Homeschoolers and the Burden of Proof

I was at a grocery store today. It wasn’t an accident that I went to this specific store on this specific day. I was there for a reason. I was there to buy coconut milk, which had been advertised at what I thought was a very attractive price.

I picked up, amongst other things, a sizeable amount of it and made my way to the cash register, where I noticed I was not getting the advertised price.

I mentioned that to the cashier.

No, the cashier says, that’s the price.

That’s not what was advertised, I insisted.

Maybe that’s a different brand, she argued. This one’s price is right here on the screen. I just scanned it.

At that moment, pinned down with all my other groceries and my three children (because let’s face it, they’re almost always with me) I chose to return said coconut milk because it wasn’t at the price I had assumed I would pay for it. I paid for the rest of the groceries and left. (I make no excuse for my frugality. My husband works incredibly hard for the money he makes and I refuse to be frivolous with it.)

Anyway, because I’m obsessive or crazy, I chose to go back through the store to see if I had seen the advertisement incorrectly. As it turned out, I had been right. I had not made a mistake.

This time, as I loaded the cart with the coconut milk again, I took a picture of the advertisement under it and headed back the cash register.

It was only then that the employee decided she would send someone to check the price. After looking at my picture, enlarging it and turning it this way and that. It was only when another employee rushed to save her from herself that she backed off and gave me the discount and couched in an off-hand “Sorry.”

I walked out of the store with a smile. I had won.

Well, yes, I had won. And I felt good about winning. I may have muttered In your face! as I walked out of there.

But as I thought about it, besides the fact that this was just bad customer service, it made me think of how much this small interaction resembled the burden of proof that we, as homeschoolers, face in the world.

It reminded me how homeschoolers are questioned, looked at strangely and asked what it is they do and how they could do it even after it has been proven time and time again that homeschooling works, that non institutional learning yields better results than government schools can ever hope to provide.

As I have written about in my free giveaway essay Nine Questions Every Homeschooler Should Be Able to Answer, most people immediately shift the burden of proof of homeschooling onto the homeschoolers.

Homeschoolers and the Burden of Proof

The evidence that homeschooling works is there, but the picture must be enlarged, we need additional proof and perhaps we need someone to go and check it because, hey, perhaps it’s still not true.

But the system says, they cry, the system says. What the system says must be true after all! 

Sure, you’re homeschooling them, they say. Let’s see if they can keep up with their grade levels. Okay, you’re homeschooling, they say. Can we test them each year to see if they’re on par? Or perhaps we can just come and visit and talk to them awhile. See, because the system says all children must learn multiplication at this grade and algebra at this. The system, the system! 

What is it about the system that guarantees such adherence, such unquestioning obedience? The system is a liar; as in the grocery store, the system could have very well said something else had it been updated.

What most people forget is that the system was made for convenience. The system was put together so that workers could be churned out for industrial jobs. The system is defunct.

Homeschoolers and the Burden of Proof

The system was made for people, not people for the system. Homeschoolers see that. And even with the burden of proof on us, we are beating it.

Keep at it, homeschoolers. Even when your friends roll their eyes at you. Even when your extended family does not understand. You’re winning. You have the proof. Don’t bow to a failed system.

You’re winning. The facts are on your side.

I Homeschool Because Classrooms Taught Me Some Terrible Habits

I don’t homeschool because I did badly in school; I homeschool because I was a good, no, a great student.

If you ask my teachers if they remember me, I would bet a body part that twenty-two years later, they still do.

I didn’t talk during class; I didn’t raise my hand too often so as to give others a chance even when I knew the right answer; I waited my turn. I asked for permission. I waited for test days to let my personality shine through.

Which is exactly the reason I homeschool. Classrooms taught me enough bad habits to last a lifetime.

I was once put beside the most disruptive boy in my classroom during Science class. I cried. The reason, the teacher explained to the class of fifty, was to encourage the boy to behave better.

“But you’re punishing me,” I sobbed to the teacher. “You’re punishing me for being good.” (Read the article in its entirety on Penelope Trunk’s blog here.)

Slow and Steady Does Not Always Win The (Education) Race

My sincere apologies to Aesop, but since he can’t defend himself, he and I will just have to agree to disagree.

I recently read the story of the turtle and the hare to my youngest. To my surprise, I found myself not liking the story very much.

What changed, I wondered. It was always one of my favorite stories as a child. A nice, dependable one to lean on when I wasn’t getting what I wanted. Slow and steady, I told myself. Slow and steady wins the race. And shelved it away.

And then recently, when I read the story again, it hit me as false.

Slow and Steady Does Not Always Win The (Education) Race

Slow and steady after all does not always win.

I mean, come on, think about it – wasn’t the hare the worst mascot ever for speed? He goofed off, spouted off, showed off. He was arrogant and incredibly rude. Anyone’s money would be on the turtle.

Anyone could ask, well, what if the hare had been diligent? What if he hadn’t been proud and foolish?

Would how fast he ran hindered him then? No? Then his speed wasn’t a problem, was it? His liabilities lay elsewhere.

They lay in his attitude.

Imagine your child is thrilled that he is learning something new. He has hit upon his passion and he’s going for it. He’s learning at breakneck speed. He’s in the flow. He can’t wait to learn more. He ignores every other subject because he focused on his favorite.

Do you purposely slow him down? Do you make sure he “catches up” with everything else before pursuing this singular thing? Worse, since we’re talking of hares and all, do you hold it as a carrot for him?

Or do you let him take off and take over?

Slow and Steady Does Not Always Win The (Education) Race

Apply that same principle to anything else – opening a business, for example, or even losing weight. If you succeed at first, do you go for it or do you temper your emotions and then sabotage yourself in a misplaced attempt at false humility?

Who would do that? How about the entire system of education?

Think of grade levels. Children are assigned a grade by their age and age alone. They are judged and tested by age and age alone. Basically, they are asked year after year after year if they are a turtle or a hare. And, if they are lucky, or so they are told, they are assigned to a track.

The institutions of education have all bought in to the story of the turtle and the hare.

But slow and steady does not always win. It does not win because education, if it is a race at all, has no finish line. See, when you buy the idea of grade levels, and the fact that someone is giving you this privilege of education, you force yourself into being a turtle or a hare.

Slow and Steady Does Not Always Win The (Education) Race

There is no finish line. Education is not a race. It is only possibility. It is potential. Slow and steady does not always win, but can. The fastest does not always win, but might.

Winning is not defined by public accolades; it is defined by personal satisfaction.

If your child wants to obsessively learn some one thing, let him. If you hit upon a business venture and want to pour your soul into it, go for it! If your friend is excited about a project and can’t stop talking about it, don’t tell her to slow down.

“Pace yourself” may be one of the most annoying two words in the English language I have ever heard.

You are not a public school. Stop thinking like one. Stop selling your education and the education of your children short by buying a lie.

Self Directed Education Means Never Having to Ask for Permission

One of the nice things about having homeschooling multiple children is that I get to see – firsthand – their budding personalities emerge. I get to experience how different they are from each other. Sometimes when I get compliments on their behavior I have to remind myself that it’s not my mothering – these traits were present all along. (Sometimes, in their worst moments, while correcting them, I have to remind myself of the same thing.)

And yes, of course, they each learn differently, with their own learning style.

No such thing as learning styles? Hogwash. I don’t care how many “experts” they can gather to swear that, I teach each of my children differently. I have watched them thrive (and fail), each in their own distinctive way.

When it comes to self directed education, the kind we are working toward, the most important thing I want them to learn is that self directed education means not having to ask for permission.

I’m not talking about raising your hand before speaking (although that’s a factor). I’m also not referring to needing permission to use the restroom in the middle of desk work (although, again, that’s an aspect of it.) I’m talking about being endlessly interested in something enough to not wait for someone to ask if you want to learn more about it. I am referring to wanting to do something so badly that you get ahead of your teacher.

I’m talking about being frustrated with being spoonfed and donning the apron yourself and turning on the oven to do something about it.

The problem is that, for some temperaments, this kind of self-directed education can be a hard sell.

For instance, I have one child who will do things without needing to ask permission. I appreciate that about her. I depend on her without having to remind her. And, yes, occasionally, when she gets into things she should not, I have to stop her.

On the other hand, I have another child who waits. A little more cautious, he prefers to wait for direction. To make matters worse, sometimes correcting child #1 can have unintended consequences on child #2 by causing him to shrink a little more.

What’s a mom to do?

I have, as all of us at some point, made a list of general rules for myself to get my children to take control of their own learning. As a classical unschooler, my goal in homeschooling has always been to encourage self directed education while giving them a strong base.

Here’s my list of five practical things you can do to keep your homeschool focused on self directed education.

Deschool yourself

One of the most important reminders I need is to deschool myself. I can’t tell you the number of times I have begun our homeschooling day energized and excited only to fall back into remembered patterns of classrooms and how things “should be.”

Learning almost never looks as it “should.” I have to remind myself of that.

I learn in snippets, in places I didn’t think I would, in random situations and from people whose names I can’t remember. There are only short periods of memorization or recall – and blessed aha! moments – when things come together, but for the most part self directed education does not look like a school classroom, nor should it.

Don’t scold initiative

When either of my aforementioned children do something of their own accord that leads to an accident, I have to often bite my tongue. Yes, I want a clean, tidy home. Yes, I encourage them to clean up after themselves, especially in the kitchen. But I don’t scold initiative.

This does not mean, of course, that I don’t correct them at all. It just means that I don’t punish the desire to try something new.

I will absolutely scold my son for the carelessness and inattention that led to spilled milk, and I will always ask them to clean up after themselves, but I do not try to do it for them. And I definitely do not discourage them from doing something because it might make a mess.

Have rules

Some of my unschooling friends are surprised when I mention that we have rules. Aren’t you an unschooler? is usually what I hear. But as I have written in my book, I do not shirk from rules. The old story about children playing in the middle of a field without a fence is true. It is just as true as cars that will drive toward the middle of a mountainous road if there aren’t guard rails at the edge.

Rules are just guideposts to keep my children from slipping off the edge. Guideposts are there for direction and they grow with the children, but never disappear completely. Without direction, we wouldn’t know where we were going.

Our family rules are a general map of the terrain, they are not a guidance system to a destination. We are free to trace out our own journey with their use.

Schedule/ have expectations

do have expectations of my children just as they have certain expectations of me. I do expect certain work to be done by a certain time and I expect that they will do it. Our homeschool schedule helps immensely with such expectations and how we get our work done smoothly.

My children have lately decided that they want to spend their day time playing. So they have taken to getting their school work done before bed at night. They work independently in their rooms before going to sleep. (nightschooling, yeah!)  If they have problems, I help them in the morning, right before we do our readaloud or Science or Bible reading together.

Our schedule keeps us on track and leaves plenty of room for them to pursue whatever else it is they want in their free time, which, owing to their current inclination to work at night, is almost all day. Boredom alone sometimes propels them into self-directed learning.

Strew & Encourage

If you haven’t read my post about how to use strewing in classical education, you should go read it now. I love strewing and I use it as a way to introduce new passions and subjects. Once these interests are awakened, I do everything in my power to keep them alive. Like planets? Let’s go find books about it, let’s watch a movie about it!

With all this however, I also remember to back off a little. It’s easy to slip back into my “should-ing” ways and take over the education. That is perhaps the hardest part of all.

If self-directed education shouldn’t require asking for permission, it also shouldn’t require my constant prodding. It’s a difficult balance because sometimes it requires waiting and doing nothing.

Encouraging self directed education is sometimes an education in itself.

A Lesson in Homeschooling From The Walking Dead

Sigh. The Walking Dead madness has finally caught up with me.

I just happened to watch one (count it – one) episode of the current season with my husband and I just happened to mention that I would – someday – maybe – like to watch the show from the beginning.

And then, before I knew it, that was that.

There I was, watching The Walking Dead from the beginning, getting upset at bad decisions as if I was watching sports, crying over babies been born and children growing up in nightmarish scenarios and generally making a mess of my evenings binge watching the show. And, oh by the way, thinking up ways The Walking Dead isn’t really that different from my comfortable, suburban, homeschooling world after all.

I know, I know. Overactive nerdy brains, unite!

So, yeah, you already know that I like to get my inspiration where I find it. And this particular time it was in Season 3. (No spoilers, please. I’m barely at the beginning of the fourth season.)

It was at the moment when the main character, Rick, is losing his grip on reality after his wife dies. The other people depending on him are understanding of his need to mourn, but in their rather, er, unnatural situation, their patience runs out and there are added dangers and complications which have to be solved. They need him. So they give him a singular perspective. They repeat to him what he has told them earlier when asserting his leadership.

“This is not a democracy,” they remind him, nudging him to regain his mental balance.

That phrase spoke to me.

As a homeschooling mom, I have used that phrase, often in jest, with my children.

“This is not a democracy, kids!”

“This is NOT a democracy! It’s a benevolent dictatorship.”

“Not a democracy. Do it because I said so.”

“You don’t always get to do what you want to. You don’t always get to pick. This is not a democracy, guys.”

I have said it more times than I can count with a scheduling chart.

The Walking Dead brought it into stark perspective. If it isn’t a democracy, that meant someone is in charge and that someone is me (and my husband, of course.)

On a daily basis, it is up to me to lead. As a classical unschooler, I am guided by my children’s needs and interests, but I am still required to steer, to know where we’re headed, to make decisions that affect all of us. I am required to lead.

It’s not just a good idea, it is absolutely necessary.

Our family isn’t a democracy. Neither is our homeschool. We have a leader. And it’s me.

It is a sobering, sobering thought. And a good reminder.

Who said watching TV was a waste of time?

How to Schedule an Effective Homeschooling Day (Part 3 of 3)

This is part 3 of a series of posts about scheduling an effective homeschooling day. If you have missed part 1 and part 2, you should go read them first.

In the final step, this is what I did.

How to Schedule an Effective Homeschooling Day Part 3 of 3 - The Classical Unschooler

I bought a thick cardboard – the kind you get at the Dollar Tree and some Post Its. Then I calculated how much we could realistically get done in a day. This is highly subjective, of course and can be changed depending on the age of the child, your style, your family’s idea of what is a priority and so on, which is why I love it.

I had already made a list of everything we needed to get done in a week of school, and so at this point all I needed to do was break it up into smaller chunks and get it done on a consistent basis.

Some people like to write this down in a planner. I prefer a board with Post Its.

Why? Because I’m a neat freak. (Sigh. Yes, I know.) Post Its give you freedom to move things around. If, for example, we ran out of a time because math took a little bit longer on one day, it is possible to just move the Post it over to a day when it needs to get done. Of course, you can also do this in a planner and move things around if you prefer, but I like having a template hanging somewhere that the children and I can see every day.

Organizing our day like this has two big advantages.

It clarifies what they need to get done and reduces daily dependence on me.

This, by far, has been the biggest advantage of our schedule. At some point, the children and I decided that waiting for me to say it was time to get sit down work done was not what we wanted to do with our day. They were always trying to do something rousing and enjoyable like play in the dirt and I – silly me – wanted them to think about math problems and how many tomatoes or pineapples a mythical person in a book received.

How to Schedule an Effective Homeschooling Day Part 3 of 3 - The Classical Unschooler

They had had enough. And, honestly, so had I. Now that we have this chart, they are free to get their work done whenever they want through the day. They choose to do it the night before it’s due. I only take a look at it and make sure it’s done and looks good.

It leaves us with lots of free time.

Getting everyone together is the largest time waster in the world. Look at how much time government schools spend every day taking attendance and enforcing discipline.

The reason homeschooling is so efficient is precisely because we are not spending time herding cats. So why would I want to stick a routine of collecting everyone, bringing them to the table and making them do sit down work when it kills me slowly and painfully on the inside?

This way leaves us tons of free time. We are free to pursue Bible reading, singing, learning to play the piano, learning to cook, Science experiments, reading aloud and, yes, video games.

How to Schedule an Effective Homeschooling Day Part 3 of 3 - The Classical Unschooler

The drudgery is done. The promise of homeschooling is finally ours.

All because of an effective schedule.

However…

No talk of scheduling is complete without the mention of the fact that it must be one that is adaptable. That is, after all, the beauty of homeschooling. I do occasionally fall into the trap of making a schedule and then regimenting it so rigidly that I begin to dread and hate our day. When that happens, I know something has to change. Usually, it’s that same schedule. It is the combination of flexibility and habit that makes our homeschooling work smoothly.

What works for you when it comes to scheduling your homeschool day? Please share what has worked or what you thought would work but did not. 

Monsters, Busy Bodies and Other Scary Things

I’ve been following “America’s Worst Mom” for a while now. Ever since a friend picked her book Free Range Kids as her book club pick, I have shared in Skenazy’s hatred for busy bodies and a deep desire to give my children the kind of freedom that allows them to make as many choices as possible – choices that were a given for the kids just a few generations ago.

So I have to share the latest news here, one which came to my attention because it was shared by none other that Skenazy herself, who has become one of my personal heroes of a sort. I may not agree with everything she says, but her voice of sanity in a nation gone crazy with the idea of never letting a child be left alone, anywhere, any time is a welcome and necessary one.

As a homeschooler that leans toward unschooling, I find this trend disturbing. Busy bodies don’t need more permission to run wild and boss others around.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. – C.S.Lewis

It comes close on the heels of a news story where a homeschooling family was sued for letting their children play in their backyard during “school hours” and this one where the mother was doing dishes while her children played in the back yard and this one andandand

And now, “Operation Round Up” (what are we doing, killing weeds?) is hiring busy bodies like the ones mentioned above to report truancy, calling it “community help.”

Here’s a direct quote from the article:

“Sometimes if these citizens don’t call me, I have no way of knowing,” explained Williams, “so if its a nosy neighbor, be a nosy neighbor. Just call me and let me check out the situation.”

Williams also explained how sometimes people can mistake home-schooled children as truant because they usually don’t have a set schedule like students who attend public or private school. Despite this, the school board still encourages people to speak up with their suspicions.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The Three Lessons of Monopoly

We have a new obsession around here. It’s Monopoly.

At any given opportunity, my children will pull it out and begin playing. It’s surprising to me, really, how often they will beg me to play it with them and I find myself saying, “Are you kidding? We have to leave in thirty minutes!”

“Please?” they will whine then, “please, please, please?” with the blithe carelessness children have for time.

I usually cave and we end up forgetting lunch and extend bedtime. I play with them, but not only because I usually win. (And they still want to play. I’m in awe.) And not even because I’ve waited a long time to find anyone else as in love with it as I was as a kid.

I agree to play it so much because Monopoly has some fantastic lessons. (And before you roll your eyes, let me say, of course it’s okay to play it just for fun. Not everything has to have a lesson.)

However, if you’re an overthinker like me and you appreciate myriad reminders of frugality, budgeting, cash reserves, you’ll know where I’m coming from. Otherwise, maybe it’s best to go read about how to win at Monopoly each and every time.

Here are three lessons “the world’s most popular game” has taught me.

Pay attention

Children (did I say that out loud? I meant people – in general, but let’s stay focused) tend to have tunnel vision, especially when something looks fun. I find that Monopoly is a fantastic reminder to get them to be aware of their surroundings.

The Lessons of Monopoly

When a property goes to an auction, my children almost always reject if they’re not actively seeking it out as a monopoly or if they think it’s unimportant for whatever reason. (The light blue properties, for instance, are treated like trash and sold back to the bank with the least hesitation.) Here’s where I remind them.

“Look, I’m picking it up for a song.”

Shrug.

“No, look!” I insist, as I turn back around and resell the property to the bank and make some extra cash or hold it until it becomes obvious that it’s valuable to someone else wanting a monopoly. It’s been a hard lesson for my children to learn that even if they’re not interested in a property and it isn’t as expensive or high rent as Park Place or Boardwalk, it’s still a great way to make some money by what we now call “flipping.”

Also related to the auction is keeping an eye on what the other players have in terms of money and / or properties. Many a time, it is a good idea to let a property go to auction and not buy it for asking price if the other players don’t have ready cash available. My children rarely notice this and happily pay asking price if they’re excited about landing on a past favorite.

In terms of developing the art of paying attention, Monopoly is as good as a game as the Where’s Waldo puzzle books or playing Spot It and Spot It Jr. with younger children.

It teaches them that gathering information at all stages of the game – not just when it’s your turn – is a fantastic skill to develop.

Currency is not Value

My children never, ever want to part with their hundred dollar notes. Never. Ever. And this is not an exaggeration.

If there is ever a time that they have to pay fifty dollars, they would rather gather up all their change in five and one dollar notes rather than break the hundred dollar notes.

Also, once they own a specific property, even if they owe another player rent, they will get rid of all their cash and refuse to liquidate it, claiming they have “no money.”

Indeed, they will make all kinds of arrangements to simply keep playing. It’s fascinating to watch the odd combinations and permutations they come up with – including debts, forgiveness of said debts, even paying each others’ rents!

At some point, my husband declares, they’re not even playing Monopoly; they’re playing “rotten economy,” if such a game exists.

The Lessons of Monopoly

“So what is money?” my daughter finally asked at the dinner table the other day after a long conversation with my husband trying to explain the concepts of money, price, value and currency.

She may not have got it all, but at least the conversation had begun. And I understood that based on the classical model of education, they are still in the grammar stage and money versus currency is definitely a logic stage conversation, but there had been a hint in that direction.

“What is money, then?” she asked. I wanted to applaud. She’s only eight. It took me until I was in my mid-twenties to ask that question.

Fortunes change, be kind

This is one we all stumble on, but one specific child (I won’t mention who) really, really likes to win. I mean, really. And this specific child likes to rub our noses in the dirt when such a victory is about to take place, takes place and after it takes place.

I’m all for celebrating, but learning to be kind has been one of the best lessons from this game. And yes, while I will say that there is a tipping point after which fortunes certainly can not change, we have had some very interesting reversals.

Helping my children to manage their emotions and temper both their wins and losses has been challenging, to say the least. What are the chances that I would get one of each child who loves to win and one who hates to lose? (That sounds redundant, but I assure you, it’s not.)

So we have to learn, I guess, in one word, humility. Me too.

The Lessons of Monopoly

This is one subject with no lesson plan. I can’t put “kindness” in our daily planner. So we practice when we play. And when the winner loses, we remember the quote I had glued above my desk when I was much, much younger, a quote from Kipling’s poem If that I still recall with fondness.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;”

And if you’re here reading this post and nodding up and down, saying, We knew this for years, maybe consider the Monopoly Luxury Edition! I can’t show this to my kids yet, because they’ll want it for tomorrow instead of for Christmas. *wink

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The Trouble With Eclectic Homeschooling

I was going to title this post “The Trouble With Classical Unschooling” but chose to go with “eclectic homeschooling” because I think defining the term “classical unschooling” is its own beast. (Which, by the way, if you’re interested in what that’s all about – go read my book.)

But I also chose the title because I think it defines the battle for us finger-in-every-pie kind of homeschoolers.

The struggle is real, people.

I wish, I really do, on some days that I was one of those who knew exactly what style of homeschooling I fell into, that I wasn’t one to pick the best from this style and the most from that one.

Yes, it gives me immense freedom to be able to do so, but it’s also a great burden. Being eclectic means, amongst other things, never being settled in a nice, neat routine.

Lately this concern has centered around extra curricular activities. Mainly because how you feel about your children being in various activities will likely be influenced by your style of homeschooling, if not parenting. Do you think they need to be in activities? Do you believe they will learn by being in a classroom?

And do you need a teacher to teach the things you are not able to teach them? Is music important? Is art? Do you sign them up? Or do you merely wish to expose them to various things and wait for them to decide? Do you make them continue when they do not want to?

If you know the answer to these questions, you, my friend, know exactly where you stand and are, very likely, not an eclectic homeschooler.

Because those questions put me in a tizzy. I do not like a bunch of activities. I have sworn to never be the mom who is rushing from one engagement to the next and driving kids around to various sports and activities they are not interested in. Never, ever, ever. Ever. Not happening.

However…

What do you do when you want to simply expose them to something they might just be good at? Do you force them into something non-academic that makes them unhappy? Or do you pick your battles and let the rest go?

That is my current predicament.

And that is the trouble, in essence, with being an eclectic homeschooler. Of course, this can be a problem with homeschooling in general, but one that is definitely accentuated by a style that tries to incorporate more than one style.

What do you think? If you are an eclectic homeschooler, how do you navigate the zone of activities for your children?