Here it is October, and I’m relieved by the cooler, beautiful weather. Yet the boys are full swing into their new homeschool year, and I’m already feeling the crunch of time. Sometimes I sit and breathe and remember that all will be well. No matter what we get done or don’t get done, my boys are growing into intelligent, caring people, and what more can I ask for?
Whether I like it or not, life is always changing. By that I mean people change and circumstances change, and I can’t control it. I’m getting older, and my body doesn’t agree with what my mind wants it to do. I can’t get society to act in ways that I wish it would, so instead I accept what is, and I do what little I can to help my family and make the world a better place.
One thing I have always loved to do is offer encouragement to other homeschooling parents. I don’t do this because I’m an expert at it. I carefully consider my every move on this unsure journey. However, I feel confident I have found some things that work well for the boys and me, and as they get older, I find it’s the boys themselves who are validating the overall choice to homeschool, go at their pace, and focus on their interests. (This doesn’t mean I think everything is perfect or that I don’t wish I had more resources at my fingertips!)
I hope we can help them in this later stage of homeschooling as they take what they’ve gained here and make their way into more independent lives and, most likely, higher education. I can’t wait to see what happens, but I’m humbled by knowing anything could happen, and nothing is certain.
I also think about myself and what I will do when I finish homeschooling. There are things I’d like to try, but I have less interest in the things I used to do. Will that interest come back when I’m less exhausted and have more time? Maybe. For now, I hope I can continue to be a source for homeschooling parents.
I have always been available by email, but I need to change that. I have less energy for typing long emails. So I’m going to try out video chats so that I can talk to parents. Unfortunately, I can’t do this for free, but I don’t need much to sustain it.
This Saturday, I’m giving a presentation on project-based homeschooling with plenty of time for a Q&A. (I can also make it available at a time that’s good for you.) These simple but powerful techniques helped me shift from thinking of myself as a parent-teacher to more of a mentor. It helped me identify my kids’ interests and not just the ones I thought were education-worthy.
I think it’s important to say that this is not about helping kids get into the best schools or putting them on a certain career path (unless that helps them with their goals). It’s more about supporting kids where they are at and creating a relationship of trust so that they know you are their advocate. Every kid should have an advocate that truly cares about what they care about! I think it’s these relationships that create a path of success for kids, and by success, I don’t mean just financial success. I mean a path that will be meaningful to them and the community they live in. When you respect kids and their interests, they will turn around and respect others. And that makes the world a little bit better.
I’m very excited to offer this live video chat to anyone who would like to learn more about project-based homeschooling techniques and how I have used them in my homeschool. We’ll meet for 1~1.5 hours so that there’s plenty of time to answer your questions.
If this day/time doesn’t work for you, there’s an option to purchase the class and arrange another time with me.
Please share this with anyone you think would be interested. You can download a PDF of this flyer by clicking on the word “Download” above this image. Contact me, if you have any questions!
I’ve been homeschooling for over ten years, and now that I have some hindsight, it may be a good time to tell you what I love about homeschooling. Keep in mind that this is my experience; it may be different for other families. I may follow this up with a post about what I don’t love about homeschooling, but I’ll have to think about that.
So here are the top five reasons why I love homeschooling:
Flexibility. Whether it’s curriculum, taking time off, or giving my kids the time they need to master a subject, I would say that flexibility has been the best part of homeschooling. We are not on anyone else’s calendar. We can sleep in, if we need it. When Life gets hectic, we can take some time off. If I end up disliking the curriculum I bought, I can toss it and try another one. My boys can take their music lessons with their teachers during the school day, so we can get a good time for that, and we can go to the park or zoo when it’s not crowded. Since my husband’s time off from his work does not correlate with the public school calendar, that is a big bonus too. This doesn’t mean we aren’t busy. It means my family gets to decide how we use our time.
Out of the Box Learning. Although I try to match the traditional course of study as much as possible, I have a lot of flexibility in how I teach it, and if I can tell it’s not working for my kids, I can put it off or skip it. (If they hate it, they are not learning it.) We can learn so much in an informal way, such as through the documentaries we watch, visiting museums or conversations with knowledgeable people. My kids also like looking up the answers to their questions on the Internet, though they learn in many other ways too, such as through video games, T.V. shows, and, yes, books. Sometimes they surprise me with knowledge I didn’t even know they had. It’s amazing how good kids’ memories are when they are interested in something.
Going at their pace. I have nudged, and I have challenged, but I don’t force learning, and that makes a big difference. Take, for example, how my boys learned how to read. I started them off around the age of four or five with 15~20 minute reading lessons, and depending on how well they did, I either kept going or I took long breaks from teaching it. I took a full year off from teaching reading to my eldest son when I could tell he wasn’t ready for it, and when we went back to it, I spent 20~30 minutes a day teaching him how to read. I remember getting a little anxious and stressed about it. Would they ever learn? But I knew going at their pace was better than pushing it. Around seven-years-old, they started to get it, and then at age eight, they began reading perfectly. At nine-years-old, they started reading books without being told to read. I never made them read anything outside our short lessons, and I also let them read whatever they wanted. They both started with comic books and graphic novels. Now they are avid readers, and they read long novels or non-fiction on their own time. In fact, we can’t keep enough library books on hand for my younger son! I love this, and I hate to think how different it may have turned out, if they were in public school and forced to meet certain milestones in reading before they were ready.
Discovering interests unencumbered. If homeschooling parents give kids enough freedom, they have time and energy to discover what they’re interested in. Then they can begin to gain valuable skills. (If you’re lucky, this will prevent them from floundering for years as a young adult like I did.) I don’t think you have to be an unschooler to do this. I don’t unschool, but I have used project-based homeschooling techniques (PBH), which helped me see how I could give my kids the time and tools to create and explore while also teaching them subjects I thought were important. Some kids don’t want to explore or create. They may prefer reading or gaming. Others will keep trying new things and not settle on any one thing. That’s okay! Let them do that. You never know where it might go. Other kids may find something and wham! You can see that they’ve found their vocation. That happened for my eldest son, the pianist. The flexibility of homeschooling gives my son time to practice the piano, do his lessons, and just be a kid too. If you’d like to learn more about PBH, I am offering a class on it.
Close family ties. This is a byproduct I never thought about before I started homeschooling. I love how close we are as a family, and I love that my boys are best friends. They rarely squabble, and when they do, it’s amusing to watch. Since my boys are three years apart, I think things would have been very different, if they attended school. I’m grateful I have been there for every special moment and milestone, and I know my husband is too. (However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t need space from each other. When we need space, we have places to retreat to in the house.) This is an unexpected part of homeschooling that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
What do you love about homeschooling? If you are considering homeschooling, what is holding you back?
This is bittersweet for me because this will be the last post I write about our curriculum on my Mama of Letters blog, though I will keep writing here in other ways. For middle and high school, you can find my curriculum resources here. As the boys get older, I want to protect their privacy a little more and give myself new ways to connect with parents who value my work.
My younger son has completed 6th grade. In some subjects he’s a little ahead where his brother was because after developing these plans for his brother, I had them on hand, so I used them earlier with him. He’s also a different kid. He isn’t practicing an instrument several hours a day like his brother, so he has more time for other things. He loves to read, and I gave up trying to keep track of the books he’s reading. I think he was averaging a new book every 2~3 days at one point.
Here’s a run down of his course of study and the resources I used:
Besides all the books he reads on his own (and I have to thank my husband for making many trips to the library to keep him supplied with books), I assigned him some books for a literature unit. The theme was survival. After reading the books, we talked about them, and I prepared a series of worksheets for him to fill out. The worksheets included information about the author, vocabulary, discussion questions, short answer, short essay, and a review of literary terms. I cobbled these together from stuff I found on the Internet, so I can’t share it here, but the last few books, I kept it simple. We discussed them, and I asked him to write about how survival was a theme in each book. This is what I assigned:
Island of the Blue Dophins by Scott O’Dell
Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The Cay by Theodore Taylor
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
Short Story: Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson
Short Story: A Worn Path by Eudora Welty
In addition to this literature unit, he worked through Michael Clay Thompson’s Paragraph Town with me, and he did all the paragraph labs, four-level sentence analysis and punctuation lessons and worksheets.
If that’s not enough, on a whim I decided he could join his brother and me as we read the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Some of what I did to explore this play was listen to a professional reading of the original text followed by reading the modern text out loud together (from No Fear Shakespeare). We discussed the play, and we watched a BBC movie version of the play too. I’m really excited to start exploring Shakespeare with both my boys!
For math I finally switched curriculums for the middle school level, and I have to tell you that if I had to start homeschooling over again, I would use this curriculum from the get-go. (But who knows? It might not have been a good fit when they were six-years-old.) Anyway, he’s working in Math Mammoth now, and if you use this curriculum, you should know that it’s more advanced than most math curriculums. For example, Math Mammoth “Grade 7” is pre-algebra. Most kids take pre-algebra in 8th grade, so if you use Math Mammoth, your kid will be slightly ahead of their public school peers. My son is on track to do pre-algebra in the 8th grade.
This year I outsourced science because this kid is still into birds. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know this is the one and only project he has stuck with over the course of his short life, and he even has a YouTube channel that’s all about birds. If he continues to find this a major interest, there’s a good possibility he may go into one of the sciences. That’s still to be determined, but just in case, I didn’t feel like I could make science very exciting by teaching it myself. For this reason, I’m very grateful for Outschool.com. He’s taken many classes on this site, including some excellent classes specifically about birds and zoology, and he’s also been part of an ongoing, weekly ornithology club and more. But to meet a more typical course of study for 6th grade, I enrolled him in a year-long middle school Life Science class.
To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about how this Life Science class was taught even though it ticked the boxes for what I needed, and my son liked it. I’m not going to promote this particular class, and instead I will tell you that if you are looking for classes on Outschool, I find the best teachers are usually those who were not public school teachers. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but if you can find someone who has a degree in the subject, they will be excited about it, and they’ll have interesting ways of teaching it and a depth of knowledge that can’t be matched. Again, not always the case, but that’s been my experience so far. If anyone else has other experiences with finding good classes on Outschool, I welcome your comments. I do highly recommend Outschool. It’s been a game changer for us, and I appreciate how affordable most of the classes are.
If it had not been for the pandemic, I probably would have ordered more history books from the library, but we’ve really enjoyed this simple approached and the few books we had on our shelf. It won’t be long before he does U.S. History with his father (a history professor) in high school, so I think he’s getting a good introduction.
Both my boys have been taking weekly Mandarin Chinese lessons with an online tutor for almost three years now. As time went on, I felt that they needed more practice speaking Chinese, but I couldn’t figure out how to do this without spending more money. Suddenly this year we got what feels like a huge gift dropped on us. They are going to start getting twice weekly lessons with a new, fantastic tutor for free! I am over the moon excited. I wish I could share this resource with everyone, but unfortunately, it’s not mine to share. But I would urge anyone to just keep looking for opportunities in your community because you never know what you might find.
I always include physical education on my end-of-year progress reports, though I’m not sure how much I’ve written about it on my blog. We’re not an athletic family, but we are active in that we take many walks and hikes. This year I made more effort to take this kid out for more walks, and I succeeded.
And now we just passed my son’s 5th anniversary for taking cello lessons! I say this every year, but I can’t believe how fast the time is going. He enjoys playing the cello and considers it a hobby, so he spends about 45~60 minutes on daily practice, six days a week. His cello teacher is awesome, and he started back to in-person lessons this past winter.
I hope this is helpful for you. If you’d like to chat with me on Zoom about homeschooling, you can sign up here.
The boys worked hard to finish up their 6th grade and 9th grade year, and although there are a few loose ends to be taken care of, they have much to be proud of this year. They both do work above and beyond a typical course of study because the flexibility of homeschooling gives them the opportunity to do this. At some point I’ll write a post about our 6th grade curriculum, but I will reserve the high school years for a future publication. In the meantime, you are welcome to sign up to speak to me and ask questions on Zoom! I am still tweaking my store and developing new offerings, but it’s a slow process.
My 9th grader has outdone himself this year. He spends almost 25% of his day practicing the piano and listening to music to prepare for performances and auditions. I’ve never seen him so dedicated and determined to improve himself. If you follow me on Instagram, then you know he’s just completed a summer music program, which was an incredible experience for him. He also tackled a full 9th grade course load, and somehow we made time for gaming with his brother, taking walks and watching Netflix together. He transitioned from two years of online piano lessons (which weren’t ideal) to face-to-face lessons again, and this time we’ve had to travel great distances to reach his teachers. There are always surprises and lessons to be learned on his piano journey. I know we’ve made mistakes, but he knows we’ve got his back, and in the end, I hope he’ll benefit from everything we’ve learned. He’s also matured a great deal and is able to tell us what he needs and wants and that helps us tremendously.
My 6th grader has risen to another level too. He works almost completely independently on his course work except for some subjects I enjoy being a part of. But more importantly, he has found new ways to explore his interest in birds. This year I helped him start his own YouTube channel, and he films the birds in our yard. I taught him how to do all this, and together we learned how to use Final Cut Pro. Now he can do everything on his own. He is thrilled that one of his videos has gotten a lot of attention (see below), and this is increasing his subscriber base. He wants to get to 100 subscribers.
He’s also part of an ornithology club on Outschool.com, and he’s taken other classes about birds on that platform. This has inspired him to learn more about birds, and he continues to add birds to his “life list” as we travel around and find new birds. There are many camps and classes I would like to put him in, but we can only manage a little at a time, and he needs to get older before he can do some of it. But I can hardly wait to see what he’ll do in the future.
As for me, I have been slowly working on the boys’ progress reports for this year. I have to do things a little differently now that I have a kid in high school. For 9th grade, I have created a document of course descriptions, which is 23 pages long. He deserves recognition for his work on the piano and music education, so for the first time, I have made those into elective courses that are worth a credit each. I have a transcript for him too. I have done a lot of research about what colleges want from homeschoolers, so hopefully I will have more than enough documentation.
At the same time, I’m planning for next year. I create the English Language Arts component of their homeschool lessons, and I’m so grateful that as we continue homeschooling, I find more and more quality resources for homeschool students that weren’t available when we first started! (I can only imagine what will be available when my kids have kids!) Homeschooling was becoming more mainstream, and I think the pandemic has pushed it even further into the mainstream.
I always feel like I should write a caveat to my posts because I know how easy it is to compare yourself to other people who are writing about their lives online. I write about our successes, and while I like to think of us as a happy family, that doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of stresses. We are constantly trying to learn how to do better. Our resources are limited, so we feel frustration about what we can’t do for our kids. We come across plenty of subtle naysayers who don’t know much about us but assume a lot, and we’re still navigating the risks posed to us by a pandemic. I hope wherever you are on this path, you have the support of family and friends.
Documentaries we’re watching:
Our Great National Parks — President Obama narrates this beautiful documentary about some of the world’s greatest national parks.
Night on Earth — I love seeing what new technology can teach us. In this documentary, you’ll see what happens at night.
My 12-year-old just finished reading Call of the Wild, and he’s also working on the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
My 15-year-old is reading The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg. (P.S. I meant to tell you that the 15yo has some new videos on his YouTube channel too.)
I have been reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. This book is a treasure and full of wisdom from two great religious leaders, but it’s not about religion. It’s about what it means to be joyful and how to be more joyful.
I hope you are feeling joyful. Please tell me how your summer is going.
Time plays tricks on us. There are days that I feel the swift passing of time. I turned fifty recently, yet I hardly feel fifty. Well, maybe my aches and pains tell me I’m fifty, but all the memories from my life are stacked up neatly in my brain as if they happened yesterday. Something might trigger a forgotten memory, and it will come alive as if I just lived it.
My boys grow taller. They both have deeper voices now. Weren’t they just chubby cheeked and needing more hugs? Weren’t they just knee-deep in projects that created chaos on our activity room floor?
I am being swept away in this river of time, and I can never get to the shore.
On the other hand, when I think about homeschooling, I notice how this is a slow life. We tend to want to speed it up. We want our children to learn how to read so that we can tick that off our list of anxieties:
“Can I teach my kid how to read? I think I can, but I won’t know until they start reading. Lesson time, kids!” But maybe our child isn’t ready to read, so we reign in our impatience and go at their pace. Slow and steady.
“When will I get around to teaching a foreign language? I have so many other subjects I need to teach.”
“Why are they having trouble with math? They weren’t having trouble last week. Is it the curriculum? Is it me?”
There is so much about this life that we won’t be sure about until it’s all over. Tests don’t tell us everything we’d like to know. This can be hard. For most of my homeschooling-parenting life, I have had a good dose of confidence with a heaping spoonful of insecurity — perhaps just enough to keep me on my toes.
For anyone venturing onto this path of home education, I would say that if you’re reading this, you’re probably reading other materials on homeschooling too. You’re probably doing a lot of research about your options and any particular issues that you are dealing with. If you’re doing that, then I have confidence that you’re a good parent, and you’ll be just fine. You may have bad days. You may have years that aren’t the greatest. But this a slow road.
You build an education for a child bit by bit, according to what he/she/they can handle. You won’t notice the progress until one day something jumps out at you. Your child might say something very kind, they may do something generous, and you’ll be awash with relief — you fostered a nice person! Another day, your child may be presented with a challenge that you have no control over, and — bam — they handle it beautifully. Or you may get those standardized test results and — whoa!– your child scored in the 95th percentile! You weren’t expecting that, but now you’re a happy homeschooling mom.
You’re never expecting it, but time will take care of all your worries. If you feel you need to try something else, trust me, you have time. Kids unfold like flowers, one or two petals at a time, and you’ll know what you need to do when you need to do it. Enjoy being home with your kids. Enjoy the slowness of this path. Enjoy the uncertainty too because tomorrow that one will be gone and there may be a bigger uncertainty looming.
Nothing stays the same, and while it doesn’t always feel like it, this river of time is swift. I’m going to drift along and see where it takes me.
Is time going too fast or too slow for you today? Please answer in the comments section. And if you need any help with homeschooling, I hope you’ll check out my store. Thanks!
We are almost finished taking our standardized tests this year, and for my 15-year-old, it’s the last year that I’m required to test him by law. Yay! But I’ll probably test him every year now because he wants to prepare to take the SAT. When he was in the 3rd grade, I thought testing him was a waste of time. (I still don’t think that age should be tested.) As he got older, I found it useful, and it’s a good tool for a homeschool parent. There’s a difference between the testing that goes on in the public schools and the testing I do here at home, although my son takes the same kind of test, and he does it all on his own. (Someone actually accused me of cheating since we could cheat, if we wanted to, and that’s extremely insulting to me. I would NEVER cheat, and my husband and I teach our kids to not cheat and ALWAYS be honest.) The difference is that I can create a relaxed atmosphere around the test taking.
Here is why I like administering standardized tests in my homeschool:
1. We can schedule the test whenever it works in our schedule. I always test my boys around May/June, and I test for the academic year they are in even if they haven’t finished all the coursework for that year. (We homeschool lessons year-round, if we find time during the summer.) But I can pick the week and make sure we’re free of other obligations.
2. We test over a few days, which is recommended by the manufacturers of the tests, so the boys only take one or two tests on any given day.
3. On the days we do the tests, I don’t require the boys to do any other lessons that day, although my 15-year-old did do more math homework in the afternoon this year.
4. Since all we have to do is take the test on those days, it gives us time to go for more walks and relax or do whatever those days. So it’s actually a less stressful day for us!
5. I always tell the boys to not worry about how they perform on the tests. It’s truly a tool for me to see which subject areas they may need a little more instruction in. But so far, it’s given me huge peace of mind that we’re doing okay.
6. For my eldest son, and also my younger, testing them every year starting at the end of middle school will give them practice for if/when they take the SAT/ACT. (By state law, I’m required to test them every three years starting in the 3rd grade and ending in 9th.) They already seem more relaxed about taking the tests. They like to tell me about the test and what they found easy or what they had to guess at. (The tests are written in a way that they couldn’t possibly know the answer to every question.)
Who else is giving their kids a standardized test this year?
If you have any questions about standardized testing or homeschooling general, I’d love to help. Check out the resources I offer, and if you can’t find something helpful, send me an email.
New! I’m offering Zoom chat sessions in my store for parents who are currently homeschooling or are considering homeschooling. There are three options:
One-on-one chat – Set up an appointment with me, and we can talk for one hour on any homeschooling related topic that you want to talk about.
Six-session Homeschool Series – I’ve created a series of six sessions where I will explain how we have homeschooled in a child-centered, eclectic, project-based way while also knowing we need to prepare our boys to apply for college. I’m hoping to create a support group for homeschooling parents, if participants are interested.
Getting Started with High School – A one-hour session. We are completing my son’s first year of high school. I spent most of his middle school wondering how we’d do this, but it’s not that hard. I’ll share everything I know.
I don’t know if anyone will be interested in these Zoom chats, but I’m putting it out there because I have loved helping parents over the years with their questions about homeschooling. I have written long emails, enjoyed a lot of correspondence and made some good friends. I know many families are considering home education, so I want to be available to help in all ways. Unfortunately, I can’t offer the Zoom sessions for free, but I hope you will find them very reasonable.
Please help me spread this information. If you have enjoyed my blog posts and other resources, please share it on your social media platforms. I thank you from the bottom of my heart! ❤️
“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” 🐇
Actually, I’m just behind in writing a monthly blog post. I thought I’d at least be able to keep up with once a month, but life has a way of snowballing as kids grow and we venture more and more into meaningful projects, which is a good thing!
My eldest son is working harder than ever on his piano repertoire, although he’s not doing any competitions this year, and he hasn’t posted much to his YouTube channel lately. He has longer term goals now. All I’ll say is that he continues to take us on many adventures, and while it can be stressful, it’s also a pleasure.
My younger son has taken charge of his YouTube channel that is dedicated to our backyard birds. I still help him a bit, though. It’s really great to see him learning video editing skills as well as developing his interest in birds and the natural world. Recently we tried to rescue one of our favorite bird friends, and we made this tribute for him:
And finally, I have a project of my own that I hope I can get off the ground in the next couple of months, but I’m not quite ready to share it yet. However, I did open an Instagram account that will be dedicated to our homeschool journey. So if you’d like to follow me there, here’s the link. (I haven’t posted much on it yet.)
I love our projects not only because they are personally fulfilling but because they are putting good things into this world. We need more of that, and I wish everyone made it their goal to put beauty and love into the world. I’m glad my boys are learning the importance of that.
I hope you have a beautiful spring. Please tell me what you’ve been up to in your homeschool.
It’s the last day of January, and whew — I’m glad it’s over. This has been a very busy month, and it has been cold outside with a few days of almost warm. It also has been a month of remembering….remembering loss from last year and remembering pre-covid times when everything was so much easier. I have been doing lots of random things like going to physical therapy, and I have been ordering specimens for my son’s biology labs. I also baked a loaf of bread for one of his science experiments. I haven’t baked in a long time, but I was pleased to have the skill when it was needed. I finished another James Herriot book, and I discovered that I absolutely love Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m so lucky to have musicians in my house!
The project that has taken the most time, however, is my 12-year-old’s new YouTube channel! Yes, we have taken the bird project to new heights! This year my 12-year-old is in an online ornithology club, which has really inspired him to dig deeper into the world of birds, and then I wondered if he might enjoy recording the birds in our yard and starting a YouTube channel. I was right, and he’s so excited about this. Every few days he’ll put the camera outside, picking a new place or a different angle, and we’ll put the seeds out there. Then we go inside and hope the birds will show up. They usually do. (And we’re at the window with our binoculars.)
This project is teaching my son more than just how to record birds. We have sat together to edit the film, and I’m surprised that he has so much patience to go through the recordings! He picks out the best parts, and I’ve shown him how to trim them. We are also going to learn more about video editing together, and I can see that it won’t be long before I won’t need to help. You never know where this could lead.
Naturally, he is most excited about getting new subscribers on his YouTube channel. So if you feel inclined, I hope you’ll subscribe. You never know, I might be fostering a YouTube star. LOL. Or, maybe Mr. Cardinal will become the star. We’ll see. 🤣
Here’s one of my favorite videos. Please go to his channel and click on “videos” at the top to see them all. And then you’ll understand why I’ve been so busy. This kid likes recording!
How has 2022 begun for you? I hope it’s starting out well.