You Asked: How to Organize your Homeschool Library

You Asked: How to Organize your Homeschool Library

The key to useful and accessible homeschool library: Good organization. If you want to wrangle your book collection into a well-organized library, you’re going to have to get hands-on. Here’s how.

Q&A: Moving When You're Homeschooling

We’re trying to sell our house, which means no piles of books or stinky science projects for a while. Any tips for homeschooling while your house is staged?

We’re trying to sell our house, which means no piles of books or stinky science projects for a while. Any tips for homeschooling while your house is staged? 

I am neither an expert on home staging nor on housekeeping while homeschooling, so I asked a friend in real estate for her recommendations. She says the biggest challenge most homeschool families face is returning their home to “normal.” For instance, lots of us use the dining room or formal living room as homeschool central, which can be off-putting to some buyers. If you’re so serious about selling that you’re actually staging your home, this may mean drastically changing your space to make it more neutral. Consider setting up your rooms with a traditional flow—a table and chairs in the din- ing room, an office or sitting area in the formal living room, etc. You probably know this, but declutter- ing and packing non- essentials will go a long way toward making your house buyer-ready. (As soon as you pack up a box of books, you’ll dis- cover that one title you really want is in the box—accept that this will happen, and just plan to hit the library when it does.)

Keeping things tidy is vital. If you have clutter-prone areas—our dining room table is our worst offender— make clearing them off a priority. If you aren’t naturally neat, keep a few big laundry bins under your table for emergency get-that-cleaned-up-now sessions— throw a nice tablecloth over the table, and no one will be the wiser. Move homeschool materials to free-standing dressers and armoires so that they don’t clutter closets—buyers will check out your closets, but they’d have to be pretty nosy to rifle through the furniture that’s not part of the house. 

As for academics, the selling-your-house period is an ideal time to dive into unit studies or intensive projects like NaNoWriMo (most people do it in November, but you can write your book any time of year). Focusing on one topic at a time makes it easier to quickly shift gears if you need to—and gives you the freedom to take spontaneous field trips during house showings. 

This reader question was originally published in our summer 2015 issue, but we’re reprinting it on the blog because Amy happens to be surrounded by mountains of moving boxes right now.

Our Favorite Homeschool School Supplies

Homeschooling is more fun with new school supplies! Here's a roundup of some of our favorite homeschool gear

Suzanne and I are talking about back-to-school season in the latest episode of the podcast, so naturally school supplies came up. It seemed like the perfect time to share some of our favorite homeschool supplies. Share your faves in the comments!

Parts of this were originally published in the winter 2015 issue of home | school | life, but we’ve updated and expanded it a bit since we’ve got school supplies on the brain this time of year.

9 Reasons I Love the Summer Issue

9 things I love about the summer issue of home/school/life, my favorite secular homeschool magazine

Now that the summer issue is out (hooray!), I look forward to the email that starts to trickle in from readers, telling us what articles you loved and what ideas inspired you. (Please never stop sending this email.) The truth is, I look forward to reading the finished issue every season, too! If you’re a subscriber, you can skip this and just go read the summer issue yourself, but if you’re interested, these stories were some of my summer issue highlights.


  1. Working on the summer reading guide is one of those gigantic projects that I look forward to all year. (“Sorry kids, I’m reading for work!”) I loved working on every part of it, but finding readalikes for Anne of Green Gables and The Fault in Our Stars was especially fun.
  2. Patricia’s column about her nearly two decades of park days with her homeschool group made me cry. In the good way. But also kind of in the envious way because I really wish I had that kind of group in my homeschool life.
  3. We had so much fun doing our first homeschool makeover—helping Jenn and Ian shift gears to make their homeschool less school-y while still keeping up with their academic goals. 
  4. You know how when your kid gets really excited about something, and you’re trying to figure out how much you should do to encourage that excitement—where do you draw the line between supportive and pushy? Shelli has some great thoughts on how she’s found a balance through her son’s passion for birds.
  5. I always want to steal Amy’s art project ideas, but now I really want to steal her relaxed attitude about teaching art, too.
  6. This issue features an article by our youngest contributor ever: the talented 10-year-old Catie Burrell, who has Opinions about what musicals should be in your movie marathon.
  7. I learned SO MUCH working on our summer boot camp feature for this issue, which is all about things you can do right now to make homeschooling this fall so much more fun. I am probably not going to be taking a sabbatical any time soon, but I am definitely adding more rituals to anchor our days.
  8. We got to answer that question that plagues so many homeschoolers: How can an always-homeschooled kid get into college? 
  9. It’s made me pretty excited about summer! Now that the summer deadline is behind me, I’m looking forward to planning next year’s science classes, having a Roald Dahl-inspired readathon, using Star Trek to study politics, cleaning out the clutter in my homeschool space, and reading lots and lots of books by the pool. I hope it gets you excited, too!

Our Favorite Campfire Readalouds

Inspired to try a family campout after reading “Camp Like a Homeschooler” in the summer issue of home | school | life? Yes, you need the sleeping bag and that cooking fork, but we all know the really essential item is the book you bring as your family camping readaloud. Any book makes a good camping trip story, but we especially like books that tie into outdoor adventure. 

Blind Mountain
By Jane Resh Thomas

Twelve-year-old Sam isn’t that interested in hiking, much less surviving in the wild—but when his dad is injured on a day hike, Sam has to summon all his wilderness knowledge to get them home alive in Blind Mountain by Jane Resh Thomas.


By Gary Paulsen

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is the outdoor adventure classic: Stranded alone after a plane crash in Canada’s north woods, 13-year-old Brian survives with nothing but a hatchet and his wits for 54 intense days.


The Incredible Journey
By Sheila Burnford

My kids would listen to The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford over and over again, and the story of three family pets determined to find their way home across hundreds of miles of Canadian wilderness, makes a pretty thrilling campfire read.


Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is a different kind of wilderness survival story: Crusoe survives a shipwreck with a handful of supplies and manages to create a civilized, if lonely, life on a desert island.


The Sign of the Beaver
By Elizabeth George Speare

In The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, Matt’s dad leaves him alone to protect the family’s homestead in 18th century Maine while he travels to Massachusetts to bring the rest of the family home. 


Sam in My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George has serious homeschooler appeal: After learning about wilderness survival at the public library, he sets off to his grandfather’s abandoned farm in the Catskills to put his knowledge to work in the wild.


Curious George Goes Camping
By Margret Rey, H. A. Rey

If you want a picture book for your readaloud, Curious George Goes Camping by Margret & H.A. Rey is delightful fun as George tries to help the man in the yellow hat on their camping trip.


The Call of the Wild
By Jack London

Some books just sound better outdoors, and I think The Call of the Wild by Jack London is one of them. The sounds of the woods at night are the perfect background soundtrack for this story told from the point of view of the dog Buck. 

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.

Women’s History Month Biographies: 3 Determined Scientists

Women’s History Month Biographies: 3 Determined Scientists

For Women’s History Month, we’ll be featuring biographies of women in history who may have been forgotten, neglected, or misunderstood by traditional history books. In this edition: three women whose big ideas changed the world.

Unit Study Inspiration: Birds

Love this roundup of books and resources for the Great Backyard Bird Hunt (in Feb.). This could be a stand-alone homeschool unit study on birds, too.

The Great Backyard Bird Count starts on Friday. Gear up to flex your citizen scientist muscle with these birding resources.

Read This

By Carl Hiaasen

The Burgess Bird Book For Children by Thornton W. Burgess introduces kids to birds through Peter Rabbit stories, making it as fun to read as it is informative.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, tells the story of a boy’s efforts to save the habitat of a family of burrowing owls from an encroaching pancake restaurant.

Bright Wings, edited by Billy Collins, is a collection of poetry about birds.


Birds, Nests, and Eggs by Mel Boring, is just the thing for beginning birders. The book covers fifteen common birds, including their appearance, nesting habits, and ideas for bird-themed nature activities.

The Complete Birder: A Guide to Better Birding by Jack Connor is the perfect next step when you’ve mastered the basics of birding and want to sharpen your skills.


Watch This

Winged Migration
Starring Philippe Labro, Jacques Perrin

The Life of Birds, from the BBC collection and narrated by David Attenborough, is a seven-part documentary just packed with avian information.

Winged Migration uses fabulous cinematography to capture birds in flight.


Do This

Dissect an owl pellet. If you’re not up for the real thing, use the KidWings Virtual Owl Pellet Dissection.

Play birdsong bingo. Practice identifying bird sounds by playing a bingo style identification game with a birdsong CD. (We like Know Your Bird Sounds, Volume 1: Yard, Garden, and City Birds andKnow Your Bird Sounds, Volume 2: Birds of the Countryside.)

Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book, part of the excellent Dover coloring book series, lets your student birders put their observation skills to the test coloring in copies of Audubon’s bird illustrations.


This article was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home/school/life.

Unit Study: The Harlem Renaissance

Unit Study: The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was an explosion of creative energy fueled by Black Americans, and it’s a rich topic for your homeschool high school.

Life After Homeschooling: Online Tests to Guide Your Way

These quizzes are a good way to help you figure out what you want to do when your homeschooling days end. (Read the whole article in the winter 2016 issue of home|school|life — it's got tons of information for figuring out your next chapter!)

An online quiz may not be the bedrock to base all your life choices on—but these five tests can be surprisingly revealing when it comes to illuminating your post-homeschool life. (And hey, quizzes are fun, right?)

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator :: The MBTI can tell you all kinds of cool things about yourself: how you like to learn, where you get your energy, how you make decisions, what kind of structure you prefer. (The detailed feedback in the official online version may be worth the $50 price tag, but this free online version is a good option, too.)

Career Strengths Test :: The Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation developed this series of tests for Oprah to measure specific skills, including inductive reasoning and foresight.

Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator :: A friend’s mom swears by this personality test, which tells you whether you’re a reformer, helper, achiever, individualist, investigator, loyalist, enthusiast, challenger, or peacemaker.

Pymetrics :: Play a series of games to test your cognitive and social know-how, and get a summary of your strengths and weaknesses. (The results may surprise you in a good way.)

My Next Move o-net Interest Profiler :: This U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored tool helps you identify possible career paths and clues you into opportunities along those paths that match your level of experience.


Read the rest of our "Writing Your Next Chapter" feature in the winter issue of home/school/life.

Study Topic: Mary Tudor

Study Topic: Mary Tudor

From lonely child to merciless monarch, Queen Mary I of England never seemed to catch a break. Mark the 500th anniversary of her birth (on Feb. 18, 1516) by learning more about England’s first queen regnant.

Suzanne’s Favorite Books of 2015

Fun list of best books of 2015 created by home|school|life magazine's awesome book columnist. #homeschool

I love this time of year! New beginnings and new resolutions­­—plus all the Best-­Of booklists come out, so I can restock my to­-read list. In the spirit of celebrating last year and looking forward to some seriously good reading in 2016, I thought I’d share some of my favorites of 2015.

Favorite Young Adult

By Julianna Baggott
The Raven Boys
By Maggie Stiefvater

Favorite First Book of a Post­-Apocalyptic Trilogy Where I Didn’t Love Books Two and Three but Book One is So Good That I Can’t Help Recommending It and You Should Probably Read the Others And Make Up Your Own Mind :: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Favorite First Book of a Contemporary Fantasy Series With Clairvoyants and Ley Lines and Cute Boys Which I Stopped Reading After the First Book Because the Fourth and Final Book is Coming Out in March 2016 and I Want to Read Them All in One Glorious Binge :: The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater

Favorite Fantasy Heist Novel Which I Didn’t Even Know Was a Thing But Which As a Big Ocean’s Eleven Fan I Was Thrilled to Discover and Even More Thrilled to Learn That It’s the First of an On­-Going Series (NOTE: Maybe Don’t Get Too Attached to All of the Characters in the Heist Crew) :: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch


Favorite Reading Inspired by My Obsession with the Broadway Musical Hamilton

(Because we’re all obsessed with Hamilton, right? Even those of us who live nowhere near New York and couldn’t afford tickets even if we did and so are forced to make do with listening to the cast album over and over again and singing along while our children mock our hip-­hop skills? If you are not yet obsessed with Hamilton , you have my permission to stop reading briefly to immediately check out the album. As a bonus, it totally counts as a homeschool history lesson.)

Alexander Hamilton
By Ron Chernow
Fever 1793
By Laurie Halse Anderson

Favorite Biography That Inspired it All and At 800-­Some Pages is Maybe Not a Quick Read but Still a Great Book About Our Ten­-Dollar Founding Father Who Just Like His Country Was Young, Scrappy, and Hungry ::Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Favorite Upper­-Elementary/YA Historical Fiction That I Had Been Meaning to Read For Years And Finally Got Around to Because It’s About the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia That Also Sickened Alexander Hamilton :: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Favorite New Sarah Vowell Book About America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman and Alexander Hamilton’s Best Bud the Marquis de Lafayette Which Has, Disappointingly, Not All That Much Hamilton But Which is Wildly Entertaining Nonetheless As Are All of Sarah Vowell’s Books of History :: Lafayette in The Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell


Favorite Readalouds

Favorite Series That I’m On My Fourth and Probably Last Time Through Reading Aloud Until I Have Grandchildren Many MANY Years From Now :: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Favorite Series That Just Keeps Getting Better and Is Giving Narnia a Run For Its Money As My Favorite Kids’ Fantasy Series of ALL TIME Where We’re Currently Reading Book Four (The Boy Who Lost Fairyland) While Anticipating the Release of the Fifth and Final (Sniff) Book (The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home) in March 2016 ::the Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente

Favorite Series by My Favorite Kids/YA Fantasy Author Diana Wynne Jones Where We’re Currently Reading The Magicians of Caprona Which is Turning Out to Be One of My Daughter’s Favorites Because It Has Magical Italian Cats :: the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones


And finally:

Favorite Memoir That Examines the Author’s Life in Terms of Her Favorite Literary Heroines (Including Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Shirley, and Jane Eyre) Which Also Has the Best Title of Any Book I’ve Read This Year :: How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned From Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis

Homeschool Unit Study: Teaching the Solar System

Fun resources and ideas for an elementary solar system unit. #homeschool

Sometimes with young scientists, a simple introduction can open up a galaxy of learning.

When I began homeschooling, I didn’t want to buy a curriculum or do anything too time-consuming for my preschool-age child. I wanted learning to be fun, and I planned to mostly follow my son’s interests as well as take frequent trips to the library. But I also felt it would be prudent to be aware of what children typically learn at each age, and if there was a lesson I could easily incorporate into our routine, I would do it.

It’s because of this that I decided to introduce the solar system to my four-year-old. At that time, my son had no idea that we lived on a planet that orbited the sun along with several other barren and lifeless planets. How do you begin to tell a young person about such an incredible concept? I started to wonder if I could do it, but then I reminded myself that all children learn about the solar system at a young age, and surely there must be a way.

My initial lesson was rudimentary but fun. I had some flash cards with all the planets and other celestial bodies on them. (I found these when my son was just a tot in the dollar bin at Target, and impulsively bought them and several other decks of cards, thinking I could surely use them someday. For a dollar each, why not? As a matter of fact, all the cards have been used at some point.)

I put a small lamp in the middle of our living room floor, and then I laid all the planet cards around the lamp as they appear in our solar system. All the while I spoke to my son and told him to pretend the lamp was the sun. I explained we lived on planet Earth, but Mercury was the closest planet to the sun, and then Venus, and so forth. We walked around the lamp pretending we were an orbiting planet, and I showed him simple charts I had printed off from the Internet. We had a lot of fun.

That’s the last time I ever went to any effort to teach my son about the solar system, and at nine years old, I doubt he remembers that afternoon, but he does remember the names of all the planets in order. This isn’t because I taught him, however. All I did that afternoon was set in motion a reaction on his part… a desire to learn more about an interesting topic.

This might have happened even if I had not prepared my little lesson. After all, he encountered introductions to the solar system in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Little Einsteins and his Knee-high Naturalists class at the local nature center. Later still, he got more information at museums we visited, planetarium shows, Space Racers, Cosmos, and our Homeschool Science class too.

This convinced me, however, that children need someone to introduce the varied, wonderful things of this world to them. This person should use whatever is available for the child—whether it be museums, classes, the right kinds of toys, or simply the library and lots of conversation. They need someone to help them find reliable sources and encourage their inquiries. They need someone to say, “Oh, look at that!”

Right after I did the activity with the lamp and cards, my son began choosing library books about the planets, and we learned about all of them. The following year, at six, my son decided to make all the planets out of paper, and he wanted to hang them up over an entrance to our dining room, which he did. Later still, he added a few moons to the collection. Then at eight-years-old, he told me he wanted to make models of the planets with Styrofoam balls to replace the paper planets. These went unfinished for a while, but just the other day, at nine-years-old, my son finished them.

Over the years, he has built on his knowledge of the universe and space exploration, too. He was interested in rockets for a while, especially after receiving a small set of U.S. rockets as a Christmas present one year. Together, we built a model of the Saturn V with cardboard, and we watched When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions by the Discovery Channel together, which was great fun.

One year my husband bought him a telescope, which (ahem) rarely gets used, but we had some fun nights looking at the moon and Jupiter’s moons. Both my sons have also loved looking at the apps Solar Walk and The Night Sky. The Night Sky will show you exactly what you’re looking at as you gaze at the stars from wherever you might be standing. Trying to catch a glimpse of meteor showers, a passing comet, or going out to find Venus late at night isn’t out of the question in our house. We are all continuing to learn about the solar system and beyond. It’s always an interesting topic.

9 new books to read this fall

Grab your library list—these are the new fall books we're most excited about.

Grab your library list -- this are the fall books we're most excited about
The Marvels
By Brian Selznick


A book by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an event, and Selznick’s latest—a story of an 18th century shipwreck, told mostly in pictures, twined with a seemingly unrelated tale of late 20th century London, told mostly in prose—is worth the hype.




He’s explored Greek and Egyptian mythology; now the Percy Jackson author turns his attention to Norse myths.


Leo: A Ghost Story
By Mac Barnett



Leo knows he’d make a wonderful friend, if only he could find someone who doesn’t immediately race off in terror when he bids a ghostly “hello.”




Beard’s sprawling, bawdy history of the Roman empire features the usual suspects (Caesar, Nero) as well as a host of ordinary folks that don't always show up in history, including bakers, jokers, and women.





Carry On: A Novel
By Rainbow Rowell



Following up on the success of Fangirl, Rowell returns to the world of Simon Snow, this time in a story focused on the boy wizard himself.




The Pigeon creator heads to Paris with his first chapter book about a homebody dog who meets a wandering cat and finds true friendship.



What is life like for the teenagers who aren’t the ones destined to battle evil forces? Ness’s protagonists have bigger problems than preventing the end of the world or falling in love with vampires—problems like getting a date for prom and passing biology.



A little boy makes two friends to help him cope with his fears about his new house in this delightfully illustrated picture book.


Lenny & Lucy
By Philip C. Stead



Riggs wraps up the quirky trilogy that started with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Making Peace with Homeschool Messes

Sometimes, the perfect life looks a little messier than you might have expected. Shelli explores the surprising beauty of a messy house.

There are four baskets of unfolded laundry at the foot of your bed. The afternoon light streaming through the window is shining a spotlight on dusty floors. It’s almost time for dinner, and you haven’t even thought about it yet.

Other mothers are so much better at all this stuff. They plan meals, keep their houses clean, play with their children and watch prime time T.V. while snuggling with their husbands after the children go to bed. Maybe that is an unrealistic image, but other moms seem so much better at this.

You were never a neat freak by any means, but before the children came along, the house was at least tidy. Now the clutter, oh, the clutter that comes with children and—especially— homeschooling.

A new neighbor stops by with her son, and you look over your dining room before you answer the door. Only, it’s a not a dining room anymore. It’s been converted into the “school room,” and it is cluttered with all your homeschooling books, games, projects, and more. The mess is not pretty like the messes you see in parenting magazines. It is cardboard-dust, glue-stains, puzzle-boxes-dangerously-stacked, broken-crafts-crammed-onto-the- shelves messy,

You wish you didn’t always feel the need to apologize for the mess, but you can’t help it. You do it anyway, and you expect your neighbor to give the routine reply. “Oh, don’t worry about it! I completely understand.” (That’s what you always say.)

Instead, she stands there quietly, look- ing around, and she says slowly, “Do you know what this says to me?”

You shake your head. Messes can speak?

She says, “This tells me that you spend a lot of time doing activities with your children. I would like to do more of that.”

You feel something akin to light shining around your head. It’s more than a light bulb. It’s a new perspective. You would like to kiss your new neighbor, but you control yourself.

No mother is perfect, and every mother has her own talents. Some are good at cooking. Some are good at organizing. Others are good at being spontaneous. Some are good at creating structure. Some encourage messes because they know their kids are creating and using their imaginations.

Some mothers and fathers work full-time or part-time, and some of them do that while also homeschooling their children. Some spouses help out more than other spouses. Every household has its own way of splitting up the duties of making a living, keeping the house clean, and giving the children an education.

But listen to this: No matter how you slice it up, something has to give. You are either giving up time with the children, or you are giving up time to take care of yourself. Absolutely nobody can do it all.

Make a list of your priorities. What do you want to accomplish? What are the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy quality of life for yourself and family? Put those at the top. (You better put self-care up there. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of your family?) Now, what’s the least important stuff?

Think about this. What’s the least important thing that you can let go of? One of these things is surely keeping a clean house. If you are always worrying about the clutter in your house, then you have too much clutter in your brain. Let it go.

Make your goal more reasonable. Think “sanitary and livable” but not perfect. Dust bunnies, clutter, and glitter in the carpet can wait. You have more important things to do.

On the crazy days when you feel most overwhelmed, go back to your list of priorities. Have you maintained that top one? If yes, pat yourself on the back. When life gets the most harried, that’s what is most important.


This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine.

Raising a Young Naturalist

Really like this essay about how to encourage kids to explore nature in your homeschool.

Like most homeschooling moms, I had a lot of fears when we first started homeschooling. My four-year-old was cautious. He was quiet in big groups, and he didn’t want to participate in group games. He preferred to explore a pile of woodchips by himself on park day. He hated story hour at the library. Now I laugh at myself. He was only four.

Luckily we live within a reasonable driving distance to a nature center, where they were offering a class for 3- to 5-year-olds that would introduce them to nature. My family loves nature, so it seemed like a good class to try.

At first my son was very timid in the class, but soon I started to witness something remarkable. He blossomed. And it wasn’t just a little kid coming out of his shell. It was a little kid finding a passion.

My son leapt out of his skin every time the facilitator brought out live animals. Snakes were his favorite, and three years later, he still says he wants to be a scientist who studies snakes when he grows up.

At first I thought to myself that every kid likes nature, right? Maybe my child would have blossomed in any class I had taken him to at that age. But then the facilitator told me one day that she could tell my son had a true passion for nature. She said other kids might say, “That’s cool,” but then they would walk away. My son stayed by her side, wanting to see more. He loved helping her turn over logs on the trails.

Shelli Bond Pabis

Shelli Bond Pabis

Ever since that first class, I have continued to foster his love of nature and science. As a family, we love hiking, so that’s not hard to do. But my husband and I have also done a few other things to support him:

  • We continue to go to classes at the nature center. I call it our second home.
  • We bought our son a small camera so that he can record the natural discoveries he makes.
  • I bought my son a big notebook, and we call it his nature journal. He likes to paste his photos in there, and I label them for him. I’ve encouraged him to draw what he sees, but he prefers photography. That’s okay with me.
  • I have supported his desire to collect items from nature: We bought a medium-sized wooden box at a craft supply store, and we call it my son’s “treasure box.” He has a bird’s nest, nuts, rocks, and even a squashed baby snake in it. (We seal items like that in plastic bags!)
  • His nature collection is too big for the box, so we’ve dedicated some shelves in his room for other items. He has shells, shark teeth, ammonite fossils, small dinosaur bones, a beaver chew, a bison bone, a geode, and lots of rocks on his shelves.
  • We consider our yard a laboratory, and we continuously observe the wildlife in it. We have containers on our front porch containing pupas and cocoons, and we are eagerly waiting for them to emerge.
  • My son is participating in our state parks’ Junior Ranger program.
  • Together our whole family watches nature documentaries daily.
  • We visit natural history and science museums, attend rock and gem shows, and take advantage of any other opportunity to explore nature and science.
  • As project-based homeschoolers, we make time for our son’s own interests and projects, many of which have to do with science.
I have rid myself of the “ick reaction” to the slimy and oozy parts of nature because I see something in my child that I don’t want to lose.

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle said in an interview: “A critter person. Children generally start out that way, given a chance to explore even in their own back yard. So often, the adults around them will say, oh, don’t touch that beetle or, ugh, an earthworm, or caterpillars, yuck. My parents were different….”

All children are born scientists. They explore their world, ask questions, and test their limits. I have rid myself of the “ick reaction” to the slimy and oozy parts of nature because I see something in my child that I don’t want to lose. I know from listening to other interviews with scientists that their love of exploration, nature and inquiry started at a very young age.

Ultimately, I do not know if he will chose to become a naturalist or a scientist as a career, but I do know that a love of nature can sustain him through many of life’s obstacles, and an appreciation for the Earth is something everyone should maintain. My job as his parent is to observe, listen, and foster this inquisitive mind. So here I am, exploring the world with my son. 

This column from our very first issue launched Shelli's Hands-On Science series. We're reprinting it here as part of our big web relaunch. To get Shelli's thoughtful, practical resources for everyday nature and science study in every issue of home/school/life, subscribe.

Q&A: Teaching Current Events in Your Homeschool

Great resources for teaching current events in your homeschool.

One of the things I want to be sure to do as a homeschooler is to keep my kids plugged into what’s happening to the world at large. Are there any great current events resources you recommend?

You’re wise to introduce current events early in your homeschool. Students who participate in elementary and middle school current events classes are more than twice as likely as their non-news-informed friends to follow politics and world news as teens and young adults. Finding the right resources is just part of the plan, though. To really engage kids in current events, you need to find opportunities for them to interact with the news, says Thomas Turner, Ph.D., a professor of education at Tennessee State University. Let your student come up with opening and closing arguments for a controversial news case, engage in family debates, or put together your own newscast of the week’s most important stories. Older kids can follow a story across different media to see how the news changes depending on the outlet and whether it’s in a newspaper, magazine, or television broadcast. You can certainly use your regular newspaper and nightly news programs to study current events, but if you’re looking for a kid-friendly introduction to the news, these resources (most of which take summers off) fit the bill:

CNN Student News :: A 10-minute daily newscast covers the day’s top stories. Maps, background-information articles, and discussion questions help put the news in context.

Student News Daily :: Thoughtful discussion questions help kids make sense of the day’s news. This is a good resource for introducing the idea of media bias and helping students recognize bias in reporting.

PBS NewsHour Extra :: Get current news stories organized by subject. Smartly compiled lesson plans help kids build an understanding of how news affects history, geography, society, and more.

Scholastic News  :: Age- appropriate current events are pulled from Scholastic’s print magazines.

Time for Kids :: The pop culture vibe of this magazine-related news website may appeal to news-reluctant tweens.

The New York Times Learning Network :: In-depth analysis of recent news stories teaches kids how to approach news. The site also taps into the Times' extensive archives to illuminate historical events.

Tween Tribune :: The editors of this middle school news resource have a knack for choosing news stories that appeal to younger readers.


Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we’ll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.

Minding Our Business: "Why Don’t You Have a Print Edition?"

home/school/life is a digital secular homeschool magazine.

Probably once a month, we get an email from someone asking why we don’t publish a print edition of home/school/life. “I like to be able to hold a magazine in my hands and flip through it,” someone will say. And Amy will say “So do I.” So why don’t we just publish a print edition? The reason, frankly, is cost. Say that every single person who currently subscribes to the digital edition of home/school/life decided to take advantage of the print edition. It would cost about $22 per issue. That’s just the cost of printing — it doesn’t include any mailing costs, and it doesn’t include any profit for the magazine. It’s just the straight-up cost of printing the magazine for the number of subscribers we currently have. We think that’s a bit too much to ask someone to pay. (Though we will order you a print copy if you want one — just email us for the price of a particular issue and shipping.)

There are ways we could make a print edition more affordable. We could be less picky about advertisers, or trade reviews or coverage in the magazine for money that would help cover the cost of subscriber copies. But we feel like that’s not the way we want to grow this magazine. We like knowing that our readers can trust that the products we review in our pages are the ones we honestly think are the very best. We like knowing that the companies who advertise with us are companies whose products we can wholeheartedly support.

We could also reduce the size of the magazine — if we cut the number of pages in each issue in half, we’d cut the price of printing in half, too. But we like that every issue feels like a book’s worth of content — we want to give you enough reading material to carry you through the season until our next issue comes out.

Ultimately, we’ve decided to be patient. We put out a magazine that we think stands head and shoulders above other homeschool magazines. We hear from lots of readers who say it’s “the best homeschool magazine” they've ever read. We’re going to trust that we’re doing the right thing with the magazine and trust that — eventually — our readers will find us. (Some people have mentioned a Kickstarter campaign, and that’s definitely something we’re going to look into.)

Because there is a magic number where the cost-per-issue for subscriptions drops dramatically. (If you’d like to help us get there, tell your friends about home/school/life — encourage them to check out a free copy of the summer issue and to subscribe if they like what they read. The more people who read the magazine, the closer we get to offering a printed version.) Ultimately, the things we feed are the things that grow, and we want to feed home/school/life in a way that will make us proud of what it grows into. If that means it takes us a little longer to produce a print edition, we're okay with that. We hope our readers will be, too.