fall 2014

Best of HSL: Best Cities for Homeschool Families: #2: Chicago

Best of HSL: Best Cities for Homeschool Families: #2: Chicago

[We're gearing up for our updated list of Best Cities for Homeschool Families this fall, so we thought it would be fun to publish the three best of 2014 on the blog—number two on the list is the homeschool friendly city of Chicago.]

“Chicago is the pulse of America,” Sarah Bernhardt famously said, and you can feel the rhythm of the city pumping in your blood as soon as you set foot on the sidewalk. 

Chicago feels like a city you’ve imagined, with dramatic architecture mixed in with old-fashioned buildings, crowds of people who smile when they pass you on the street, and the kind of energy that you only get in a center of culture and enterprise.

And for homeschoolers, the magic of this Midwest city is delightfully accessible. The Museum of Science and Industry lets homeschoolers explore its galleries for free every weekday. Homeschool parents can get free admission at the Art Institute of Chicago every time they visit. If you call the Chicago Zoological Society, you can set up a free visit to see the animals. On the University of Chicago campus, you can pick up cheap tickets for cutting-edge art exhibitions, film screenings, and theatrical productions. And you can score day-of tickets to plays and musicals on Chicago’s theater row for as little as $5 per person.

In every season, you’ll find street festivals and block parties going on around the city—the Printers Row Literary Festival is a must for book-lovers, and the golumpkis at the Taste of Polonia festival may just make your kids appreciate cabbage. You can browse for hours in the stacks at the enormous, three-story used bookstore Myopic Books in Wicker Park, or find the next great indie comic or chapbook at hipster hangout Quimby’s. Pick up a slice of Chicago-style pizza and take a Frank Lloyd Wright walking tour. In late spring and early fall, you can have the sprawling beach of Lake Michigan almost completely to yourselves, and there’s plenty of room to play outside in Chicago Athenaeum’s International Sculpture Park (no admission charge) and the Adams Playground Park. The point is, you can have a ton of fun in Chicago without making a dent in your budget.

In fact, Chicago may be the most budget-friendly big city in the United States. In neighborhoods like Edgewater, the median selling price for condominiums is just $150,000—and you’re right by the Red Line for easy access to public transportation. Expect to pay a little more for groceries here than the national average, but less than you’d pay in a city like New York or Los Angeles. Costs for gas and utilities here are right around the national average. Chicago’s a sprawling city, but you can get by with a single car if you get comfortable with the public transportation system and live within walking distance of a transit stop.



Homeschool Requirements: None. If you’re withdrawing your child from school, the state recommends notifying the school, but you don’t have to file any paperwork, meet any attendance requirements, or participate in any standardized testing.

Community: The Chicago Homeschool Co-op meets on Wednesdays and is a great place to find out about other Chicagoland homeschool resources from other group members.

Books: Quimby’s is the coolest bookstore in town—and the place to find small-press zines, chapbooks, and comics.

Resources: Admission is free on weekdays for homeschool families at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Zoological Society; explore the galaxy at the Adler Planetarium; play outside at the Garfield Park Conservancy; build sandcastles at Foster Avenue Beach; get inspired at the Printers Row Literary Festival

Number of Museums: 74, including the Field Museum of Natural History, the Mitchell Museum of the American indian, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Number of Libraries: 80, with a calendar of regular activities including arts and crafts workshops, gaming sessions, and author events

Median home price: $270,900 

Population: 2.71 million


This was originally published in the fall 2014 issue of HSL. Information was correct at time of publication but may have changed since then.

Best of HSL: Best Cities for Homeschool Families: #1 Austin, TX

Best of HSL: Best Cities for Homeschool Families: #1 Austin, TX

[We're gearing up for our updated list of Best Cities for Homeschool Families this fall, so we thought it would be fun to publish the three best of 2014 on the blog, starting with the homeschool friendly city of Austin, Texas.]

As any homeschooler who’s blown up a Coke bottle in her backyard can tell you, sometimes, you’ve just gotta embrace the weird. Which may just be why Austin and homeschooling are a match made in heaven. This city—which takes it graffiti promise to “Keep Austin Weird” so literally that it’s got a Museum of the Weird, complete with Bigfoot mummies, downtown on 6th Street—can handle whatever even the most out-of-the-box life learners hit it with.    

Though nearly two million Texans call the state’s capital city home, Austin still feels more like a small town that’s had a growth spurt than a shiny metropolis. On any given day, you might spot a ragged crowd of kayakers paddling across Lady Bird Lake in the Barton Creek Greenbelt, a seven-mile stretch of public green space along the waterfront. Or you might run into a group of young artists balancing sketchpads on their knees in the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, which lets kids twelve and younger in free every day. Line up for a Harry Potter marathon at the Alamo Drafthouse, and there’s a good chance your kids can drum up a friendly conversation with a fellow Dumbledore fanatic wearing her house colors. Even the line for Franklin Barbecue—which would be frankly ridiculous if that first bite didn’t make you forget how long you waited—can be a kid-friendly lesson in supply and demand. Alternative education opportunities abound in Austin, from the fairly traditional (homeschool day at the Bullock Texas State History Museum or classes at the Austin Science and Nature Center) to quirky niche activities like engineering Maker groups and survivalist training weekends. And kids can choose their next favorite bands just by walking down the street, especially during the city’s annual South by Southwest music festival and conference extravaganza.      

On top of all that, living in Austin’s cheap—at least comparatively. Houses in up-and-coming East Austin had a median price of just $219,000 this spring, and even ritzy hoods like Lakeway have plenty of homes selling in the mid-$300s. Food, utilities, and transportation costs in Austin all fall below the national average—a big plus for homeschool families stretching one income. Thanks to dedicated bike lanes on more than half of the city’s streets and continued bike path development—the city aims to have 900 miles of bike lanes by 2020—Austin is a reasonable place to live without a car. 


In Brief

Homeschool requirements: None. If you’re withdrawing your child from school, the state recommends notifying the school, but you don’t have to file any paperwork, meet any attendance requirements, or participate in any standardized testing.

Community: Austin Area Homeschoolers is a friendly resource with discussion groups, field trips, new homeschooler resources, and a weekly co-op.

Books: Book People has an awesome children’s book collection—and they’re so passionate about good reads for kids that they’ve teamed up with local authors to put together a Modern First Library of new kids’ lit classics.

Resources: Check out homeschool programs at the Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Austin Nature and Science Center; get creative (with real tools) at the Austin Tinkering School; learn outdoor survival skills at Earth Native Wilderness Survival School; check out David Foster Wallace’s manuscripts and letters at the Henry Ransom Center at the University of Texas-Austin; play outside on the Barton Creek Greenbelt

Number of Museums: 25, including the Mexic-Arte Museum and the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center

Number of Libraries: 35, with regular book clubs, poetry nights, gaming sessions, and performances

Median home price: $318,854

Population: 1.8 million

This was originally published in the fall 2014 issue of HSL. Information was correct at time of publication but may have changed since then.

Unit Study: Ellis Island

Unit Study: Ellis Island

Ellis Island may have been closed for sixty years, but you can explore its lasting impact with books, videos, and hands-on activities.

When Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892, it marked the beginning of a new phase of U.S. immigration policy. More than twelve million immigrants came through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, many fleeing deteriorating economic conditions and increasing political instability in Europe. A healthy immigrant with her papers in order could make it through Ellis Is- land’s immigration processing and legally enter the United States in three to five hours. Though only two percent of immigrants were denied entry (usually because of contagious illnesses or low likelihood of finding employment), stories of families separated by the newly bureaucratic process are heart-wrenching. Ellis Island officially closed on November 12, 1954.



Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story makes a nice picture book introduction to the history of Ellis Island, relating the story of 15-year-old Annie Moore, the first person processed through the immigration center. 

Letters from Rifka is the fictional account of a Russian girl who finally makes it to the United States, only to be held in the Ellis Island hospital.

In The Orphan of Ellis Island, a modern-day foster kid finds himself transported to the past on a school field trip. 

Island of Hope, Island of Tears: The Story of Those Who Entered the New World Through Ellis Island in Their Own Words is a good primary source read for older students.



The History Channel documentary Ellis Island, narrated by Mandy Patinkin, relates the history of Ellis Island through the experiences of some of the immigrants who passed through its halls. 

PBS’s Forgotten Ellis Island (2008) focuses on the center’s immigrant hospital, where contagious arrivals were detained for treatment. 

For older students, The Immigrant (2013) shows the darker side of the immigration process.



Search for your own ancestors in the Ellis Island online passenger database. 

If you can’t get to New York City for an in-person field trip, take a virtual one instead with Scholastic’s interactive Ellis Island experience.

This was originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of home | school | life.

31 Great Books to Inspire Young Writers

31 Great Books to Inspire Young Writers

Whether you’re putting together a curriculum or just stocking your reading shelves, these books are a great addition to your homeschool writing library.

What We Love in the Fall Issue of HSL

home/school/life fall 2014 issue

We asked some of our regular home/school/life contributors to share their favorites from the fall issue. (Want to read them all? You can subscribe or buy the current issue here.)

  • Once again, home/school/life is full of fantastic reading suggestions. This month’s guide to books for young writers was just the list I’ve been looking for. My oldest son is participating in NaNoWriMo, an online writing project. The fabulous collection of titles HSL suggests this issue will come in handy in my quest to support my budding young author. As the weather grows colder, my kids and I look forward to long afternoons by the fire. You’ll find us there curled up with gems like the Halloween selections Suzanne recommends in her column this month. As if all this wasn’t enough to keep us busy, Amy shares 11 must-read titles spanning many genres including poetry, fiction, science, and history! Thanks for all of the great suggestions! —Rebecca
  • * I love "Best Cities for Homeschooling" and am particularly tickled at the fact that my own city, Oakland, made the list! I wholeheartedly agree that Oakland is a wonderful place to homeschool. It's neat to see Lake Merritt mentioned; it's been the heart of the city for years, but it's been recently spiffed up. A walk around the lake these days gives the ideal snapshot of Oakland: vibrant, diverse, urban and naturally beautiful all at once. * "Snap Happy" is a fantastic article on how to take better photos. I'm amazed at how much useful information Shelli managed to pack into this piece. Her suggestions about how to take advantage of light should be invaluable to anyone who wants to take better photos. I've been working at my photography for a few years now, and I found this piece to be both a great refresher and excellent inspiration for me to pick up my camera more often. * If you know me at all, you know that I love writing, and encouraging others to love it too. Parents who want to inspire their kids to write ought to write themselves—which is why I think "Just Asking" is such a neat article. It's aimed at helping parents think deeply about their reasons for homeschooling, and how they spend their homeschooling lives. But they could also be used as the ten best writing prompts for homeschooling parents ever! Parents who don't have a regular writing practice could buy a new journal, or open a new Evernote file and try answering these questions. Just tackle one at a time. They're such thoughtful questions, and they're bound to lead to deep wonder and discovery. I know I'll be trying them out myself! —Patricia
  • This is very hard for me because I love everything in the magazine, but if I have to pick just five, I will pick the five that were very informative to me right now as a homeschooling mom. * You Asked: I loved the question about when a parent should start worrying about a child who isn’t interested in reading because this is something I’ve dealt with and I think parents need all the encouragement they can get to not worry about this issue. * Curriculum Junkie: I love our new curriculum junkie’s first column, and when I read it I wanted to go buy the biographies she recommended immediately. * Career Path: I love these interviews with professionals because as a homeschooling mom, I want to learn as much as I can about different career paths and how to help my children on their chosen career paths. *Mark Twain’s Mississippi: I just love Mark Twain and enjoy reading anything about him. It reminded me that I want to read all his books to my boys. * Just Asking: When I read these excellent questions to ask myself on this homeschooling journey, I knew I’d revisit it someday with my journal, and I think I might just do that tonight…. —Shelli
  • Officially, everything in the issue is my favorite because that's kind of how we put each issue together—we say "What do I really want to know about homeschool life this season?" and go from there. I've been gushing about the Best Cities for Homeschooling for a while, so I won't include that one (even though I think it's terrific!) and I'll try not to repeat anything that's already been mentioned, but here are a few things in this issue that have really inspired me: * Patricia's lovely letter to her new-to-homeschooling self is a much-needed reminder that we can trust our kids to point the way when we feel stuck. * Our reader letters page is one of my favorite pages ever because it's so wonderful to hear from people who are actually reading the magazine we work so hard on. * I have already purchased the quick-attach smartphone microscope in our holiday gift guide. I love the idea of having an instant microscope for nature walks. * I wish I had had Amy Hood's tips for art museum field trips when we started homeschooling — I think our museum jaunts would have been a lot less stressful and a lot more fun. * I always love Shelli's "Our Way" pieces, which profile real-live homeschool families, and this issue is no exception. I don't know about you, but I never get tired of hearing about other families make the homeschool life work. —Amy