Re-Energize Language Arts at Your House with Service Learning

Re-Energize Language Arts at Your House with Service Learning

Maggie has some great ideas for giving your student’s writing a boost with a combination of project-based learning and community service.

Teaching Literature-Based History without a Curriculum

Teaching Literature-Based History without a Curriculum

Truly, the biggest hurdle to cobbling my own history curriculum together has been organizing the resources in such a way that I know where they are, I remember all of the ideas that I had, and I don’t leave anything out. 

10 Family Habits that Foster Lifelong Readers

10 Family Habits that Foster Lifelong Readers

A love of reading comes naturally for some kids and not-so-naturally for others, but you can do a lot to make your home a space where reading is an important part of everyday life.

Curate Book Baskets and Shelves
Especially for younger kids and reluctant readers, walking into a library or confronting a full bookshelf can be intimidating. A sparse bedroom shelf lined with books whose covers face out can help a child locate a book for independent reading time that matches up with that week’s interests. Curated book baskets are wonderful for giving kids choices within limits that help reading seem friendlier.

A few book basket ideas: 

  • Teething-friendly books for the youngest readers
  • A selection of readers—any of which would work for your emergent or beginner reader’s current level
  • Books about trucks, puppies, bugs, or ponies—whatever your child’s current interest
  • A selection of books that fit bathroom reading criteria—books divided up into short selections that are funny or interesting (like comics)
  • A basket of WWII historical fiction choices to complement WWII history study 


Never Leave without a Book
Richard Larson, a professor who studies queueing theory at MIT, says that the average person spends a cumulative 1 to 2 years of life waiting in lines. Startling statistics aside, I think we can all agree that we spend lots of time waiting—waiting at the dentist, waiting for takeout food, waiting in the car for a train to pass. Sure, that time could be spent playing Candy Crush or scrolling through Facebook (or picking a fight with your sibling), but wouldn’t it be better spent reading? Make it a rule that everybody leaves the house with something to read. 


Celebrate with a Bookstore Visit
You may think I’m a monster, but I told my kids at the outset that there is no Tooth Fairy. Of course, they still want to cash in on their discarded teeth, though, so I like to offer them a trip to the used bookstore instead of money. While we’re there, I’ll offer to pay for a few 75 cent readers of their choosing. There are a million little things in life that we celebrate as families. It’s wonderful to attach some of those small celebrations to books.


Institute the Weekly Library Visit
Make Library Day a thing that happens every week on the same day. Not only will regularity make it a valuable part of the routine, but it will also help you stay out of trouble with overdue fines.


Subscribe to Magazines
We adults get inundated with mail, but getting mail is so special to kids. Tap into that feeling of specialness and create positive connotations with reading by getting a magazine subscription for each child. 


Make Readaloud Time Part of the Routine
Readaloud time is one those things that’s easy to let slip past, so we need to build it into our daily routines. At our house, we have two read-aloud times. We start the school day with historical fiction related to our unit of study and read fiction that’s more focused on entertainment value at bedtime.


Make Independent Reading Time Part of the Routine
We all want our kids to spend time reading, but sometimes we forget to make time for it to happen. Just like read-aloud time, we have to make independent reading time a family norm that has its own space set aside in the day. 


Listen to Audiobooks in the Car
I will admit that I resisted audiobooks for a long time. I didn’t have the right technology in my car, the library didn’t have the best selection, blah, blah, blah. I actually decided to suck it up and give audiobooks a try in the name of taming backseat squabbles. It worked to a degree I didn’t even imagine possible. Oh, and now we’re all digesting about two more quality books per month than we used to. Seriously, try audiobooks even if only for the peaceful car rides.


Read and Talk about Reading
This is directed toward the adults. If you want your kids to believe that reading is important and worthwhile, you have to model it. Make sure that kids have opportunities to see respected adults of both genders reading and valuing reading.


Geek Out as a Family about a Story
Later this summer, we’re (finally) visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Obviously, the day at the theme park will be magical in all senses of the word, but leading up to it, we are having so much fun immersing ourselves in the story together by reading the beautiful illustrated editions of the books, coloring Harry Potter coloring books, crafting wands out of mismatched chopsticks, watching the movies, and assembling Harry Potter jigsaw puzzles. Geeking out over a story as a family goes beyond just telling your kids that reading is important. It shows them that the world of the imagination is important, that reading is cool, that they can get lost in stories even when they grow up, too. 

The Most Important Change You Can Make to Improve Your Child’s Writing

The Most Important Change You Can Make to Improve Your Child’s Writing

I sat outside the high school band room simultaneously on the verge of either tears or a full-fledged panic attack. In my hands were the notes I had taken about the assignment due in two weeks: a research paper in MLA format with a minimum of five resources and no less ten pages. The number of research papers I had previously written? ZERO. The amount of guidance the teacher offered us? ZERO. Almost twenty years out from high school graduation, I remember only a handful of assignments from those years. That one, though? I doubt that the memory of my utter despair and desolation of my confidence as a writer will ever fade. 

This experience was an extreme example, but my old teacher made a mistake that a great many writing teachers make. They fail to TEACH writing. Telling kids what you want them to write about isn’t teaching writing. Telling them how many pages they should write isn’t teaching writing. Lighting up their work with red pen marks after the work has been done isn’t teaching writing. That’s assigning and assessing writing.    

So how does one TEACH writing then?

1. Mentor Texts. Mentor texts are samples of writing that come from skilled writers. They’re an important tool in both the pre-writing and drafting stages of the writing process. 

Before writing, mentor texts can be studied and even dissected. A child writing an expository essay about a historical figure could study biographies to see what techniques biography writers use to begin their books. A child writing a book review could open up the Sunday newspaper to investigate the book and movie reviews written by professional writers to see how they write conclusions without saying, “You should read it, too.” 

During writing, mentor texts can be a valuable reference. A child who is struggling with the mechanics of dialogue can refer to an admired novelist’s books to see how the rules of dialogue play out in “real” writing. 


2. Modeling. Don’t worry—no one is asking you to put on a swimsuit or strut down a runway. Modeling in this case means that you own your role as the most skilled writer in your homeschool, dig in there right alongside your students, and show them how it’s done. 

I know, I know. Writing is hard work. Actually, Hilda Taba called writing “the most complex of all human activities.” I promise you, though, that if you make the investment of chewing on a writing project alongside your child, you’ll be amazed at the improved outcome. 

It’s worth noting that you don’t need to complete every step of the writing process every time to be successful with this teaching tool. Usually I find that it’s most important to be there at the beginning of each step in the writing process, and then it’s okay, even for the best, for me to get out of the way. 

Probably the most important aspect of modeling is thinking aloud. Don’t just let your child see the product of your inner thoughts—speak your thoughts as you think them. It’s okay, too, to share when you struggle with something. “I’m really frustrated with this, so I’m going to leave it and come back to it later,” is a no-joke important lesson to learn as a writer.  


Learning to write doesn’t have to feel overwhelming or bewildering. Using mentor texts and modeling absolutely has the potential to transform both the outcome of your child’s writing and the way your child feels about him or herself as a writer. Writing is hard. Don’t send them into the wilderness of words alone. 

The Power of Now: Or Why Maybe This Is the Summer to Start that Homeschool Co-Op

The Power of Now: Or Why Maybe This Is the Summer to Start that Homeschool Co-Op

[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:

I had to realize that there would always be excuses not to do the thing that is hard, probably really good excuses.

"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.