Homeschooling the second kid is a brand-new experience — now that you know what you're doing, you've got a whole new personality and dynamic to navigate.
This summer, Suzanne had the brilliant idea to start a home | school | life podcast, where we could talk about the big homeschooling questions: What does our decision to homeschool say about us as educated, intelligent women? How do you know when to push a kid to do something she hates and when to put a pin it? What is the weird obsession the world has with whether homeschoolers are socialized? Plus a podcast would give us another place to obsess over what we’re reading, what we wish we were reading, what our kids are reading, and what we wish we’d never, ever read. We recorded our first episode at the end of May, and we’ve been putting out a new episode every fortnight(-ish) since.
If you’ve been listening, thanks! (Especially if you’ve sent us an email or left a comment—that makes our day!) And if you haven’t listened to The Podcast with Suzanne and Amy, here are five reasons you might want to tune in to an episode:
1. Suzanne and I do everything about homeschooling really differently—except for being neurotic about overthinking everything and feeling guilty every couple of days. We both do that. Maybe we all do that?
2. We have read some terrific books so far, including an Anthony Trollope-ish novel about very class-conscious dragons with Victorian manners, an apocalyptic thriller in which a scientist and a witch are working—sometimes together, sometimes against each other—to save the world, and a piece of E. Nesbit fan fiction that’s really pretty charming.
3. If you have ever maxed out your library card and your holds and had to read like a maniac to beat your next requested book to the library, you could be a contender for Suzanne’s favorite game: Library Chicken. (Amy plays the less exciting Yarn Chicken, which basically involves knitting faster and faster as your yarn starts to run out, as though speed will magically extend the length of your yarn.)
4. You love the magazine but sometimes wonder “Who are these people anyway?” You can learn a lot about our everyday homeschool lives—including Amy’s family’s “absolutely no spitting ever” rule, Suzanne’s morning routine, how we handle sick days, and lots more—on the podcast.
5. You don’t have anyone to obsess with over things like whether you should be worried about teaching calculus or how you’re going to cope with the fact that high school has completely thrown your daughter’s social circle for a loop. Obsess with us! We have obsession to spare.
You can keep up with the podcast here on the website or on iTunes, and if you enjoy it (or if you don’t!), we’d love to hear from you! It sounds silly, but sometimes the Internet feels like a lonely place, and it’s so nice to know you’re not just floating out there alone. :)
We share lots of little things happening in our homeschool lives in our Stuff We Like posts every week, but we don’t really talk about the big-picture stuff often. I thought it would be interesting to share some of those now and then on the blog—because maybe you’ve had similar things on your mind and can commiserate or have brilliant advice to share. Here's what was on my mind in October:
Homeschooling with a (temporary) disability is hard. Until I broke my ankles, I never realized on how much our homeschool moves around: We’re in the backyard nature journaling, hanging out in the rec room for math, cuddling on the couch for readalouds, walking around the block before lunch—I think of myself as a fairly sedentary person, but now that I am really and truly stuck on the sofa, I see that I relied a lot on changes of scene. Physically moving from one space to another works like an intellectual palate cleanser for us, and I’ve had to get creative about getting similar effects when I am stuck in one room. (To be honest, more days than not, I’m cutting things short with our more structured learning and sending the kids outside to play because it feels like we’ve gotten bogged down.)
I want to read more for pleasure. I read a lot, as you probably know if you read all the book lists in every issue of home/school/life. But I realize that I’m not reading for pleasure very often these days—I’m reading books to review or to brush up on a subject or to keep up with my daughter’s ridiculously long reading lists. It’s not that I don’t enjoy this reading—usually, I do—but I’m not browsing shelves, judging books by their covers, and reading things just because they look interesting very often, and I miss that. Plus, I think pleasure reading just looks different from required reading, and that's something I'd like to model for my kids. I want to integrate more pleasure reading into my life.
We are struggling with math—again. My son gets math instinctively, but my daughter struggles. Lately, it’s hard for her because her little brother likes to jump in and solve her math problems before she can finish working them out—and when you’re a teenager, getting one-upped by a first grader doesn’t feel so great. I’m not sure how to navigate this—I think my son should get to be proud of being good at something and my daughter shouldn’t have to be embarrassed about being the kind of person who has to follow the steps to solve a math problem. I’ve moved to trying to point my son toward another project when my daughter is working on her math, but her confidence—her hard-won math confidence!—has really taken a hit, which stinks.
So those are a few of the things on my mind as we move into November. What’s got you thinking in your homeschool life right now?
Shelli and I both passionately believe that our magazine should be inclusive of lots of different homeschool motivations and methods. We continue to strive to bring you a variety of resources that will inspire you as you consider what is best for your family. Because we know most homeschoolers enjoy sharing the resources and insights they have learned through homeschooling, we thought we would start a series on our blog about our own homeschools. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better!
Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 7th grader. (You can see what 1st grade looked like for us here.)
Seventh grade is very different from 1st grade. In some ways, it’s easier — after years of learning together, I know my daughter’s strengths well. I know how she learns best. I know what’s likely to frustrate her. In some ways, though, it’s harder. This is new territory for us. I’ve never homeschooled a college-bound (at least that’s her plan right now) teenager, and I spent a lot of last summer worried that I was going to mess up something important. Honestly, I still worry about that. But ultimately, this is my daughter’s education, not mine, and letting my worries get in the way of her learning — well, that’s pretty silly. So we’re sticking with what works.
And what works for us is a pretty collaborative process. Every summer, my daughter and I have a little “planning retreat.” (Ice cream and My Little Pony movies are usually involved.) We talk about what she’d like to focus on in the coming year — usually her list is way too long, and we have to pare it down. I also bring a couple of lists — usually one of books I’d like her to take a look at and one of those “What your X-grader should know” lists so that she can see what other kids at her grade level are working on. (Next year, I’ll add a list of college entrance requirements because we’ll be doing short- and long-term planning for high school.) Together, we come up with a plan for the coming year. Here’s what we ended up doing for 7th grade:
My daughter started Latin in 3rd grade, and at this point, we have a good rhythm down. We use Ecce Romani as our Latin textbook. It’s unorthodox, but we’ve been using the first two books since 3rd grade — every year, we just start over at the beginning and work our way through again, getting a little further each time. We’ve gotten to the point where we just breeze through the first book, but I feel like it ends up being a good review and a confidence-booster. Ecce Romani has you working on translations from the very first chapter, which I know goes against the methodology of some Latin purists. For us, it works. We start each chapter by making cards for all the new vocabulary words and doing an oral translation of the new passage. The next day, we do a review of all the vocabulary cards in our stack, and my daughter copies out the Latin passage in her notebook, leaving space under each line for the translation, which she does the following day. We spend the rest of the week (and the following week, if we need it) doing the exercises in the book for that particular passage, and finish up with another oral reading and translation of the passage.
We don’t do grammar as a separate subject anymore because, honestly, I think studying Latin is one of the best ways to learn English grammar.
This year, my daughter wanted to focus on poetry for literature. She’s been writing a lot of poetry and was curious about what made something a great poem rather than just a good poem. I rooted out my old high school copy of Perrine’s Sound and Sense, which I remembered helping make that difference click for me, and we’ve been working through it together. I think the book might be just a little advanced for her, so we’re just taking our time with it, and if something feels frustrating or too difficult, we’re comfortable just moving on to the next topic. She keeps a notebook where she copies down poetry she particularly likes and occasionally answers some of the questions in Perrine. (I don’t assign her questions to answer or anything — she just sometimes likes to answer them in writing.)
She’s an avid reader, and at this point, I let her read what she likes and don’t worry about it. (If we were doing more traditional literature this year, I’d probably assign her a few specific books to read. I let her assign me books, too.) In the past I’ve done things like reading bingo cards or scavenger hunts with book recommendations, but she doesn’t really need me pushing reading these days. I do still keep a notebook for her with a running reading list, and she’ll jot down titles and authors in it as she finishes them.
I also cruelly force my children to memorize and recite poetry every week or so, so my daughter has been choosing a lot of pieces from Perrine and from The Rattle Bag (edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes and probably my all-time favorite poetry anthology) for her recitations this year.
My daughter’s want-to-study list started with the history of fashion this year, so we kind of cobbled together some resources for that, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 100 Dresses (a gorgeous compilation), What People Wore When (a bit dry but informative), lots of Dover fashion coloring books, and some intrepid Google-fu. We’ve had some great conversations about how fashion may have shaped women’s roles at different points in time. She keeps a notebook, where she sketches dresses and makes notes about the time period or construction details. If she’s inspired, my daughter sometimes tries to make a historically accurate-ish dress for her American Girl doll. She’s a decent sewist, but we often work off an existing pattern. Probably our most fun project this year thus far was making gigantic hoop skirts.
This is the last year my kids will be doing the four-year history cycle together. (Next year, my daughter and I will do state history, then start back over with the ancient world for 9th grade.) So we’re all studying medieval/Renaissance history this year. My daughter still likes to sit in on Story of the World readalouds with her little brother. I’m always impressed by how much she remembers! We use Medieval Europe: A Short Sourcebook by C. Warren Hollister as a spine of sorts. I like this book because it includes primary sources but makes them easier to swallow with detailed introductions that give lots of context. (We’ll do medieval history again in high school, and we may well use this book for that, too.) We’ve done history different ways — this year, we take turns “leading the discussion.” One week, I’ll read ahead and do a mini-lecture before we dive into conversation; the next week, she’ll do the reading and the mini-lecture. She keeps a notebook where she takes notes, jots down questions and rabbit trails she wants to come back to, and copies maps. (She loves drawing maps. This is not something she inherited from me.)
I did something a little controversial with math and let my daughter take two years off from studying it. I know! But she just hated it so much — it stressed her out way more than any kid should have to be stressed out. So I told her we didn’t have to do any more math until she wanted to. She didn’t live in a math vacuum — she still halved recipes and figured out if she had enough money for new headphones and a Totoro plushie — but we didn’t do any structured math. This year, she said she wanted to try math again, so we eased in with Life of Fred Fractions, and it’s going great. She’s had no problem working on the assignments, and when she has run into problems she couldn’t easily solve, she’s been relaxed enough to try different approaches to solving them. I don’t know that I would say everyone should skip two years of math, but for us, it worked out better than I might have hoped. (I wondered, and you might, too, how skipping math would affect her test scores: It didn't. She scored well in math both of our math-free years. I'm not sure what that says about learning math, math standardized testing, or anything else, but I thought it was worth sharing!)
We had a pretty intense chemistry class last year, so this year, we opted for fun science, and we’ve been making our way through Janice VanCleave’s Science Around the Year. My daughter is probably at the tippy-top of the age range I’d recommend this book for, but she’s really enjoyed it. It’s not the most challenging of our classes, but she’s getting good practice writing lab reports, and it’s a lot of fun. She also keeps a daily nature journal (she is our resident cloud-noticer!) and usually participates when we do activities from The Nature Connection workbook.
My daughter does handwork pretty much every day — she’s a good knitter and enjoys sewing. She’s pretty self-directed with these things now, so I just let her take the reins. (She likes to watch Mythbusters while she’s working.) She likes to cook, and she’s trying to make all the recipes in Nigella’s How to Eat. She enjoys drawing — I’ve mentioned it before, but she has loved the Manga for Beginners series this year.
She also is part of a Destination Imagination team that meets every week (and which I love because all the other parents involved with the team are so fun to hang out with), and she takes a creative writing class at our homeschool group.
One thing that’s important to me is that my daughter not feel like learning happens in some kind of discrete compartment — I want her to feel like it’s just part of life, like making dinner or watching anime. I try to model this by making learning part of my own everyday life (maybe that’s easier when you edit a magazine that forces you to brush up on Napoleon or learn about the history of NASA), but I also try not to get too attached to getting things done at a certain pace (or even at all). I want my daughter to feel like her education is hers to direct, and I’m there to offer support, input, and direction when she needs it. We have monthly check-ins, where we sit down over tea to make sure things are going the way she wants them to and make any changes she thinks we need to make. (This year has gone pretty smoothly, which may be because we’ve started to figure out generally what works or which may just be because of luck.) One thing that’s been a big change this year is her schedule — my daughter has turned into a night owl, so she often doesn’t emerge from her bedroom until almost lunchtime. That’s fine with me, so we adjust accordingly. Like everyone, I worry “Am I doing too much? Am I doing enough?,” but my daughter genuinely likes learning, so I figure I’m at least doing something right.
Amy is the editor-in-chief of home/ school/ life magazine. While her mission in life is to stop people from pluralizing with apostrophes, she finds that writing and editing are easier ways to keep the family supplied with fishing lures, yarn, and chocolate. She homeschools her two children with lots of help from her fabulous husband (and magazine co-publisher), and the whole family pitches in for magazine deadlines. She is also the editor and founder (with her family) of Atlanta Homeschool magazine.
How I started homeschooling: School wasn't a good fit for our daughter, who was in second grade at the time. We kept trying to help her change her learning style so that it would fit the school's teaching style, and one day it occurred to us that changing the way she was taught would be a whole lot easier than changing the way she learned. Boy, were we right. She has bloomed, and homeschooling has worked so well for our family that when our son hit kindergarten age, we didn't even consider putting him in a traditional school.
My homeschool style: We call it classical, Dude-style, because we do build around Latin, history, and literature, but we also are easily distracted by rabbit trails and take lots of snack breaks. (We also sometimes go to the grocery store in our pajamas.)
What a typical day looks like in my homeschool life: We always start with morning time, including some music practice, knitting, and readalouds. (Lots of readalouds.) After that, it can really go anywhere. My twelve-year-old O is studying Latin, medieval history and literature, chemistry, creative writing, and U.S. geography this year (all her picks), so she'll usually do some work in those subjects during the day. I hang out with her in case she needs a hand. My six-year-old T is obsessed with mazes and math manipulatives, so many days, we just let him go to town with whatever he's interested in. We try to learn a new poem every week or so because I am kind of a poetry geek, and the kids love to get all dressed up and do recitations, so some days I am the audience. O is very into learning how to make her own clothes, so she spends a lot of time sewing and knitting in her "studio" (that's the corner of her bedroom with her dress form and her sewing machine). T and my husband usually play some chess or build a marble run—or, on very messy occasions, combine the two. There are days when the kids just want to paint or make a movie with their stuffed animals or read a new book, so that's what they do.
Favorite driving music: If we are not listening to audiobooks, we like to sing—loudly. Some of our favorites: The Beatles' Hard Day's Night, Dead Milkmen's Punk Rock Girl, Trout Fishing in America's Eighteen Wheels on a Big Rig, Mason Jennings' Lemon Grove Avenue, the Jackson Five's Rockin' Robin
Things I like: Knitting, road trips, the smell of new books, the smell of old books, good cheese, star-gazing, waterfalls, playing bridge, clean sheets that I didn't have to wash
Guilty pleasure: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and salted caramel ice cream
What I love about homeschool life: I get to hang out with my favorite people all day long. And seeing my favorite people genuinely engaged with their lives and directing their own educations is pretty awesome. No one ever complains about being bored around here.
What I love about home/school/life magazine: I'm a lover of magazines, and since we started homeschooling five years ago, I've been sad that there isn't a truly smart, fun, readable homeschool magazine out there. Homeschoolers are some of the most diverse, interesting, thoughtful people I know—I think it's time for a magazine that reflects that.
Shelli is the senior editor of home / school / life magazine. She has written a weekly newspaper column on motherhood, homeschooling and daily life since 2009, and she blogs at mamaofletters.com. She’s also a photographer, avid reader, nature lover, green pinky gardener, wife, and mother to two beautiful boys.
Me in 100(ish) words: I am an introvert whose idea of heaven is a quiet walk through the woods with a camera, a journal and a jug of sweet tea.
How I started homeschooling: Before my eldest son was born, I had never heard of homeschooling, but then I met a family in our neighborhood who homeschooled. I may have thought it was a bit crazy at first, but it didn’t take long for the idea to sink in. You mean I could have the creative and meaningful job of directing my child’s education? I could teach him what I thought was truly important, let him go at his own pace and cater to his deep interests? Why wouldn’t I want to do that?!
Honestly, I don’t remember who suggested it first—my husband or me. He was supportive of homeschooling from the start because he is a college history professor, and he encounters a wide range of students. He has had homeschooled students in his classes, and he says they are some of the brightest, and they usually want to participate!
So we decided before my son reached school age that we would homeschool our children, and they have always been at home. My husband is very much involved, too.
My homeschool style: At least for now, we are project-based or Reggio-inspired homeschoolers. “Project-based homeschooling” is a specialized way of mentoring a child so that they will become self-directed learners, and Lori Pickert coined that term. I have written about this extensively on my blog. Though we are mostly child-led, there are several subjects I think are essential for children to learn, so we will learn them in a way that suits my children’s learning styles and abilities. I draw my resources from different places, so I guess you could call us eclectic homeschoolers too. Storytelling also plays a big role in our homeschool, and this is something I love to write about and encourage other parents to do.
What a typical day looks like in my homeschool life: I’m a (somewhat) relaxed homeschooler, and our current schedule has slowly shaped itself over time. This is a typical schedule on the days we are at home:
- Whenever the boys wake up (between 8 and 9:30 a.m.) we have breakfast.
- After breakfast, I do formal lessons with my seven-year-old. (Reading 4x a week; math and Spanish alternate, 2x week each.) This lasts 1 to 1.5 hours. (On days when we don’t do formal lessons, we read books, do projects, play educational games, get outside, or go on field trips!) • Depending on how much time there is before lunch, I may help the seven-year-old with one of his many projects, or he will work on something by himself. We may continue after lunch, if he wants to.
- 12:00 p.m. is lunchtime. We usually watch a nature documentary together at lunch. • After lunch, the boys usually play. Sometimes I join them, but they are getting more and more independent. (Some days we meet friends for play dates in the afternoons and get home at dinnertime.)
- The afternoons and early evenings is mostly free time when the boys play, watch television, play on their digital devices, eat dinner, take a bath, etc. I do chores, work, and very occasionally…nap! Of course, daddy is hands-on and likes to play with them, too.
- Our evening routine is long, but I consider it an extension of our homeschool. At bedtime, my husband will read to my seven-year-old from whatever series my son is into, and I’ll read a storybook to the four-year-old. Then we switch places, and I make up a story for my seven-year-old, and my husband will tell a story to the four-year-old. (He’s also known to sing Christmas songs all year round at our four-year-old’s request!) Talking, answering questions, and snuggling happens, too. If I’m lucky, I say goodnight before 9:30 p.m. and have an hour or so to myself to work and read!
Favorite readaloud: Currently I’m reading the original Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my seven-year-old. He loves them as much as I do! For a storybook, my favorite is The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen.
Favorite driving music: I have forgotten. For the last several years, I’ve been listening to my children chatter away in the car.
Things I like: Hiking, being in nature, writing, photography, reading, gardening, coffee, sitting on my porch sipping ice tea on a warm, spring day.
Guilty pleasure: I eat chocolate everyday.
What I love about homeschool life: I love the culture we have fostered in our household that respects questions, inquiry, and creative pursuit. I love that there is no one here who will discourage my boys when they want to “walk to the beat of their own drummer.” I love that I can tailor my children’s education to their interests and abilities, and I love the flexibility we have. My husband works at home, so on sunny afternoons after his work is finished, we might go hiking at a state park or go shopping when there are fewer people at the mall. I love all the interesting people we have met through our homeschool network. These people care about children, education, nature, and respecting one another! Homeschooling my children has turned out to be the creative job I was always longing for, yet I never knew it existed until now!
What I love about home / school / life magazine: Without a doubt, I am excited about the people I’m working with, and the potential to build a meaningful community of homeschoolers who share that one, important commonality: that we love our children and want the best education for them. The magazine is jam-packed full of creative resources that will appeal to homeschooling and non-homeschooling families. Readers will want to keep them on their shelves for reference!