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Sponsored Post: The SEA Conference Is Coming Up, and That’s a Good Thing!

My problem with homeschool conferences is a lot like my problem with homeschool magazines: They’re out there, but they seldom feel like they’re for me. That’s why I’m so excited about SEA’s homeschool conference, a totally secular homeschool conference that has the potential for real staying power

My problem with homeschool conferences is a lot like my problem with homeschool magazines: They’re out there, but they seldom feel like they’re really for me. That’s why I’m so excited about SEA’s homeschool conference, a totally secular homeschool conference that has the potential for real staying power—as long as we secular homeschoolers give it some support! Toward that end, I’ve asked Blair Lee, SEA’s founder and HSL’s high school science columnist, and two of her cohorts—Kat Hutcheson, vendor coordinator, and Tina Harden, conference organizer—to give us some details on the upcoming conference, which we at HSL are THRILLED to support.

Most of us have been to a lot of homeschool conferences. What specifically makes the SEA conference special?

There is real value to the camaraderie one can experience when gathered with others who share similar objectives, standards, and purpose. The SEA Homeschoolers conference is that gathering for those who seek to provide their children with a secular, academic, innovative home learning experience. As secular homeschoolers, especially in certain parts of the country, the challenges are unique in the homeschooling world as we seek to immerse our children in an education that doesn’t use religion as a focus or a foundation of their educational experience. The encouragement one can feel empowered by after attending such a gathering is immeasurable; having the opportunity to learn that you are not alone, that the challenges one faces are being faced by others, and solutions are available. This conference will help give participants the energy, motivation, and confidence we all need and seek for our homeschooling journey.

Blair Lee: The SEA Homeschool Conference is a secular, academic conference, which is pretty special. It isn’t all about academics though. We have worked hard to make this a fun and exciting event for conference attendees of all ages. There are also three service projects going on during the conference: Teens can receive community service credit by volunteering for the conference; we have a blood drive on Saturday, June 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and we have partnered with non-profit group Bringing Food Forests to NE Florida to raise money for a permaculture project on the Lakota Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. We have a raffle during the conference to raise funds for this.

What are some of the talks you’re most excited about?

Tina Harden: The college offerings: The college fair, how to write a college essay, questions for college physics

BL: I hate to pick favorites. I am honestly excited by the breadth of talks at this conference. I will have to admit, though, I cannot wait to hear Michael Clay Thompson speak. My son is excited by the college essay workshop, Sytil Murphy’s physics talks, Ian Guch’s workshops, and wilderness training.

Kat Hutcheson: Blair’s Project-Based Learning talk is definitely something I can’t miss. Homeschooling 101 and Homeschooling High School with Beverly Burgess should be great, too—Bev is even giving her new webinar package free to everyone who attends her Homeschooling 101 talk. Mari Buckroth of NASH and The Inappropriate Homeschooler is on my list, as well as talks by Zinn Education Project and workshops with the National Parks Service. Amanda McClure of Groovy Kids Online is giving talks on Transitioning to Independent Learning and Creating a Culture of Learning in Your Home, both of which I’m looking forward to, along with Lauren Connolly’s talk on using comic books and graphic novels in education and a talk on Permaculture, Biodynamic Soil, and Compost from Bringing Food Forest to NE Florida.

What opportunities will attendees have to connect with other homeschoolers?

TH: Games for children and teens, blood drive, vendor hall, bookstore social

BL: We have worked to include several activities to connect, but honestly, this happens naturally at homeschool conferences. My favorite way to connect at conferences is to sit down and just talk to people. I have made some great friends that way.  

KH: Community is a big part of SEA Homeschoolers and a big part of this conference. There will be lots of opportunities for homeschooling families to socialize with new friends and familiar faces. From the meet-and-greet at the local bookstore to the parents mixer to just grabbing lunch in the dining hall, we hope everyone makes lasting connections within the community.

Would this be a fun event for families to attend together?

TH: My family is joining me, and this will be a great rejuvenative endeavor for our whole family.

BL: Absolutely. We have worked hard to make this weekend a highlight of the summer for conference attendees.

KH: Absolutely. Conference organizers have worked really hard to make this a fun event for the whole family. There are tons of kids and teens programming, a Magic the Gathering tournament, Smash Brothers contest, children’s book readings with author JR Becker, teen formal, art show, talent show, and some really wonderful opportunities for those starting to plan a path to college.

What else will be happening at the conference that people should be sure to check out?

TH: The talent show, blood drive, Smash Brothers tournament, game room, magic tournament, the college fair, and the raffle.

KH: Book signings by JR Becker, Beverly Burgess, and Blair Lee. Blair will have the prototype of her new book to check out. You definitely won’t want to miss the raffle. We have so many cool books and products donated from our vendors and sponsors, plus Blair’s new book and a SEA swag bag.

BL: Wilderness training and the history of fire.

Who do you have lined up for the vendor hall? I’m assuming they are all secular homeschool resources?

KH: We have 27 secular vendors and sponsors. For a new homeschooling conference that is a big number. It means a lot to those of us planning the conference to have the secular vendors and sponsors in our community support our group. We have trusted favorites like Royal Fireworks Press, Pandia Press, Build Your Library, Teaching Textbooks, Shiller Math, and more, as well as some new and lesser known companies that we are excited introduce to the homeschool community.

What do you hope people will be saying on their way home from the conference?

TH: Let’s do it again next year! I got to spend time with my friends, and we all made great new ones too!

BL: About two hours into the drive home from a homeschool conference we had just attended, my son said, “You know my favorite thing about homeschooling?”

“What’s that?” I replied.

“The homeschool conferences,” he told me.

That is what I hope the kids and teens are saying. I hope parents are talking about the new strategies and materials they discovered and the new friends they made.

I know conferences depend on people power to keep going, and this is a conference that we’d really like to see keep going! If people just can’t attend this year, is there anything they can do to support the conference from afar?

There are two great ways to support this conference. Please share about the event on your social media platforms and on any homeschool groups you belong to on Facebook. That sort of grassroots messaging is important to any fledgling endeavor. The second way to support us is to support our vendors. We will be sharing about our vendors into the group, and purchasing through them using the conference links ensures that it is worth it to those vendors to come back again next year.

And nuts-and-bolts: Where can people sign up, how much does admission cost, and what else should attendees know about the conference?

You can buy tickets (Adults $100, Teens $65, Kids $50), one-day passes (Adults $45, Teens $30, Kids $25) and vendor hall passes ($25), rent dorm rooms for on campus accommodations, and purchase meal cards to save money in the dining hall at

While you’re there be sure to check out our updated conference schedule. Also, our college fair, starting at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 1, is free to all who would like to attend. If you come to the college fair and decide you would like to see more of the conference, you will receive $5 off the purchase of a one-day or vendor hall pass.

Sponsored Post: Learning and the Natural World with Oak Meadow

Through May 29, save 20% in the Oak Meadow bookstore and 10% on Oak Meadow enrollment. It's not always easy to find totally secular homeschool materials, and Oak Meadow's materials aren't just secular—they're also hands-on, engaging, and fun to use with your kids. 

Spending time in nature can lead to some of the most enjoyable and profound learning experiences. Nature-based learning touches on and connects every academic discipline imaginable while enlivening the senses and invigorating the body. It encourages curiosity and inquiry, exploration and experimentation, while the mind catalogs, analyzes, and compares. Homeschoolers are in a unique position to take full advantage of the learning opportunities that present themselves right outside the door. Families who discover Oak Meadow homeschooling curriculum find curriculum materials that actively support and encourage a close connection with nature.

The lessons that nature has to teach us are never ending. Being immersed in the natural flow of plant and animal life cycles, weather patterns, seasons, and the intricate dance connecting everything helps us find our own balance in the flow of life.

It’s not surprising that children who play outside are healthier mentally, emotionally, and physically. Human beings have spent nearly the entirety of our existence outside. Our connection to the natural world is so profound that when we are deprived of it, it’s no surprise that we don’t fare well. More and more adults are recognizing the importance of outdoor play for children, and the value of unstructured nature-based explorations. In addition to this shift to include nature-based activity or “green exercise,” teachers and parents, environmentalists, and policy-makers have realized that outdoor play and nature-based learning leads children toward a sense of environmental stewardship. Simply put, connecting with nature means appreciating nature and wanting to take care of it.

Getting children back to nature is easy, fun, and beneficial in every way. And it seems

the simpler the outdoor play, the better. Letting children loose with nothing more than a stick and a pile of dirt is about the nicest thing we can do for them.


Getting Back to Nature, Plain and Simple

Simple is almost always better when children play outdoors. The most elaborate playground or climbing structure can pale in comparison to a stream in the woods. Going to the beach with a bucket and shovel (and sometimes not even that much!) can provide hours of absolute absorption in play for children of all ages. But what if you don’t have time or access to the forest or beach? No worries—just stepping out your back door can be the start of an outdoor adventure. A small crack in the sidewalk can be a fascinating study of the industry of an ant colony and the tenacity of a weed. You don’t need to be a scientific expert to point out insects, bees, spider webs, and dandelions, or to discuss the difference between a pine tree and an oak. Collecting acorns and pinecones can reveal all sorts of interesting shapes, smells, and textures, and lead to endless explorations.

Photo courtesy of Oak Meadow

Photo courtesy of Oak Meadow

Hands-on outdoor learning is inquiry-based and self-directed, and nurtures a child’s curiosity, creativity and sense of wonder. As long as children are provided with time for unstructured play in a natural setting, meaningful learning will take place. Sharing your love and enthusiasm for the outdoors is the best way to bring nature learning into the lives of your children.

If your child hasn’t spent much time outdoors, be prepared to start small. The crack in the sidewalk is always a good place to start. Collecting sticks and building a little teepee is another simple way to get a child who is timid outdoors to start getting his hands dirty. Collecting rocks, shells, nuts, or just about anything will appeal to most children, and it’s just a small step from there to building and decorating a tiny, magical fairy house or woodland dwelling.

Here a few more tips for bringing the outdoors into your day.

  • Go outside early in the day (and often!)
  • Eat snacks or meals outside
  • Devote a section of your yard to dirt or sand play
  • Plant a bean teepee large enough to play inside
  • Make a living fort by trimming the bottom branches from bushes to make a crawl space
  • Make a row or circle of stumps (burying them in the ground partway makes them more stable)
  • Make a mud pit and enjoy the slippery, oozy possibilities
  • Create sculptures from natural materials (with a little imagination, a cluster of rock towers can look like a wise council of elders)


Child-Led Discovery

Sometimes it is tempting to become a bit too involved in a child’s outdoor play. There is something irresistibly appealing about a sand pile or a fairy house. However, it is important to allow children the time and space to explore on their own. This self-directed, unstructured play often yields the richest rewards. So try to resist the urge to get your children interested in your idea. Let them make their own discoveries, and allow them to make their own mistakes. Just because they aren’t doing something in the most efficient manner doesn’t mean it’s not right. We all learn from experience, and faster is not always better.

Be playful and curious, be interested and excited, but above all, respect the rich inner life of the child’s play. There is something very peaceful about creating a nature scene or just exploring the natural environment. Don’t force conversation. Sometimes it isn’t necessary to talk about a creative experience. Connecting with nature can be a very personal experience, and one that builds intricate and complex ways of understanding the world. By attuning to your child’s attitude, you will probably be able to easily feel when it is right to just let her be.

While educators (homeschooling parents and professionals alike) are perpetually open to the teachable moment, unstructured outdoor play is often a good time to let the teachable moment pass without comment. Trust that the learning process is in full sail without your guidance. There will be another time to give suggestions, instructions, information and advice. For now, just enjoy the beauty of nature’s classroom.


This post is excerpted from The Heart of Learning, written by Lawrence Williams, Oak Meadow’s founder, president, and a pioneer in homeschooling and distance learning. Its timeless lessons have informed homeschooling families for four decades.

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

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.

Sponsored Post: 10 Reasons Why Oak Meadow May Be the Perfect Fit for You

sponsored post: 10 reasons oak meadow may be the perfect fit for your homeschool

How can you tell if Oak Meadow will be a good fit for your family? Choosing a homeschool curriculum or a distance learning school may feel like a very big decision. There are many options available, and it can feel challenging to sort through to find the best fit. 

What are you looking for in a home learning program? Would Oak Meadow be a good match for your family? See if any of the following points resonate with you.


1. Being actively involved in your child’s learning feels right to you. You appreciate your child as an individual and enjoy spending time with them. You value the deep connection between you and your child, and you trust that because you are a loving parent, you are naturally well suited to be your child’s home teacher.

An Oak Meadow education means that you, the parent, are your child’s primary teacher. As an Oak Meadow parent, you remain closely involved in every step of your child’s learning. When they need help conquering a challenge, you are right there to help them in way that honors their unique personality. Your loving connection to your child qualifies you as the best expert on their needs.


2. Your child is keen to engage in creative, hands-on learning - and you like it, too. Learning by doing comes naturally to them, and you enjoy supporting their curiosity and efforts. 

Oak Meadow encourages students to learn experientially through real-world experiences. Take math skills out into the garden for a carpentry project, visit local historic sites, or go hiking with a sketchbook in hand. The small scale of home learning allows for one-on-one assistance with a wide range of projects. Experiments and creations can be spread out and returned to over and over. Depending on your child’s needs, you can be closely involved, or step back and allow their creativity to bloom with support as needed. The world is your classroom!


3. Your mind is open to a range of effective ways to approach education. You are eager to figure out how to help your child thrive, even if the solution is unconventional.

Perhaps traditional school hasn’t worked out as well as you had hoped, or maybe you just have an intuitive sense that it won’t be a good fit for your unconventional learner. Homeschooling and distance learning can be very helpful options for students who learn outside of the box, and Oak Meadow is easily adaptable for learning differences.


4. You believe nature should be a central theme in children’s learning. The natural world provides a multitude of catalysts for learning and growing, and it also provides a healthy environment for playing and living. 

Oak Meadow’s curriculum encourages students to keenly observe and develop a relationship with the natural world. Frequent outdoor play and exploration are encouraged and valued. The relationship between nature and the student is so important that it is a key theme throughout Oak Meadow’s curriculum.


5. You appreciate having the flexibility to adapt lessons to your child’s unique learning needs and interests. If something isn’t working for you or your child, you will modify it. You use curriculum as a starting point, then let your child’s passions guide your choices within and beyond the given material.

We know that every child is unique, and that’s why Oak Meadow’s curriculum is full of various possibilities for all kinds of learners. It’s up to you (and your child’s teacher, if you enroll in distance learning) to pick and choose from the options presented in the lessons. You might need to try different things to figure out what works, but in time, you and your child will both have a better understanding of how they learn best.


6. You believe that learning is a lifestyle that best involves the whole family. You recognize that the needs of all family members are interwoven, and you choose to create a home life that supports healthy learning and growth for everyone in the family.

Students who learn at home have the benefit of a holistic lifestyle where living and learning are totally intertwined. Siblings learn with and from each other, and the bond between family members of all ages is developed and strengthened. 


7. You feel that education should address the whole child, not just academic growth. You honor the importance of your child’s passions, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities and honor the role those things play in your child’s learning.

Many educational programs focus on academics without acknowledging the many other important facets of a child’s being. Oak Meadow’s philosophy is all about nurturing learning in a comprehensive way, weaving together the many different kinds of growth and development in a balanced, holistic approach


8. You have a good sense of when to ask for support, either through enrollment or through our homeschooling support service. You are willing and able to reach out to others in your community and beyond to widen your child's learning support system and make use of helpful resources. 

You know that nobody has all the answers. You trust that you’ll learn what you need to know along the way. The most successful Oak Meadow families are proactive and persistent in reaching out to those who can help them out in various ways on their homeschooling journey. 


9. You appreciate the idea of a secular (non-religious) academic curriculum. If your family opts for religious education, you supplement with faith-based religious curriculum or design your own course of religious instruction that honors your family’s beliefs.

Oak Meadow is one of few providers of complete secular homeschooling curriculum. Many families come to us because they are looking for an alternative to the many faith-based programs that are available. Some families choose to supplement our materials with faith-based lessons in order to incorporate spiritual education into their homeschooling experience. Oak Meadow supports the freedom of parents to choose the best way to support their child’s religious and spiritual education.


10. Whether you are looking for a comprehensive homeschooling curriculum or an accredited distance learning school, you value the wisdom Oak Meadow offers from over 40 years of experience in supporting home learners

Oak Meadow’s founder, Lawrence Williams, began with a thoughtful vision for home education that remains an inspiration to all of us at Oak Meadow. Our teachers and counselors are carefully chosen to support Oak Meadow’s philosophy. Many of us have used Oak Meadow materials and services with our own children. We hold ourselves to the same standards we would demand for our own families. Through the years, our program has gone through countless revisions to provide families with the best possible homeschooling and distance learning experiences, and we continue to revise and update our materials on an ongoing basis.

Is Oak Meadow a good fit for your family’s needs? Hopefully you’ve already begun to gain some insights into the possibility. Our website offers comprehensive information about our company, our philosophy, our homeschooling curriculum, and our distance learning program. The educational counselors in our office are available online or by phone at 802-251-7250 to answer your questions. Contact us and let us help you find your family’s unique path to organic learning!

This is a sponsored post submitted and created by Oak Meadow. We only accept sponsored posts from secular homeschool resources that we believe to be a good fit for our readers, usually based on our own positive experiences with the company in question. Thanks for supporting the companies that support home/school/life.

Sponsored Post: Three Reasons to Shop March Madness at Pandia Press

SPONSORED: Pandia Press's March Madness sale is your chance to score 25% off top-notch secular homeschool science and history curricula.

Forget basketball—every homeschooler knows that the most exciting part of March is planning what homeschool stuff you want to order for next year. If you’re in the market for smart, secular resources for history and science, you won’t want to miss March Madness at Pandia Press. Here’s why:

1 :: Here’s what our Curriculum Junkie Rebecca Pickens had to say about History Odyssey: “History Odyssey is not a textbook but rather a guide. Think of it like this—your closest homeschooler friend, the organized, well-read mother you so admire, mentions what a great year of history studies her family has enjoyed. She tells you this is thanks to all of the great resources she managed to glean from hours of exhaustive research. She happens to have recorded all of the details in a digestible, comprehensive format and over of cup of coffee she offers to share it all with you—this is what it’s like to thumb through the pages of this guide.” (You can read the full review here.)

2 :: Sometimes finding good secular science materials feels like the Holy Grail of homeschooling. So feel free to channel your inner Sir Galahad and cue the dramatic music while you explore Pandia Press’s R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey collection, which includes thorough, scientifically sound, and engaging materials (with lots of hands-on activities and experiments) on science topics from biology to physics.

3 :: But the best reason to visit the Pandia Press store RIGHT NOW is that through the end of March, you can save 25% on your order. It’s Pandia Press’s biggest sale of the year and the perfect time to grab a copy of that new curriculum you’ve heard so many good things about.


This is a sponsored post, which means it’s an advertisement for Pandia Press. We accept very, very few sponsored post requests (two in two years!), so you can trust that when we do post one, it’s because we believe the advertiser is truly a useful resource for secular homeschool families. If you have questions about how we vet advertisers for home/school/life, feel free to email us. And visit the Pandia Press website to learn more about Pandia Press.

Sponsored Post: Take the Stress Out of High School with Oak Meadow

Good tips for homeschooling high school.

The prospect of high school can freak out even the most experienced homeschooler—as I’m learning now that we’re preparing for (gulp!) my daughter’s first year of high school next year. The stakes feel higher, the work feels harder, and the paperwork is, frankly, a little terrifying to contemplate. One of the great things about editing home/school/life is that I know I’m not alone—we get email every week from moms who are panicking about high school just as much as I am. So when the nice folks at Oak Meadow offered to help with some of the most frequently asked questions about homeschooling high school, I had no trouble coming up with a list. Now I can turn my panic to other scary things, like learners’ permits.


  • How do you grade a high school essay?

First, you must know what the aims of the essay/paper/thesis were. With assessment one must initially consider if the young writer completed the mission—what is the assignment? what does this paper aim to do? address/compare/prove/suggest/question/explore? Is it a persuasive essay, a personal narrative, an explication? So many types of essays, so little time!

Second, all good, powerful writing has three elements: 1. honesty 2. economy 3. voice. Students should understand all three before writing.

Third, cogent writing is grounded in sound mechanics and evidence of the writing process. Is there an organization to the paragraphs and sentences? Are all grammar conventions met? Spelling attended to?

A good style guide can help. At OM, we use Strunk and White's Elements of of Style and Write it Right, our high school writing manual. —Michelle Simpson-Siegel, OM Executive Director/teacher


  • Do we need to do standardized test prep?

We tend to associate standardized test prep with expensive classes, but SAT prep need not be pricey. The first step is to have students sign up for the SAT Question of the Day through the College Board website. Kids will get a sample question delivered to the email box daily; it is a great way to familiarize oneself with the content and types of questions you’ll see on tests. There are also practice books; then, if you feel like you need more prep, you can look at courses at a tutoring site, such as Kaplan or the Princeton Review. —Michelle Simpson-Siegel, OM Executive Director/teacher


  • How do you keep records?

Record keeping can be done in a variety of ways. The key is to set up a system that you can easily keep up with, creating a comprehensive homeschooling portfolio of work as you go. For instance, you might choose one exemplary piece of work each week (or every two weeks) from each subject and put it in a file folder. You might keep a running chart that shows at-a-glance what is in each folder, and maybe you can add a few notes about each piece. For instance you might note, "Essay on Harriet Tubman shows thesis statement, topic sentences, and good paragraph organization." Many parents use photos to document student work, particularly work that goes beyond the written response.

In addition to subject files, you can have a file for any extra documentation. If your student takes any organized lessons, courses, art or music classes, or other activity, this can be documented once per semester with a simple statement of the approximate number of hours and basic skills/experiences that were covered. You can have your child's instructor sign this documentation, but you don't have to. If you choose to have your child take standardized tests, the test scores also go into the file.

Ask around among homeschoolers you know or on homeschooling chat forums to get more ideas. The goal is to find a record-keeping system that isn't overwhelming (you don't have to keep every single thing your child produces!) but that provides you with ample evidence of your student's progress and accomplishments.   —DeeDee Hughes, OM Director of Curriculum Development


  • How do I know if my kid is covering everything s/he needs to graduate?

The fear of missing some crucial bit of learning can keep homeschooling parents up at night. It seems that no one is immune to this anxiety, but the good news is that there are ways to check your progress and make sure that your student is on the right track. One way is to use your state standards to make sure you have all the bases covered for each year. You can spend some time at the beginning of the year going over the general topics that are covered in your state (or in the Common Core, if your state has adopted those standards) and make a basic outline of what you want to address over the course of the year. Creating a simple checklist that you can mark off as skills and content are covered helps you feel you are making progress and gives you a clear picture of what's ahead.

Another way to feel confident you are covering all the bases is to use a list of graduation requirements from a school. Oak Meadow's scope and sequence for K-8 and high school graduation requirements offer independent homeschoolers a road map for their education. Rather than focusing on specific skills, you look at the broad scope of courses that students are required to take at an accredited school. Again, talking to other homeschoolers in your area can lead to more information and ideas.   —DeeDee Hughes, OM Director of Curriculum Development


  • How do I handle science labs?

Field science is super valuable! Get involved in programs such as river watch, birding clubs, outing clubs, recycling programs, and gardening. This is wonderful, productive time, and very educational.

Oak Meadow offers Biology with Lab and Chemistry with Lab courses and supplementary lab kits. Any materials that are not in the lab kits are often easily found in the home. Any supplies that aren't found in the home or at a craft store can be found in an online science supply source or even Amazon (for independent users)

We at Oak Meadow don't use microscopes in our labs, as that is not available to many homeschoolers, but some families choose to have their own and do additional investigations. A very cool brand new product is the microbescope, where you can use your smartphone to see microscopic organisms!— Julie West and Sarah Boggia, OM high school science teachers


Find out more about Oak Meadow’s curriculum and resources for high school students. (And do it now, because you can score 15% off everything in the Oak Meadow Bookstore from Feb. 1-14! I am planning to snag a copy of the new Student Planner for my daughter to use as we start plotting out her freshman year. (Thanks for supporting the companies that support home/school/life!)

Giveaway: Win a Complete Oak Meadow Curriculum Package


This giveaway is now closed.

Hey, guess what? We’re teaming up with Oak Meadow to give away a complete curriculum package to one lucky home/school/life reader.

The prize: One complete Oak Meadow curriculum package — a $300-$510 value! (The winner can choose one complete curriculum — you choose the grade level! — from Oak Meadow’s K-8 curriculum packages.)

We’re picky about our advertisers in home/school/life, but Oak Meadow is a company we’ve felt good about recommending since our very first issue. Their curriculum materials are warm and supportive, practical and engaging, and designed to accommodate newbies who want a lot of specific guidance as well as experienced homeschoolers who like to mix things up. (Amy used Oak Meadow as part of our 1st grade studies last year — you can read a little more about that in our 1st-grade round-up.) You can learn more about Oak Meadow on their (pretty terrific) website.

To enter this giveaway, leave a comment below. (One entry per person, please!) We’ll use a random number generator to choose a winner after the contest ends at 9 a.m. EST on Monday, August 10 and announce the winner right here. Thanks for entering, and good luck!

8/10 :: Congratulations to


August 7, 2015

We homeschool 4 kids and would love this!

Shila, will you shoot me an email to

, and we'll get things rolling?


Our winner didn't claim her prize, so we've drawn a new winner!

Lauren McKeown

August 8, 2015

How amazing! I would Love to win this! We’ve been wanting to do Oak Meadow for our kids and now that my son is entering school age this would be amazing to win! Such an awesome giveaway!

Lauren, will you shoot me an email to

Thanks so much to everyone who entered -- I wish you could all win! :)

Sponsored Post: The Homeschool+ Conference Is Coming Up!


Editor's Note: This is a sponsored post, but we think this conference is such a great idea, we're giving away a free copy of home/school/life to all the attendees. Join the second annual Homeschool+ Conference, August 4-8, 2014, three nights of evening keynote sessions and two full days of keynotes plus crowd-sourced presentations. This online and free event provides an opportunity to share strategies, practices, and resources for those involved with homeschooling, unschooling, free schools, democratic schools, and other forms of alternative, independent, and non-traditional education. Keynote and distinguished speakers include Ocean Robbins, Oliver DeMille, Jerry Mintz, Carlo Ricci, Jamie McMillin, Matt Hern, Pat Farenga, Blake Boles, Leslie Barson, Monica Cochran, Paula Rothermel, Clark Aldrich, Elliot Washor, Yale Wishnick, Jackie Gerstein, Luba Vangelova, Bernard Bull, Scott Nine, Amos Blanton, and Brycen RR & Laurie A. Couture.

Public discussions on education have been increasingly more accepting of the variety of learning opportunities for students, and also of the potential for valuable dialogue on practices that arise from non-traditional learning environments. While the Homeschool+ Conference is geared toward those participating in or wanting to learn more about homeschooling, unschooling, free schools, democratic schools, and other forms of alternative education, our hope is that this conference will also be valuable for traditional educators looking to expand their scope and understanding of teaching and learning practices.

The conference is based on a peer-learning model developed over the last several years which invites high levels of interaction and participation. We hope to offer a variety of perspectives on alternative learning, and encourage you to present and share your experiences, practices, and resources with each other. First-time presenters: you are not only welcome to submit proposals—you are encouraged to do so! Visit for more information and to see how you can get involved.

We are also excited to announce the first Alternative Education (Virtual) Film Festival, running online during the month of August. The Alt Ed Film Fest will showcase seven films, with live broadcast director interviews: La Educación Prohibida by director German Doin, The War on Kids by director Cevin Soling, Free to Learn by directors Bhawin Suchak and Jeff Root, Grown Without Schooling by director Peter Kowalke, Schooling the World by director Carol Black, Building the Machine by director Ian Reid, and The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto directed and produced by Tragedy and Hope Communications. Many of us take our education for granted. But what did we really learn in school, and who decided what was important for us to know? Was there a gap between what we learned in the classroom from our teachers, from our peers, and what we needed to know throughout the rest of our lives? What does the type of education we receive say about the world it prepares us to enter?

These and many other questions are addressed in the seven documentaries chosen for this year's Alternative Education Film Festival. From homeschooling to unschooling, from Buenos Aires the Himalayas, and from America's common core to the self-directed 'curricula' of many home learners, we hope these films stimulate and inspire you to think about education's role in creating your life and the world. Check out for more information about the films, viewing options, and a schedule of live interviews with the directors.