Teach Kids to Cook: Indispensable Tools

A few months ago, I wrote about a blog post focusing on food and teaching kids to cook. Considering we all love a good meal, our family takes training in such matters very seriously.

Since that blog post was received so well, I thought I would write another one about it. This time I thought I would focus especially on the tools needed to teach kids to cook.

Teach kids to cook: the only 3 things you need

I am not a fan of Master Chef when it comes to cooking although I like watching it for occasional inspiration. Why, you may ask? For the simple fact that it turns what should be fun and experimental into something professionals do. Our everyday food is not gourmet. I seek to teach my children to feed themselves and their families, not enter competitions.

Aprons

With that said, I consider a good apron a necessity. And not just because I wear one. I see aprons as important because when they entered the kitchen first, my children were clearly very bothered by the fact that it was very hands-on. Never mind that they were just playing in the dirt outside. Aprons gave them the freedom to work without worrying about “getting dirty.”


Knives

A good junior knife set is also a great idea when it comes to kids. Although my daughter is extremely proficient with an adult chef’s knife, when it comes to teaching my two sons, I get nervous. There’s just something about the way they hold it that does not inspire confidence. So for kids like them, a junior knife set, either nylon or steel works great.


If you want to get into it, there are all kinds of other fun things like kitchen measures for kids and cookie making tools, but we tend to be minimalist in the kitchen. We don’t like clutter and we like to leave our counters clean, so we steer away from excess.

Recipe books

However, the third thing you should probably get are some great inspiring recipe books they can cook from. When we start out teaching, I have the kids help me make dinner or lunch – one by one, of course, not all at the same time in the kitchen. That’s a recipe for a disaster, pun intended.

But eventually, if they don’t do something on their own, they tend to lose interest. Having them create something from start to finish keeps them interested and learning. (A crockpot meal is usually the easiest first meal for kids to cook because there is no open flame.)


The most important thing while teaching kids to cook is to make it part of the everyday work / play routine and not treat it as something special. We cook, we clean, we read, we play, we sleep. Teach them with that in mind and make them self-reliant.

Happy cooking!

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Ogden Nash Poetry – When You Crave Whimsy

When we come back from our local public library, I can’t get my children to do anything but read. My daughter, especially, will have her head buried in her new discoveries, oblivious to the world around her. And she’ll be having a rip roaring time with the book, too. Laughing and smiling and thoroughly immersed in it.

I miss that. I miss entering a world of fantasy and whimsy. (and let’s admit it – for children learning something new, the whole world is full of fantasy and whimsy!) Oh, these jaded grown-up eyes.

But wait, as they say in those television commercials, there’s more hope.

Enter Ogden Nash Poetry

If picking up your kids’ fantasy literature and reading it is too much for you to imagine, try this on for size. Find some Ogden Nash poetry.

Ogden Nash was a rather prolific American poet who wrote over 500 pieces of poetry.

Here’s one gem.

Oh some people grieve for New Year’s Eve,

And some for the dog days fiddle;

My moment sublime is the restful time

When the month is at the middle.

I stumbled on Ogden Nash quite accidentally. I was reading The Tale of Custard the Dragon to my youngest child – a treat for your mouth, by the way and so fun! – and I began to wonder if this writer had written anything else. So off I went to Amazon to see what else I could find.

And I came away so much richer.



In the evenings, when I don’t want to commit to reading a big tome of a book, Ogden Nash’s poetry is the perfect antidote to tiredness. It’s possibly the only book of poetry I can say feels refreshing. My husband has often seen my laugh out loud while reading it. And I am not one of those LOL people. I’m more of smile-at-a-joke person.  

Here’s another quote to whet your appetite.

Does anybody mind if I don’t live in a house that is quaint?

Because, for one thing, quaint houses are generally houses where plumbing ain’t,

And while I don’t hold with fanatical steel-and-glass modernistic bigots,

Still, I do think it simplifies life if you live it surrounded by efficient pipes and faucets and spigots.

So if you catch yourself watching your kids gleefully enjoying a book and wish you had some good, light reading, pick up some Ogden Nash poetry. It’s just plain fun. And a lot of his books are now available for just a penny!


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Why Homeschooling is Hard (And How to Simplify It)

Let’s face it. Some days, we don’t see the horizon. Some days, homeschooling is hard. We begin to do something, then have to do something else and another thing. We gain no momentum. And at the end of the day we feel burnt out and worse, jaded against the whole idea of homeschooling in the first place.

Does it need to be this way? No, of course not. But in our daily lives, it can often seem this way. How can we get over it?

Let me introduce you to the power of the template.

The Power of the Template

A few days ago, I gave up drinking coffee. The caffeine was interfering with my ability to think and leaving me feeling worn out and jittery, so I decided I would be better off without it.

The results were not good, of course. I distinctly remember feeling like I carried around my personal fog with me. Everything seemed gray. The feeling was accentuated by the rainy days we were experiencing. All I wanted was sleep. In fact, I sat down at one point only to wake up an hour later. I had in fact fallen asleep without meaning to!

The Good News

The great thing I discovered that day was that the only thing that went off without a hitch was our homeschool day. Homeschooling was not hard!

I have written before about how I organize our homeschooling day and also have a few videos I have made about it on my Facebook page, but today I’m taking a step back from a schedule to talk about a template.

(Article continues below form – scroll down to continue.)

Oh, by the way, I’m releasing The Classical Unschooler’s Guide to Creating Your Own Curriculum in May 2017. If you’re interested in the book, be sure to sign up for my mailing list below to receive updates and to be entered into the list for giveaways!

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Sometimes when you mention a schedule, people balk. I do, too. If you plunked down a few tasks in front of me and said, “Okay, so do these in the same order every single day until you don’t have to think about them!” I probably won’t know where to start.

So don’t start – yet. The trick is to figure out the template before you start.

Think about it. The weather has a template – summer, fall, winter and spring follow with regularity. Night follows day. Recessions follow expansions. What are these but templates?

A Rhythm for Homeschooling

Figure out your rhythm, your template for homeschooling before you create a schedule and you will do far better.

How do you do this? Take a good look at your day. Don’t think of the ideal day, think of a normal day. Don’t try to change it or idealize it. Simply observe it and note it down.

Then figure out out what you can include in your day or how you can arrange it to fit you and your family best. If you don’t like working out first thing in the morning, don’t! If your children would rather do their work at night and leave the day free for play, let them! There is no one size fits all approach in homeschooling.

The trick of course is to figure out your personal template. Every spring day is not the same, nor is every night or day. Add your personal signature to the template after you’ve refined it.

And simplify your homeschooling.

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News and Views of the Week

First the news…

It’s been a bit of a slow news week, especially on the homeschooling front except for the big news in that unschooling is probably going mainstream. No way to tell for sure, of course. But this article in Good Housekeeping sure seems to point in that direction.

On the national front, President Trump is cutting funds from the Education Department by 13.2% – what has been referred to as a dramatic downsizing. You can read all the details about that here.

A new study released this week shows the benefits of actually writing things down with pen and paper as more helpful to learning than typing with a keyboard.

And here’s proof of why homeschoolers & unschoolers are better learners as adults: teaching others is the best way to learn, according to this article.

Then the views!

I’ve been continuing my study in the Greek classics – which I briefly mentioned in my post yesterday: The Real Tragedy of Education Today

I had a chance to read some very exciting books this week, which I will have posts about in the upcoming days but I wanted to mention one in particular that is excellent: Grit by Angela Duckworth. It is a fascinating look at what makes grit and the real surprise I found was that she sounds a lot like an unschooler when it comes right down to it. Do yourself a favor and read it!


Well, that’s it from me this side of Friday. Have a good weekend!

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The Real Tragedy of Education Today

I recently discovered I was ignorant. Ignorance is not a bad thing if you ask me, especially if, firstly, you admit it frankly and secondly, if you know how to cure it. And I realized I was ignorant in the classics.

Well, I thought. I can’t possibly be a classical unschooler and be ignorant in the classics, so away I went to the bookstore to fix that. My plan was – is – to read the great works of literature, philosophy and history chronologically.

Where are the greats?

Imagine my surprise then when I had trouble finding the first writers of great Western literature – the Greeks – at a bookstore that seemed otherwise overflowing with books! What? No greats of Western culture? How could this be?

And yes, I found Homer, thank goodness, but no Herodotus, no Aeschylus, no Hesiod, no Quintus, no Thucydides. And just a smattering of Plato and Aristotle in the middle of a large area of philosophy replete with existentialism and nihilism.

And I haven’t even started with the Romans.

I’m not blaming the bookstore, mind you. They stock what they can and what sells. They have to work within their space constraints and make a profit. I get it. I’m as capitalist as they come.

What bothered me was that if the bookstore wasn’t stocking Greek and Roman classics, it meant that no one was buying them, which meant that no one was reading them. 

What are colleges really reading?

Clearly, there’s a disconnect somewhere. Fareed Zakaria, in his book, In Defense of a Liberal Education claims that a common base of culture and knowledge is important for people to form a common identity. People get along better when they have it. E. D. Hirsch says the same thing. Lists like these confirm the idea that books which matter to western culture are alive and well read.

And yet, here’s a better list – a dynamic list – of what colleges are really reading.

This second list matched my experience at the store. Yes, of course there are people other than college students buying books. However, it seemed to me that when it comes to reading what is referred to as “good literature,” the pool that people choose from stops more often than not in the Modern age. And even that is now being scrubbed clean.

We love Shakespeare, but…

… we don’t read those who influenced him enough. I was dismayed when I saw so many copies of Ibsen’s A Doll House on the shelves and not enough copies of Greek drama.

It reminded me of my own education which followed a chronological order that was all wrong.

We do a disservice to our children (and ourselves) if we only throw in a smattering of Greek & Roman mythology in their childhood because they are fun and then leave it out completely when we enter the middle grades and high school.

We do a serious disservice to our children if by the time they enter the Rhetoric stage, all we present to them are Modern writers and philosophies of nihilism and existentialism.

I know because I’ve been there.

Speaking anecdotally, I can tell you that I adopted existentialism as a personal philosophy because it seemed “cool.” There was very little thought that went into it.

I received a good education. Having read Greek and Roman mythology in the elementary years to Medieval writing (in simplified English) in middle school, we were reading Shakespeare in high school. Unfortunately, we went from that to Moderns, Moderns and more Moderns in college. We also threw in a generous helping of Post Modern literature until we all concluded that hell was other people.

My worldview – along with my education – was apparently complete.

Structure Your Curriculum Differently

In my book The Classical UnschoolerI mention how to structure every subject so that the student can pass through the three levels of learning – the grammar, the logic (or dialectic) and the rhetoric – for each subject individually.

I also mention that the rhetoric stage can be the most fun stage because at this stage the student already has a grasp of the basic knowledge each subject requires, has tested what is true and what isn’t and is at the point where he can make arguments for and against a specific topic.

It is precisely at this stage – the rhetoric stage – that we want to reintroduce him to the classics. The rhetoric stage is when we want to challenge the mind with new ideas, to grapple with them, to find the beauty, the poetry and the pathos in them. Sure, if you so wish, throw in some Postmodern ideas in there, too, but make sure they are questioned, not just imbibed.

This the tragedy of education today. Don’t let it happen to you and yours.

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The Power of an Unequivocal “No”

Something curious happened to me at our local library the other day. The kids and I often go there once a week to check out a mountain of books. We usually each collect our books and stack them together on a table before checking them out.

This time, a little girl wandered over to our stack and wanted to take a book my daughter had chosen. She asked me if she could have it.

“No,” I told her. “That’s ours. We’re checking it out.”

The child wandered away. I thought all was as it should be and started looking for picture books for my four year old. But it wasn’t. In telling her daughter that she could not have something, I might as well have walked into a bear cave.

“Talk to me, not my daughter!” her mother bellowed.

I tried, as best I could, to explain to the steamrolling woman that I had no problem with that, that I hadn’t in fact gone and sought her daughter out. I mentioned though that I had to stop her when she was reaching into what was set aside as for me.

“Don’t tell my daughter no!” she yelled at me, nonetheless. “Now you’ve hurt her feelings.”

I was so flabbergasted, I couldn’t think of anything else to say except, “You can’t be serious.”

But she was.

I’m happy to say that the scene ended without anyone (er, me!) getting physically assaulted, but every time I think about it, I still can’t believe what she said. Clearly, it was such a deeply held belief in her mind that she was willing to confront a complete stranger over a situation in which she was clearly, ridiculously wrong. And why? All because of a little word: No.

How often do you say no?

We might not share that mama bear’s idea about raising our children without ever saying no or them ever having to hear a negative word from any other adult, but I would bet all of us say “yes” more often than we should.

I have written before about how saying no can be useful in saving time, but in this post, I want to explore how an unequivocal no can be useful not just in saving time but actually creating an atmosphere of trust, creativity and freedom – yes, freedom – for your children as well as you.

Think about a random incident. Say you’ve been asked to do something you would rather not – drop off a book you highly recommended to a friend, for instance. Or attend an event you know you won’t enjoy. What’s been asked isn’t necessarily a big deal. It’s just one of those pesky things that gets dropped into your lap somehow. It’s one of those would-you-mind favors we know all too well.

And sure, there are times when we don’t mind doing them. But, practically speaking, none of us has unlimited time. And I have a sneaking suspicion that we say yes way more often than we should. In fact, sometimes we get into such a habit of saying yes that we do it just to avoid saying no.

“Yes,” I sometimes see myself saying. “I’ll be there,” when every thought inside me is screaming, “No! Say no!”

Why do we do this?

I have a theory that we do this to be liked. Liked by who? Liked by whoever is it we’re talking to, of course! It could be the neighbor, our friends, even our children. Saying yes, feeling that we can meet the small demand in front of us gives us a temporary feeling of elation. And it’s not that big of a deal after all, we tell ourselves.

The problem is if we say yes too often, we actually end up saying No to what matters.

Stephen Covey mentions this when he emphasizes the distinction between the urgent and the important. He says what is urgent often takes over what is important. He gives the example of a ringing phone, but you can just as easily substitute the ringing phone with the small favors.

The link between an unequivocal “no” and failure

The other more important reason to say “no” and an unequivocal no to more things than we say yes to rests in the link between that no and failure. When we say no, we give ourselves and our children the freedom to fail. And that’s a good thing.

Let me explain.

Say you’re picking a curriculum. But you’re indecisive. So you dabble in this and that. You pick up a smattering of this and a little of that. You don’t ever put it into a coherent whole because you don’t want to choose. In other words, you don’t want to say no. After all, you don’t want to lose out on what can become a good curriculum in the future, one that has been highly touted by your homeschooling friends.

So you hang on.

Wouldn’t you be better off just picking one? What is the act of picking one anyway? Isn’t it saying “no” to all other options except that one?

And by doing that, wouldn’t you be free to decide in a few weeks (or a few months at most) that it’s working or it’s time to move on? Why would you steal yourself of that conviction, the joy of that assurance by merely hanging on to something that may or may not work?

I felt bad for the woman at the library, really, I did. She left soon after to take her daughter and her hurt feelings to be assuaged with fast food, as she declared too loudly not to be overheard. Not being given the option to fail can get time-consuming and downright expensive.

What would failure have looked like for her daughter that day? There were thousands of books at the library. A simple, firm directive to go look at those books could hardly be considered a punishment.

Give yourself the freedom to fail. Give your children the freedom to fail. It is only after failing that we find what we really want to give our time to. Small failures teach rather than bury. They liberate.

An unequivocal no has more power than a dithering yes. Use it.

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News and Views of the Week

Hope the week has been easy on you. It’s Friday! Which means another edition of Homeschooling News and Views.

Here’s what been going on this week in the homeschooling world.

First, the news…

There has been much talk about homeschoolers, abuse and the supposed requirement of government oversight. This article does a fantastic job of addressing that. I posted this on my Facebook page and it’s still making the rounds.

Another excellent article you must read came out this week. This is a must read, especially for those of you who are stay at home or work at home moms. I know I’m tired of hearing that I’ve wasted my education! How about you?

Does free online education violate the American with Disabilities Act? Apparently, some (well meaning, I’m sure) bureaucrats think so. Read all about it here.

Unschooling is in the news again. We’re going mainstream!

And in local news, Kentucky homeschool students can now be involved in public school teams.

Then the views!

This has been a busy week for me, but I did manage to carve out some time to read. As I said in my post last Friday, I’ve been quite taken by the Greeks, especially Plato.

So this is what I’ve been reading this week. Some of these are excellent. I’ll have a separate post on them soon.


Have a good weekend! Enjoy the changing weather!

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Five Things to Help Save Time This Spring

Spring is lurking around the corner. In our little corner in California, it means we indulge in that annoying act of springing our clocks forward and arguably making us worse for the wear.

And while I don’t mind DST much, what always gets me this time of year is the sense that I am somehow always behind. It’s as if Spring is egging me on, saying, “Come on! Hurry up!”

If you feel the same way, I’ve identified a few things that help me save time and make my life easier. I use these on a regular basis, so they are time tested and dependable. They might help you, too.

A journal

I was recently told that the name “to do list” no longer works. Today, we call it “bullet journaling.” I had no idea. I use three different journals everyday. One tells me what to do, one records what I have done and also what I have gleaned from the day. And the third one is purely for creative purposes like planning blog posts.

While it might seem like it takes time to keep journals, writing in them has helped me save time instead. How is this possible? Well, for one, I’m not constantly trying to remember what I was supposed to do every single day.

Most of my tasks tend to be repetitive. However, because I try to be a task allocater rather than a project finisher (the more efficient of the two) I like to see what I need to get done and check it off.

Also, I tend to take the heart the advice that I can pick and choose from my list of tasks for the day. I pick easy things and build momentum. I’m not always a fan of “eating that frog” first thing in the morning. Then again, some days I am.

Having a journal with a list of tasks helps me organize my day and get it all done without having to remember every last thing to do.


A timer

This is one trick I learned from The Flylady. You can do anything for 15 minutes, she likes to say. It’s true. If you feel like you’re not motivated, it helps to set the timer and give something your undivided attention for a set amount of time. It gets done pretty quickly. That’s because setting the timer adds an element of game play into the activity.

My children also use the timer for their video games to ensure fairness. We give each child control over the games for an hour each. That tends to cut down on arguments and keeps everyone contented.


Post its

I love stationery. Period. But there’s a special reason love Post Its. I use Post Its in our daily planning school method as I have explained here.

I even made a little video about it for my Facebook page.

Aqua Notes Water Proof Shower Pad

Okay, this one is exciting, you guys! I have Aqua Notes hanging in my shower with scribbles on it right now.

You know those ideas you get when you’re in the shower that you can never remember when you get out? With Aqua Notes, you can write them down. I can also use it to plan my day without having to hurry out of the shower. Sometimes I’m listening to a podcast in the shower and I can quickly jot down something I’ve heard that sounds interesting.

Highly recommended! Especially for moms who have too many things going through their heads at any given moment.


A Chromebook

This one is close to my heart. For years, I bought annoyingly big and heavy laptop computers that got hot on my lap if I used them too long. And if I wanted my children to use them, I cringed and prayed as they uncomfortably carried this heavy thing around the room. Also, the batteries kept dying and the aging laptops had to be connected to a power source all the time! 

Those headaches are now over, thanks to my Samsung Chromebook! I have been known to mention this piece of technology on random Facebook groups and anyone asking for a recommendation.

And how does it save you time? It takes less than 30 seconds to open up and begin typing on this blog. Which means that as soon as I have an idea, I can get going on it. No headaches, no frustrations with slow start ups, nothing. And it’s light, under $300 and small enough to fit in my oversized purse.

So there you are. Five gadgets to save you time this Spring. So come on, Daylight Savings Time. Come on, spring and summer! We’re ready for you now!

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Does Your Homeschool Match Your Personality?

The question of your personality and its effect on helping or hindering your homeschooling efforts is one I keep coming back to. That’s because it is important.

I am writing a fairly large chapter about this in my new book The Classical Unschooler’s Guide to Building Your Own Curriculum that will be coming out this May. If you would like to get updates on that, be sure to sign up for my mailing list in the right-hand column. As a bonus, you will receive my free e-book Nine Questions Every Homeschooler Should Be Able to Answer. 

Today, however, I want to mention one of the writers that has helped me immensely in terms of getting to know my own personality and create better habits, which directly affect our school days. I’m talking about Gretchen Rubin.


I first came across her when I read her books Happier at Home and The Happiness Project when they came out, but the one that has helped me the most personally has been her most recent work Better than Before

That’s because in this book, she mentions besides her brilliant distinctions between larks and owls, marathoners and sprinters, moderators and abstainers, (I’m a lark, a marathoner and an abstainer, in case you’re curious) she also brings up the four tendencies.

The four tendencies include the obliger, the upholder, the rebel and the questioner. They are an excellent framework for you to understand what works for you. It is so powerful that I keep coming back to this understanding about me to fuel not just my homeschooling efforts, but also my writing, my parenting and my marriage.

You see, according to the quiz in Better than BeforeI tend to be a rebel with a little bit of questioner thrown in. As a result, when someone asks me to do something, I will only do it if I see the value in it. And I have to convince myself of that value constantly. I also have to learn to override my own desire to sabotage my own work because I don’t like listening to my own voice in my head telling me to do something, no matter how important it is.

If you’re a homeschooler, this self-knowledge is invaluable! It helps you sidestep the issue of copying someone else’s style and curriculum only to find out that it doesn’t work for you. It has certainly helped me.

You can pick up a copy of Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before here.

You can also pre-order her upcoming book The Four Tendencies which will be out September 2017.

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How to Homeschool in a Small House

Before we started homeschooling, I made the mistake of wandering innocently onto some Pinterest boards for ideas. I say “mistake” because what I saw was immediately overwhelming. I saw dedicated school rooms! Imagine that … and keep imagining it, because for our little 1000 square foot house, it was just not going to happen. How in the world was I going to homeschool in our small house?

We have three bedrooms – the boys’ room, the girl’s room and our bedroom. Beyond that, there’s bathroom (a small one) and a dining area and living room.

Where in the world was my dedicated school room going to be with the pretty lettering on the walls? And the maps? And the kids’ art work?

I was saddened. Perhaps you are, too. So in this post, I’m going to talk about what you do not need and what you do need when it comes to being able to homeschool in a small house.

You do not need a chalkboard

The oddest thing about making the decision to homeschool is that most people think they need a chalkboard. Or a dry erase board. I did, too. I think the idea of school that looks like a classroom is something so deeply ingrained in our minds that we can’t conceive of another way. So here it is: you don’t need one. Use paper. 

The advantage of homeschooling after all, is that you will be working one on one with your children. Use a pad of paper to explain a problem. Alternatively, if you really like dry erase boards, you can get a small one to hold.

I still much prefer paper.

You do not need a dedicated school room

If you have one, great, but you don’t need one. There is absolutely no need for a school room or a play room for your children.

Yes, it’s nice to be able to put all the “school work” in one room and yes it’s fantastic to be able to get all the toys put away out of sight in the evenings, but no, you don’t need a separate room for that.

“School” tends to spill out into real life anyway, especially if you’re a classical unschooler. So why bother trying to contain it in one room?

Writing? Use the dining table. Reading? Use the couch. Memorizing? Use the backyard or patio. Or the car.

Things You Do Need

A dining table that is clear of things

Most people have a dining table with things on it. At least a table cloth. It’s a good idea to take some time to clear clutter before you begin homeschooling because it tends to collect.

Keeping a small house clear of clutter is the single best thing you can do for your homeschooling success.

Alternatively, a desk and a chair in the kids’ rooms where they can sit and write, read or do Lego projects could work as well.

A dedicated space or closet to store school supplies and books

We have a closet that my husband has built shelves in. In a small house, shelves are a life saver.

In the closet however, we keep only school-related things. Nothing else. It is accessible to the children and it is cleared out regularly. Anything that we are done using gets sold or given away or even thrown away. We do not store more than necessary.

A closet also serves us better than say, shelves, because at the end of the day I can put things away and shut the door. Because I am here all day long, in the middle of the toys and books, it’s nice to be able to close it when I stop working.

A couch

Most of our sit down work happens at the dining table, but we do the occasional read aloud on the couch. (I’ve been reading aloud after lunch, so we like to just hang out at the table and listen.)

Most of the children’s reading is also done on the couch and in their own beds. All this to say that if you are in love with reading nooks and can afford to have them in your home, that’s great. But if you can not, you’re not robbing your kids of a lifetime of reading. If my children can read hanging upside down from two chairs, they can read in a brightly lit open living room.

Don’t stress it.

So don’t let the size of your home stop you from taking on the adventure of a lifetime and giving your family the gift of homeschooling. We have a small house and we do just fine.

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