Don’t dread higher math! Get inspired with these resources that will give you confidence and ideas for middle and high school math in your homeschool.
The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet is a must-read for all homeschooling moms. It’s a memoir written by a widow and a mother of five children, who, during the 1920s and 30s, took her children on their 25-foot cruiser, The Caprice, to explore the waters of British Columbia every summer. During the winter, they lived in their Little House, which overlooked the water, and she home educated her children. This was at a time when there were still relatively few white residents in this area.
There is information that is not given in the book, such as what exactly happened to her husband, or where her children went after they grew up. If you aren’t familiar with British Columbia, you may not understand exactly where every inlet and fjord is that they explored, but none of that bothered me. I was enthralled with each chapter, which is a short account of each of their adventures. They followed the orcas, had an encounter with a bear and cougar, talked to locals, and explored the winter villages of Native Americans who were still living there at that time. (I didn’t exactly approve of how they entered the villages without permission, but considering this was written in a different time, I decided to appreciate this first-person account of this primary document.)
As I was reading the book, I marveled at this woman who not only was raising five young children all by herself, she also had to be a captain, navigator, meteorologist, and mechanic. I traveled on these waters many years ago with my father in his boat, so I know it’s important to understand the tides and how deep the water is before you attempt to enter any small cove. And Wylie Blanchet had no technology to help her! There was no such thing as a depth finder in her day. Then I thought about the challenges of raising and homeschooling two boys on land with my husband, and I wondered if she might be a super woman.
Or, perhaps she found it easier to contain all five children into a small boat. There was no end to the entertainment they found on the beaches and in the woods, catching fish for dinner, picking berries, escaping bears, finding small fresh water lakes, and making friends with other settlers along the way. I appreciated her details about the flora and fauna. I felt like I was in The Caprice and seeing a world that I’ll never be able to go to. I was sad when the book ended because I wanted the adventures to continue.
This book might be a little boring for the younger crowd, but it would be a good book to include in history studies or as a selection of Canadian literature for high school students. The 50th anniversary edition includes black and white family photographs taken by Blanchet’s family, which will bring you closer to this endearing family.
Mothers are the only workers who never get time off, said Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and that’s doubly true for homeschooling mothers, who cheerfully derail dinner prep to look up a particularly strange beetle in the bug guide and listen to impromptu poetry recitations while they’re in the bathroom. (Maybe that’s just me?) But time off every now and then is essential to maintaining your homeschooling mojo. While your books may be neatly shelved and your plans for the coming year ready to go, your homeschool soul could use a little nurturing. Whether you can spare a whole weekend or just a long afternoon, it’s worth the effort to make time for a homeschool retreat.
Retreats may seem like an old-fashioned notion, but the concept of reconnecting with yourself as a person and as a homeschooling parent is practically radical in these days of plugged-in, logged-on, non-stop presence. But homeschoolers are nothing if not radical (in both the original and now-dated modern sense of the word), and a retreat may be an inspiring way to bring fresh energy, insight, and life to your homeschool.
There are as many ways to plan a retreat as there are to homeschool, so we’ve put together a few suggestions that might work for your retreat or that might just serve as inspiration for your own retreat ideas.
Make your plans
If you’re like me, you have a never-ending list of books you’d like to read and lectures you’d like to hear. Whip out that list and start narrowing down the options. Are you starting to freak out about the prospect of putting together transcripts for college? Maybe it’s time to download that mp3 on homeschooling high school. Do you need help with setting a rhythm for your days? A Waldorf book about parenting young children could be a good bet. Try to focus on a mix of practical information—you want to change up your science curriculum or you need help getting inspired to teach writing next year—and strictly inspirational stuff. (We’ve included some great books and lectures below.) And go ahead and throw in all those awesome curriculum catalogs you’ve been hoarding so you can finally flip through them at your leisure. Try to add a mix of media: You won’t want to spend the whole day listening to mp3s or staring at your computer screen.
Choose a location
If you’re an introvert like me, the thought of a weekend of pure alone time probably seems blissful. But if you’re a social animal, you may get more from your weekend retreat if you invite a friend or two to join you. Either way, try to get away from the everyday—it’s going to be hard to give yourself over to recharging your batteries if you’re staring down a pile of laundry or constantly jumping up to refill someone’s cup of juice. If you can, splurge on a location that inspires you to relax, whether that’s a fancy hotel with room service and plush robes or a cozy cabin surrounded by hiking trails. Even an easy-on-the-budget, no-frills hotel room can make a comfortable setting for your retreat if you bring your electric tea kettle and a few candles. If money’s an issue, consider swapping baby-sitting with another homeschooling mom and set up your retreat in a spot with free wi-fi, like the library or a coffee shop.
Whether it’s your first year homeschooling or your fifteenth, you’re your own best inspiration. Start your retreat by making a list of all the things you’ve done right: great trips you’ve taken, fun art or science activities you’ve done, parenting moments where you got it just right. If you’ve been homeschooling, use this time to write down what’s really worked for you in the past, whether it’s starting the morning with yoga, doing narrations with Story of the World, or making Monday your baking day. Not only will making this list of homeschool successes remind you that you’re already doing a great job homeschooling, it will also help guide your choices for the coming year and may remind you of fun stuff that’s worth incorporating in your homeschool plans.
Define your homeschool’s mission
What’s the purpose of your homeschool? Ideally, you have an answer to that question that sums up your homeschool’s philosophy: “To grow curious, engaged children who believe they can learn anything and do anything if they are willing to do the work” or “Our homeschool teaches our children how to find, evaluate, and use information so that they can achieve whatever goals they set for themselves” are both examples of the kinds of big-picture goals your homeschool might have. Not so much of a mission statement writer? Make a homeschool vision board instead, putting together quotes, images, and other items that represent your ideas of what you want your homeschool to be like in the coming months.
Set your goals
In addition to setting academic goals for your students, consider setting some goals for yourself. Whether you’d like to be better informed about chemistry before you tackle the subject next year or you’re longing to be less stressed about unfinished assignments, take a few minutes to think about what you’d like to accomplish personally this year. Homeschooling can be an all-consuming activity, and it’s easy to be so absorbed in guiding your kids that you lose track of your own needs and wants. Use this opportunity to focus on yourself and to make a map of where you’d like to be this time next year as a teacher, a parent, and a person.
Make a little you-time
The purpose of your retreat is to recharge your homeschooling batteries, so build in some time to just relax. Giving your brain free reign inspires new ideas and connections that you don’t get when you’re dealing with the daily grind. You know what gets your creative energy flowing: Maybe it’s a hike up a waterfall, a session with a massage therapist, or an hour of uninterrupted knitting. Treat yourself to your favorite leisure activity, and you’ll be surprised by how it improves your mental clarity.
Write your bad day mantra
Bad days happen, and when you’re doing double duty as teacher and parent, it’s easy to take them personally. Right now, while you’re feeling energized and excited about the coming year, write a message to yourself to read when you’re having a bad day. Think about the words you need to hear when a math lesson ends in tears or you snap at your toddler for making a mess of the science center, and write them down in your best handwriting. Keep this message to yourself close, and pull it out when you need to as a much-needed reminder that you’re doing the right thing even when things don’t go just right.
Ideally, you should leave your retreat with a clear vision of what you want the coming year to look like (and the confidence to change your mind about that vision any time), a handful of new ideas, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the homeschooling fun ahead. But even if you just come away with some good questions, you can consider a retreat time well spent.
Tips for making your homeschool retreat a success:
- Make a schedule to keep focused
- Turn off your phone, log out of Facebook, and don’t check your email
- Set aside time for just relaxing as well as time for being productive.
Food for Thought
- Susan Wise Bauer: Homeschooling the Real (Distractable, Impatient, Argumentative, Unenthusiastic, Non-Book-Loving, Inattentive, Poky, Vague) Child
- The Homeschool Scholar: A Homeschool Parents Guide to Grades, Credits and Transcripts
- Pam Sorooshian: Unschooling and Math
- Donna Simmons: Talking Pictorially and Living Actively with your Young Child
- Rafe Esquith: Lighting Their Fires: How Parents and Teachers Can Raise Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World
- James W. Loewen: Teaching What Really Happened: How To Avoid The Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History
- Sharifa Oppenheimer: Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children
- David Mulroy: The War Against Grammar
- Lori Pickert: Project-Based Homeschooling
- Grace Llewellyn: The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
Your challenge this week: Figure out a game plan for your homeschool retreat, and write an official retreat date on your calendar.
History is more than just names, dates, wars, treaties, and timelines. If your homeschool history class could use a boost of inspiration, use this summer to kick things up a notch with these history resources and ideas.
Go Beyond the Textbook: History professor Will Fitzhugh believes that history teachers and students should be reading good history books—not just textbooks. Some of his faves for your summer reading list: Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough, Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer, Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson, and The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough.
History, Meet Technology: Historian Thomas Ketchell explores the complex question of whether facts matter in an age of instant-access information and how to use technology to make history relevant and engaging in this Ted talk. Ketchell’s ideas about Twitter and Minecraft in the classroom may not be a perfect fit for your homeschool, but they’ll definitely make you think about new ways of considering history.
Rethink Where You Begin: If your U.S. History plans start on the Bering Strait bridge, historian Annette Atkins says you may be missing the chance to make history truly relevant for your student. In this essay, Atkins explains why she starts her history classes with current events—and how that gets students excited about diving into the past.
Shift Your Emphasis: The point of history isn’t to memorize a bunch of facts but to be able to interpret and analyze historical documents and events so that we can construct meaningful narratives about the past. Why Won't You Just Tell us the Answer?: Teaching historical Thinking in Grades 7- 12 walks you through how to shift your history studies from memorization toward interpretive and interrogative examination.
Encourage Deep Research: The Concord Review publishes original historical research by high school students. For kids who are passionate about history, crafting a 4,000- to 6,000-plus-word essay in strict Turabian style to submit for publication can be a highlight of a U.S. history class. Browse some of the published work— it’s quite impressive—and consider encouraging your student to submit.
This list is excerpted from our Summer Boot Camp Guide in the summer 2016 issue of HSL.
[We are so happy to introduce you to the lovely Maggie Martin, who officially joins the HSL blogging team with this post! —Amy]
This time last year, my family was part of a great co-op. It was well-established, the enrichment classes were wonderful, and there were countless social opportunities for the kids. There was a prom, a graduation, a yearbook, a variety of clubs, and field trips.
I knew that we couldn't stay.
The thing is that we lived an hour away. Devoting two hours of driving to and from classes one day a week was (almost) okay, but driving two hours so that my kids could do scouts or playdates with kids from their classes just wasn't practical. Every week I'd watch other families' kids falling deeper into real, lasting friendships, and it was a constant reminder that those friendships were the one thing that I wasn't providing my children in our homeschool experience.
I knew that a co-op move would have to happen to give my kids those deep-rooted childhood friendships, but moving in that direction seemed hopeless. I'd pored over the list of local co-ops for options that would be a good fit for secular members only to find a disappointing lack thereof. I'd even gotten a babysitter to attend an interest meeting for a new co-op forming at a local church in hopes that somehow that might work out for us. It didn't. Maybe one day I'd be brave enough to start a co-op in my little town that would be friendly to secular homeschoolers, but of course that time wasn't then. I was in the middle of building a new house, doing much of the work with my own two hands when I wasn't forging my way through lessons with my six-year-old twins.
Then when the 2016 summer issue of home/school/life downloaded its way into my life, I stumbled upon this highlighted passage from Gretchen Rubin's book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives:
"The desire to start something at the "right" time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now."
Those words crawled into my system and wouldn't stop swirling around my brain until I'd metabolized them.
I had to realize that there would always be excuses not to do the thing that is hard, probably really good excuses. And I had to realize that that saying about "The days are long, but the years are short," is no joke. It already felt like I'd put my babies down for naps only to turn around and find them starting the first grade. By the next time I turned around, those first graders would be perfecting their college admissions essays, and my chance to construct the homeschool experience I'd dreamed of for them would be gone forever.
So I decided to start that co-op. I made a To Do list that was about a mile long, and tackled every item one by one when I could steal a few minutes to do so. I communicated with the homeschool acquaintances I'd made in our community and shared my vision, I turned to our gem of a library when finding a meeting space was turning into a deal-breaker, and, most importantly, I focused on my devotion to my kids when the job seemed overwhelming.
By the end of the summer, I had accomplished what had before seemed impossible, and a year later, I'm boundlessly grateful that Gretchen Rubin's words found me in that home/school/life issue just when I needed them. The friendships my children have made this year are all the reward I need for the hard work I invested in our co-op's startup.
There will always, always be a reason not to do what is unfamiliar. Make those positive changes anyway. Graduation day will be here sooner than we wish.
Whether you’re a brand-new homeschooler looking for guidance, an experienced homeschooler stuck in a rut, or just a homeschool mom in need of a little reassurance, a smart book can be your best friend. These are some of our favorites.
Whether you’re a classical-inspired homeschooler or have any intention of using this book’s detailed curriculum plans, you’ll find The Well-Trained Mind a homeschool book worth going back to again and again. It’s not so much the specifics of curricula and scheduling—though those can be helpful—but the way that the book makes academic homeschool seem not just theoretically possible but practically doable.
If you’re a new homeschooler or a homeschooler struggling to find a rhythm for your days, this book is just what the doctor ordered. Though it’s written for unschoolers, its homeschool-as-lifestyle philosophy and advice for making learning part of everyday life is inspiring.
This book is designed to supplement Miquon Math’s elementary curriculum, but reading it offers insight into how children learn math and different strategies for explaining basic math concepts. It could be easily be subtitled “How to feel more confident when you’re homeschooling math.”
Khan—whom you may know as the founder of Khan Academy, a favorite online resource for homeschoolers—takes on traditional education in this establishment-rocking book. His ideas about personal instruction and working to mastery especially will resonate with homeschoolers.
Grouping reading recommendations by grade level and subject (language arts, world history and geography, math, science, etc.), this resource makes getting started on those endless homeschool reading lists a little easier. You wouldn’t want to stop here, but it’s a great place to start.
Perhaps the classic book of modern homeschooling, Holt’s treatise on education is reassuring, encouraging, and exhilarating. Particularly if you’re feeling uncertain about whether homeschooling can give your kids a thorough education, this book will kick your homeschool motivation into high gear.
This one’s for the research nerds: Gaither’s examination of homeschooling through U.S. history offers a researched, balanced (though ultimately positive) look at the educational project we’re all participating in.
This was originally published in the spring 2017 issue of HSL.
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.