens there.”

He was a patient, kind person who never acted phony because he thought children were smarter than that.  He stood up for what he believed in. When he accepted his Emmy award, he made everyone in the audience take ten seconds of silence to remember the people in their lives who had helped them get where they were that day.

He was a Presbyterian minister, a vegetarian, a puppeteer and a songwriter.  He worked and voiced most of the puppets on his show, and he wrote all the songs for it. He taught children that music was a good, healthy way to express their feelings. Much of his work had to do with teaching children that all their thoughts and feelings were okay.

His messages made long-lasting impressions. When I wrote on my Twitter feed recently that “Mr. Rogers is my hero,” I got two, quick replies. The first one: “Are you going to write about him? He was my first friend.”  Another said, “He was my surrogate parent because my biological parents were so crappy.”

This is exactly why Mr. Rogers advocated for government funding for children’s programming. Kids need this kind of programming. We all do. We don’t always get the role models we need at home.

In another interview Rogers said,

There are those people who sometimes say that T.V. doesn’t affect us all that much. Well, all I can say is then why would advertisers pay so much money to put their messages on a medium that doesn’t affect us all that much? I do feel that what we see and hear on the screen is part of what we become.”

I don’t restrict my children from watching T.V. or playing on the computer, but I do monitor what they are watching, and by taking advantage of Netflix, I have eliminated advertising from their viewing. I would never use these mediums to replace real-life relationships, unstructured playtime, or other modes of learning, but good television can provide excellent social and educational lessons that compliment their other experiences.

There’s a lot of bad television, computer games, websites etc., but thanks to people like Fred Rogers, there’s also a lot of awesome television, computer games and websites that we can all use and benefit from.


Links You May Be Interested In:

My Previous Posts on T.V. Viewing and Children:

In addition, I have begun a Pinterest board of our favorite Netflix shows which I’m adding to (with commentary) as we watch them. Check it out here.


What are your childhood television memories?