Top 3 Best Gifts for Homeschoolers

At a children’s museum many years ago.

As I look back over the years, these are the items that were the most appreciated and long-lasting. If you have a homeschooling family to buy a gift for, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

A school table and chairs. An adjustable table and comfortable school chairs was a gift I greatly appreciated when my kids were young. We still use it to this day, although after we lifted the table to its maximum height, my husband had to put new legs on it for my tallest teenager! I know some homeschoolers use the kitchen table, but having a separate school table allowed us to leave projects or school work out, and this made going back to work easy. When my son was working on a project, seeing it on the table always invited him to finish it too.

A membership to an aquarium, museum, or other venue. Homeschoolers take advantage of local venues to give their kids hands-on and meaningful learning experiences, but this is expensive. Yearly memberships make it more affordable. We would get a membership to a different venue each year and go as often as we could. Our kids learned so much that way, and they met adults who had interesting jobs and could talk to them about science or art, etc. I can’t emphasize what a great gift this would be for a homeschooling family. In addition, many memberships come with reciprocal benefits. For example, by being a member of our local botanical garden here in Georgia, we could get into the Chicago Botanic Garden for free when we visited relatives in that area.

Quality art and craft supplies. All homeschoolers need art and craft supplies whether or not the kids are into art. These items come in handy for science experiments, making posters, dioramas, books, or any kind of graphic that would showcase what a child learned. But all kids should be able to have fun and get creative. Learning about art and drawing techniques are skills that everyone can benefit from, and fostering creativity will help kids problem solve and think for themselves. While individual art supplies aren’t very expensive, buying them continually over the years can add up, so buy sketchbooks, quality pencils, paints, paintbrushes, modeling clay, cloth and sewing supplies….and then just walk up and down the aisles at your local craft shop and look at all the interesting stuff you can add to their collection. You never know what they might be able to create with it!

What are some of the best gifts you’ve received as a homeschooler?

NEW! Join me on Patreon where I can give you individual support as you homeschool. This is much cheaper than any of the gifts listed above. 😜

Supporting the Little Makers

{How to Support Kids Who Like to Build Things}

Some kids will be natural builders. They will gravitate toward toys such as blocks, Legos, Zoob pieces, Tinker toys or many others that are available. They can also do wonders with cardboard and lots of tape. They like building, making, and creating. Let them do this to their heart’s content. There are other kids who may not like building, or they just do it a little. That’s okay too. Let kids do what they want when they have free, unstructured time.

Supporting the little makers is perfect project-based homeschooling territory, and over time, it may help you see how these techniques work.

Every parent wants their child to be independent and do things on their own, but that’s not going to happen until well into adulthood. So don’t think that when I say “fostering independent learners” or something similar, it means that you need to let your kids struggle or always play alone. On the contrary, when you follow project-based homeschooling techniques, you’re going to be available to your child and offer them the support they need.

During the time you set aside for your child’s projects, you can consider your child the boss, and you’re the employee. Your child gets to tell you what they want to happen, and you can do it for them. This is especially helpful when your child is little, and they may not have the manual dexterity to create what they envision. The important thing is not to take over your child’s project. Just ask them what they need you to do and don’t do anything else.

Don’t wander off or look at your phone during this time unless it becomes clear that your child doesn’t want you there. Sit there and let them know you’re available to help. Be interested in what they are doing. You can show interest by asking them questions about what they are building, but sometimes they’ll be happy if you just watch. Be enthusiastic. Just taking 30 minutes to an hour to sit by your child’s side even if they don’t need you to do anything will show your child you love and support them!

You can sometimes make suggestions, but I recommend waiting until they’re a little stuck or having a hard time accomplishing something. Always hesitate and ask questions. Wait and watch to see if they can figure it out on their own. Project-based homeschooling is about letting your child do the work when they can. You may think your child could not possibly figure out a way to fix a problem, but they might surprise you. I know there were a few times when I was working with my son, and I could see an easy way to make whatever it was he wanted, but I didn’t say anything. I saw him start doing something that I didn’t think would work, but then guess what? He made it work! His mind was working differently from mine, but his way worked just as well.

Of course, there were also times he got frustrated, cried, and I wondered what the heck I was doing. This is definitely a long road and takes practice for the parent. You are getting to know your child, learning when to step in and when to back off.

Do you have a little maker? I’d love to hear about them!

Also, please join me in one of my video chats as I discuss more project-based homeschooling techniques and answer all your questions. I’m going to schedule one for January, so please contact me, if you’d like to know when I do that. Alternatively, patrons can unlock access to all my classes, PDF resources, and much more, so please check out my Patreon page!

3 Reasons Why I Know You Can Homeschool

I hear some parents who like the idea of homeschooling, but they don’t think they can do it. They say they don’t have the patience. While it’s up to you to decide what you can or can’t do, if you’re on the fence, I think you should go ahead and try. There really isn’t much to lose.

These are three reasons I know you can do it:

Love. If you love your kids and know homeschooling is in their best interests, you’ll be motivated. No one is more important than your child, right? For many kids, homeschooling could be the chance of a lifetime to be themselves, find interests that motivate them to work, and it can also give them the chance to master skills that will benefit them as adults. Let’s face it, traditional school makes kids spread their time too thin. For some, it works, but for many, it does not. They leave school not knowing what they want to do, so they end up floundering until their late 20s until they find what motivates them.

Time is something we can all use more of, and giving your kids the gift of time when they are young is one of the most loving gifts you can give.

Resources. If you want to homeschool, this is a great time to do it. The resources for homeschoolers have probably tripled since I began homeschooling just ten years ago. Most of them are very affordable, and some of them are free. I think for the first few years of elementary school, you could get everything you need at the library and off the Internet, but you can also find lots of my recommendations for different grades and subjects by using the Table of Contents in the menu at the top of my blog. ⬆️ I can’t imagine what will become available in the next few years. So don’t let your doubts about how you’re going to teach stop you from homeschooling because you’ll find lots of help.

There is room for mistakes. It’s the long view. Finally, I know you can homeschool because unless you’re starting in the 11th or 12th grade, you’ve got plenty of time to figure everything out. You will make mistakes, but that’s okay. Remember the resources I told you about? You can toss the ones you don’t like and find new ones. You can also go at your kids’ pace. You set the milestones — not a school. You can figure out when to challenge your kid and when to give them more time. Homeschooling is a lifestyle, and you can take the long view. What are your goals for your family? What are your kids’ goals? Start with helping your kids find what they’re good at and what motivates them to learn. If you can do that, you’ll figure the rest out.

This isn’t to say it’s easy, and it can help to have someone to chat with about homeschooling. I would love to help you, if I can. If you’d like to chat on Zoom, or see the other resources I’ve created, check out my Patreon or store.

Make Your Homeschool Your Own

Every homeschooling family is different. If you are going to home educate, you must not compare yourself to other families.

You can let other families inspire you. You can get good advice from other homeschool families too. But if you read homeschool blogs or meet other parents IRL, you will eventually see someone doing something you think is better. You may try to be more like them and fail, or maybe right away you think you could never do it that way. That’s not a failure! It shows you’re thinking about your kids and you also know your limits.

Every parent is going to have something they are good at, and you probably have super powers that you don’t even realize you have. Other mothers are probably looking at you wishing they could do what you do.

I know for me, I used to want to be one of those mothers who sat and read books half the day with my kids. I’m not well read! I like to read, and my boys like reading, but we’re not a sit-on-the-sofa reading most of the day kind of family. And when I think about, I don’t really want to do that anyway. It just sounds good, especially on days when I could use some more rest.

I know mothers who are so patient, and they seem like good teachers. All they need is a good curriculum, and they can lecture and teach the material to their kids. I don’t feel that’s me. Maybe it was when my boys were younger, but as they get older, I spend a lot of time figuring out resources that will help them teach themselves with less support from me. It’s not because I don’t want to teach but because it’s beyond my abilities now. My role is more of a facilitator and organizer and problem solver now.

I also know mothers who come up with incredible projects and unit studies, and they work on those together, exploring fascinating subjects. I sometimes think I would like to do that. Maybe I did a little when the boys were younger? (Everything was so much easier when they were younger!)

To be honest, part of the reason it’s easy for me to do child-led learning is because I don’t like coming up with the ideas! But this means we have many days when we’re not doing anything interesting. (I mean, not interesting enough to write about in a blog post. Most days are kind of the same.)

You should ask yourself: what AM I good at? Maybe you’re a fantastic cook, and you have inspired your kids to cook with you. Maybe you’re athletic, and you and your kids are outside on the trails every chance you get. Maybe you’re brilliant at crafts, and you’ve inspired your kids to build their own toys. Maybe you have a mind for business, and you have helped your kids start selling their crafts at a local market. Or maybe you just like hanging out together, and you give your kids a lot of quality time going to interesting places. 

No matter what it is that you’re good at, it will be good for your kids. What they need is a guide who is loving and kind….Not a jack of all trades….Or an academic genius.

Another one: maybe you’re good at research, and you pick the right curricula and resources that fit your kids needs…..that’s me. That’s what I’m good at. But that also means I have spent time using not-the-right resources. I have to try stuff before I find something that works. Or works good enough. It’s not very glamorous. It’s not blog worthy to show a picture of myself sitting at my computer doing research. LOL

But see? If I can figure out what I am good at, you can too.

Maybe I’m pretty good at playing Wingspan more times than I can count too. 🤔😆

If you would like more, individualized support on your homeschool journey, consider signing up with me on Patreon.

Private Homeschool Support Group for Project-based Homeschoolers, a.k.a. any Homeschool Family :)

I’m excited to share some news. I have created a Patreon account so that I can form a small, nurturing community of like-minded parents. Space will be limited, so we can get to know each other.

It will be a homeschool support group for project-based homeschoolers, but you don’t have to consider yourself a project-based homeschooler (PBH) to join. You just need to be interested in becoming a better mentor and guide for your child, which is what PBH is all about! Seasoned project-based homeschoolers are more than welcome too!

Project-based homeschooling might seem like unschooling or common sense parenting, but there are actually a lot of tips and tricks that I learned that helped me find a balance between stepping in to help my kids and stepping away when appropriate. That’s harder than it seems! I will be sure to share everything I’ve learned in this support group and help you with whatever comes up in your daily homeschooling life. I hope everyone in the group will support each other.

We will not be restricted to talking about project-based homeschooling! As a support group, we can discuss all aspects of homeschooling, parenting and daily life as homeschool parents. Also, you can use PBH techniques whether you unschool, use a strict curriculum or are somewhere in between.

So, if you’d like a small, nurturing group that you can check in with daily, weekly, monthly (whenever it’s good for you), please join. If you’d like to share your child’s projects and successes, but you don’t want to put it out for everyone on the Internet to see, please consider joining. If you’d like some camaraderie with like-minded parents, please join. 

I want to make it accessible, affordable and easy to join, but I can’t do this for free because I need to pay fees to keep up the infrastructure. I have created two tiers that I hope you find very reasonable:

$3.00/month subscription — Join the group I’m calling the “Wrens,” and you will receive the following benefits:

  • You will unlock posts on Patreon that are not on my public blog. I can be a little more candid there. Some of what I’ll share:
    • Resources I’m using right now and my candid feelings about it.
    • Curriculum I don’t like.
    • Ups and downs of daily life.
    • Our research into colleges and universities and what I need to do to help my kids reach their goals.
    • The pitfalls of homeschooling.
  • Ask me any question in a comment, and I will respond ASAP. Or you can access a private Discord server for this group that I will monitor daily. Share your child’s projects, ask advice, or just chat with the group!
  • As a sign on bonus, I will give you access to all my PDF resources.
  • You will also be supporting this ad-free blog (which will remain unchanged), and you will have my deepest thanks!

$6.00/month subscription — Join the group I’m calling the “Ravens,” and you will receive the following benefits:

  • You will have everything from the Wrens tier plus:
  • I will offer a monthly, live online support group meeting. Day and time will be determined by the first few members, so please don’t hesitate to sign up!
  • As a sign on bonus, you will have access to the classes in my store. That is, you do not have to pay extra for these classes. You can even take them more than once. (Each class is worth between $10-$25 each, and I will be adding more classes in the coming months.)
  • I will also create classes/presentations by request from my patrons on specific topics.

NOTE: I also have a $1 tier for anyone who would like to support my blog and read my posts on Patreon, but you don’t need a support group.

Click here to access My Patreon. Also, please share this post with your social networks. Thank you!

If you aren’t sure what project-based homeschooling is all about, start here: https://mamaofletters.com/project-based-homeschooling/

To learn more about me, see https://mamaofletters.com/bio/

Please join. Will you? Please comment or ask questions below.

Join me for my presentation on Project-based Homeschooling

 

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!

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Homeschooling

a rare selfie 🙂

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

If you would like some camaraderie about homeschooling in a new private, online support group, please consider signing up for mine here.

What do you love about homeschooling? If you are considering homeschooling, what is holding you back?

July 2022 – Wrapping Up Another Homeschool Year

View from a recent hike.

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.

Books:

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.

Why I changed my mind about standardized tests for homeschoolers

Cover of the IOWA Assessments that my eldest is taking.

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.

Homeschool Zoom Chats with Shelli

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! ❤️