Homeschooling Guidance

New Resource: Your Guide to Homeschooling 1st Grade

New Resource: Your Guide to Homeschooling 1st Grade by Shelli Bond Pabis

When I began homeschooling, I felt overwhelmed. There were too many books, blogs, and other resources. I wanted a short, sweet guide to help me get started teaching my son. I never found that, so I decided to write one myself.

I’m happy to announce that The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching 1st Grade is now finished and available for you! It’s short, but it’s also packed with information. This book will be helpful to any parent who has a child between the ages of 4-8 or thereabouts. “First Grade” is merely a guide. Not an absolute.

When we officially began homeschooling (that is, according to the state law), I asked, “What are 1st grade students supposed to learn?” Yes, there are books and websites out there that will tell you, and when I looked at them, I started to panic! Are you kidding me? A first grader is supposed to know all that?! 

I calmed down, and ultimately, I used those lists as a guide for some simple lessons, but truthfully, I didn’t teach even a quarter of it to my son that year. Instead, I realized that by creating an environment that would honor his questions and foster his creativity, he was learning more than enough. I knew it was important that I let him use his imagination, play, and start a good routine. When he was five-years-old, I decided to create priorities for our homeschool that are still helping me plan our goals six years later. And the daily habits I set in place that year have helped me tremendously as we dig into more academic work now.

I wrote The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching 1st Grade for those of you who want to teach your children, but you also don’t want them to lose their love of learning. There is a list (not an overwhelming one) about what 1st graders typically learn in school, but then I also show you how to start thinking like a homeschooler. The first grade is the perfect time for setting up good habits that will last throughout your child’s whole education, and I will encourage you to set up the habits that are most important to you. 

Also in this e-book you will find: 

  • a list of the most popular educational philosophies used by homeschoolers today
  • clickable resource links
  • how to create a physical environment that will foster creativity and learning
  • a tip on how to get your child to try something without forcing him/her
  • tips on lesson planning and scheduling
  • tips on how to meet other homeschoolers
  • a secular resource guide
  • suggested reading list
  • and more…

I hope you’ll check out the Table of Contents and Introduction here and also get back to me about this and other resources you’d like to see here on home/school/life. Amy and I are dedicated to making the home/school/life website a complete resource for families at every stage of homeschooling, so we want your input. Thanks!


52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 40: Get Familiar with Your Child’s Learning Style

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 40: Get Familiar with Your Child’s Learning Style

Every child has a dominant learning style, a way that he best absorbs and processes information, explains Kristin Redington Bennett, Ph.D., assistant professor of education at Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, N.C. Some kids may fit obviously into one learning style; others may straddle a few different styles. One of the great perks of homeschooling is that once you identify how your child learns best, you can tailor your lesson plans to your child’s strengths—a strategy that can reduce stress and boost happiness in your homeschool.

 

Kinesthetic Learners (a.k.a. Body Smart learners)

Kinesthetic learners need to move to learn. Kids who are kinesthetic learners concentrate better and retain information better when they are moving around.

Signs your child may be a kinesthetic learner

  • You joke that your child has a permanent case of the wiggles because she’s always squirming in her seat, bouncing up and down, crossing and uncrossing her legs, or tapping her feet.
  • He has a great sense of balance and co- ordination. He’s also good at activities like sports and dance.
  • She talks with her hands, using lots of gestures and moving around when she’s telling you a story.

How to teach your kinesthetic learner

  • Push back the chair, and encourage your child to stand up or balance on an exercise ball when he’s working.
  • Take regular 15-minute breaks to toss a ball, build with Legos, or practice your Just Dance routine.
  • Teach your child to make letter shapes with her body, and let her practice spelling words with movement instead of on paper. Grab the abacus when you’re solving math problems together so she can move the beads as she’s counting.

 

Visual learners (a.k.a. Image Smart learners)

Visual learners absorb information best when they can see information, usually in the form of pictures, charts, or diagrams.

Signs your child may be a visual learner

  • He loves doing puzzles and solving mazes.
  • She’s good at following directions for things like playing a game or putting together Lego structures.
  • He’s very particular about how his space is arranged. He needs to have everything set out just the way he wants it before he’ll start an art project or a game.

How to teach your visual learner

  • Buy lots of different colored highlighters, markers, and pencils for your child to use for schoolwork.
  • Encourage him to draw things out, whether it’s a series of pictures for a creative writing assignment or groups of shapes for math problems.
  • Send her out with a camera to take photographs of different colors, shapes, plants, or other objects.

 

Logical Learners (a.k.a. Number Smart learners)

Logical learners are natural mathematicians, but they also use pattern-recognition and mental organization skills to approach other subjects.

Signs your child may be a logical learner

  • He solves math problems in his head faster than he can write them out.
  • She frequently comes up with ideas for science experiments and enjoys conducting them.
  • He likes drawing patterns and playing strategy games.

How to teach your logical learner

  • Look for puzzles and computer games to help her reinforce skills like spelling and computation
  • Start with big picture issues (“What do you think this book is about?” or “Tell me what the solar system is”) before drilling down to details (“Tell me the characters,” or “Name the planets”)
  • Help your child learn to organize his thoughts using outlines or lists.

 

Auditory Learners (a.k.a. Word Smart learners)

Auditory learners have a knack for memorizing things because they tend to think in words.

Signs your child may be an auditory learner

  • He loves rhymes and word play.
  • She has no trouble repeating back some- thing you told her several days ago and can tell you what’s coming up next in a book you’ve read before.
  • He’s really good at trivia games.
  • She frequently comes to you to tell you about what she’s doing when she’s work- ing or playing on her own.

How to teach your auditory learner

  • Encourage her to make up songs with tricky information to make it easier for her to remember.
  • Focus on the people and stories in subjects like science and history.
  • Make up stories about math problems to help your child figure out how to solve them.
  • Read out loud to your child to help her cement information in her memory.

 

Your mission this week: Observe your child, and pay attention to how he absorbs and retains information. Try a few new teaching or play strategies to see how he responds.

Part of this post is reprinted from the HSL Toolkit.


Homeschool FAQ: Teaching What You Don’t Know

Homeschool FAQ: Teaching What You Don’t Know

My daughter wants to study Latin—which is great, except that there aren’t any home- school Latin classes in our area, and Latin is—well, Greek to me. Is it possible to succeed in teaching a subject when I know almost nothing about it?

As you move into middle and high school, you may find yourself with a kid who wants to take classes outside your knowledge base. It’s totally, absolutely, 100-percent okay to outsource those classes, either by using a plug-and-play curriculum that gives you step-by-step guidance, signing up for online or in-person classes, or joining a co-op where another parent can take over. The older your student gets, the more important outsourcing will become in your homeschool life. But don’t think outsourcing is your only option: You can teach a class you know nothing about—and teach it well.

The key is to drop the mantle of teacher and put on the mantle of fellow student so that you and your child become learning partners. For this to work, you’ve got to tackle the topic together. How do you do this? It breaks down into three simple steps:

Making the choice that works for your particular kid always counts as successful homeschooling.

Be upfront with your student: “I don’t know much more about Latin than you do, but I’m excited to learn about it with you.” It’s important to talk about this with your student and to really listen to what she has to say— maybe she’ll be thrilled to continue your learning-together tradition, or maybe she’ll be concerned about whether your Latin adventure will adequately prepare her for the college classics classes she wants to take. Don’t let your ego or your desire to teach everything get in the way of what’s right for your student—if she’s looking for an academically rigorous course and you aren’t confident your plan will deliver it, consider other options. Making the choice that works for your particular kid always counts as successful homeschooling.

Be prepared for a big commitment. Self-directed learning can be invigorating and exciting, but it isn’t easy—expect to spend a lot of time and energy resources in pursuing an unfamiliar subject. For this kind of learning to work, you can’t expect your student to do anything that you’re not doing yourself, from memorizing vocabulary cards to working through translations. You want to keep pace with your student, but you also want to set the pace for the class so that you’re progressing. Expect to spend at least a couple of hours a week working on your own for this class, in addition to the time you spend working with your child.

Choose a simple, straightforward program with a workbook or lots of exercises to give you plenty of practice with concepts. (We use Ecce Romani for Latin, which I really like.) It’s scary to think about taking on an unfamiliar subject in your homeschool, but if it’s something you’re interesting in learning about, too, this kind of learning together can be a homeschooling win-win.

This Q&A is reprinted from the summer 2016 issue of HSL.


Mindful Homeschool: What Are You Afraid Of?

Love this post! A good reminder that we don't want to be driven by fear in our homeschool lives. #homeschool

Fear is a normal part of life; and can certainly be a part of homeschooling. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Are we out of the house too often? Are my children learning all they need to be learning? Is my teen going to be ready to move out and live on his own? You get the idea.

Most of us have these moments of uncertainty and fear. Right? They’re especially common when you first step onto the homeschooling path, but, to be honest, mine still pop up from time to time, even though I’ve been at this for 18 years. While I’m confident in our decision to homeschool, and love the life we’ve created around our homeschooling journey, I still have to be mindful and notice when fear starts creeping in.

The funny thing about these homeschooling fears, is that most of them aren’t based on the “truth of what is” in this moment, but instead are worries about the future – things that haven’t happened yet; things that might never happen. So why do we put energy towards that?

Now, when I talk about fears here, I don’t mean the very real fears that come from living in a crazy, sometimes dangerous world. I’m talking about fears and anxiety directly related to the homeschooling path. These fears, I believe, come from a space of “not enough.” These fears come from comparison.

When we look at our children and ourselves where we are in each moment, with clear eyes, and open heart, we can accept where we are without fear. But when we start comparing our homeschooling, and our kids, with others—either schooled-kids or other homeschoolers or even to ourselves when we were their age—we open ourselves up to fear.

During my own moments of deep anxiety, I’ve found myself awake at 3 in the morning, heart pounding, mind racing, not really worried about where my boys are right now, but worried about where they’ll be in the future. What if my little one never learns to read? (His brother was reading by this age.) What if he hates learning new things and he goes through life barely able to have an intelligent conversation? What if my teen never becomes a good driver or never wants to cook for himself? What if he never learns to balance his checkbook and pay bills? (When I was his age I was already working and had a car payment, and made most of my own meals.)

I know, in my rational mind, that these particular fears are self-created, and stem from my own insecurities about my role as homeschooling mom, and my own expectations around who I want my children to be. They are based on what-ifs, not what-is. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better over the years at recognizing this and learning how to move past the anxiety. I’ve even started to figure out how to use my worries and fears for good, instead of letting them keep me awake at night.

What I’ve come to realize is that, in certain situations, fear can be useful. It tells us to run or fight when danger is near. It can prompt us to stop what we’re doing and try something new. Unfortunately, most of the time our fears just keep us stuck. Fear keeps us in our head and out of the present moment. And it can be damaging to our relationships with our children, who most definitely pick up on our fears and anxiety, even if we never talk about it with them. In fact, research has shown that parents with high levels of anxiety tend to have children with high levels of fear and anxiety. And none of us want that.

So what can we do, and teach our children to do, to let go of these fears when they arise? Here is what works for me:

  1. Bring focus to the fear. Don’t fight it or try to distract yourself from it. Instead, take a moment to stop what you’re doing and really look at it.
  2. Trace the fear back to its source. What is the fear really about? Do you really believe your child will not be reading when he’s an adult? Are you truly worried that you’ve made the wrong choice? Or is it something else? Where does the fear originate?
  3. Look at it without attachment. Once you stop and examine the fear, and trace it to its source, try to sit with it without attachment. Say to yourself, “I am feeling fear,” not “I am afraid.” Notice the feeling in your body. But don’t judge the feeling or identify with it. See it as a temporary state.
  4. Turn to the breath. Following the breath can calm the nervous system. First, notice the breath flowing in, and notice the breath flowing out. If you’d like to take it further, you can do a four-count breath: breath in, deeply, for a count of four; hold the breath in for a count of four; exhale, deeply, for a count of four; and hold the breath out for a count of four. Repeat as needed.
  5. Write it out. Once you have examined the fear and calmed your mind, you may find it useful to create a list of possible actions, scenarios, and outcomes, related to your fear. For example, if you’re worried that your teen will never learn to drive well, make a list of ways he can get more practice. What can he do on his own? And what are ways you can help? And then make a list of options related to the idea that he may never be a good driver or even want to drive. Uber. Taxis. Public transportation. Walking. Biking. These are all viable options that can be included. Whatever your parenting or homeschooling fear is at the moment, coming up with an action plan and also seeing alternate outcomes to your expectations can be tremendously helpful.
  6. Finally, focus on the great things about your homeschooling and your children. What are the things you are doing right? What are the things your children love? Find the joy in your relationships. Find the joy in your homeschooling. This could make a wonderful list too. Maybe you can add to it every day to help keep the fears at bay.

A teacher once told me that the opposite of fear is love. I like to think of it as joy. While fear keeps us stuck in our comfort zones, limiting our views of the world, joy opens us up to new possibilities. Joy helps us see the awesomeness in our every day activities and relationships. It creates flow in our lives and homes.

Becoming fearless doesn’t mean never being afraid. It just means being able to move beyond our fears into a space of openness. It means showing our children that it’s ok to risk, and fail, and try again. That it’s OK to change course. Learning to navigate our own fears and anxieties in our homeschooling, and in our lives, helps us build connections with our children and the world around us. And that’s why we homeschool, isn’t it?

So what are you afraid of? And how do you work through those fears?


Amy’s Homeschool Budget: August and September

Really useful actual dollars and cents breakdown of one homeschooler's budget for classes, curriculum, supplies, etc. #homeschool

My ankle tragedy may have made me slack about posting my August budget, but it certainly didn’t make me slack about stocking up on school stuff. I’m lumping my August and September purchases together in this post so that I can catch up. You'll notice that paper is something I splurge a bit on—it's one of my little homeschool luxuries, and I like having the good stuff to work with. Usually I would have spent a much bigger chunk of my budget at this point, but we decided to forego official classes this fall (see below).  

  • 12 Miller’s Notesketch books, which we go through like candy. I love that half the page is lined and the other page is blank—perfect doodling while writing or taking notes.
    12 @ $3.99 each = $47.88
  • 2 Bare Book bundles, which are beloved by my children. (Two of them are already in progress—a book containing the perfect Pokemon team and a story about a bird who is afraid of heights.) The packs come with three big and three small blank books, which seems to be a good variety for us.
    2 @ $19.99 each = $39.98
  • 5 Create-a-Cover Sketchbooks—I really love the paper quality of these and have been known to steal one from the shelf for my own personal use. We use them for art—the pages are sturdy enough for light watercolors and acrylic painting or for collage or just for drawing.
    5 @ $3.99 each = $19.95
  • 12 Palomino Blackwing Pencils, as part of our continuing quest to find the perfect pencils. (These were pricey, but so far, they are definitely the best in terms of holding their points, especially for writers who tend to break into artwork mid-paragraph.)
    $23 for 12 = $23
  • 3 packs of Oxford multi-color index cards for Latin vocabulary cards. We use different colors for the different parts of speech, which is handy when we want to do a quick declension drill.
    3 100-card packs @ $5.49 each = $16.47
  • Annual membership to our homeschool group. (The price increase for classes this year meant that we couldn’t afford to sign up for classes, so my daughter opted to sit in on my publishing class and my son is “auditing” Philosophy for Kids, which is conveniently taught by my best friend. It’s possible that we could have figured something out cash-wise, but with my unexpected broken ankles, we decided to just sit this term out. We’ll sign up for “real” classes during the January term.)
    $35
  • Independent reading books from our library’s book sale—I picked up 30 new-to-us books (including three Edward Eagers, David Macaulay's Castle, and Five Little Peppers and How They Grew) for super-cheap.
    $50

Total spent inAugust/September: $232.28
Total spent this year to date: $391.28
Total budget for the 15-16 school year remaining: $3,409

Total budget for the 15-16 school year: $3,800
(You can read more about our budget breakdown here.)


4 Easy, Effective Ways to Plan Your Homeschool Year

4 Easy, Effective Ways to Plan Your Homeschool Year

Whether you’re a new homeschooler not sure how to get started or an experienced homeschooler looking for a little planning inspiration, these simple strategies will help you get organized for the learning year ahead.  

The Easiest Way to Get Organized for Homeschooling High School

Super easy, fool-proof method to keep up with homeschooling high school - love how simple this system is!

Homeschooling high school doesn’t have to mean acquiring organizational super skills. This easy organization method won’t stress you out and will make your life a whole lot easier when you start working on transcripts and other official paperwork for high school graduation. (This is our most-requested reprint from the magazine.) The envelope solution is elegant, effective, and so simple you can’t screw it up. Start it in ninth grade — eighth if you’re feeling particularly ambitious — and when it’s time to start the college application process, you’ll be all set. Here's how it works.

Label a large envelope for each class with the full name of the course and grade number (such as 9-Honors English 1 or 11-AP U.S. History). Add a separate envelope for extracurricular activities — if your child is serious about an activity, like soccer or theater, you may want to create a separate envelope for that particular activity as well as one for general extracurricular activities.

Label another envelope with your teen’s grade level and Honors — you’ll use this envelope to stash certificates of achievement, pictures of science fair experiments, and other awards and recognitions. Add one last envelope for community service — again, be sure to label it with your student’s grade level.

Make a basic information sheet for each class your child is taking. Include:

  • the textbook(s) used, with ISBN number
  • a copy of the textbook’s table of contents (Do this now. The last thing you want to do is end up rooting through boxes in the garage in a couple of years to figure out if your son’s freshman biology class included a section on genetics.)
  • the course description and syllabus
  • the name of the teacher (yes, even if it’s you!)
  • the number of credit hours the course entails

 

Tuck this information sheet securely in the envelope. Add items to envelope as the year progresses. Things you’ll want to include:

  • graded papers and tests
  • samples of presentations, lab reports, or other work done in the class
  • a running reading list (Add titles of books and essays to the list as you read them so you don’t have to try to remember everything at the end of the year. Even better, have your student keep an annotated reading list — with notes about each book.)
  • notes about associated activities — visits to museums, lectures, theaters, etc. — that relate to the class

 

At the end of the class, write the final grade and total credit hours on the front of the envelope. Inside the envelope, add:

  • official grades — community college report cards, printouts from an online class, or your evaluations
  • Ask any outside teacher to write a recommendation letter or evaluation for your student. Do it now while your student’s work is still fresh in their minds, and add the recommendation to your envelope. If you decide to ask this teacher for a recommendation when you’re working on college applications, you can give him his original recommendation to refresh his memory.
  • If your student ends up taking an AP or CLEP exam in a subject, add the exam results to your envelope. Similarly, if your student publishes or wins an award for work she started in the class, add those credits to your envelope.

 

Use a binder clip to group your envelopes — depending on how your brain works, you may want them grouped by grade level, by subject matter, or by some other criteria. However you group them, they’ll make writing that final transcript a lot easier since all your information will be organized in one place.


Reprinted from the winter 2015 issue’s Problem: Solved feature, which also tackled writing your own curriculum, keeping up with library books, getting over bad days, how to tell the difference between a homeschool slump and when you’re ready to stop homeschooling, and lots more

The Wonder-Full World of Homeschooling

Love, love, love Wonder Farm and this gorgeous essay on what homeschooling/unschooling is really like.

I spent three different cafe writing sessions auditioning names for this column. I considered them while washing dishes and watering tiny kale plants in my backyard. I listed the best candidates on the idea file on my computer. Life Outside the Box. (Trying too hard to prove a point.) Learning What We Want. (Weird and too long, according to the 18-year-old.) Life Lessons. (For a homeschooling column? Cliché!)

The Wonder Files came up because I have a thing for the word wonder. Six years ago I named my blog Wonder Farm, and the word still hasn’t grown stale for me. Wonder is the stuff of homeschooling. The best homeschooling days are suffused with wonder—and the most challenging ones, well, they summon it.

Wonder can be a verb, as in: The four-year-old wonders if he can make a cake out of paper. Or: My son wonders why the Greek gods are always so irrational. Or: My daughter wonders what the women did while all those men killed each other on Civil War battlefields. Thoughts like those will take you places.

Wonder can be a noun: a surprise, a phenomenon, a state of amazement. It’s been interesting to see what my kids have embraced as personal wonders over the years. A few favorites: Greek myths, Pokemon, poetry, Broadway musicals, Marvel comics, historical fashion, Alfred Hitchcock, the Periodic Table, the American diet, the Duomo in Florence, the League of Legends video game.

Such wonders can derail a homeschooling day. How can we get to math when there’s a universe of Marvel villains to sort for a chart? When research on Broadway musicals leads to an impromptu mother/daughter sing-along? So we skip the math and hack our way down the kids’ wonder trails. We break out the glue guns. We watch YouTube videos. We dance around the kitchen.

Often these wonders have lasted months; many have gone on for years. They simply morph along with the kids. My two boys each grew out of their Pokemon fascination by the time they were nine, but both applied the game’s appeal of categorizing and sorting by power to subsequent interests, everything from the Periodic Table to military history. (A Roman centurion was more ranked than a munifex, Mama!) My daughter’s adoration of Shirley Hughes’ Rhymes for Annie Rose at three was the gateway to poetry slams and Franny and Zooey and witty rap music at seventeen.

You can build a homeschooling life around this sort of wonder. What starts as a wonder can lead to a calling.

Which is all well and glorious, these homeschooling days of wonder. But there are other days wracked with a whole different sort of wonder, particularly if you are a parent. Why can’t he write a paragraph by himself if school kids his age can? Should I push her to read instead of listening to audiobooks for hours on end? Do I really need to teach long division if it makes him throw things and his mental estimates come pretty close? Does watching back-to-back episodes of MythBusters count as science? Will he always do the least amount of work necessary to get what he wants? And does that prove that he’s lazy—or incredibly smart?

Maybe this isn’t the case for you. Lots of homeschoolers latch on to a particular style of homeschooling that manages to answer all the questions for them. You might find a philosophy that comes complete with online forums aimed at making clear what you should and should not do. That keeps your wondering at a gentle simmer. To you I say, Lucky duck! To the rest of you, who question the online forums, who question the philosophies, who question how to get your kid off that video game when it’s supposed to be homeschooling time, I say Join The Wondering Club.

Every time I assumed I’d nailed it down, daily life with the kids would raise new questions. Were we unschoolers? Not exactly. Were we school-at-homers? Not really. Did I assign work for the kids? Yes, at first. Then yes, sometimes. Then no, not usually. Then no. Then yes, sometimes. Depending.

After we’d homeschooled for a couple of years, I tried writing an essay on how we did it, on (insert deep and serious voice here) Our Homeschooling Philosophy. Every Wednesday night I went out to a cafe and worked on that essay—for a year and a half! I’d finally get a draft to start coming together, and I’d find myself unraveling it. That thing I was calling Our Homeschooling Philosophy kept wriggling away from me, just as I thought I’d captured it, exactly like our rabbit Rue does when she escapes into our neighbor’s backyard. Every time I assumed I’d nailed it down, daily life with the kids would raise new questions. Were we unschoolers? Not exactly. Were we school-at-homers? Not really. Did I assign work for the kids? Yes, at first. Then yes, sometimes. Then no, not usually. Then no. Then yes, sometimes. Depending.

I finally moved on to a different essay.

I began to notice that as soon as something worked in our homeschooling life, something else would change. The morning routine that rolled so well with a six and nine-year-old got knocked off-kilter when their baby brother was born. Leisurely days of homeschooling in fits and starts got compressed for afternoons of dance class and piano lessons. The reading that came so easily to one kid was a struggle for the next. The interest-driven learning approach that was a given for years suddenly seemed questionable when we had a high school-aged kid who would eventually need a transcript for college.

Wonder, wonder, wonder.

We’ve hit on some practices that have held fast for us over the years, regardless of kid or age: Having a regular time of working together most days. Making sure the kids like how they’re learning. Letting their interests be the pulsing heart of all we do.

But mostly, seventeen years into this homeschooling gig, I still wonder plenty. It doesn’t seem to matter that I have one kid who has just graduated from college and another starting in the fall (after childhoods of homeschooling and a mix of homeschooling/high school.) It’s just the twelve-year-old and me homeschooling these days; you’d think after all this time I’d have things figured out. Nope. Still wondering constantly. Why doesn’t this kid like making things like his siblings did? How could he possibly learn so much by simply reading, watching videos, and talking? Will he want to go to high school? Should I prepare him for that—or help him enjoy his learning freedom while he still has it?

Back when I was trying to write that homeschooling essay, all my wondering made me doubt myself. It made me feel confused, inexperienced, indecisive—not good qualities for someone taking on the responsibility of another person’s education. These days I’ve embraced the wondering. If I’d found a homeschooling philosophy that answered all the questions for me, I would have stopped asking questions. I would have stopped searching for cues in my kids. I might not have considered textbooks for some subjects—although they worked for my teenage son, who wanted lots of time for making movies, and also a high school transcript for his film school applications. If I’d known what we were going to do each day, my daughter might not have stumbled on her six-month project exploring how the American diet has changed over the past hundred years. If I’d found that elusive approach I’d sought—the one that would work beautifully day after day, year after year—there might not have been room for my youngest to research and build a complete periodic table of Marvel comic characters. And if I hadn’t continued questioning what learning means, I might not have recognized the depth of what he gleaned from a seems-sorta-silly project.

Maybe I’ve finally written that essay on our homeschooling philosophy, right here. I can sum it up in three words: wonder a lot.

I plan to do lots of wondering in this column. I don’t promise any answers—actually, I aspire to refrain from offering any. I’m hoping that my wondering here will prompt your own wondering, which will lead you toward your own answers.

At least until tomorrow rolls around and you start wondering all over again.


Patricia Zaballos writes about homeschooling and writing on her blog, Wonder Farm and in every issue of home/school/life. (You should subscribe just for her column. Trust me!) She is working on a book of essays. This column is reprinted from the summer 2014 issue.

At Home With the Editors: Amy’s Homeschool Budget

A dollars-and-cents breakdown of one family's homeschool budget. #homeschool

When we started homeschooling, I had no idea how much money it would cost and the uncertainty was kind of terrifying. Jason and I both operate our own businesses, which is awesome when it comes to structuring our days but less awesome when it comes to knowing exactly how much money we will have coming in every month. And, of course, you can spend an infinite amount of money on homeschool materials if you don’t check yourself — there is so much fun stuff out there! I think I’ve landed on a budget that works for our family, and I thought I’d share our homeschool spending here over the next year, both as a concrete example of the kind of expenses you may run into as a new homeschooler and as an accountability tool for myself. Plus, I’m nosy about what other people buy for their homeschool, and you may be, too! My homeschool budget runs from June to June. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • $500 for curriculum per kid = $1,000 per year (This includes class materials, like lab kits or workbooks. I say $500 per kid, but this year it’s probably going to be more of a $350/$650 split since I already have some of the materials for my 2nd grader and 8th grade stuff can be more expensive.)
  • $500 per semester for outside classes = $1,000 per year (This works out to about one class per kid at our homeschool group.)
  • $500 per year for museum memberships and activities = $500/year
  • $100 per month for books, school/art supplies, etc. = $1,200 per year
  • $100 per year for starter school supplies (new notebooks, pencils, art supplies, etc.) = $100/year

Total Homeschool Budget for the 15-16 year= $3,800

I spend the bulk of our budget in the summer, as I’m gearing up for the year ahead and signing up for fall classes. Then there’s another expensive little burst in January, when our homeschool group’s spring semester starts. I roll over any unspent money into the following month’s budget, so if I have an itch for something pricier I can “save up” budget dollars for it.

Some people spend more than this and buy all the nifty things that make me jealous. Some people spend less and still seem to have plenty of good resources. This is just how much our family has budgeted for homeschool expenses. As I like to remind my husband, it’s WAY less than a good private school.


Why Boredom Is an Important Part of Learning

why boredom is an important part of learning

I read a post today suggesting parents create a “bored jar,” filled with chips with both “fun” activities and chores for any child who dares to complain about boredom. “At our house, boredom is not allowed” begins the first sentence, and I found myself thinking how incredibly sad and limiting a view that is.

Boredom tends to get a really bad rap, and it inspires a lot of worry in parents. In our productivity obsessed culture, where the common view is that learning is only happening when it’s easily seen and measured, and the only useful activity is one that looks busy, boredom is seen as something that should be corrected quickly by the nearest adult.

The fear and distrust of boredom is unwarranted.

I believe how someone experiences boredom comes down in large part to personality. My sister and I have the same parents and grew up in the same household, yet while she has always been able to entertain herself for hours at a time—playing and pretending as a child and lost in thought as an adult—I’ve always been more likely to pace the hallways, restless, complaining about boredom.

While persistent, hard to fix boredom—the kind that weighs you down and impacts your life in a negative way—can definitely be a sign that something is wrong (frustration with the way your life is going, feeling a lack of control or a lack of direction, etc.), it is just one of many human emotions, and it is part of the learning process. It is not something to be feared or corrected.

It’s through boredom, that restless frustration of having nothing immediately obvious to do, that I’ve ended up breaking routine and doing something I wouldn’t have otherwise done. Picking up my neglected guitar to try and learn a new song; pulling out a book from my shelf that I’ve been wanting to read for a while but just haven’t gotten to; opening up a biology course on Khan Academy; sitting down to do some journalling; thinking about the next post or article I want to write, and starting to construct it in my head…

“Boredom is just the time and space between ideas… And sometimes the wellspring of genius,” said Janet Lansbury, and though for most of us, “genius” might feel like too much to aspire to, I do know that boredom has always lead to a lot of creativity and exploration in my life. Boredom acts as a gateway, as the beginning of something new or different, or the introduction (or reintroduction) to a new hobby or passion, something that will go on to be an important part of our days.

Or not. As important as the productivity that boredom can lead to, equally important is simply the space of boredom itself. The time for us to get past the initial restlessness or discomfort of not being busy, not doing, and settle into reflection, observation, stillness. We need the time to process and digest our learning, our experiences, and sometimes boredom can be a part of that.

When attempts are made to outlaw boredom, not only are children being told that experiencing that emotion is “bad,” they are also being discouraged from sharing what they’re feeling with the adults around them, lest they be chided for their idleness and assigned chores or busywork, anything to avoid a dreaded lack of productivity.

One of the things I value in my upbringing is the freedom I had to work through boredom. My mother often made suggestions and helped me figure out something to do. It’s not that I was left on my own to deal with it. But it wasn’t treated as something horrible, even sinful: boredom was just accepted as part of life. As life learners, my family was able to relax, let things unfold, and not worry so much that every moment should be devoted to education, or productivity, or doing “something useful.” I could be bored sometimes. And I could figure out what to do with that boredom.

For any creativity to occur in my life, I need boredom. It’s part of my process. I might complain melodramatically, flop on the couch, feel frustrated… But then I’ll get an idea, or a spark of inspiration, or settle on a course of action, and the next thing I know, I’m contentedly making something in the kitchen, or writing with deep concentration, or lost in thought…

Making friends with boredom has enriched my life. I think everyone, parents and children, could benefit from learning to embrace boredom and see where it leads them!


Raising Children Who Love to Write

The homeschool parent's guide to raising children who love to write

Once upon a time, I looked forward to arriving on the other side of this unschooling journey. I thought that if I would only wait and watch and learn long enough, I would eventually reach a point where I could fully articulate how a child learns.

In the fall issue of home/school/life, Amy shared a list of books on writing. I believe she was right on target when she wrote, “The best books for young writers inspire as much as they instruct, giving kids enthusiasm for writing as well as tools they can use to improve their stories, essays, poems, scripts, and other work.”

Inspiration, enthusiasm, and tools are all words that have been common to my vocabulary over the years, and I have learned that it is as important (maybe more) for me as mom to be inspired and enthused as it is for my kids. The tools for gaining knowledge are the ultimate goal, after all. It is not nearly as important that kids pick up the various facts and figures that are so commonly thought of as scholarly matter as it is that they gain practice and skill with the many tools of knowledge acquisition.

I now live in a house with three young people who are certainly independent writers and I’m still not sure I can explain it exactly. They are three very different kinds of writers even though they have enjoyed many of same introductions to reading and writing activities over the years.

I thought I would share a few of those activities and my thoughts about growing writers here:

Read, read, read, and read some more. There is no substitute for reading together and reading out loud. Every day you should be reading together, and don’t stick to age-appropriate books alone. Read the stories you remember loving as a kid. Read the stories your kids pick up at the library. Read even the bad ones, and when somebody says, “I really don’t like this book,” stop and have a discussion about what makes it a bad book. Put that book down and start another. I read to my kids from the newspaper, from news magazines, and often from the books I was reading for my own pleasure. As soon as they began reading on their own, we took turns reading out loud together. Books on tape are great, too, but the real power comes from reading with your own voice.

Make your own books. Starting as early as ages 3 and 4, I encouraged my kids to tell stories that I would write down. I returned these stories to them in booklet form. Their stories would be divided by scenes that they could illustrate. We made copies of these books to share with grandparents, aunts and uncles. The books we made went on the shelves beside other books and we were just as likely to read the stories they had written as others. This taught them that they had the power to manipulate words and that their efforts were legitimate.

Play word games while on the go. Mad Libs is the bomb. It is simply fun and no homeschooling family should be without a book or two of Mad Libs. It is easy to keep in a copy in a bag to pull out when entertainment is needed to fill some time. Most word games, however, require nothing more than your imagination. Time in the car, for our family, was typically filled with word games. Make it rhyme – I have a pet snake, his name is Jake; I have a pet flea, his name is Larry… Add it alphabetically – I’m going to the store and I’ve got an apple in my cart; I’m going to the store and I have an apple and a banana in my cart; I’m going to the store and I have an apple, a banana, and a cucumber in my cart… Tell round-robin stories!

Give them reasons to write. Here’s the thing about writing. The power of words can quickly be diminished when they are turned into worksheets and steps you are required to learn. My kids learned about punctuation when they asked, “Why do they put those dots in there? Why does the dot sometimes have that little tail that drops below the line? What’s that squiggle mean?” If I had to name the single most powerful tool my children received early on, in regards to their development as writers, it was power over the list. We moved our grocery list to kid height and announced that everyone in the house should add to it when they saw there was something we needed from the store. The list was one area where I didn’t take dictation, at least not throughout the week. If you wanted it, you had to put it there.

But don’t force them to write. I just wrote that the list was the one area where I didn’t take dictation. I should emphasize, however, that I did take dictation. I took a lot of dictation when my kids were young. I wrote whole stories as they were told to me. I typed letters that they mailed to their cousins. I encouraged storytelling, both fact and fiction, and I preserved those stories in printed form until they had mastered the skills to preserve what they wanted on their own. And gradually, as they did begin to write, I found myself taking less and less dictation (though occasionally they still came to me because I typed faster, or perhaps they just felt the need for some one-on-one time with mom…) There were times in my life where I was writing by hand for one kid and spelling words out loud for another while reviewing the third kid’s email because she wanted it to be “all right” and I thought my brain might explode from all the different directions it was going. Then, almost as quickly, I realized that nobody was asking me for help anymore. Last week, I proofed one college composition paper the morning it was to be turned in and reviewed an email my son had written for an event he was organizing. That was it. An entire week, and nobody needed any real help with writing.

Withhold judgment, at least until they ask for it. When you homeschool, it is tempting to turn every moment into a teachable lesson. Learn to bite your tongue. If your child brings you a handwritten note, a love letter, a book they made, a poem, whatever… simply observe and appreciate. Don’t point out the words they have misspelled, or the fact that it’s hard to read because they haven’t really put any spaces between their words. If they ask what you think about it, start with what you like. Then ask what they think about it. Children will often recognize their own mistakes, and if you start a conversation about the work they have written, the conversation becomes the lesson they need at that moment.


How to Talk About Homeschooling (So That People Will Listen)

Photo: Death to Stock Photos

Photo: Death to Stock Photos

I left kindergarten for a life of school-free self directed learning, so I’ve had many years to get used to talking about home education. Some people are curious or excited, some angry or defensive, but what remains a constant is that almost everyone has an opinion on the topic and some questions to ask. I still freeze up sometimes when asked an unexpected question, or stumble over a simple explanation, but for the most part I feel that I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with the range of questions and reactions that come from different people.

The approach I take hinges on a couple of key questions: who is it I’m talking to? And, what’s my goal for this conversation? It all depends on the answers to those questions.

Interested strangers or acquaintances

When I’m talking to someone I’ve just met or don’t know well, I often pull out my “elevator speech” and talk a bit more about the unique education I had, since I want to share these ideas with people. “I was unschooled,” I say, “which is basically a self directed form of homeschooling where parents act as facilitators instead of teachers.” I answer questions (again without getting defensive), while keeping a firm stance on what I will and won’t talk about. I recognize that no one is entitled to my time spent explaining my life and education, so as much or as little as I feel happy sharing is enough. If the people I’m talking to react negatively and confrontationally, I just try and change the subject, remove myself from the conversation, or firmly tell people when their questions or reactions aren’t appropriate (when people try and quiz me, as they have even in my adult years, I tell them that it’s rude and I decided long ago not to answer when people ask such questions).

I think what’s best to remember is that you never have to be an advocate if you don’t want to, and to not get dragged into arguments, keep your cool, and set boundaries around what type of conversations you will and won’t engage in. Each person you talk to will have different questions and concerns and will be curious about different aspects of homeschooling, so I find it’s best to follow their lead and answer the questions they’re interested in, or respond to their biggest concerns. I’ve found that conversations with interested strangers and acquaintances can be really rewarding, and help people think about education in a new light.

Health care providers, bureaucrats, and other professionals from whom I need some service or assistance

If my goal is getting something I need, I’m not going to delve into the intricacies of unschooling or get into any long explanations. In these instances, if it comes up I simply say I was homeschooled, and when their eyebrows raise and their mouth forms an “oh,” I just smile, say it was a good experience for me, and succinctly answer any questions they have. Several things I’ve found important in these types of conversations is to make the upbringing I had sound as normal and as similar to school as possible; to answer only the questions that are asked and not get into any long explanations; and to make sure I remain calm and non-defensive, whether the person I’m dealing with is polite in their questioning or not. My priority isn’t to educate them, it’s to get the services I need, so I try and keep things as light, non-confrontational, and brief as possible. I’ve now got this down to a science, and can reassure concerned doctors and other people in a remarkably short amount of time!

What it really comes down to is respecting yourself, staying calm and collected, and sharing what you feel is most important about your learning lifestyle, when and if you feel happy to do so.

Friends, family, and loved ones

These are the people who you most want to support your choices, so naturally these are often the most difficult discussions to have. One thing I’ve personally found important is staying away from comparing my education to a school education. Instead of trying to show how baking helped me get better at math, or talking about how my reading comprehension was on grade level, I think things worked best when we just shared the richness of our lives and learning, without making comparisons to to a schooled life. Talk about all you’re learning and doing, what each individual is passionate about and engaged in, without couching it in school terms or trying to make things sound more like school. We’ve chosen to live and learn differently because we think it’s a better option for us, so share why you feel that way instead of trying to show how similar your life is to school.

Of course it’s also important to remember that even if someone is family, you’re not obliged to share every detail of your lives or allow relatives to quiz you or your kids. Share the aspects of your life that you feel are the most important and exciting, and as politely as possible set limits on what you will and will not talk about.

What it really comes down to is respecting yourself, staying calm and collected, and sharing what you feel is most important about your learning lifestyle, when and if you feel happy to do so.

Everyones’ experiences will be different, and to a large extent I think each of us needs to develop our own strategies. I just hope that, by sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years, others can gain inspiration in their own journeys of living school free and sharing their educational journeys with others!