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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Homeschooling News and Views of the Week

Happy Friday! Here’s what has been going on this week that caught my interest.

First the news…

President Trump mentioned homeschooling as a choice in his first speech before Congress. “These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.” You can read about it here.

Bumblebees rolling tiny balls caught the internet’s attention this week. Can you train a bee? Apparently, you can! Read about it here. The implications to learning in general are immense.

A good article about how technology can’t simply be used to replicate the lecture system – all it does is add a screen – was published by Washington Post this week. You can read that here.

Then the views…

This week, I wrote Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Ineptitude. An incident at an assembly line for my car made me think about how leaving an established system always ends up angering people. But we must choose to leave anyway. If we are committed to our convictions, anyway.

I also have a review of sorts about Shoe Dog by Phil McKnight, the founder of Nike. It reminded me of a few things I have written in the past.

And I have the Top Five Apps To Use With Children. We use these apps all the time and we love them. I especially like that the kids adore them.

And finally…

…my favorite part of this series. What I’ve been reading this week.

I’ve been delving deep into some self-assigned classical reading. I’m starting with the Greeks for now and moving onto the Romans. But just to keep it interesting, I’ve thrown in a few other things, too. I’m really, really enjoying Plato. (There’s something I never thought I’d say a few years ago!)


Well, that’s it from me this week. Have a good weekend!

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Top Five Apps for Kids (Teach by NOT Teaching)

We love our electronics in this house. I have mentioned that before. We play video games, we have Kindle Fire and family movie nights. Given a choice between television and video games or apps, I will always choose the latter.

More than anything else that appeals to me about tablets is their ability to teach when we’re not doing sit-down learning.


We believe very strongly in our family about the importance of memorization and having a handy reference of facts in our heads. I write about this often. (Hence the term the classical unschooler!) What I don’t fuss over though is how those facts get there.

Most of the time the children learn these facts while playing on their tablet, thanks to these apps. Most of these are my absolute favorites.

Stack the States

My all time favorite app! Everyone in the family enjoys this one. And my kids can play it for hours. They learn about different landmarks in every state, which state borders which state and also where each of the fifty states are on a map of United States.

Price: $2.99

Stack the States II

A step up from Stack the States and a little bit harder. Here the “stack” for winning has to be much taller. Well, guess what? They can do it. When a challenge is presented as a game, my kids have no problem with it. My four year old who can’t read yet can put all 50 states in the right places. Go figure.

Price: $2.99

Stack the Countries

This is just like the above, except here you learn a little bit about all the countries of the world and you learn where they go in their rightful continent. Occasionally, I will get a question from my children that I have to admit I know nothing about. Eeep. It’s time for me to play on the Fire when they’re in bed.

Price: $2.99

Presidents Vs. Aliens

This one is fun! If you’ve seen my crazy children memorize the President’s song from the Classical Conversations CD, you can tell that they’re really into historical trivia. In Presidents Vs. Aliens, they search through their knowledge and add to it by identifying if the game is talking about a president or an alien. It is made by the creator of Stack the States and Stack the Countries.

Price: $1.99

Tower Math

Now, this is very clearly an educational game. But that does not mean it’s not fun! It’s just that you’re not going to be able to be sneaky about it and buy it for your kids. We have this as part of our curriculum, so it’s not an issue. We love reading about sieges and medieval warfare anyway, so this fits right in. You have to solve math problems to save the numbers.

Price: $1.99

I am a huge, huge fan of all these apps as you can probably tell. You can find them all here.

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Play, Becoming an Adult & Crazy Ideas

I’ve been reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the creator of Nike. It’s a fascinating read all the way through. But I was especially hooked when he described how he first had an inkling of what he wanted his life to be.

Here’s an excerpt.

Late at night I’d lie on my back, staring at college textbooks, my high school trophies and blue ribbons thinking: This is me? Still? […] On paper, I’m an adult. So why, I wondered, why do I still feel like a kid? […]  Like all my friends I wanted to be successful… I wanted to win.

No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.

And then it happened. As my young heart began to thump, as my pink lungs expanded like the wings of a bird, as the trees turned to greenish blurs, I saw it all before me, exactly what I wanted my life to be. Play.

Yes, I thought, that’s it. That’s the word. The secret of happiness, I’d always suspected, the essence of beauty or truth, or all we ever need to know of either, lat somewhere in that moment when the ball is in midair, when both boxers sense the approach of the bell, when the runners near the finish line and the crowd rises as one. There’s a kind of exuberant clarity in that pulsing half second before winning and losing are decided. I wanted that, whatever that was, to be my life, my daily life.

[…]

So that morning in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.

There are three reasons why this book got me teary-eyed and excited enough to write about it on this blog.

For one, he mentioned how in spite of being an adult with a degree from Stanford, he felt like a child. He hadn’t experienced much of real life, which he soon would, something I hear echoed often.

For another, he mentions the aspect of “play” which inspires him to start a business selling Japanese shoes in America. People who are truly excellent at what they do often say that when they are working, they often feel as if they are playing. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow calls this optimal experience” a state of consciousness called flow, which I have mentioned here.

Lastly, this book reminded me of something I had written months ago about how homeschooling moms sometimes discover a side business while in the process of their daily work. That’s exactly what happened to Knight, an avid runner.

You can pick up Shoe Dog here. Great read. Especially if you see those running shoes everywhere. Especially if your kids are into them.

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Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Ineptitude

I recently quoted Nancy Pearcey on my Facebook wall. The quote went something like this.

Homeschoolers are the ultimate do-it-yourselfers. They are self-motivated and self-directed, independent-minded and creative. They are not content to turn their education of their children over to the government.

One of my readers who also happened to be an old friend mentioned under it that she also saw homeschoolers as incredibly driven because this is no small enterprise we undertake. Another friend objected. Not necessarily, she wisely pointed out, adding in her characteristic way, You can be lame and still homeschool and you’d still do better than sending your kids to the government run mills.

In my mind, they were both right. I have seen homeschoolers who are organized, driven and make teaching their children their job, one that takes up all their time and attention and one they do exceptionally well.

On the other hand, I have also met homeschooling parents who are more hands off, but take their children with them, teach them whatever they know, believe simply in being involved in their lives.

Both kinds of homeschoolers do just fine. And yes, both are better than assembly line government run public schools.

An Assembly Line

I recently went to get a new car key made for our family van we bought last year. I couldn’t help but notice how unable or unwilling the people who worked at the dealership were to do things differently.

Would I like a free car inspection?

No, thank you, I’m just here for a new key.

Well, we do have to check tires. It’s the law.

Fine, but nothing else. I’m just here for the key. I have other things to do as well.

And even after all that, the car somehow ended up at the vacuuming and cleaning place. After waiting for over an hour, I inquired, complained and finally was able to leave. Not before paying for the key and upsetting the people working there.

Why were they upset, you ask. They were angry because I refused to be part of their assembly line. Because I wouldn’t passively accept what they thought they needed to do to my car.

Because, as the customer, silly me, I thought I was supposed to be in the driver’s seat.

Customization is Key

What is true of good customer service is true of education.

Your children are not supposed to be carbon copies of another. They are not to move from station to station, getting inspections along the way; they are not supposed to walk lock step with their peers.

They are unique people. They are to be the best and fullest version of themselves.

Unfortunately, the only way to get that education in a system that is developed for an assembly line is to anger people who are part of it.

Or you can choose not to be part of it.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Ineptitude

I was reading The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon written by Brad Stone and came across a part of the book that illustrates this perfectly. When Steve Jobs created the iPod, the writer says, Amazon’s music sales suffered. It no longer made the profits it used to by selling CDs. Music became digitalized and sales drifted to iTunes.

Did Jeff Bezos decide to then produce a cheap imitation of the iPod? Thank goodness, no.

He didn’t make another iPod because he couldn’t. Doing so would be a poor imitation of something that was, for all intents and purposes, perfect. Instead, he took an e-reader that had failed in the past, rejected by most and came up with the Kindle.

The difference in the two giants here – Bezos and Jobs – who in many ways have similar life stories – was not just in the products in they created. The difference was in their personalities that were the reason behind the products they created.

You see, Bezos loves words and arguments in the form of a narrative. He made his employees write essays instead of create PowerPoint presentations. He had this to say about why.

Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.

Jobs on the other hand loved music. There is no way he could have created the Kindle. That would also have been a cheap imitation.

Homeschooling is about Customization

Homeschooling then is the ultimate education and life hack. It shuns imitation. It allows families to be who they truly are, it lets children blossom and become who they are meant to be. It lets inventors tinker in their garages, readers read.

It doesn’t seek to stuff individuals into molds and send them off to the next station waiting to be vacuumed and polished and made perfect.

Even if it ruffles a few feathers along the way, homeschooling is well worth it.

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Homeschooling News and Views of the Week

Oh, look it’s been a week already and here we are heading into the weekend. From what I read, there isn’t much that is new, but there are some developing stories worth mentioning.

First up, the HSLDA pledged support to what is called the last homeschooling family in Sweden. Thomas and Marita Sandberg of Mörbylånga, Sweden, have endured threats, fines, investigations, and even public shaming as they continue to defend their right to teach their own children. The Sandbergs are currently live in Finland.

More news on the Buffalo mother who has now been separated from her children for 45 days. She has now filed a civil rights case.

I found this defense of writing about math in Common Core a good article. As I have mentioned before, I don’t have a problem with teaching different techniques of solving a math problem, it’s the this is the only way approach that is bothersome to me.

In local news, cursive writing might become part of the curriculum in Ohio schools, Arkansas homeschooling advocates push to let homeschoolers play school sports and an Internet poll in Texas reveals parents want a removal of tests, not school choice.

My reading this week has been a little fantasy and a little fun.


And that wraps up another News and Views post. See you next week!

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8 Books to Make You Fall In Love With American History

In honor of President’s Day, I thought I’d share with you some of my current favorite books on American history. I absolutely detest textbooks – as some of you might know – but anything that can give me a sense of time and place without idolizing a person in history is my kind of book.

So if you’re jaded about reading history, chances are it’s because you’ve never read it like this.

First up, you have got to read everything by Michael Farquhar – especially Foolishly Forgotten AmericansIf your eyes glaze over at the mention of American history, this book is the perfect antidote. Farquhar makes it interesting and extremely enjoyable – to the point that you can’t but share some interesting trivia with the person next to you. All. The. Time. Just ask my husband.


Another book in a similar vein to the above is That’s Not In My American History Book by Thomas Ayres. This is a fun compilation of little known things about American presidents, wars and, hey – did you know there was actually a fourteenth colony that was not part of the Union? Ayres has also written A Military Miscellany: From Bunker Hill to Baghdad for the military buffs among you.

Daniel O’Brien’s How To Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against The Badasses Who Ran This Country is like watching a stand up comedian (oh, and not someone with clean language, in case you were wondering, talk about presidents. So if you’re not into that, stay away from this one. You’ve been warned. But if language doesn’t bother you, this book is incredibly entertaining. I finished it in one day. And now I’ll always remember the distinguishing characteristics of all the presidents. (He only writes about those that have died, no one alive.)

So far, I’ve mentioned books for you because I truly believe that you should be learning right along with your kids as you homeschool them (and some day I’ll have a curriculum to prove it) but for now, this next suggestion comes for the children. Get your hands on everything by Jean Fritz. So far, my children have read and loved George Washington’s Mother Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? , And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? and Shhh! We’re Writing The Constitution


Happy reading!

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What Lovers of History Know To Be True

It is no secret that I absolutely love history. In honor of President’s Day, here is one of my favorite history quotes. It comes from That’s Not In My American History Book by Thomas Ayres.

The quote speaks to those of us, I think, who see history as interesting biographies and love to see the people behind the stories and conjecture how their lives must have actually been.

History is not just dates, places and events to be memorized by school children. It is people influencing events – real people with blood coursing through their veins and thoughts through their minds. History breathes. Its heart beats. Just like those who make it, history changes and remains the same. It repeats its triumphs and tragedies. History is little people caught up in great events and great people turning insignificant events into momentous ones. History is madman and genius, warmonger, peacemaker, idealist and cynic – actors all, playing out their roles on the greatest stage of all.

You can buy the book here.

Other books by Thomas Ayres:

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On Studying History & Fake News

I’m not one of those people bothered by what is currently referred to as “fake news.” I am not currently wringing my hands wondering what kind of a world my children will inherit and how they will ever make sense of it. That is because I love history and am deeply passionate about it.

Allow me to explain.

History tells us that from the beginning of time, people have told lies. This is nothing new.

The earliest written history is a battlefield in itself – what with Egyptians consistently trying to remove names of underappreciated pharaohs from the lineage to obliterate their names and Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, ordering a larger than life epic poem be written about himself to win over his subjects.

Fine, but these were not journalists, you say. Well, not in the sense of reporting to newspapers that got delivered to you which you read over coffee, but they did have the job of delivering important news by word of mouth, as was more common those days. It was only the influential people of the world had their own “birds” and spies to keep an eye out. It’s possible that’s how they got influential. So consider if you would feel trust the news when it came from the likes of Lord Varys. (Sorry for the Game of Thrones reference, but it makes my point perfectly.)

And this is just the beginning of written history.

Why is today considered any different? Do we think we have somehow arrived at the point where people reporting the news have become completely trustworthy?

What I Am Not Saying

Now look, I’m not arguing for lying. I’m certainly not saying that you should make stuff up, that it’s somehow good for your neighbor. Of course you shouldn’t.

I’m just arguing for some perspective.

History looks different when one is caught up in it. And people haven’t changed. This is the nature of the creature we are dealing with.

Was there ever a time that we could accept what was being reported as absolute truth? If there was, I’d like to know because I’d run out and buy textbooks from that era.

Get my drift?

History is Anecdotes

I have written before about how we study history in our home and have since refined that philosophy to include memorization of a timeline as well as Presidents’ names.

With a firm foundation on some very basic facts, we then segue into individual biographies, anecdotes and otherwise interesting trivia. Now, here’s where it can get tricky.

After the basic facts of someone’s life – place of birth, date of birth, childhood home, mother, father, sister, brother (and sometimes not even that!) all we are left with is the stuff of a life lived. And life, as we know, is messy.

But the fun, the joy in history comes from its very inability to wrap it and tie it with a clean bow.

And so we read and wonder about George Washington’s mother who often complained about her son not sending her money and Mary Todd Lincoln chasing her husband Abraham down the street with a knife. We admire Andrew Jackson fighting off his own assassin and beating him with his cane at 67 years of age when the rest of the people around him froze.

The anecdotes, the trivia, the details, and yes, even the “fake news” that may or may not be true, add color, depth and – believe it or not – truth – to history.
It adds truth because no two people saw the same event from the same perspective. They were limited in time, in space, in their cultural situation, their thinking – limited people with limited attention spans, varying levels of interest and somewhere else to go.

I’m not arguing that objective truth does not exist, mind you, just that if you’re hoping to get it from people, you had better have more than one source because what you will get will be fractured, anecdotal and always a little skewed this way or that.

Laziness or Textbooks?

Jim Gaffigan says that the news media is like that slightly annoying friend of yours who knows what’s happening and is full of “Did you know…?” “Have you heard…?” I wish more people held this view.

Because even with the mantle of supposed transparency of journalism, this is true. Cameras and the printed word can lull us into thinking that the ultimate picture of objective. But it’s not. It’s just one perspective of what actually happened.

So what is it that makes us blindly believe all news when it’s reported? Is it that we’ve been spoon-fed history through such textbooks? Is it because we’ve been so brainwashed in public school that we are used to two-dimensional cardboard character in a committee-approved politically correct history textbooks?

There’s only half a step between “if it’s there in the textbook, it must be true” to “if the newspaper says so, it must have happened.”

False information has always been around. There has never not been a need to sift through and question.

Never in the history of time or American history for that matter could you put skepticism aside and blindly accept what the magazines, rags, neighbors, newspapers, water cooler junta, or reports said. For all you knew, everything was tabloid talk.

Homeschooling, History & Current Affairs

I am a huge fan of the internet. I couldn’t be happier with access to more than one news site, more than one perspective. Give me another blogger with something to say, something to report. The more kaleidoscopic an event is in reporting, the fewer chances some one person has to tamper with it.

Does this mean the readers have to be more vigilant and weigh information? Yes, of course it does. But it’s what they shouldn’t have stopped doing in the first place.

Discernment is a skill that we value in homeschooling. It is one of the reasons why even if we use a history textbook, we only use it as a “spine” for the curriculum. It is also why we watch current events and discuss them, relating them to the past as often as we can.

If you’d like to know more about how we study history, get my book The Classical Unschooler

And if you’d like to read some fun, historical anecdotes this President’s Day, check out my listicle about my most recommended American history books.

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