Everyday Homeschooling

Homeschool Makeover: How Can I Make Our Homeschool Less School-y?

Homeschool Makeover: How Can I Make Our Homeschool Less School-y?

“I love the idea of unschooling, but I’m never going to be an unschooler,” says Jennifer Harris. Jenn homeschools her 9-year-old son Ian in a style that she calls Charlotte Mason-ish—“but lately, it’s feeling like all workbooks and dictation and sitting-at-the-desk time, which is too far in the other direction,” Jenn says. Jenn’s been struggling to find a balance between the structure and academics she needs and the fun, laid- back vibe she wants her homeschool to have.

We asked Jenn to track her time over a couple of weeks so that we could get a clearer idea of what a typical day in her homeschool looked like. Jenn was surprised to discover that she and Ian usually spent about two hours a day on school time—“it feels like so much more,” Jenn says. On most days, they’d start school after breakfast, then sit down together at the table to work. Sometimes Ian would read independently, sometimes Jenn would read aloud, but they’d stay at the table, working their way through one subject at a time, until it was time to start lunch. Jenn’s husband, Frank, comes home for lunch every day, so she and Ian hurry to get the table cleaned up and lunch prepared so that they can all enjoy the meal together.

“It’s gotten to the point where school feels like work to both of us,” says Jenn. “I care about staying on top of things academically, but I hate the way our learning process is starting to feel like a job. Is there a way to bring back fun without sacrificing academics?”



Since it was pretty clear that Jenn wasn’t overdoing it time-wise—two to three hours is a reasonable amount of hands-on school time for a third-grader—we decided to focus on the way she was using her time. By spending all their school time at the table and keeping an eye on the clock ticking toward a lunchtime deadline, Jenn and Ian weren’t able to relax into their routine. Here’s how we changed things up:

Kids benefit from being read to long after they’re able to finish chapter books on their own, and reading together means you get to learn together.

Moving classes to the afternoon. When I asked Jenn why they were doing all their school work before lunch, she paused and said, “You know what? I don’t even know.” It turns out that afternoons are quiet at the Harris house. Except for a regular Friday park day, Jenn and Ian are hanging out at home in the afternoons. We suggested moving their second hour of school time to the afternoon to make the morning more relaxed. Instead of jumping into their next lesson after handwriting, Ian starts his independent reading and Jenn gets household stuff out of the way until it’s time to prep lunch.

Starting the day with a meeting at the table. Jenn felt like table time was essential to starting their homeschool day. “I need the structure of sitting down in a consistent spot every day and saying okay, now we’re homeschooling,” Jenn says. We suggested that Jenn keep doing this— but instead of spending an entire morning at the table, she and Ian could get the same down-to-business boost from a morning meeting there right after breakfast. While they’re at the table, Ian does his daily copy work and handwriting practice.

Relocate for different subjects. The kitchen table is the best place for Ian to practice handwriting, but his other subjects might benefit from a change of scene. We suggested that Jenn and Ian switch locations each time they move to a new subject: math on the patio, history on the couch, spelling at the desk in Ian’s room, etc. This kind of musical chairs isn’t just a way to transition between subjects—researchers have discovered that students who work on material in different places retain it better than those who sit in the same spot to study every day.

Integrate more reading aloud. Ian’s a strong reader, and Jenn’s been encouraging him to do more independent reading, but since readalouds are one of the things Jenn and Ian like best about homeschooling, we suggested that they bring back the readaloud. (Kids benefit from being read to long after they’re able to finish chapter books on their own, and reading together means you get to learn together—which is one of the best ways to feel like your homeschool is a fun, relaxed place.) We suggested that Jenn and Ian go back to doing book-based subjects, including history and science, as readalouds and letting Ian keep his reading skills sharp with independent reading.


The results

“I didn’t realize such simple changes could make such a big difference, but they really have,” Jenn says when we follow up with her. She and Ian have been implementing their new routine over the past month, and Jenn says everything is working better than she had hoped.

“I think I bought into the idea that when we hit third grade, school should become more school-like,” Jenn says. “And the result was that Ian was learning about the same amount but we were having a lot less fun. I think I needed someone to say ‘Hey, you can teach your kid what he needs to know and still have fun doing it.’” 


This column is excerpted from the summer 2016 issue of HSL. Do you need a homeschool makeover? Email us at hello@homeschoollifemag.com with a description of what’s tripping up your homeschool life, and we may feature your makeover in an upcoming issue.

Find Your Next Podcast Obsession: The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified

Find Your Next Podcast Obsession: The Radio Adventures of Eleanore Amplified

The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified is an excellent podcast and a Jula Family favorite, but it didn't start out that way. While I was instantly impressed by the production value (layer upon layer of sound effects!) and I liked that it was an old time radio show set in the present, I found the plot-line to be tired... crazy professor with an evil mind-control serum and a laser? That's been done. I found the character’s voices to be tired... rocket-scientist Dr. Gordon sounds just like Professor Frink from The Simpsons and the voice of Mr. Richmond, the newspaper editor, was so stereotypical it hurt. Both, so done. Maybe I was being overly-critical now that I critique podcasts. Maybe... I was just tired.  Regardless, I had downloaded the Road Trip Edition (which is a brilliant feature I wish every podcast would adopt) and there’d been nary a peep from the backseat so who was I to complain?

As we drove west on I-70 toward the Georgetown Loop Railroad for my nephew’s 4th birthday celebration, I found myself chuckling. Wait, what? Did I just laugh at the podcast that I had resigned myself to disliking? I sure did, and I didn't even know I'd been paying attention. Back up.

I had to pause the show to ask the kids what had happened, which they totally appreciated. After some mom-shaming on their part, and an insincere apology on mine, they caught me up on what I’d missed and gave me their blessing to skip back to the beginning anyway. This time around, I appreciated the jokes, especially when Eleanore tells Professor Ignome that his plot to bore into the city reservoir and fill it with mind-control serum was “boring, all right,” because I'd just had that same thought! I love Eleanor's mom, who sounds just like Charlie Brown’s teacher, and I was totally won over when in episode 2 they introduced Conn Seanery and his shatellite phone. Instantly, I was transported to a nostalgically hilarious place—the SNL skit where Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond) and Burt Reynolds, a.k.a. Turd Ferguson (Norm MacDonald), antagonize Alex Trebeck (Will Ferrell.) That image, combined with the dialogue from the actual podcast, made me so happy. I had done a full 180, and ironically I had gotten lost on the way to the train and had to make an actual u-turn, but in the end I'd arrived at two conclusions: Eleanor Amplified was awesome, and do not blindly follow Siri because she is a fickle friend who will betray you at the worst possible time.

If, like me, you're a huge nerd fan of NPR and their shows and podcasts, not included in the Road Trip Edition but worth a listen to, is the Extra Episode where Terry Gross from Fresh Air talks with John Sheehan, a former Fresh Air producer and winner of the in-house contest that WHYY conducted to encourage a new and original podcast. John created the winning podcast at his desk during his lunch break, and Eleanor Amplified spent five weeks in the #1 spot for Kids and Family and #23 overall on iTunes, and spent about a month in the top 100.  

While doing my research, I came across a review on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. “The father of now two daughters (one who is 2 and the other 11 months old), knew from the beginning that his main character would be a young woman — 'I didn’t need another male hero in the world.' The four major lessons he hopes young listeners will pick up from the project: don’t be greedy, ambition has its limits, commercialism can have side effects, and seeking truth and speaking truth is important in and of itself.” Based on the conversations the kids and I have had, I'd add that questioning the motivations of others and how they drive their actions is also a prominent theme (and given the current political climate, maybe adults need to learn these lessons, too.) I'd also like to draw attention to the fact that the most devious, ambitious and greedy bad guy in the show is actually a woman! CEO Ms Angela Brandt sounds a lot like Donita Donata (for you Wild Kratt fans out there) and is really good at being really bad.

Suitable for kids of all ages, The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified is available for download on iTunes and for Android.


BONUS: Cincinnati Public Radio has this wonderful little podcast called Classics for Kids. There's not enough to it to warrant an entire review (each episode is only six minutes) but it is totally worth downloading. Did you know that Bach had 20 kids?!? And some of them were also famous composers? Full of historical facts, beautiful music and charming stories of the composers as young children, struggling adults, and mentors to other famous composers, these podcasts are perfect. While not a serial podcast, I do recommend you listen to each composer’s series in order.  

13 Tips for Attending Homeschool Conferences

13 Tips for Attending Homeschool Conferences

Homeschool conferences can be overwhelming, but also incredibly informative. I recently attended a homeschool conference and here’s what I learned.

1. Bring a friend and a notebook.
Many of the workshops you would like to attend may be scheduled at the same time. Split up the workshops with a friend, and divide and conquer. Take notes during the workshops. It will be impossible to remember everything you heard and learned. A notebook will help jog your memory when you’ve had time to decompress from all you learned. At the end of the day, compare notes with your friend and share information. You will gain twice as much confidence and information with a friend.

2. Take as much information as you can in the vendor hall. 
Vendors have material available because they want you to become informed, and want your business. Even if you think you are not interested in what a vendor has to offer, check out their product, and take their promotional material. Once home, it’s easier to digest all the information over a cup of coffee and some quiet time. You may just be inspired by something you didn’t know you needed or wanted!

3. Make a game plan.
Vendor halls and workshops can be overwhelming, especially at larger conventions or conferences. Be sure to check out the schedule and make a game plan on what you need. Ask the staff at the registration table for any updates to the schedule. Speakers and workshops schedules sometimes get moved because of attendance numbers, or other factors. You don’t want to miss your favorite workshop, so be sure to inquire. If the registration desk has a map of the vendor hall, review it before entering. Also make note of where the restrooms are located and local restaurants or the food court. Staying nourished and hydrated is important. 

4. Ask to lock in sales prices. 
If you can’t purchase now, ask the vendor if they can lock in the sales price that is offered at the conference. Most vendors will offer an extended sales price during the conference and for a week or so after the conference.

5. Check with speakers or workshop hosts to see if there is a webinar or audio version of the workshop that you can get free or purchase. 
There is so much information to take in, that being able to listen to keynote speakers again, may be a benefit in your homeschooling.

6. Rest.
Grab lunch with a friend and decompress from the convention noise and overwhelm. Sitting outside for a while can help you regain some clarity, and give you energy to tackle the next workshop or vendor hall. Wear comfortable shoes.

7. Bring bags. 
Most conference will offer a reusable bag as part of the vendor hall experience, but purchases, flyers, and PR material can quickly fill up your bags. Better yet, check to see if a rolling cart is allowed into the conference. It will save your back and arms from all the weight of that newly acquired material. 

8. Meet and greet. 
Introduce yourself to others. Tell your homeschooling story. Ask about theirs. Conferences and conventions are prime real estate for making connections in the homeschool world. Find your common ground, stay connected through social media or other methods, and build your homeschooling network. 

9. Thank the coordinators of the event. 
So much behind the scenes planning takes place to make homeschool conferences a success. Give helpful suggestions, rather than complaints. Volunteer to help if you can. Even a few hours attending the registration desk is a help to all. 

10. Ask questions.
Contact the speakers and vendors if you still have questions about their workshop or product. They will welcome your inquiry for more information.

11. Decide if you will bring children. 
Some conferences are child friendly with lots of scheduled kid activities, and others are more geared toward an adult day. Conferences may or may not offer child care or kid activities, so be sure to inquire. Vendor halls can be a long day for children who have no interest in looking at curriculum. Plan accordingly.

12. Plan time for sightseeing.
If you are traveling to a conference be sure to check out the local sites. Homeschoolers never stop learning, and this is a great opportunity to explore the world.

13. Set your budget.
Vendor halls and that shiny new curriculum or online curriculum, can be very tempting to purchase. Be sure you research thoroughly and stick to your budget. 

Homeschool conventions are a perfect opportunity to make connections and have all your homeschooling questions answered. Do your research before the convention both on workshops you want to attend, and speakers that you want to hear. When you are in need of a homeschool reboot, a convention can be just the thing to inspire and refresh your world. 

Our Favorite Summer Homeschool Posts

To stretch out the holiday weekend a little longer, we've collected some of our favorite summertime posts for your reading pleasure.

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. 

Find Your Next Podcast Obsession: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Find Your Next Podcast Obsession: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Close your eyes—assuming you can read with your eyes closed. Now imagine if Stranger Things (the show) had a mixed-media baby with The Mysterious Benedict Society (the books) and that awesome little offspring was The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel (the podcast.) I know, right?!? And while you don’t have to be familiar with either to appreciate Mars Patel, or this review, you may end up wanting to check out both.

We were on our way to the farm from which we get our CSA. One of the privileges of membership is that we get to wake up crazy early, drive desperately far, and toil in the asparagus mines for hours under the blazing, hot sun. We needed a new podcast, and we needed one with plenty of episodes. Mars Patel had been on my list since last year, when it was voted one of the top 50 podcasts of 2016, but I’d been reluctant to listen with the kids since it’s described as a podcast for middle-schoolers (my youngest is a mature 7.5 year old) and I hadn’t had the time to audition it by myself.  

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel won a Peabody award last year, and it’s easy to see why.  After the first episode, there was no need to discuss whether or not we liked it enough to give the second episode a chance—I couldn’t get the second episode on fast enough.  

It was dramatic*, engaging, and suspenseful, tempered with just enough humor to assuage my youngest. The high production value makes it easy to follow along and the episodes are fast-paced, with enough plot-twists and cliff-hangers to make it binge-worthy. The actor’s voices are distinct and the rapport is authentic. The sound effects are like a tray of sometimes very loud watercolors and your imagination is the brush. Award-worthy for sure.  

Episode 1 “Code Red” starts with Oliver Pruitt, the sponsor and billionaire inventor, speaking directly to the children listeners, which my kids ate up. “Mom, don’t listen!” Then you meet Mars, who my son quickly points out hasn’t disappeared...yet. Mars is clearly distressed about the disappearance of his friend, Aurora. His locker-side conversation with his friends is interrupted by a Code Red, and the school goes on lockdown. Mars goes looking for his friend, who needed to run to the bathroom during the code red (to avoid a code brown!) and discovers that his friend Jonas has also disappeared. Only four minutes in and a glance in my rearview mirror shows four wide eyes. My son catches me peeking and smiles, nodding. We are instant addicts.

The similarities to The Mysterious Benedict Society and Stranger Things run deep. These are all children living on the fringe of their social peer groups—questioning authority, speaking the truth, standing up to bullies, and defending their friends—not the kinds of kids that acquiesce to society.  “Outcasts, misfits, freaks...losers, oddballs, weirdos…” They think for themselves and they think outside the box. In each series the characters have unique gifts and an element of other-worldliness is explored. Without the understanding and support of their parents, these kids brave out on their own, and it is their wit and ingenuity that save them. In all three, there is tension in aspects of the social dynamics, but ultimately the characters recognize that they have no choice but to trust and depend on each another, and friendships form despite the initial resistance. They persevere despite constant setbacks, and you quickly realize that these are the kids you would have wanted to be friends with in school and the kinds of kids you want your children to be friends with now. If these are the outcasts, I wouldn’t want to fit in. Plus, Oliver Pruitt is as creepy a bad guy as Mr. Curtain and Dr. Brenner.  

Later that evening, I am standing at the kitchen counter trimming 15 pounds of asparagus stalks—asparagus for days!—and my daughter calls down, “I think JP stands for Jennifer Pruitt!” (it doesn’t) but I laugh out loud and tell her that it is a good theory. She’d been working on that for hours, and I am thrilled that we have found another podcast that keeps her thinking. “Can we go on PruittPrep.com? I want to see if it’s real!” We have fun answering riddles and exploring the prizes, and we lament the fact that her brother is gone for the weekend or we would drive somewhere just to listen to another episode.   

The episodes are on average 15 or so minutes and you have to start at the beginning. Season 1 has ten episodes and so far Season 2 has six. New episodes post on Mondays, so be ready to solemnly promise on Sunday nights that yes, you will indeed wake up early to download the next episode.  


* Not surprising, considering the head writer is David Kreizman, who has won an Emmy and multiple Writers’ Guild awards for his work on Guiding Light, All My Children, and As the World Turns.  

The Unexplained Disappearance of Mars Patel is available for download on iTunes and for Android or you can listen to it at www.marspatel.com

7 Signs It’s Time to Outsource Homeschooling

Whether it’s looking into school options, hiring a tutor, or just finding an outside class for a specific subject, sometimes homeschooling means  not  doing it yourself.

Whether it’s looking into school options, hiring a tutor, or just finding an outside class for a specific subject, sometimes homeschooling means not doing it yourself.

Some homeschoolers happily DIY from kindergarten through graduation, but most of us will face a time when outsourcing—whether it’s one class or the whole shebang—is the best way to preserve our sanity and ensure our child’s education. It’s not because you’re a bad parent or a bad teacher—it’s just because sometimes we all need a little help. Here are some signs that it might be time to explore outside class options for your homeschool:

You dread getting started in the morning. If you’re miserable when it’s time to break out the math books or work on an essay, something needs to change. Everyone hits bumpy patches, but if your bumpy patch feels like it’s dragging on and on, a different teacher might be what you both need.

You’re starting to dislike your kid. No parent-child relationship is going to be non-stop rainbows and sunshine, but you may need to shift gears if butting heads over worksheets is having a persistent, negative effect on your relationship. If you’ve starting asking yourself things like “why is my child so stubborn?” or “why does he always complain?”, it’s a sign you need a break.

You aren’t doing a good job. If you’re operating on autopilot, doing the bare minimum, or just plain never doing your best work, it might make sense to put your energy into what you do well and let someone else take over where you’re falling short.

You’re bored. You can’t fake enthusiasm, but you can hire it. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that a particular subject doesn’t get you excited. 

Your student is super-critical. If you’re getting lots of negative feedback on subject matter, assignments, or your teaching style, there’s nothing wrong with testing whether another teacher might be a better fit.

It’s crazy-expensive. If curriculum or supplies for a particular subject cost more than an outside class would, weigh the benefits of doing it yourself before writing that check.

Your instincts tell you its time. You’ve spent years learning to hear what your gut is telling you about what’s right for your child. Don’t stop trusting it now.

This article is reprinted from the spring 2016 issue of HSL.

Best of HSL: Our Favorite Advice for Homeschooling High School

Best of HSL: Our Favorite Advice for Homeschooling High School

Expensive doesn’t mean better, but some things are worth paying more for. Do your research before you commit your resources.

Take lots of pictures. You may not run into as many obvious photo opps as you did during the early years, but you will treasures photos of your high schooler at work. 

Don’t feel like a failure if your teenager decides to try traditional school. Giving him the freedom to come to that decision on his own totally counts as success.

Keep quarterly records of classes and reading lists.

Let her stay up late. Let her sleep in.

Travel as much as you can, as many places as you can. 

You will realize sometime during your child’s senior year that you left a hole somewhere in his education. Let it go. Everyone’s education has some holes.

Take your time. The worst thing that can happen is that your child graduates later than his public school peers. That’s not so bad.

Sign up for a community college class, just to get a feel for what it’s like.

Stick to what has worked. Don’t feel like you have to break out hardcore curricula or make your daily work time serious business just because your child hits high school. 

Give your teen freedom to set his own goals and schedules. Let him mess up.

Make everyday activities, like budgeting for groceries or doing laundry, part of your curriculum. Your teen will thank you later.

Plan like your teen will be going to college. Expect that he might decide to do something else. You’ll cover your bases and minimize senior year stress.

Do not stop taking field trips and baking cookies together.

Give lots of feedback. Your high schooler needs to know how her work measures up. 

Don’t panic. Yes, suddenly it seems like there is so much to do and so little time. There will be even less time in six months when you realize you just spend the last half-year freaking out.

Take a few SAT prep tests. Don’t take an SAT prep class unless your teen is applying to a super-competitive school.

Invest in what your child cares about most. If that means scavenging free math curricula and grammar lessons to pay for drama lessons, that’s okay.

Do not get so caught up in the this-should-be-on-your-transcript checklist that you suck all the fun out of homeschool.

Keep quarterly records of classes and reading lists.

Find a way for your child to do real labs. Even if she’s not a science person.

Visit lots of colleges.

See as many concerts, plays, ballets, poetry readings, films, and other performances as you can.

Plan ahead for timing-matters issues, like college applications and driver’s license testing.

Make plenty of one-on-one dates with your teen. These years fly by so quickly, and you’ll be glad you made the time when she’s not living at home anymore.

Help your child define what a successful high school experience for her would be. Then help her find ways to achieve it.

Talk seriously about technology and social media. Give your teen freedom to find her way and information to guide her.

Bask in your own glory. You did it. And you did great. 


This list is adapted from a feature in the summer 2015 issue of HSL.

Related Posts

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.

Podcasts for the People: Myths and Legends

Podcasts for the People: Myths and Legends

[It's such a pleasure to welcome Nanette Jula to the HSL blogging team! Nanette's a passionate podcast listener who will be sharing some of her favorite podcasts in this space. —Amy]

I will forever picture the Black Hills of South Dakota when I hear Harry Potter and we still laugh about the fact that I had to pull over on I-78 while listening to The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane because I could not see through my tears, one sob away from crashing the car. Audiobooks and road trips go together like peanut butter and dark chocolate, but for our around-the-town carschooling, I rely on podcasts. The right podcast is engaging, informative, and bite-sized. It can delve deeper into a current interest or it can light a spark, introducing you to something you didn’t know existed and igniting a new love. 

And so, without further ado, I present to you... Podcasts for the People, a monthly-ish review of podcasts that will make your commute more educational and more enjoyable.

What has a Korean fox-demon, Vikings, a boot-wearing cat, and appeals to everyone from 6 to 96? It’s Myths and Legends, a podcast brought to you from the mind of Jason Weiser. “Some are incredibly popular stories you think you know, but with surprising origins. Others are stories you might not have heard but really should.” Jason compiles different versions of the same classic story, infuses it with his dry sense of humor, and retells it in a modern, almost conversational way. With the finesse of a gymnast, Jason walks the line between ridiculing the asinine while still honoring what makes these stories great. Myths and Legends strikes the perfect balance between nerdy and cool, which totally appeals to my kids (aged 7 and almost 10) as much as it does to my husband and me. 

Dan Ivette, from The Podcast Digest, interviewed Jason last year. In the interview, Jason talks about how after spending years rolling the idea around in his head, he was uninspired by his day job and needed a creative outlet. He recorded the first three episodes of Myths and Legends and spent months questioning whether he should even release them. His first shows were recorded in his car with such low expectations for the podcast that he was just hoping to make enough to buy books while pursuing his graduate degree. It took about four months for the podcast to gain popularity, which Jason realizes was a blessing in disguise. Had his show gained immediate fame, he wouldn't have had the chance to develop his voice. The turning point was when BuzzFeed randomly mentioned the show online and the next day, Myths and Legends was in the top 10 on iTunes. Jason’s story of following your passion appeals to me on so many levels, but more specifically as a homeschooling mom, I appreciate how reassuring these stories can be.

Now, two years later, Jason has recorded 99 episodes and Myths and Legends is his full-time job. He research, writes, and records each episode himself, typically working on three episodes at once. He gets his ideas by casting a wide net and reading a lot, evident in the spectrum of stories he covers. One of my son's favorite stories is episode 58-Monster, a Native American tale from Cree folklore where a monster skunk farts everyone to death, because as Jason points out, "This is a serious podcast that takes itself very seriously." One of my favorites, on the other hand, is 38A-Korean Literature: Crossing the Threshold, the two-part, heart-breaking story of Hong Gildong. It is a tale of self-discovery and an important part of Korean culture. Gildong is born to a concubine and spends his life trying to escape the shame of his ignoble life. His father, who loves him and is pained by the circumstances, is bound by societal expectations and becomes sick with grief. As someone who lives outside societal norms, I appreciate stories that explore the struggle between living your truth and honoring your authentic self and societal expectations. The story of Gildong is a dramatic and engaging one, and there are dragons and magic—what more could you possibly want? The majority of episodes end with a Creature of the Week, which is always interesting and ranges from shape-shifting Amazon river dolphins to my personal favorite, the barbegazi, a bearded gnome with enormous feet. 

On his website, Jason has a page called Where to Start, and I recommend beginning there. He lists his five favorite episodes, the ones that require no background knowledge. He also has the podcasts organized by categories, such as Disney, Greek Mythology, etc. 

As a final note, many of the episodes have violent undercurrents—think Vikings and pretty much all of Greek Mythology. The episode where Prometheus, who betrayed his fellow Titans and has his liver pecked out by an eagle, could be upsetting to some more sensitive readers—I listened to it with a car-full of kids and we all shrieked and gagged. Jason starts these episodes with a disclaimer, alerting you to creepy or violent content. He never gets too graphic and we can’t remember him ever cursing, but some episodes do contain mature content.

Myths and Legends episodes are available on iTunes and for Androids and can be found at https://www.mythpodcast.com/.

How I Use My Bullet Journal for Our Homeschool’s As-We-Go Schedule

How I Use My Bullet Journal for Our Homeschool’s As-We-Go Schedule

My homeschool organization method: A bullet journal and an as-we-go planner than lets me keep up with what we've done instead of trying to anticipate what we're going to do.

6 Tips to Wrap Up Your Homeschool Year

6 Tips to Wrap Up Your Homeschool Year

[We're so excited to welcome the wonderful Beverly Burgess to the HSL blogging team! I'm not posting the video, but there was definitely some happy dancing going on in the office when she signed on as a regular contributor. —Amy]

It’s May and I’ve lost my mojo. I even doubled my caffeine intake to no avail. 

It seems most every homeschooling parent gets to a point when they need to wrap up their school year. Even those parents that homeschool year-round, feel the pull of spring in May; the need to be done.

Homeschooling parents can quickly be overcome with the amount of material that’s accumulated throughout a long and creative homeschool year. Wrapping up the year can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips to get that clutter off your kitchen counter and put the homeschooling year to bed. 

1. File end of year paperwork. Be sure to file any end of year paperwork required in your district.  Evaluations, portfolios, or other measures of progress, as well as letters of intent to homeschool, may be due now. Spend some time and get those out of the way so you can enjoy the summer days. 

2. Update transcripts/report cards and evaluations. Don’t wait for months to finalize report cards or evaluations. You will want to complete this task while the information is fresh in your mind. Tracking courses and progress is especially important if you are creating a transcript for your high schooler. Grades, field trips, courses, online classes, community groups, service projects, lab work, job experience, internships, apprenticeships, extracurricululars; all are easily lost or forgotten if not immediately recorded. Unschoolers should also record any classes, experiences or community involvement for their portfolio or transcript. 

Unit studies can be easily put away in file folders labeled with the year or grade of the child. 

If your child has completed a class through another organization, be sure to gather certificates of completion or grades from the teacher, if that is offered as part of the class. 

Kids' school work can also be saved digitally. Take a photos and file in a folder for your portfolio or create a scrapbook of your incredible year. Grandparents especially love thumbing through scrapbooks and sharing memories with their grandchildren. Scrapbooks are also a great way to deter naysayers who might think your kids sat around eating Cheetos all year long.

3. Toss the rubbish. What do you do with the hordes of paperwork that have accumulated? If your children are in their elementary years, save a few special pieces of artwork and toss the rest. The craft stores have pizza-style boxes that you can buy which are great for storing both artwork and academic work. The pizza boxes stack and store easily on a shelf, don’t take up much room, and hold a lot of material. Save one or two papers each month from each subject and toss the rest. I usually save one paper that shows beginning skills and one that shows mastery. My district/state doesn’t require evaluations of our work but I do save the boxes for three years and then get rid of them.

If you have many 3D sculptures, dioramas, hanging mobiles, and the like for art projects, it can be tougher to part with these masterpieces. Gifting the grandparents or aunts and uncles is a great way to share your homeschooling days with relatives. We always told our kids that if it didn’t fit in the storage box, we could not keep it. Certainly, a few special pieces were kept but the majority went into the box or were gifted away.

4. Clean up the extras. Dump the moldy bread science experiment that’s been sitting on your shelf for weeks. Organize your homeschool space if you have one, clean off the desks, put the glue sticks and crayons back in their holders, give everything a good spring-time scrub down.

5. Label and store books. I have a filing system for all of my books. At one point, I was homeschooling three kids in three different grade levels. The number of books, texts, instruction manuals, and other material accumulated through the years, was astounding. Before you pack everything up for the year, label the inside of every single book with an approximate grade level. Include chapter books, workbooks, and manipulatives in this process. I also place grade level stickers on the spines, so that when I store them, I can easily pull the next grade level I need for the coming year. Having organized books has been a lifesaver on so many occasions. 

Donate, sell, or trade any items that you won’t use again. As my kids aged up through grades, I save curricula that was going to be used again. Any grade level items that we’d no longer use were donated or sold.

6. Plan some fun activities to celebrate

Get out of the house by planning some time with friends to celebrate the great weather. A picnic in the park, care-free playground days, lunch out with the kids, or a field trip can give you some much needed energy to push through those last few weeks of homeschooling. 

Be proud of all your kids have accomplished this year. Don’t worry about the small things that didn’t get completed. Your children have likely learned so much exploring their own love of learning. Enjoy these last days and finish strong!

9 Fun Extras (Under $25) That Will Give Your Spring Homeschool a Boost

Add a little oomph to your sunny days homeschool with these spring extras, designed to make learning (almost!) as much fun as the prospect of playing outside.

Some of Our Favorite Shakespeare Movies

Celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this weekend by screening a great cinematic adaptation or two.

Celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this weekend by screening a great cinematic adaptation or two.


Prospero becomes Prospera, brilliantly acted by Helen Mirren, in this otherwise classical and faithful adaptation.

Also worth seeing: Derek Jarman’s punk rock (and definitely preview-screening-required) 1979 retelling


By William Shakespeare

Christopher Eccleston is the frustrated and scheming Iago to the city’s first black police force commissioner in this version of the play transposed to modern London. 

Also worth watching: 2001’s set-in-high-school O


Marlon Brando’s polished diction as Mark Anthony in this nicely executed history will make you wonder how he ever earned his nickname “the mumbler.” He took Shakespearean acting tips from costar John Gielgud, who plays lean and hungry Cassius.


Technically not a proper adaptation, Orson Welles’ anthology of Falstaff scenes from four different plays (Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V) is the kind of brilliant, thoughtful mash-up that surprises and delights.


Joss Whedon’s inspired adaptation uses Shakespeare’s original language and themes of romantic love versus real commitment but moves the action to modern-day California.


Michael Fassbender’s balance of mad ambition and human fallibility makes this classical adaptation (complete with action-packed battle sequences).

Also worth seeing: Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood


What it lacks in iambic pentameter, this adaptation—set in a U.S. high school and starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles—more than makes up for in spirit and charm.


King Lear
By William Shakespeare

Merging Lear with legends of an historic Japanese warlord, Akira Kurosawa slowly strips away his characters’ humanity, until only honor and brutality remain. 

Also worth seeing: Peter Brook’s RSC adaptation starring Orson Welles


Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in this faithful, haunted adaptation of the troubled prince of Denmark.

Also worth seeing: 2000’s Hamlet set in present-day New York City


Baz Luhrmann’s non-stop adaptation brings this tragic love story to gritty, adrenaline-fueled, dazzlingly visual life without sacrificing Shakespeare’s original language.


This list is adapted from the spring 2016 issue of HSL.

Best of HSL: Our Favorite Advice for Homeschooling the Middle Grades

Best of HSL: Our Favorite Advice for Homeschooling the Middle Grades

Between 5th grade and high school, your child will discover her passions and her own voice.

Provide plenty of physical outlets for your child’s energy. Organized teams, private lessons, or even a new bike can help set tweens on a healthy route toward adulthood.

Give your child plenty of freedom now so that he can learn to use it responsibly. Now is a good time to make mistakes.

Give your child lots of opportunities to express himself. Write papers, make movies, create petitions.

Set deadlines and goal without serious consequences. These are the years to teach your child how to follow through on a project or assignment, but you don’t want to create homeschool stress by setting the stakes too high.

Some days, your child will act like a toddler. Some days, he will act like he’s in college. This is normal.

Your child is navigating big emotional changes. Try not to take it personally.

Schedule plenty of time for hanging out with friends. Kids this age care about social relationships more than almost anything else.

Let your child set up and decorate her learning space however she wants.

Plan lots of hands-on projects and activities.

Take dance breaks.

Travel whenever you can, wherever you can.

Make rules together. Talk about them. Enforce them. 

Try lots of different activities. See which ones stick. 

Keep reading together.

Make time for volunteer work.

Be as patient with yourself as you are with your child — and vice versa.

Explore other options, like charter schools or private school, to see what they offer. You can borrow some of their good ideas.

Take more field trips. By high school, scheduling will be a challenge.

Focus on teaching your child how to learn, not on teaching her a set of facts to memorize.

You will have bad days. Move past them.

Take some personality tests — such as the Myers-Briggs test or an emotional intelligence test — together, and compare your results. Use the opportunity to get to know each other and the best ways to work together.

Keep a reading log. Looking back at it will remind you that you really are doing a good job.

Resist the urge to compare your kid’s progress to anyone else’s.

Listen to your child’s favorite music in the car.

Take the day off sometimes, just because you can. 

Hug your child every chance you get. These years will fly by. 􏰅


This list is adapted from a feature in the summer 2015 issue of HSL.