3 Must Visit Curriculum Hot Spots to Homeschool on a Budget

I’m feeling the pinch lately.

The children finished what we had set out to do by May in March and we’re scrambling a little to piece together a curriculum for the next stretch of our homeschool. I hate to call it a year because what I buy never lasts an entire year – apparently the learning never ends in homeschooling, even for me!

So what does a homeschooling mom do when the budget is small but her vision is grand?

What do the children do when their thirst for learning and reading is growing? How do you piece together a curriculum that works for everyone but also works on a budget?

Everyone knows about the public library and how to use it. Here are some others that you may not have thought of while building your curriculum.

Your local thrift stores

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This seems like an unlikely place. But trust me on this one. I have had great luck finding not just educational games in thrift stores but also flashcards and beginning reading curriculum.

But my absolute favorite thing to buy at thrift stores is read aloud books. You won’t believe the treasures. And I do mean treasures because how wonderful is it to find a hardcover wonderfully illustrated copy of The Wizard of Oz for $2? It always feels like a treasure hunt.

Another tip: To keep from getting frustrated, go often but make the time you spend there short. If you don’t find anything within the first ten minutes, leave.

Used curriculum stores

I love these. Not only do I get to peruse and take a peek inside the books (which I can never do shopping from an online catalog) I also get to compare curricula against each other.

If you don’t know if there is one in your area, ask around.

Talk to people in the store and see if they have any advice for you. Chances are, you will meet other homeschoolers and refine your own skills.

Google Books

Ah, my favorite. If you have a computer or a pad, this is an amazing resource for books that are now out of print – good books that have fallen out of favor with the educational system for whatever reason (that’s a whole other blog post!) and are now only available digitally. For FREE!

I have found language arts readers, history, grammar and many others. Go browse!

And there you have it! Have you used any of these free or cheap unlikely resources? Know of any others? Let me know!

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I’m Planning Next Year’s Curriculum on Snapchat

Oh look, it happened – we’re out of things to do. Between the motivational chart and the burn out sessions and the readalouds – in the midst of life and whining and being bored, learning happened. We’re done.

We’ve exhausted all our planned, available resources. It’s happened sooner than I imagined. Not that I’m complaining.

So here I am scrambling to find more things to put on the agenda. Okay, okay, not scrambling exactly. While we’re enjoying the easy days of “just one sheet of math” and Minecraft broken in with some reading and writing, I’m beginning to start the search for next year’s (whatever that means!) curriculum. (whatever that means, right?)

In the upcoming weeks, I intend scouring the books/resources I have, checking off what I want them to learn in the upcoming months, gauging where they currently find themselves and working to engage them as much as possible in their education. As someone put it, homeschooling is of course “trying to work yourself out of a job.”

Only this time I’m doing it on Snapchat.

If you haven’t been on Snapchat, you should definitely check it out. The idea is that the content there only lasts for 24 hours. So come find me and watch the videos I put up. They can only be 10 seconds long, so I’ll try to make the most out of each snap.

I’ll provide you with a good idea of how to pull from many places depending on what you and your kids like. And you know I’m cheap, so I’ll do it frugally. If nothing else, you’ll come away from my snaps with your mind bursting full of ideas for your next curriculum planning session.

I’ll show you places I shop and what I buy and don’t buy. And also (to my great sadness) what I have bought in the past that was a complete disaster. And some curricula that looks nothing like curricula but teaches real life skills and even some – sigh – worksheets and flashcards. Because much to my disdain, I have one kid who likes them.

If I’m feeling really brave, I might even let you into the sit down work part of our day. Ten seconds at a time. Eep.

So come find me on Snapchat. Let’s have some real fun planning curriculum! Why should our kids have all the fun?

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Now in Practical Homeschooling!

If you picked up the latest issue of Practical Homeschooling, you would find a nice, long article written about classical unschooling by yours truly.

So many people have asked me what classical unschooling really means and how it all works out to fit into a normal day at our home that I enjoyed writing about it.

I have heard the argument a dozen times of course that this is not “unschooling,” that it is merely relaxed homeschooling and to that I say I respectfully disagree.

Here’s why: the word “unschooling” was coined by John Holt. And when he used the word “unschooling,” he simply meant “taking kids out of an institutional school setting.” In his 1981 edition of Teach Your Own, he approved this index entry: “Unschooling: see Home Schooling.”

This post about a closer definition of unschooling seems to fit the bill.

Notice he is not talking about radical unschooling which, unfortunately, seems to be what people seem to think of when they think unschooling. It simply means taking kids out of school and giving them as much freedom as possible in the act of learning.

By John Holt’s definition of unschooling, we are unschoolers.

And then there’s the classical part. That’s because I love history and I see the beauty in memorization. And because I have one daughter who loves worksheets and a son who loves flashcards. And from what I have observed, they learn best when we take the classical route of the trivium – first grammar, then logic, then rhetoric.

Be sure to sign up for a copy of the book The Classical Unschooler coming this May by entering your email address to the right of this blog post. (It will be free for a limited time!) I’m hard at work on it and I hope by writing it to give you a template of our methodology.

I hate to prescribe a specific way of homeschooling because I bristle against that, but perhaps a look at our day will change yours in a positive way. I don’t like people telling me what to do but I do love a peek into what they show me about their lives so I can make mine better by inspiration.

Oh, and pick up a copy of Practical Homeschooling until then!

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The Master List of Graphic Novels to Include in Your Homeschool

As I write this, sitting in the midst of graphic novels, we are on the last chapter in the last book of our readaloud – The Chronicles of Narnia. It feels like the end of an era. We have been reading C.S. Lewis’ classic and have loved it (and have lived in it) for so many weeks, that we doubt anything else will fill that.

I think most homeschoolers would agree that read alouds are great for various things: they give children an imagination, they encourage narration, they give them the templates necessary for building language. Which is why we love our readalouds. But we also share a love for good graphic novels.

But wait.

Don’t graphic novels undercut all those efforts at learning good language? Don’t they create a generation of people obsessed with short attention spans?

I don’t think so.

From the time my father read the Sunday comics to me from before I could read (or understand them, really) I have come to appreciate pictures as well as words. Cartoons took me into a world much like the worlds of the Shire or Narnia. I still think fondly of Gaul, the village that held its own against the Roman empire. I followed Tintin and his dog Snowy into the Egyptian tombs.

At a time when I thought mostly in pictures, graphic novels and comics ushered me into worlds that spoke my language, gently nudging me in the direction of the adult world with its own narratives linking history, geography, mystery and the joy of finding out. It gave me just enough of a glimpse into other worlds to make a point without overwhelming me.

And that, I believe, will always remain the enduring beauty of graphic novels. This is why I include them in our homeschool and continue to read them myself.

If you haven’t checked out these treasures, this is good time to do so. What we’re experiencing today might well be the golden age of graphic novels.

Here’s a selection of my favorites, both for kids and adults alike. Be sure to preview them yourself before passing them off to your children because some have adult themes. As I have said in the past, I let my children read whatever they pick (within reason) but I do make sure to have a conversation about every book.

And so, without further ado, here is the master list:

The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds – my gateway into Greek mythology. I always wanted to read the original but was daunted. And then I found this book in the teen section of my local library. Ah! So beautiful. I fell in love with Greek drama right here. Be sure to follow this up with Mary Pope Osborne’s Stories from the Odyssey in audio format (which we loved to listen to in the car) or the books in the Odyssey series: The One Eyed Giant, The Land of the Dead Sirens and Sea MonstersThe Grey-Eyed Goddess, Return to Ithaca and The Final Battle

The Iliad by Thomas and Sepulveda – I have not read this one yet. The reviews sound good but there seems to be some concern with the print being small. When is Gareth Hinds going to work on this one?

Beowulf by Gareth Hinds – While we’re talking about heroes in mythology, I have to include this one. Another one I have not read yet, but I remember enjoying the movie. If you are so inclined, follow this one up with Beowulf by Burton Raffel for older readers – considered the most readable Beowulf.

Gifts From the Gods: Ancient Words of Wisdom from Greek & Roman Mythology by Lise Lunge Larson & Gareth Hinds – This one seems to be the Aesop’s Fables on Greek & Roman mythology. While not technically a graphic novel if put to the test, it still remains a good book to read to children with timeless wisdom and beautiful illustrations.

Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds – I think some of my favorite work by Hinds is his adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays into graphic novel format. Since the plays were staged and not read, this makes a wonderful first introduction to future readers of Shakespeare. After reading this, you can go watch the play or read it.

Macbeth by Gareth Hinds – This was, hands down, my absolute favorite graphic novel in the Shakespearean genre. I think it captures the essence of the original play and I loved it from beginning to end.

The Merchant of Venice by Gareth Hinds – I have a confession. When I saw this was available, I squealed a little. I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to read The Merchant of Venice in its original format. Yes, I said it. I have never finished. The characters always get confusing and with Shakespeare’s penchant for beginning plays with smaller characters, I don’t get beyond the first few scenes. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one!

King Lear by Gareth Hinds – Need I say more? Beautiful book. This was another play I could not get into. The graphic novel was my gateway.

Bearskin by Gareth Hinds – This is the retelling of a Grimm brothers’ fairy tale. It seems to be out of print though so if you find a copy, hang on to it!

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang – Two graphic novels that show two opposite experiences of the Boxer Rebellion of China. Fascinating and gives a glimpse into history.

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang – These are three short stories that won the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Short Story. I plan on reading this one but haven’t done so yet.

Frankenstein by Marion Mousse – part of the Classics Illustrated Series. I, needless to say, love all these books. I think they’re a great introduction for young readers into the world of classics and will gladly collect them all!

Much Ado About Nothing by Appignanesi & Vieceli – If your kids/readers are into Manga, they might truly appreciate this adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. I prefer a little more color, so I didn’t like it as much.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Kate Brown – Another Manga Shakespeare.

Hamlet by Vieceli – I tend to be drawn to the tragedies of Shakespeare more than the comedies, so this Manga version of Hamlet is my preferred book of the three.

Graphic Revolve – This is a series of graphic novels which, I have to admit, are NOT my favorites. They are referred to as “Common Core Editions” and may have been created as an introduction to good literature, but many of them come across as poorly put together with only an emphasis on plot. Nowhere in the ones I have read do I see real creativity or beauty. So, it goes to follow that I don’t recommend these, but I’m adding them in here so you can look through them and see if you find that one diamond among the rocks.

Campfire Graphic Novels – This series also includes many classics – Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and the like, but also includes some historical books – World War One, World War Two and also biographies – They Changed the World, Leonardo da Vinci and mythology – Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians,  Legend: The Labors of Hercules. Campfire graphic novels seem to be created in the style of the true comic books of the past as we would consider them today and would likely appeal to readers who like reading Marvel comics.

Tintin – I’ve already mentioned this before as something I loved to read as a child. They now come as collections but I prefer the big versions because the compact collection is a little hard to read. Then again, it’s easier to curl up in bed with a smaller book.

The Adventures of Asterix – These are my absolute favorites! Even today, I love, love, love these Gauls and will fight my daughter to be the first to read them. Here’s a box set of 34 titles.

Templar by Jordan Mechner – I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It had all the hallmarks of a good historical novel – drama, plot, interesting characters and it was in full color! Bonus.

Of course there are tons more and the more you look, the more you will find.

In keeping with my general philosophy of being a classical unschooler, I try to use graphic novels as a way to enhance what we’re learning or as a jumping off point to engage interest.

What would you add to this list?
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4 Ways to Use Strewing As A Strategy in Classical Education

I had a teacher in college who was opposed to entertaining her students in any way. She had a more serious disposition, if you will. Now, in all fairness, she was a great teacher and I don’t want to complain about her too much. So let’s just say that she had some quite strong opinions.

This seems to be part of my background as a homeschooler as well. It is common for me to assume that if something is fun, that if the children are learning as well as enjoying themselves thoroughly, then they are probably not learning at all.

That nagging voice in the back of my mind shows up every time watching, waiting it seems for them to laugh and it goes, “Aha! See, this isn’t school!” What a relief to know the voice is a liar, that they can indeed learn while playing.

In fact research seems to suggest that it is in play that children learn best. And if you know me, you know that I don’t think play is just for children.

I have learned so much without trying that I am realizing that just like the kids I learn best when I am focused engaged and enjoying myself. Forcing myself to learn and study is necessary in certain situations but what gets me there is not external motivation but internal desire.

The enthusiasm to learn something new in which I am interested is an amazing powerful force. This force can be harnessed especially in classical unschooling using the method of strewing.

So you might ask what is strewing? The dictionary definition of strewing is to leave things about untidily. Ha!

But the unschooling definition of strewing is to leave things out for children to discover to learn and then to put them away and change them out continually. Another way of looking at strewing is to suggest to children to notice things when you are out and about doing things together. Many parents do this unconsciously while out on the field trip.

As an unschooler strewing comes in very handy when you are trying to either gauge the interest of the child or get the child interested either as an introduction to a new subject or to go deeper into a subject that he is already working. Strewing can easily be used as a strategy and classical education.

Now it might seem as if classical education with its focus on systems and specific ways of teaching can be completely opposed to the idea of strewing which seems haphazard and random. But it is not. Strewing can easily be incorporated into classical education and incorporated quite effectively and efficiently.

Here are some ways in which you can include strewing into your school day. You might already be doing some of these unconsciously.

Library books

I love our local library we go there every week and the children take out whatever they’re interested in. It is a great way not just to get your child’s interest but to let him get deeper into whatever he might be interested in. Our current haul included some books on the natural world around us, some graphic novels and some picture books. This fits the age group and the interest level of my children.

However, this is where the classical aspect of my teaching comes in. While I do not limit their choices in books and I will let them read whatever they’re interested in to a degree, I do consciously also order books from the library and put them on hold. These are books based on what they have been speaking about or playing or studying that I think they will like.

Use the local library to learn the interests of their children as well as to give them more than just what you want them to learn. Picture books are fantastic for this. Encyclopedia are also a good choice. My children can spend hours looking at pictures of animals. They have picked up information about climates in different areas and names of places and habitats I have not taught them. All through strewing. Who knows where these bits of information will land them?

Audio books

In addition to the books I mentioned above, we also listen to quite a few audiobooks.  You can find them at the library or you can buy them on Amazon or you can have friends loan you some.

The best thing about these is that there is no dedicated time that you need to listen to them. We listen to them in our most natural surroundings – the car. (Okay, I’m kidding about the natural surroundings, but we do like to listen to them every time we are in the car.)

We have listened to audio books about historical stories of real men and women, inspiring events, people, business books, Greek myths, Egyptian myths, animal stories, Arabian Nights, The Odyssey, you name it there’s a book about it. Even I listen to a book in the car when I’m alone.

Audio books are great for introducing children to new language, or getting the templates of specific sentences into their minds which is one way they learn to think clearly and get their point across better. Audiobooks carry all the benefits of a read-aloud without actually having to make time to sit down and read to them (which we also do) but audiobooks continue to do this when we do not or cannot find the time ourselves.


If you think songs aren’t effective, think again. Some children tend to be more audiocentric in the sense that they learn better by hearing. These children learn by repeating by repetition by hearing themselves say the same things repeatedly.

As annoying as it is to me my daughter seems to learn in this way. So in addition to audiobooks I make sure that we have enough good things to listen to. While I don’t mind exposing them to different kinds of music (the radio in the car is not banned) I also find that I can use this time to teach her math facts set to music or good hymns or historical or geographical facts which also are part of our curriculum.

Music is my favorite “Oh by the way” learning tool.


Close captioning isn’t used as effectively as it could be. Most parents don’t even think about this when they turn on the television. Leaving it on can help children read as they stare open mouthed at their favorite characters. I like to leave it on especially when we are watching a movie that is not animated and perhaps something that is above their age range. Today, for instance, we watched The Lord of the Rings which I’m quite certain had words they had not come across in their readers. (And no, I’m not talking about Elvish.)

Here’s another way to use subtitles. Older children learning a new language can watch a movie in English and turn on the captions in the language they’re working on. I’m sure it’s all gibberish at first, but soon patterns emerge and things get learned.
What other “by the way” learning strategies do you incorporate into your homeschool?

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The Best Advice for New Homeschoolers

With the number of public school pullouts happening this week all around me, I thought I would pose a highly relevant question to those of you who correspond with me by email. (If you read my blog and would like to be part of this group please sign up by entering your email address in the space to the right of this blog.)

What advice would you give someone who confided in you that she was pulling her kids and beginning homeschooling tomorrow? This is a woman who does not believe she has time to read about homeschooling – she has to jump in right away. What would you say to her? 

The responses were great. There was such an outpouring of the wisdom of the homeschooling crowd, it was fantastic to see.

Here are my favorite responses:

“Just pick something. It’s not going to be perfect – no curriculum is – so, just get started. You’ll never know what does and doesn’t work without doing SOMETHING first.

“Don’t worry about stumbling through things that don’t work in the beginning. Modify what you can while you find what fits you and your child(ren).

I’d also drop names like Susan Wise Bauer and John Taylor Gatto, and suggest attending a homeschool convention in time (if only to peruse the exhibit hall.)” – Stefani from Dallas, TX

“I would share my own experience of pulling my 6-year old out of first grade. It was four months into the school year and I didn’t have a clue about how to homeschool. I just knew it was what was best for my child. I had one homeschooling friend so I watched her in action.

Mostly, for the first few weeks, my son and I visited the library often and we took a lot of nature walks and we snuggled up together with books. During this time I read up on different philosophies. I was drawn to unschooling or letting my child take the lead.

One thing I would emphasize is to not even try to keep up (or down?) with what the public schools are doing. It’s simply not worth it and it’s completely unnecessary. Even if the child eventually re-enters public school, chances are they will be ahead of their peers in many areas and considered behind in a few areas but in the end it honestly doesn’t matter! I have 3 kids in college now to prove it.” – Camie.

“I would say that you shouldn’t start right in on your kids where they left off in school. If there was some sort of rush to get them out of a bad school situation, they probably need some downtime to recover. Even if there wasn’t a bad situation, everyone could use a break.

Your child will not be behind forever if they take a month off to get used to a new routine of being at home and responsible for their own education (with your help). You are more likely to last if you read the books as many as you can.

Talk to other homeschoolers or unschoolers if you can. Read their blogs. Then put it all away and live your homeschooling/unschooling life, which will not be perfect, which will change over time, and remember not to get so wrapped up in “schooling” your kids that you lose sight of their wills, desires, and personalities. Adapt your method to your child, don’t try to force your child to conform to your method.” – Cheryl.

“I would first recommend them looking into their state’s laws to see what requirements their state has set forth for homeschoolers and to see what organizations are available for their state. (For Texas it is THSC – Texas Home School Coalition that will give the help that can answer many of the legal questions they may have). If I have just a few minutes to talk to that person, this would probably be the primary advice I would give. All states are different, and have different legal requirements for homeschoolers.

If their child is older and is planning on college I would suggest they talk to their colleges of choice to see what specifics they require in terms of transcripts, etc.

I would also give them the list of the resources I have found locally. For example, the homeschool opportunities at the local library, museums and groups I know about.” – Amy.

“First, I’d say go spend the days together doing whatever comes to mind! Have fun! De-school yourselves! Write down all the things you see your kids doing everyday and learn to see that through an unschooling lens. Learn to translate that in your mind into educationese. Then RELAX, because you are going to see a wealth of education and growth happening without you, mom. 🙂

Then I’d tell them to work through the book Educating the Whole Hearted Child  that has some workbook aspects inside to help them craft some of the important things in their homeschool. It will jump start them quickly in the right direction that lends them to the path to those awesome other titles: a baby step that helped me get on the path that doesn’t recreate school at home. ” – Laura.

“When I decided to homeschool,  it became evident that I was crossing into/over some imaginary line that either I believed was a wall or it was just a line.  Along the way, I discovered that every book, everywhere will guide you it will tell you best approaches, best curriculum, grade levels, etc.  But the bravery lay in creating the best homeschool that fits not only familial dynamics but also your children. Because if homeschooling chose you and not the other way around, it gave you freedom to explore all curricula, all schools of thought.

“My favorite idea is taking a year off especially if they’re used to school and the routine.  You will never replicate school in your home.  Simply, home is home.  Life happens at home.  Messy, complicated,  life. School happens at school, structured, ruled school.  

“I took the year to discover how all this fits in to my life and my child’s. That not to say we did nothing.  I knew he likes science so, I found hands-on lessons, lap books, until I found my footing and my confidence. It is a marathon. Slow and steady.” – Candace.

“We have four children who are home schooled, 5, 7, 9 and 12, we also have two older 12 and 17. The older two, our 12 year old daughter, (the princess!) is off to an all girls high school which only accepts gifted and talented children. The 17 year old has always been mainstream schooled and now enjoys his 6th form freedom. The four home schooled children are helped with their learning by my wife and myself, together with our excellent network of home schooling families and groups.

So, on to your question, if home schooling was mentioned, our children would prick up their ears and excitedly tell you all about it, what they like, how they like to learn, how its great to learn through just looking around, experiencing life, expressing their feelings and opinions and recording all these by taking pictures, writing stories, doing research and creating their files and diaries which they can read later and remember their life experiences.

My wife or myself would share the joy of our children learning without boundaries, living their parents’ values (rather than someone we don’t even know), having the freedom to learn without the constraints of a some brand of learning for their age, not feeling pressurized to do things they object to, not just learning during the week and being too tired to even communicate at weekends – but, instead realizing life experiences are all around and through them anything can be understood, learnt and used to equip our children for a successful and rewarding future in life.

Sometimes however it becomes stressful, persuasive tactics don’t work and it seems like your not getting anywhere. These are the moments when your own determination, commitment to ensure your children ‘are the best’ and your love for them wins – and perhaps a glass of red wine, hehe! – Michael.

“If I were to meet someone in that position I would say, take it one step at a time, don’t be too hard on yourself or your children. Research on the go, if you have to. Don’t be afraid to change resources as you see fit. It’s not about completing any set amount of work or meeting any requirements, but your own.

As long as something positive has happened that day, that enriched your child as a human-being, that day has been productive. And soon enough you’ll see, you’re on a roll! Oh, definitely there are those horrible days, self-doubting days, I-can’t-seem-to-be-able-to-keep-up-with-the-house-work days, but truly homeschooling is the most rewarding experience between parent and child!

I could go on for a while yet, but suffice it to say that our kids are little for a short time only, I for one prefer to spend maximum amount of time with them, instead of sending them away for the largest portion of that time, to be conditioned in the hands of strangers that other strangers have told me I should trust.” – Name withheld by request.

“The most helpful advice I’ve received so far is to deschool for a good length of time when you pull your kids out of traditional school. It was suggested to deschool 1 month for every year your child was in traditional school.

I was not homeschooled so it is a new mindset for me as well as for my son. A little background – we adopted our 13yo son in December and withdrew him from middle school on the last day before Christmas break. Our motivations are as much or more so about building attachment as they are about academics. We gladly took the advice to deschool and get to know each other better and go on field trips, go to the library, enjoy the outdoors, etc.

It’s also given me time to read about various homeschool philosophies and methods and observe how my son learns. We’ve tried some things out, but we’re staying flexible, keeping things light and fun as we develop a rhythm of schooling that will serve us best.” – Susannah.

“I have given this advice many times to moms who are pulling their kids from school. You have TIME. More time than you realize.

Once you pull them from school, take a few months and get to know your child(ren).  Start developing a routine for living at home together all the time. It will be an adjustment. Spend time at the library, the zoo, the park, in the backyard, etc. If they can read, encourage them to read a lot.

Your child needs to de-school. You can use this time to start educating yourself on homeschooling philosophies and ideas. After a few months off, maybe introduce one subject at a time and get to know how your child learns. Pacing yourself is the best thing you can do to ensure success in homeschooling. Finally, and maybe most importantly, find a community of homeschooling moms near you that you can talk to and get together with from time to time. You will need the support and your children will love the time to play with other homeschooled kids. You have TIME.” – Meredith.

“Take your summer break now. Relax and enjoy time with your kids. Talk about what they know and find out what they want to learn about next. Go to zoos and museums before the summer crowds and without the field trip mentality. Play board games and have fun worth each other. Read books together. A strong relationship with your kids is foundational to successful homeschooling. And then you’ll have time to research a couple months and make a plan. Start homeschooling when you and your child are ready. There’s no rush or reason to follow the traditional school schedule.” – Christa.

“I’d have to say to that mom that she can absolutely do it! And, she needs to know that every doubt she is having, the public and private school teacher has also had at the beginning of her career.

Know without a doubt that you can provide AT LEAST as good an education for your child if not a significantly better one!  I speak this as a former public school teacher with 3 grown children who attended public and private schools and a 7-yr-old who I now say will be sent to public school only when you pry him from my cold, dead hands! Yes, I’m a bit dramatic about it! I’ve experienced the inside of public school as both a teacher and a parent.

Trust me when I say that if you have Internet access, a library card, and can find a group of like-minded mamas with kids somewhat close in age, YOU ARE GOLDEN!  The most important of those three, I believe, is the group! If you are pulling your kids tomorrow, I’d say find a group that suits you as soon as possible!  They don’t have to do school the way you do school. They don’t have to have the exact same educational philosophy. They simply need to be supportive and available to interact with on a regular basis. ALL mamas need interaction and support, and the ability to ask questions, share ideas and struggles, and do life together makes all the difference!

If you can’t find a group that fits, start one. That’s what I did 3 years ago, and we now have over 30 families. Several, but not all, meet weekly. We do field trips together. We have monthly Moms’ Nights Out. Our kids love each other, we love each other! I don’t know how I’d make it without them.” – Rhonda.

“Find out what matters most to you and focus on it. Everything else can wait. When we began homeschooling, I focused on character. The kids read, I read to them and we focused on their piano lessons. That’s it. In the next quarter they had outdone years of work at the public school!” – Linda.

So there you have it! The best advice from homeschooling families.

Now, go forth in confidence, new homeschoolers! Welcome!

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Math and the Determined Homeschooler

(Image courtesy of College at Home, published under a Creative Common License) 

I recently sent out a survey to my email list to prove or disprove a thesis of mine about math. All Common Core math discussions aside, it was my understanding that homeschoolers are confident in their ability to teach their children because they know they can teach math and science.

Why? Because any basic anecdotal survey of parents who want to homeschool but feel they will not do a good job seems to suggest that inability to teach math and science lead the hand-wringers.

However, what I found did not seem to agree with the above oft-mentioned, much reiterated, excuse.

Being good at math as a child was NOT a determining factor in the homeschoolers surveyed and was NOT even remotely connected to their confidence in homeschooling. In fact, the most common response was that being able to teach math was not a determining factor in their decision because they knew that they either could learn or get help.

The other question that I found fascinating clued me into why homeschooling works and why homeschooled children tend to perform better in general (as shown in above infographic by College at Home): of the parents who responded to my survey, a whopping 92% said they drew connections between what their children were learning in math and why it was important for them to know. Only 8% said they didn’t draw connections because it was more important to get the basics first.

Of all the respondents, 58% said they struggled with math as children and yet, here they are, determined, learning and teaching.

So much for the typical Common Core response that parents need to “back off” and let the teachers handle the teaching. So much for parents passing on their own fear of math to their children.

A full 77% of respondents either followed a math curriculum loosely or did not use a curriculum at all. You don’t get much more confident than that.

This survey is why I love homeschoolers, whether they’re unschoolers or not. I have yet to find another group as motivated and as confident in what scientists call the “plasticity” of the human brain – their and their children’s ability to learn, to work hard and to get where they want to go.

The purpose of this blog is to inspire homeschoolers. If this post helped you, please share it!

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How Does a Typical Classical Unschooling Day Look?

“What does a typical classical unschooling day look like?” “How exactly do you do school?” “Is there a ton of memorization?” “Do you use a curriculum?”

These are the most common questions I have received lately and ones I hesitate to answer. I hesitate to answer it because homeschooling looks – or should look – different for every family. So when people ask me how we classically unschool I tend to be taciturn.

Unschooling by definition is non prescriptive. So I’m not recommending this as an “ideal” day. This is just our day.

With that said here’s a typical classically unschooling day for us.

The mornings tend to be pretty easy and loose. The children wake up at seven, they make their breakfast and leave me time to have my coffee, journal and work on my blog. Some days I wake up earlier – as early as 5:30 a.m. – because I want to write or catch up on other writing work.

About 8 o’clock if it is a workout day I head out into the backyard with my kettlebells and listen to a podcast while working out. While I am doing this the children usually play or explore or ride their bicycles in the street or they decide to read. Before school, we do chores together.

Our school or “sit down work” as I prefer to call it begins about 10 a.m. This is when we do drills for math or phonics or anything that the children are currently working on. Check out this post about how we decide what they will be working on for a period of about three months at a stretch.

The sit down work is done by 11 a.m. and that is when we start working on lunch. My daughter enjoys cooking and this is when we put lunch together. We’re currently working our way through the sixth book of The Chronicles of Narnia – The Silver Chair.

At about 1 p.m. is free time again. This is when the children sometimes head into their own rooms to have some quiet reading time or they go outside and play Jenga or swing or just annoy our pet cat. (We have our own version of Grumpy Cat.) Occasionally, they get involved in some extended crafts or build a tent out of their blankets and hang out in the living room. 2 p.m. is officially the time when they are allowed to watch TV or play video games. (This “screens after 2 p.m. only” rule is relaxed on Saturdays when they get to play online to their hearts’ content.) This is when I head into my bedroom for some quiet reading time or for a nap.

Dinner preparations begin about 4 p.m. when screens turn off. Dinner is usually at five after my husband comes home and on some days the children can practice their music with him. He is currently teaching my daughter to play the guitar.

Bedtime for them is at 7. My daughter will usually read for an hour in her room before going to bed.

So there you have it. This is what are classically unschooling day looks like.

But where does the Classical part of it come in, you might ask. And I would point to our love of history, our emphasis on learning through the trivium and the importance we place on memorization.

Since we are still in the grammar stage of learning I focus not on trying to get them to understanding concepts as much as I do on giving them the facts.

Using the unschooling idea of strewing I get them interested in a variety of things and when that interest grabs them I make sure to put a lot of work into getting them to memorize and learn and remember facts. For this purpose I make use of whatever media, field trips, guides (family and friends) and books we have at our disposal.

As I have mentioned elsewhere before I am not opposed to using workbooks classes or any other traditional form of learning if it helps my children. However I see myself more as a guide to facilitate their learning rather than someone from whom all knowledge is to be imbibed.

If you like this method of learning and you are interested in finding out more about it please be sure to sign up for my upcoming book The Classical Unschooler. It will be available for free for a limited time.

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Two Words Your Children Should Learn to Say

“You’re right.”

I can remember the first time someone said those two words to me. I was 23, halfway around the world, young, wanting to learn, not trusting myself to be all I wanted so desperately to be. The person saying those words to me was my then to-be husband, but I remember thinking to myself, No one has ever said that to me before. 

I find that hard to believe, but I must. If I trust my memory, no one had ever said to me before these two simple words.

You’re right.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t ever right. There were plenty of occasions when I knew I was and certainly, if we’re talking about school, I was pretty close to a straight A student. So it’s pretty clear to me that I had been “right” at least on occasions that mattered.

But in an argument? When my opinion was asked in general? When something I had predicted came to pass, I never heard the verbal acknowledgment.

There are cultural issues here, of course, that cannot be ignored. People from India, in general, at least in the area I come from, are not given to open praise, so I’m not blaming my parents. And I’m certainly not saying that my life was ruined because of it. My parents did their best and I know it.

But I must admit that there is much power in words. And in these two words, there is more than meets the eye. Each and every time I have told my daughter that she was right, there has come over her the most curious look – a look I can only describe as self-worth.

Then one day, I heard her say to me, “You were right, mom.” And then another day, she told her brother, “You’re right.” And then my husband.

Apparently, we were doing a lot right and she was on a rampage to tell us so.

With those 2 words, something between us shifted. There was an acknowledgement of the awareness of another’s wisdom – no small feat in a world where everyone wants to be right but no one wants to listen to anyone else’s point of view. It changed my perception of her.

With those two words, she grew up a little and was no longer my baby.

Then I heard it among the children – that same quiet reminder of the other’s wisdom, an awareness of it, even in the midst of strife, a camaraderie that could come from nowhere else.

And I thought about my husband and the first time he had said those words to me and I thought, “Look what you started.”

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“Why Do I Have to Learn This?!”

This is a guest blog post by Shell Higgs. She is a freelance writer with many skills up her sleeve. She cannot cook or juggle, but she does specialize in writing about parenting, technology and education.  You can follow her on twitter @higgshell or visit her blog at techeduchat.

To this day, I don’t know why I had to learn long division. While the actual process was taught to me, the motivation to learn and remember it was neglected, so I immediately went straight back to doing division in my preferred way.

We’ve all heard the words “why do I have to learn this?” usually accompanied by a groan. The lesson has struck them as being boring or difficult, and generally not applying to their life at all. This is where great learning goals are worth their weight in stress-free gold.

[clickToTweet tweet=”A clear learning goal answers the not just the what and how, but also the why of the lesson.” quote=”A clear learning goal answers the not just the what and how, but also the why of the lesson.”]

The why is a vital but often missed step. By revealing why the child should learn the subject or skill, you allow them space to assign value to the lesson. It connects the lesson to their world, community, belief and self-knowledge.

By framing your learning goals in a WALT/WILF/TIB format, and displaying them prominently, you can provide children with the opportunity to take ownership of their learning. It should be stated that this format doesn’t limit bonus learning from additional branches of exploration, it merely directs children to the high point of your intention. It might just be a springboard for a whole new project!

Here’s how it works.

WALT: Write learning goals that work. WALT is We Are Learning To…

In one short, snappy sentence, explicitly tell the children what they are supposed to be learning. Make sure to include an action verb.

We Are Learning To: ‘Explore narrative structures in classic literature’ or ‘Learn about bees and what they do’. If another person asks your child what they learned today, they don’t have to try and uncover the point of the lesson, they know exactly what they learned today.

WILF: Action verbs, explicit statements and links to the child’s world. WILF is What I’m Looking For…

This is your success criteria. How will the child know when they’ve learned the lesson, especially when the goal was to do something unquantifiable, like ‘explore’? What I’m Looking For: ‘Able to draw a narrative structure diagram’ or ‘Able to label a honey bee diagram and explain bee roles’.

By letting the child know exactly what success looks like, they are able to self-evaluate, and clarify their learning if required.

TIB: Learning goals assist students to become invested in the lesson and take ownership of their learning. TIB is This Is Because…

This is your opportunity to link the lesson to the child’s world and what is important to them. If the lesson is about physics, link it to how much they love skateboard tricks. If the lesson is teaching teenagers to be safe online, link it to their desire to connect.

A good TIB statement is a powerful learning tool. Even when you aren’t quite sure how to link it to them specifically, a little explanation goes a long way. This Is Because: ‘Knowing the narrative structure means you can write your own stories’ or ‘Honeybees are vital to propagating plant life on Earth’.

It’s not necessary to write a WALT/WILF/TIB for every lesson, or even change them every day. Some learning goals will carry across a whole week or even a term.


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