Tips for the Brand New Homeschooler

So you’re planning to start home educating your child this fall? Welcome to the world of the homeschool parent! *high five* I don’t know what brought you here – maybe you’ve got a kindergartener who can read but can’t sit still and don’t want to subject her to a classroom of “be quiets” and “sit downs!” Or maybe you’re pulling out your 5th grader because he hates everything to do with learning and it breaks your heart. Maybe your child has learning requirements their school can’t – or won’t – accommodate. Maybe you’re just fed up with the toxic social situation your middle schooler is dealing with and feel her stress level (and yours) would reduce coming home to learn. In any case, you’ve taken the step into the unfamiliar and are wondering what comes next.

Get That Legal Stuff Taken Care of

You’ve probably already looked into this, but if your haven’t, you’ll want to soon. No one wants to be in that awkward situation of being afraid to go out with your kids during regular school hours for fear of random truancy reports! Look into your local homeschool regulations, and figure out what you need to comply. Local homeschool support groups or just a local homeschool friend can help you out enormously with this. If you don’t know anyone, go ahead and ask on a local homeschool Facebook page or Yahoo group. We’re generally a pretty friendly bunch that tries to help out newbies.

Do Your Research

Take a few weeks to explore the major approaches to home education. Websites abound, including forums, Facebook pages, curriculum vendors’ websites, Pinterest boards, and of course myriad blogs.  Google terms like Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Unit Studies, Waldorf, and Montessori along with “homeschooling” and you’ll find plenty of information to get you started. It can be overwhelming, its true, but if you can get an overview of styles most likely one or two will appeal to you and strike a chord – “THIS is what I want my kids education to look like!” And then you can go deep into whatever chose philosophy with books and curriculum vendors’ pages, as well as more specialized websites.

Start Out with a Plan, But Be Flexible

I started out homeschooling with an everything-in-the-box curriculum from Sonlight. It was great – literature based, all planned out, lots of fun. Having everything planned out but still flexible was exactly what I needed as a homeschool newb – I wasn’t even sure what all this should look like.  Even though I went through a chunk of early childhood education classes in college, I wasn’t clear on how to schedule and manage our days. I look at Sonlight as my training wheels. I felt security knowing that it was a well planned out curriculum by people who knew what they were doing. Once I got a good sense of it, I began to branch out. In later years I took what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what I wanted to add, and began to put together my own program. But those first two years of using Sonlight really helped me to build confidence and find what worked for me and my kids. Another approach is to think in terms of subjects and put together a plan from there – find individual math, grammar, writing, spelling, handwriting, history, literature and science programs. I now use the book The Well Trained Mind heavily in my planning, and its really not much harder to plan than a box curriculum to plan. Whatever you use, consider your first year or so to be a learning period – it can take some time to find what works best.

Don’t Go Crazy Overboard

Maybe its just me, but when I go through homeschool resources I start to lose touch with reality a bit. Sure, I think – we can do Spanish….and Latin….and LEGO Robotics….and Rhetoric….and that amazing looking class on underwater pottery! Yes! YES! Then I remember the many times I have introduced an awesome new subject or activity only to have it fall with a thud because it was just Start with your basics – Math, Language Arts, History/Social Studies, and Science are usually the core subjects. Art, Music, P.E., and various electives should be added in, but thoughtfully and realistically. Not every subject has to have a classroom-like lesson. Art for us usually consists of me introducing various art mediums (watercolor, pastels, clay, etc) and looking thoughtfully and discussing beautiful works of art. Fun, low-stress, and easy to fit into a laid back afternoon.

Start Looking For Your Tribe

Join local support groups (check for links of off state organizations, yahoo groups, facebook groups and groups). Go to whatever meetings you can find – just to check it out. Check out local co-ops and social groups. As in anything, you won’t click with everyone. Some groups will rub you the wrong way, but hopefully you’ll find a few families that you and your kids click with. Maybe you’ll find a group to play at the park with, a co-op, or even an experienced homeschooler that can field some questions and offer encouragement.

Reconsider Household Routines

Homeschooling really is a lifestyle. Your day will look pretty different from your neighbor whose kids leave at 8:30 am and come home at 3 pm. In some ways this is great – no rushing around in the morning packing lunches and signing permission slips, no nights of homework. But you will have your kids at home with you. All day. If you’re starting homeschooling from the beginning with your Kindergartener, or you already have young kids at home, this won’t be a big deal, but if you’re going from no kids (or just a few) at home to everyone suddenly, I can imagine it might be a shock to the  system. Be open to adjusting housekeeping expectations and planning when your will be out of the house alone (when your spouse is home? or hiring an afternoon babysitter?). Just knowing that these will require adjustment can be comforting during the transition.

Consider Deschooling

Whatever educational approach resonates with you, if you are pulling a child out of regular school you might want to consider a period nondirected, discovery based learning . This is commonly called “deschooling,” and the idea is that it allows your child to calibrate themselves to the rhythm of learning out of an institution by allowing them the time to explore their own interests, no strings attached. We do this for at least 2 months out of the year (we call it summer break, hah!), but it seems to be particularly cathartic for older students who have developed negative associations with learning.  You can read more about deschooling here.

Much luck in the coming school year! Sending your virtual hugs and cups of coffee (and maybe glasses of wine if that’s more your style). 🙂 It will be an exciting year!


5 (Possibly Unexpected) Things I Use Everyday to Homeschool

Its would come at no surprise that we use lots of living books and  lots of art supplies in our day to day home learning adventure. But here are a few a little more off the beaten path resources that I’ve come to rely upon…

1) Split page journals


These are like regular notebooks or composition books, but provide a large space for drawing.
I started using them years ago for my oldest daughter’s copy work, since she loves drawing and could be compelled to do just about anything if drawing was also involved. Since then we have begun to use the format for nearly every subject – each kid has history, science, and copy work notebooks. I like the narrow ruled Bienfang note sketch books for science and history notebooks (more room to draw) and the Mead primary journals for copy work (more explicit handwriting guides). After reading our daily selections in history and science and hearing narrations, I have them record a response to the day’s reading in their notebooks. Often this is just a picture with a sentence (or few, depending on their age). This solved the reporting  issue I had with my Charlotte Mason approach – I have provide work samples for subjects that the primary work comes from reading and narration, which is a bit tricky to show. Their notebooks provide an easy, low key way to show what we are doing, and gives my art loving kids a creative outlet built into their days.I also find that if we don’t do official art that week, I still have plenty of artwork to show, and its nice to have everything contained in one space. I also love the somewhat Waldorf element it lends to their work – they are in a way creating their own textbooks.

2) Primary Handwriting Dry Erase Boards

Like this. I use it everyday for writing out passages that we do for copywork. The handwriting guide style helps me make sure I’m writing out in (nearly) perfect form, and is easy to reuse everyday. I do like to use wet erase instead of dry erase markers though, since with dry erase my careful printing can come off on little misplaced fingers.I use a second board to write out weekly spelling words to copy out daily, or various other passages we might be memorizing and copying.

3)  Singapore Math Videos from Khan Academy

My oldest is using (among other things) Singapore Math 3a right now, and I was thrilled to find that Khan Academy has a series of explanation videos for it. Although the videos don’t exactly match up to the workbook sequence (or maybe they do in a way I haven’t quite deciphered), they are proving useful, and are free! I hope they continue to add on for more of the series.

4) Play Away Books

These are mp3 player pre-loaded with books and extremely easy to use. Even my 4 year old can work them with a little help. Although I use this more for quiet time entertainment than school work, I have found a few that I could use as a lazy (or exhausted or vocal-resting) mom’s helpers for our daily read aloud novels. A few I’ve gotten I’ve used for school work from the library have been The Princess and the Goblin, The Jungle Book, and The Hobbit. Even though I also frequently check out traditional books on cd, these just make things easier, as they only require a set of headphones for individual listening. They would be too expensive for me to buy individually, but if your library doesn’t offer these, definitely suggest them to your librarians!

4) Home Science Adventures Kits

Microscope Explorations Unit

My husband (the physics professor) is extremely into hands-on science activities, to a point where I was overwhelmed with my lack of ability to fit in enough said hands on activities to meet his or my science-devouring children’t expectations. My hands, or really my brain, is pretty exhausted after our everyday work, and beyond a weekly experiment (which is more than a lot of people do, right?!?!) I had a hard time providing enough. These kits have come to the rescue! They include really well written guiding worksheets to follow as well as everything you need to do the experiments  The best thing (aside from never having to hunt for a length of wire or rubber ball) is that they are (at least for my 6 and 8 year old) able to be done independently. That being the case, they are easy to use as a child supervised science exploration activity. I.e, it can be done with mom in a hammock, reading. Score! Of course you could also probably use it as your main science curriculum – there’s lots to do and plenty of opportunity for living book supplementation.

5) A Trampoline

Seriously. Studies have shown that children sitting still for more than 10 minutes start to lose learning capacity. So an easy, centrally located activity-generator is a perfect solution. A mini-trampoline doesn’t take up a ton of space, but gets out a ton of energy. We do of course have to have strict rules for its use: one kid at a time and no hanging on the bar! But we have yet to have anyone injured on it, which for my children is saying something. It amuses me that they treat it like a hamster wheel – hopping on through out the day, bouncing happily for a few minutes and going about their business. I think it helps put them more in control of managing their energy and stimulation levels, which I think is a great step toward independence.

What about you? Any kind of weird standards that you wouldn’t want to homeschool without? I’d love to hear them!

Livng Books Books for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is a fun opportunity to take a little side jaunt from our normal history studies. This week, we’ve been reading about St. Patrick of Ireland, and I thought I’d share some of our favorite books to that end. Sometimes one is overwhelmed with silly, stereotypical representations of Patrick, but these are excellent sources for a mini-study using living books.
by Tomie dePaola
I love this storybook version of St. Patrick’s life. Lovely illustrations, concise prose, and a clear distinction made between the historical life of Patrick and the legends that have been associated with him make for a great introduction to Ireland’s beloved patron saint.
by Cornelia Lehn
St. Patrick’s story is among many tales of missionaries in this compilation of stories. About a five minute read aloud, I like reading this story as well because it emphasizes a bit more about Patrick’s Roman background and fleshes out the circumstances like his pirate capture vividly (although it might be a little much for very sensitive young children – please pre-read).
Saint Fiech, Bishop of Sletty
This roughly 10 page poem describing Patrick’s life  and and work is an original source of many of the stories we know hear of St. Patrick. The Irish, English, and Latin  versions are all included. Being available free on kindle is an added bonus!

Favorite Resources: Jim Weiss Recordings

Have you discovered Jim Weiss’s wonderful recordings? I came to stumble upon them on the Peace Hill Press website, while purchasing resources for our history work. We were studying the ancient Greeks at the time, and the Greek Myths cd we were able to check out at our library became and instant favorite in our house. . We are blessed that our local (fabulous) library has an enormous collection of these recordings, which range from folk tales and mythology, to American history, to classical literature. Since then, hardly a week has gone by that one of these recordings has not been either playing on an mp3 player at rest time or giving everyone something fun and interesting to listen to together in the car.

So my girls and I had an enormous treat last night – we got to see Jim Weiss, storyteller extraordinaire  perform in the flesh at our local library!   Last night you would have thought we were going to see Justin Beiber – if my children knew who he was. One of those moments I’m thrilled to have them woefully out of step with culture, but I digress. When we walked in to sit down front and center (yes, we were first in line to get in), we were thrilled to get to chat with Mr. Weiss – my 6 year old daughter was absolutely star struck. I am still kicking myself for forgetting my camera! But we did buy some recordings that we were able to have signed, so my girls have a souvenir.  I hope it won’t be the last time we see him perform in person! Ok, end of fangirl rant!

Many of these recording have fit wonderfully into our study of history using Story of the World: Volume 1 as a spine.  I have just found a new, really helpful curriculum guide that I now have bookmarked over at the Greathall Productions website. There are a few we missed!  We have especially loved the three Greek myth recordings (She & He is my favorite!) as well as  Tales From Cultures Far and Near. We are currently listening to Julius Caesar and the Story of Rome.

Some of our favorite literature recordings are Tales from the Jungle Book (I let my little ones listen to this while my oldest was reading the actual book independently – this way we could all discuss), Sherlock Holmes for Children (after which everyone begged me to get some of the original books for read aloud), and King  Arthur and his Knights

I hope this helps! Happy listening!

Books for (tiny) Boys

My 2 year old has been getting in on the reading action lately. Usually our routine is to read a book of each child’s choosing both before afternoon quiet time and then again before bed.  With three kids choosing, we rack up some serious time reading time!

 Now my youngest is insisting on  choosing his *own* book for reading times too, and I thought I’d share some of his current favorites in case you need some library list inspiration for your little one. Of course, these are books tiny girls could certainly love, too – it just so happens my tiny one right now is a boy, and I do notice a bit of – shall we say? – masculine flair in his preferences.

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime
Bob Shea
Simple, fun, and inter-actable (ROAR!), this story’s hero little Dinosaur takes on all kind of challenges. Piles of leaves, big slides, talking grown-ups… and the biggest challenge of all, bedtime! Its like they’ve been to our house, weird.

Little Blue Truck
Alice Schertle / Jill McElmurry
This book was given to us by my sweet Aunt Marti during our beach trip a month ago, and my 2 year old is still begging multiple readings of it daily. So many elements of a great early reading book – written in charming verse, lots of fun onamonapia, farm animals, vehicles, action / consequence (what happens when big Dump is rude?), team work, and even (though I admit it reads melodramatic) redemption. 
See, now you have to read it to find out how someone could really find  a board book redemptive. 🙂
Meeow and the Little Chairs
Sebastien Braun

This was one that one of my kids picked at the library that I was honestly was kind of “meh” about at first, but its proven entertaining. There are colors to point out, animal sounds to make, and my favorite – imaginative play is encouraged. I can also see this being a fun book for a beginner reader because the text is huge and fairly simple.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle

Of course you know about TVHC – how could you not? If you’re like me you got three copies of the board book alone during your first child’s babyhood. It has been such an enduring favorite around here that I made my little guy’s 2nd birthday cake an homage to the Caterpillar:

(the eyes bore into your soul… or not)

But I couldn’t have a list of books for little ones without it.

I’d love to know – what are your favorite books for tiny readers?

How to be a Happy Introvert Mom

image credit

I recently watched Susan Cain’s delightful Ted Talk, “The Power of Introverts.” It was fun in a “rah rah introverts are great!” kind of way, but it also got me thinking of the way that introvertedness affects my family life. My husband and I are both introverts, and we have naturally structured life and routines in a way that supports both our introverted tendencies. I have four children ages seven, five, four, and two years.  And I homeschool. On paper that would look very frightening to an introvert – but it really isn’t. Here’s how.

Mama, know thyself

Somewhere along the way, “introvert” has picked up negative connotations. Have you ever been told, “you’re not an introvert, you’re so nice!”?  Introverts aren’t necessarily shy or quiet, we are just people for whom social interaction is tiring rather than energizing. We don’t dislike people at all, they just wear us out. Consider how you feel after a morning playdate with lots of other moms. Do you feel energized when you get home, or do you need to take a nap?  If you are on the napping end, you might be an introvert. (If you haven’t ever taken a personality test, consider taking the Meyer’s Briggs personality test here or a quick inventory here). Temperament isn’t good or bad, it just is. Knowing that the reason you feel like ripping someone’s head off is because you haven’t had any alone time really helps me calm down and look for a meaningful solution.

Introverts are the minority in our culture, and need to be especially thoughtful about their self care while going through the trying season of mothering young children. Children as a rule need a huge amount of interaction to develop into secure, happy little people.  But for introverts, the process of pouring out attention and interaction on our little people is exhausting in a whole other way than it is to our extrovert friends. What makes us feel better is different as well. An introverted mom, when stressed and exhausted,  will generally not want to go to a large “girls night out” gathering of the local mom’s group. Not because she doesn’t like those other moms, but because when tired and stressed, more social interaction is not what she needs to recharge. I know I have felt weird and awkward turning down invitations to such events (don’t even get me started on women’s retreats), not quite understanding why that – while it might be fun when I’m fully rested – is the last thing I want to do in the evening after a hectic day. Knowing what will best serve to energize me allows me to invest in those things that will truly support me (hello, quiet reading cave), rather than doing what everyone else seems to expect me to want to do.

Enforce daily “quiet alone” time regardless of age

For me, letting a child give up their nap at 2 was just not going to happen. Although I’ve never been a sleep trainer, I found that when all the older children have a set early afternoon quiet time, the baby will naturally, for the most part, follow along.  How to keep nap / quiet time going in your house? A few strategies that work well in our house: 

  • Mp3 players for each child – the cheap kind. You can upload music they like, or my favorite, books on cd from the library.
  • Special “quiet time” coloring books or toys. April at Holistic Homemaking has a great post about her quiet time bins that she rotates daily, and lots of suggestions for putting together your own. In our family its more casual – I might give a kid the option between drawing pad or listening to a book on their mp3 player. My kids go to sleep late, so I prefer they read or sleep over playing, but for kids who are getting used to a quiet time initially, a special bin could ease the transition.
  • Separate spaces for everyone: my kids share rooms, but everyone gets a space of their own for quiet time. They take turns in the favored locations like mom & dad’s room. My oldest sometimes spends her quiet time reading outside on the bench swing. As long as I have an area I can be alone in too, it works.
  • Set the time: Older children who don’t fall asleep will drive you nuts popping their head out of their spaces asking if they can get up yet. Clearly setting an end to quiet time solves this. For us its one hour from when we start, and I use digital clocks (time telling practice). There are also cool kid friendly clocks available that can help younger kids with this – my friend Christina swears by her bunny clock. I read on a blog once (which I’ve forgotten now – arg!) about a mom who set up soothing music to play for an hour – and the kids knew that once the music stopped they could get up. Whatever works. Often at least two of my kids will sleep for a full two hours, so even when the hour is up, I still have everyone who is up be quiet until little nappers are awake.

Don’t Over schedule Yourself!

Consider the effect that outside activities have on your energy level. Even if you love nothing more than to run from activity to activity, recent research heavily questions the enrichment activity craze, urging parents to allow children large stretches of unstructured play. You know, the kind that we had growing up. If you’re an introvert, you probably spent a nice chunk of that free play time happily reading or playing alone after being drained by the constant interaction of the school day. All the running around and interaction with strangers and acquaintances is wearisome. Are you tired and grouchy after a full afternoon of activities? Cut some of the activities and send you kids outside to play (or just to the next room) instead.

Don’t feel the need to constantly entertain the children

You should encourage your kids. You should spread before them a “feast of ideas” that inspires them. But you should also…wait for it….just leave them alone. Let them come up with their own games and play time. Its really not your job to entertain them, and allowing them to amuse themselves (without necessarily turning to various screen based entertainment) will encourage creativity, problem solving skills, and overall independence.

I love the picture education reformer Charlotte Mason describes as an ideal situation of children at play: Mother is in the room, working on whatever project she needs to be doing, like dishes or laundry or blogging 🙂 and the children are close by, easy to observe and if needed, correct. But they are involved in their own play, not looking to Mother to tell them what to do next, or depending on her as a playmate. Which leads me to another not so obvious strategy for introverted mothering…

Have a play group that never goes home

You may actually love having a larger than average family – they entertain each other! While I frequently get stopped by lots of eye rolling, “better-you-than-me” commenting people insisting that my hands are SO FULL – I know something they apparently don’t. Although four children pose logistical problems of scale that one or two children wouldn’t, four children in close age range will entertain one another in a completely different way that one child alone or two children 3 or more years apart. The common sense approach to being an introverted parent would be that the fewer children, the better, right? The fewer people there are around you, the less stressed one would think you would be. But of course things work differently in mother world, and at least in my experience it actually been the opposite. Children two years or less apart are closer to each other developmentally and naturally play together more easily. So even though I have 4 children, they are all so close together that I am almost never begged to come play with them in the way my friends with one or two children far apart are. I do have cuddlers, but that’s a different story. I don’t *have* to take them to play dates several times a week (although we actually do try to go the park with friends once or twice a week), because they pretty much always have someone to play with. I’m not saying you should necessarily have more kids if you don’t already want a larger family, but just want to encourage you if maybe you would like more children but are afraid they would drive you over the edge.

Make it known that a great gift for you is babysitting

If your husband wants to support you, be real about what will really help you the most. For me, my husband taking out the trash or giving the kids a bath isn’t nearly as helpful as watching the kids while I run errands or go for a run alone. His time is very valuable, and I want to be able to spend time with him when he’s home, so I don’t usually prevail on him to watch kids while I go out alone – I try to rely on the daily quiet time for my regular dose of alone time. But when your husband/family/friends ask for gift suggestions, consider asking for a longer, restorative time alone. For me an afternoon of browsing shelves at the library alone or a solo Target expedition recharges like little else.

Do you have any strategies for introverted mothering? What special strategies benefit extroverted mothering?

More fun reading on introverts:
“Caring for Your Internet” at The Atlantic