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Sometimes OK Is Good Enough

Mindful Homeschoolamy sharonyComment
When your homeschool falls into a rut of not-great, not-terrible, appreciate where you are instead of wishing you were somewhere else

Like a lot of folks, I’ve struggled with figuring out how to adjust to a new routine that suddenly includes daily phone calls to my representatives and compulsively checking NPR’s news blog every five minutes. But even when life felt more normal, there were times when I felt like I was totally rocking the whole homeschool life—and times when I just wasn’t.

When we talk about homeschooling, we tend to be earnest—or at least I do. I want to do better, pretty much all the time: I want better resources, better books, a better rhythm, a better experience for my kids… And I think this kind of striving is important. For me, it’s part of what homeschooling is about. But it’s also a recipe for failure because while I may be on a steadily-getting-better-trajectory when it comes to the big picture (and gosh, I hope I am), there are plenty of days where I am just plain OK.

I’m not talking about bad days, where clearly I could do better and, say, not try to convince my kids that we should take (another) day off when they are begging to do math or get all snooty about my daughter’s citations instead of helping her sort through her sources. (Not my proudest moment.) I’m not talking about the days where the kids wake up grumpy, and I have to choose between battling with them to accomplish anything or feeling guilty about letting them play video games all day. The bad days aren’t fun, but they remind me to appreciate the good days. No, I’m talking about the days where we do manage to get though the majority of our routine, where I plug in and the kids plug in, and we muddle through together—but really, we all know that it was just an OK day. Nobody was brilliant. I wasn’t especially entertaining or engaging, and the kids didn’t have any amazing insights or witty revelations. We just kind of made it through. I think those days deserve a little more respect.

Yes, of course, homeschooling can be an amazing, magical experience that makes you feel like your life is blooming all around you. There are days like that, and they are wonderful. They are what keep us going on the days when nothing goes right and we need to remember why we got ourselves into this mess in the first place. But there are plenty of days that are just good enough—not particularly great, not terrible, just OK. Sometimes there are a lot of these days in a row. For me, there are a lot of these days in a row right now. And instead of sighing over the missing magical moments, I’m trying to appreciate the everyday OK-ness of my homeschool life. Because while striving to be better is part of homeschooling, so, I think, is being comfortable with where you are. And where we are right now is an OK place.

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 20: Ask for Help

52-Week Challengeamy sharonyComment
52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 20: Ask for Help

I don’t know about you, but when we started homeschooling, I actually thought the housework part of life would get a little easier. After all, we would all be home all day—surely that would making keeping up with the dishes/laundry/bathroom cleaning a little easier, right?

Nope. At least not for us. Homeschooling didn’t give me more housework time—it just meant we were home to make bigger and more exciting messes. I’ve accepted the fact that homeschooling and a shiny clean house don’t go together for everyone, but if we want to have a happy homeschool, it’s also important to recognize that the burden of housework should not fall on one person’s shoulders.

Even very young kids can help with things like sorting laundry or tearing up lettuce for a salad, and older kids can take ownership of tasks from start to finish. It makes sense to collaborate on this. Sit down with your kids and make a list of all the housework that has to get done every day, then figure out together a fair way to divide it up. Be clear about expectations—what, specifically, does picking up the family room entail?—and deadlines—should work be finished before lunch or before bedtime? Be open to changing things as you go along. Treat it like any homeschool project—a work in progress that you’ll figure out together. Don’t think of it assigning chores: Instead, treat housework as a shared responsibility that everyone participates in. Between reminders and overseeing and that never-ending to-do list, you might only squeeze out 30 minutes of free time a day from letting your kids take on some of the daily duty—but hey, that’s 30 minutes, and as you settle into your new routine, that time may grow.

And don’t think divvying up the housework list is just for you: Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that helping with household tasks is the number-one predictor for future success—more than IQ, more than extracurricular activities, more than social status. 

Your challenge this week: Sit down with your kids to plot a new daily schedule that lets everyone share in the everyday household duties. Try to take at least one task completely off your to-do list.

Bespoke Book List: Great STEM Biographies for Kids

Reading Listamy sharony1 Comment
Great STEM Biographies for Kids

One of my pet peeves book-wise is the lack of good biographies for kids. Unless you want to read about Justin Bieber or someone from the 1850s, there just aren’t a lot of good options out there. So I was pretty darn thrilled when I discovered that Lerner Publications had launched a series of biographies that focus on modern day STEM professionals, including (gasp!) some pretty cool women. These are some of the modern innovators you can meet:

Who she is: a video game designer who believes gaming can make the world a be􏰁er place. her best-known games include EVOKE, Superstruct, World Without Oil, Cruel 2 B Kind, and The Lost Ring.
Read all about her in: Alternate Reality Game Designer Jane Mcgonigal by Anastasia Suen

Who he is: The guy who invented some of today’s most buzzworthy robotics, including Google glasses, robotic mapping, and the Google self-driving car— he’s also the founder of the Google X lab.
Read all about him in: Google Glass and Robotics Innovator Sebastian Thrun by Marne Ventura

Who he is: The question isn’t so much who the director of the Hayden Planetarium and popular astrophysicist is, but why it’s taken so long for someone to write a biography of him.
Read all about him in: Astrophysicist and Space Advocate Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Marne Ventura

Who she is: One of the celebrated women of silicon valley, she’s the brains behind super-popular community photo-sharing website Flickr and creator of the decision-making website Hunch.
Read all about her in: Flickr Cofounder and Web Community Creator Caterina Fake by Patricia Wooster

Who he is: One of the fathers of the iPod, Fadell is the techie who came up with the more-than-a-music-player’s distinctive look and functionality and the Wi-Fi enabled, learning-programmable Nest Labs thermostat.
Read all about him in: iPod and Electronics Visionary Tony Fadell by Anastasia Suen

This reading list was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of HSL.

Stuff We Like :: 2.17.17

Stuff We Likeamy sharony4 Comments
home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

Are you going to the SEA homeschool conference this spring? Suzanne and I will be there from June 1-4 giving away copies of HSL and feeling socially awkward, so please stop by and say hi if you’re there!

around the web

Just when the weight of the world feels like too much to bear, someone makes a list of book-ice cream pairings, and you know you’ll make it through.

I really love these alternative approaches to high school math.

I have so many feelings about the new James Baldwin documentary, but the main one is that everyone should go and see it.

Ursula Le Guin on "alternative facts" versus science fiction


at home/school/life

on the blog: A big woo-hoo to Shelli who wrapped up her year-long citizen science project with this week’s post. And Oak Meadow's winter sale is going on through the 28th!

one year ago: Rebecca reviews a curriculum for young philosophers

two years ago: Why boredom is an important part of learning

three years ago: Simple strategies to turn around a bad homeschool day


reading list

I’m rereading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency so that I can watch the new television series, and I’d forgotten what a pleasure it is to make fun of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I love when you think you’ve read everything by an author and then discover that nope, in fact, you are wrong, and there is another book. So I was delighted to discover Mischievous Meg by Astrid Lindgren, and we’ve been enjoying it as a readaloud.

My 9-year-old is reading The Wonderful Adventures of Nils. My daughter is being horrified by The Jungle for U.S. History and reading Fangirl for fun.


in the kitchen

Now that we’ve actually gotten back to some semblance of routine after the Tragic Ankle Breaks of 2015, I’m finding my way back to the kitchen on a regular basis. My kids mock me relentlessly, though, because I always fail Taco Tuesday—I plan tacos for Tuesday every week but something always goes sideways and we end up having them a different night. We did not have them on Tuesday, but these beef picadillo puffy tacos were much enjoyed anyway.

It’s definitely still comfort food season, and this wild rice-mushroom soup hits the spot.

Cookie of the week: Salty oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies


at home

I’m having trouble finding balance between staying informed and active politically (which feels important to do right now) and staying sane and available to my everyday cooking-dinner, reading-books-together, doing-the-laundry (who am I kidding? I would take any excuse to skip the laundry) life. Political happenings are like chicken pox—I’m just constantly aware of them in an uncomfortable kind of way, so much so that the rest of my life suffers, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. And yet, how can I not pay attention every minute? How are you guys handling this? Is this just the new normal?

I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ The West while I knit at my Heaven and Space. (I love patterns like this that are almost-but-not-quite brainless, and really, who can ever have enough scarves?)

Citizen Science Project #12: Flu Near You

Everyday HomeschoolingShelli Bond PabisComment
Citizen Science Project #12: Flu Near You

Not only was my family sick over our winter vacation in December, my kids are sick again now, a month later, and so am I. Sigh. But, I found the perfect citizen science project to go along with my sore throat. 

Flu Near You is a tool that allows individuals to report and track infectious diseases. It was created by epidemiologists at Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital and The Skoll Global Threats Fund because tracking flu symptoms is slow when they rely on doctor’s offices to do the reporting. Many people don’t even visit the doctor when they have flu-like symptoms.

If you sign up with Flu Near You, your personal information will remain completely confidential, and your report will be anonymous to the researchers. Once a week, you’ll receive an e-mail reminding you to report any symptoms—or no symptoms—that your family is experiencing.  Even if you don’t think you have the flu, but you have a sore throat, you should report that. You cannot know for certain if you have the flu unless you visit a doctor, so Flu Near You does not expect you to know exactly what you have. You simply click on any symptoms. They have recently added more symptoms so that they can identify potential outbreaks of other diseases, such as Zika, Chikungunya, or Dengue fever.

It only takes a minute to make the report. Flu Near You will collect these reports and list them on a map that you can access on their website. This way, you’ll know if there is a flu outbreak where you are traveling to or in your local area. If there is, you can take extra precaution.

I signed up for Flu Near You, and they only asked me for my e-mail address, birthdate, gender, and zip code. I was able to add other family members using nicknames, but this was optional. When reporting, I simply click on any symptoms we have (or “no symptoms”) and then click “report.” It was that easy.

Learn more about Flu Near You by clicking on this link.


And that’s my year of citizen science projects! Thank you to everyone who has been following along. 

Q&A: Tips for Grading Your Homeschooler’s Essays

Homeschool FAQamy sharonyComment
Q&A: Tips for Grading Your Homeschooler’s Essays

Now that my daughter is in middle school, I want to start giving her real grades on her essays and papers—but I am really not sure how to decide whether an essay should get an A, B, or C. Do you have any tips?

You can make yourself crazy trying to grade essays because there are so many possible components to consider. So make it easy on yourself, and determine the purpose of your essay upfront: Is your essay an analysis of a story? Then your grading should focus on how successfully your student analyzes the story. Is your paper a traditional research paper? Then your grade should focus on how well-researched and organized the paper actually is. This does mean that you’ll be mentally shifting gears with each essay assignment, but that’s really the key to thoughtful essay grading. Beyond that, here are some practical tips for grading essays that will help keep your grading consistent and helpful for your student:

Know what makes a good essay. It seems dorky to write a rubric for a single student, but you really should. Write down what differentiates an A paper (all sentences are well constructed and vary in length and structure) from a B paper (most sentences are well constructed and vary in length and structure) from a C paper (most sentences are well constructed but have similar structure and length). If you’re new to rubric-writing (and most homeschoolers are), this example from readwritethink.org is a good starting point that you can tweak as you go.

Let your student know your method. Say “For this book report, I’m going to be looking mostly at how well you explain the strengths and weaknesses of the book. You can use the plot to help support your argument, but you don’t need to summarize the plot for me.” If you make a rubric for grading essays, you should definitely share it with your student. 

Don’t play copyeditor. Your job isn’t to correct every misspelling and grammatical gaffe in your student’s paper—this isn’t a manuscript, and you aren’t an editor. Pick two or three grammatical concepts to focus on per paper (using quotes correctly, for example, or including citations appropriately), and limit your red-penning to these specific concepts. Look for patterns rather than specific instances—it’s more helpful to say, “I notice that you’re having trouble trying to squeeze too much information into one sentence, and you’re ending up with a lot of run-ons and hard-to-read sentences” than to mark up every awkward sentence. If your student seems to be backsliding on a grammatical or structural issue that should already be old hat, return his paper and ask him to do the grammatical revisions before returning the paper to you. (“It looks like you didn’t break this essay up into paragraphs—why don’t you fix that before I grade it?”)

Look for things the writer is doing well. I think you should always try to point out two things your writer is doing successfully in a paper, even if they feel like small or unexceptional things to you. It’s not that you want to cast faint praise or give a participation ribbon to your kid, but young writers need to know what they are getting right as well as where they can improve.

This Q&A was originally published in the winter 2016 issue of HSL.

Sponsored Post: Adjusting to Homeschooling Mid-Year with Oak Meadow

Lovely Sponsorshome | school | lifeComment

Making the decision to switch gears and begin homeschooling partway through the school year takes courage and faith. Whatever you were doing before wasn’t working, and whatever you are beginning hasn’t had time to feel routine yet. Here are ten suggestions to ease the way, whether you’re homeschooling independently or enrolling in Oak Meadow’s distance-learning program:

1. Different philosophy; different approach. Students who have been in school have likely become accustomed to an institutional approach where work is prescribed to the class as a whole and the teacher’s attention is divided among many students. Shifting to a creative thinking approach can be challenging for a student who just spent last semester trying very hard to figure out how to succeed in an institutional setting. In contrast, Oak Meadow’s approach is flexible and creative, and homeschooling can often allow for one-on-one support between parent and child. Switching gears to this degree is quite an adjustment and might bring stress or frustration. Be understanding and acknowledge those differences as needed.

2. Commit to riding out the transition. There is a progression in learning as your child adjusts, but it may take a few weeks or more to be able to look back and clearly see the progression. Don’t expect to see results right away. Trust the process and really commit fully to seeing it through for six weeks or so before you assess whether it is working for your child. Learning really does take place, even if it might not feel that way in the moment, and a few weeks’ perspective can make all the difference in understanding.

3. Go easy on yourself and your child. You’ve just left behind an educational environment that wasn’t working for some reason, and now you’ve switched to an entirely different approach. During this adjustment phase, don’t get too caught up in whether every single item was done properly in each lesson. What’s the main concept or what are the key skills being addressed? What is most important for your child to grasp before moving on to the next lesson? Make that your focus, and give everyone points for effort as you navigate this new way of learning. Students beginning mid-year may need to go back to previous lessons if they aren’t understanding something in the current lesson.

4. Consider downshifting or deschooling. Your child might need to ease into the new model slowly, and some children, particularly those who experienced trauma in their previous school experience, will benefit from a period of “deschooling.” This can be like an extended vacation from school, with plenty of nourishing rest, time to daydream, healthy activities of the child’s choosing, and supported emotional processing. It can be very helpful for some students to have a buffer like this between leaving their old school and beginning homeschooling. Often they will let you know when they are ready to jump back in again.

5. Keep good boundaries with those in your life who resist the idea of homeschooling. Even well-meaning loved ones can undermine confidence by demanding evidence or reassurance that your new educational plan is “working.” It is fine to say things are going well without elaborating. Let your child know that you will be keeping his or her educational details private. This allows your child to relax and focus on learning without worrying about what the relatives or neighbors might be thinking.

6. Structure and support are key. Set up a solid daily and weekly routine as a starting point. You may need to adjust it many times, but begin with a strong plan. It is easy to get sidetracked, so do your best to stick to the plan. Set aside focused time each day for academic work. Find a good place to work with your child where you can both be comfortable. If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider consulting with one of Oak Meadow’s experienced teachers, enrolling in our distance-learning program, using a tutor, or asking an experienced friend for help.

7. Be resourceful and independent. Reach out to others. Make friends with your local librarian; it’s a great way to find out what resources are available and connect with other homeschooling families or groups in the area. Explore online resources. Oak Meadow’s social media offerings are a good place to start. Our Pinterest boards offer many inspiring hands-on ideas, and Facebook is a great place to connect with other homeschooling parents and find validation for this journey. There are many online groups for homeschooling parents. Seek support from like-minded people wherever you find it.

8. Go outside! Oak Meadow’s organic approach to learning encourages families to learn out in the world. This means spending plenty of time outside in nature and interacting with others in your local neighborhood or community. Fresh air and the soothing sights and sounds of nature are a good antidote for stress of any kind, including the positive stress of the important transition from school to homeschool. Schools tend to be very social places, and you will want to be mindful of how your child’s needs for social interaction are met while homeschooling. You might find this benefits you as well as your child.

9. Be patient. It takes a few weeks or more to settle in. It will be a little while before you get your bearings and find a good rhythm for your homeschooling days and weeks. Don’t panic! It’s okay if things aren’t perfect. There is a lot to be learned from trial and error. Have fun with the process!

10. Trust yourself. Remember that you are the expert on your own child. The decision to begin homeschooling was made in response to something your child or family needed enough to warrant such a significant change. Why did you choose homeschooling? Remind yourself of these reasons often. Continue to nurture your connection with your child, especially during this vulnerable time when he or she is weathering such a big transition. And remember to take good care of yourself as you adapt to your role as home teacher.

Oak Meadow’s winter sale is on now! From today through 2/28, save 20% on everything in the bookstore and 10% on new enrollment!

This post is sponsored by Oak Meadow. Thanks for supporting the companies that support home/school/life. Amanda Witman is a lifelong learner and an enthusiastic homeschooling mother of four. She enjoys writing, playing fiddle, tending her garden, organizing community events, learning new things, having family adventures, and connecting with other homeschoolers. She manages social media at Oak Meadow.

Get This Girl in a History Book: Great Biographies for Black History Month

Reading Listamy sharonyComment
Get This Girl in a History Book: Great Biographies for Black History Month

If women get short shrift in history textbooks, black women get doubly short-changed—and that’s a shame, because cool women like these deserve wider recognition. Now’s the perfect time to get to know them better.




“My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders,” said civil rights activist Baker, who worked mostly behind the scenes from the 1930s to the 1980s to develop the NAACP, eliminate Jim Crow laws, organize the Freedom Summer, and found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).



Six-foot-tall, cigar- smoking, shotgun-tot- ing Mary Fields (left) was born a slave and became the first black woman mail carrier in 1895 at age 60 by being the fastest applicant to hitch a team of six horses. She never missed a delivery—when snow was too deep for her horses, she strapped on snowshoes to deliver mail. “Stagecoach Mary” was so beloved that schools closed to celebrate her birthday and the mayor exempted her from Montana’s law against women entering saloons.



Keckley—who bought her freedom and started a successful dressmaking business—was Mary Todd Lincoln’s confidante and generated much controversy with her behind-the-scenes book about the Lincolns.



Imagine if Serena Williams wrapped up her tennis career by becoming a pro basketball player: She might considered a modern-day Ora Washington. Despite the racism of the early 20th century sports world—the top white woman player refused to meet Washington in a match—Washington won the American Tennis Association’s singles title eight times in nine years and went on to head up a women’s basketball team that dominated the sport for more than a decade.



Bridget Mason, called “Biddy,” moved to California with her Mississippi Mormon owners. Technically, in 1851 California, this made Biddy— and all Smiths’ slaves—free. Biddy took her owners to court to sue for her freedom, succeeding in freeing herself and all the other family slaves. Biddy went on to amass a fortune in Los Angeles real estate, which she used to fund charities, found schools, build churches, start parks, and more.



It wasn’t easy being one of the first black actresses in a racist United States, but Nina Mae McKinney earned her reputation as “the black Garbo” with stellar performances in films like Hallelujah!


Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America
By Charlotte S. Waisman, Jill S. Tietjen


Violette Anderson worked as a court reporter for 15 years before becoming the first woman to graduate from law school in Illinois. Her private practice was so successful that she was appointed assistant prosecutor for the city of Chicago. In 1926, she became the first black woman to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court.




Not many slaves got sent to boarding school, but smart, resourceful Mary Bowser was lucky enough to be born on a Richmond plantation owned by a staunch abolitionist who not only appreciated Mary’s talents but wanted to help her develop them. When the Civil War started, Mary’s former owner risked her life to start a spy system to pass information to the union Army. Mary was one of her recruits.The fact that she was both black and a woman made it easy for Mary to fly under the radar when she was hired as a servant for President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis. Assuming Mary was ignorant and illiterate, Davis had confidential conversations in front of her and left official papers where she could see them. Though Davis suspected a leak, it wasn’t until late in the war that suspicion fell on Mary.

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 19: Set Back Your Clock

52-Week Challengeamy sharonyComment
52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 19: Set Back Your Clock

Pretty much everyone could stand to get a little more sleep—and homeschoolers are fortunate enough to be in a position to actually get some. 

We all know the benefits of getting enough sleep (which for most people is at least seven hours each night)—you’re more alert, more optimistic, and have more energy to get you through the day. What you may not know is that getting a little more sleep can actually make your life more fun. A Harvard Medical School study found that people who were sleep-deprived were less likely to get jokes and find everyday events funny. Well-rested folks, on the other hand, found much more to laugh at in their daily lives. This doesn’t mean you’ll magically find Monday morning handwriting battles hilarious, but it does mean that a little extra sleep can make your homeschool a little more fun, funnier place.

People often recommend hitting the sack an hour earlier, and if that works for your family, an earlier bedtime can be a great way to get a little more sleep. But if you’ve got a crew of night owls or just a long nighttime routine, consider pushing back your morning start time an hour instead. 

Your challenge this week: Build an extra hour of sleep into your routine two nights this week.

Little Unit Study: Abraham Lincoln

Unit Study Inspirationamy sharonyComment

He led the United States through one of its bloodiest conflicts, ended slavery, and gave some of history’s most memorable speeches. Celebrate Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 with these resources 

Homeschool Unit Study: Abraham Lincoln

“The Presidency, even to the most experienced politicians, is no bed of roses,” wrote Abraham Lincoln in his 1850 eulogy for President Zachary Taylor. Lincoln was a decade away from his own presidency, and he must have felt the truth of his own words many times in the years that followed, as he sat in the White House, leader of a nation at war with itself. Schools tend to gloss up Lincoln’s story, focusing on his plain-speaking, rail- splitting, self-determined path to the nation’s highest office, but there’s much more to the sixteenth President than a simple story can tell. Don’t be afraid to dig deep — Honest Abe is worth the effort.

Best Movie

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Abraham Lincoln has featured in twenty-something movies since his first appearance in Birth of a Nation (1915), but Spielberg’s Lincoln (2013) is arguably one of the best. Much of the script is pulled verbatim from letters and memoirs, and though there are some historical details to nitpick, Spielberg’s efforts to be scrupulous pay off. This is the Lincoln movie to see.

Runner-Up: Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)


Best Scholarly Book

President Barack Obama (himself a former Illinois lawyer) has said that Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is the book he’d want to have with him on a desert island. Historian Goodwin is at her best exploring the conflicting personalities and factions that defined the Lincoln White House.

Runner-Up: Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson


Best Kid’s Book

Grace's Letter to Lincoln
By Peter Roop, Connie Roop

True story: When Abraham Lincoln was running for his first term as President, a little girl from New York wrote him a letter, suggesting that he consider growing a beard to make his thin face more attractive. Grace’s Letter to Lincoln, by Peter and Connie Roop, tells the lightly fictionalized story of eleven-year-old Grace Bedell’s famous letter. One of the more interesting things about this book is that it portrays a young girl’s obvious political interest during a time when women weren’t allowed to vote. 

Runner-Up: The Boys’ Life of Abraham Lincoln by Helen Nicolay


Best Virtual Field Trip

You can — and should — spend hours browsing the Abraham Lincoln collection online at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American history. Including Lincoln’s iconic top hat, the wool shawl he wore in the office, a copy of the original Emancipation Proclamation, and more artifacts and analysis, this virtual field trip may be the ultimate Lincoln experience.


Best Lincoln Biography