First Week of De-School

I tend to just dive into work, but with one more visit from relatives and other things going on, it didn’t seem like a good idea to start in on regular math and writing and so forth last week. Then again, I hate when we have our “Box Day” and then we don’t actually use anything for a couple of weeks because, you know, life.

I decided instead to break out some of the fun stuff and take a few field trips. It worked out well and I think it got all of us into a better frame of mind for school. Is it possible that homeschooled kids need some deschool learning now and then? We’re constantly doing stuff that’s out of the box and our daily school looks so different from kids in most brick and mortar schools. Yet I still found we needed a week of doing something different every day to break that sense of learning as sitting down at the table. Routines are good, but so is breaking away from a routine.

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Our “Box Day” celebration was anticipated for weeks beforehand. Its the day we open up all the fun school supplies and get to see the new books. This year there were lots of dinosaur books.
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We played more games this week. The Husband played Appletters with us on Box Day morning.
We had family in town so we visited the monuments, including Einstein, where we had not been in awhile.
We had family in town so we visited the monuments, including Einstein, where we had not been in awhile.
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We’re studying dinosaurs this year! Also, grandparents treated the kids to a visit to this cool climbing gym where all the walls looked like different crazy things to climb.
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We played with the Zometools and did some of the introductory lesson plans.

We also had a chance to see our co-op friends, we went to the Museum of Natural History to play with the fossils, Miles played in a marimba concert, we cuddled to books on the sofa and raided the library for a tall stack of dinosaur books, and tried our hands at math problems with no numbers (more about those in a future post). Overall, a very good week.

Celebrations of Arbitrary Lines

Originally, I didn’t really plan anything to mark the passing of the boys from fifth grade into sixth. However, they heard about school kids having elementary school graduation and immediately wanted to know what I had planned. Nothing, I admitted.

Every new school year brings new challenges and I’m always aware of moving forward, striving to be better, trying to – not keep up with peers, but to be mindful of what peers might be up to. However, I try to de-emphasize this stuff with the kids. You’re doing the work that’s right for you, the challenges that are right for you, making progress for yourself. And, honestly, since they have friends of many different ages on different sides of various arbitrary lines, I don’t want them to get the idea that they’re “ahead” or “behind” anyone in particular. They’re just on their own paths.

But then I thought… You know, arbitrary lines can be fun. Arbitrary lines are why we celebrate the new year and birthdays. They’re why the new millennium was so much fun to celebrate. They’re why we all hold up our hands and scream (what? that’s not your tradition?) when we cross a state line on a road trip. And they’re why, when we passed this, driving through Namibia, we absolutely had to pull over to the side of the road in what was otherwise the middle of nowhere and take a picture. And, let me tell you, when something is in “the middle of nowhere” in Namibia, it’s like another level of middle of nowhere.

tropics

So I decided, hey, let’s celebrate the crossing of this arbitrary line. I whipped up graduation caps from craft foam and string we had in the art supplies and we took these photos. (In case that sounds too crafty, I promise that it was absurdly fast. If you have a kid approaching an arbitrary line, all I did was make a circle of foam to fit on their heads then hot glued a square on top of it and taped a little tassel on. I’m sure it would work with cardboard or even stiff paper as well.)

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Then we went out for a fancy breakfast. Every was gratified. Hooray for crossing lines!

This Is Why We Do Portfolios

Mushroom hard at work.
Mushroom hard at work.

I often think of portfolios as being for me. Technically, I suppose, they’re for the threat of the state, but honestly, I taught in schools that used portfolio assessments and I came to believe in them strongly, which is why I would do them even if I wasn’t supposed to keep records of our education (which, by the way, are never checked).

I have an older post about how we do portfolios here. It’s probably due for an upgrade, but things are basically still the same. We toss everything into a box until portfolio time. Then we go through it and the kids choose their best work from all the art, worksheets, dictations, math workbook pages, projects, and so forth. They write a short self-assessment, I write an assessment, and then it all goes in the portfolio in plastic sleeves, which makes it look super neat and pretty.

Every time I do it, it’s a huge boost for me as a teacher. Homeschooling can be lonely, as they say. You don’t get feedback about how you’re doing and it’s easy to lose sight of how things are going. It’s hard to feel like you’re getting anywhere. Putting together the portfolio, with the list of all the books we read, field trips we took, and all those examples of work is such a huge boost. You can see the progress and it’s very gratifying for me as a teacher.

For the last few weeks, Mushroom’s anxiety levels have been up. He’s had trouble finishing up his work for the school year simply because he’s been so keyed up with worries about everything and nothing. The moment he started to go through his work, he lit up with joy. By the time he had compiled all his examples, he was glowing. Seeing all the work he did over the summer was a huge boost to his self-confidence.

I’m reminded how important it is to celebrate our kids’ work and how it doesn’t have to be done with anything but a figurative mirror. Having the time and space to pause and see what he had done was a great experience for him.

Difficult Thoughts on Homeschooling and Race

A warning to readers. This is sort of a personal exploration post about a lot of things. I rarely post much about politics. One of the things I enjoy about the online homeschooling community is how it gives me a peek into different perspectives on the world. But every once in awhile, I share some of mine beyond simply the practical stuff, the parenting trials, and the books we’re reading. I promise, next post about math instead.

Last week, I listened to This American Life’s two part series about integration in schools today called “The Problem We All Live With.” I think a lot of homeschoolers only pay attention to school education news in limited doses. Many of us have had bad experiences with schools and know that even supposedly good education news can rile us up. This has been true for me at times as well, but I’m also interested in the education world in general. I have strong feelings and opinions from when I used to teach in schools. While sometimes school stories do make me want to gnash my teeth, I’m drawn into them often.

This story, about the increasing segregation in schools and the lack of movement toward integration overall, was depressing and teeth gnashing to say the least. It followed two districts where integration is happening and the difficulties of making it work in the face of angry parents. The second district had a story that was especially familiar to me. You see, during most of my youth, I attended schools that were much more integrated than most apparently are, in part because of a magnet program that drew mostly white suburban kids to mostly black city schools, just like the program profiled in the second part of the story. It was, for me, a great experience. I can remember clearly before heading off to middle school my mother saying to me that one of the things I needed to think about was that I would need to be comfortable being in the minority as a white student. I don’t remember that being an issue to me. On the contrary, I’m so glad I had that experience. It was not always as rosy a racial harmony picture as all that, but it was, overall, a positive experience for me.

A few things make this difficult to reflect upon. First and foremost, we live in the inner city in a very racially diverse neighborhood. While the schools weren’t good when we first came here, they’ve improved greatly. If I wanted to, I could enter the charter lottery and send my kids to one of several diverse urban schools that are really, all in all, not bad places. And I’m all too aware that, whether they mean to or not, white parents have been the driving force resegregating schools, in part by moving but also in part by choosing educational alternatives to keep their kids away from what is seen as the wrong kind of culture in schools. One of those alternatives is homeschooling.

Homeschooling among minority groups is growing, in part to escape the segregated attitudes in schools. Recently there was an excellent article about the growth of African-American homeschooling in my city and several others about the rise nationwide. However, it’s still disproportionately white. And the tribal mentality in homeschooling means that sometimes different religious groups don’t even mix, much less different racial groups. I’m also sadly aware that the racism in some elements of homeschooling are much closer to the surface than in other places. Some of the most popular homeschool programs include racist language, read older literature that is filled with racial stereotypes, and filter American history through a providential lens, one that emphasizes that Europeans (and not anyone else) were given this country by God.

That’s not why we chose homeschooling. We avoid those sorts of materials. I’d homeschool if we lived in a ritzy suburb or a rural area or even a foreign country. I decided to homeschool years before we moved here, years before we had kids even. Some homeschoolers decide on this path after seeing their local school or even after experiencing its negative impact on their child. But we chose it because of the benefits of learning at home, not because of the negatives of being in school.

But, by doing so, we’ve removed our kids from their environment in many ways. There are no other homeschoolers my kids’ age in walking distance the way school friends would be. We travel, sometimes half an hour or more, to see friends, mostly in the suburbs. There is some diversity in our group of extended friends, but mostly it’s very white. It does not reflect the neighborhood around my kids. They have, in the last year or two, started to make more neighborhood friends simply by being old enough and confident enough to be outside at the parks and strike up friendships. Still, when I reflect on this, it makes me uncomfortable, to say the least, that we leave our neighborhood, where the kids are more than half black and Latino, to see our friends, who are almost all white.

However, I get that few parents want to sacrifice their ideals about society for their child’s education. When I think about Civil Rights parents, willing to send their kids into atmospheres of hatred and derision, I’m constantly awed and astounded by how difficult that must have been. I made education decisions for my kids, not for society as a whole. I don’t plan to change even though, I’m aware that for society as a whole to shift, sometimes people have to make decisions that are not great for them in the short run in order to make a better future in the long run. Sending my kids to school wouldn’t change much, but when everyone makes the decision to opt out, for whatever reason, that’s bad for the people who don’t have the resources to opt out, whether by moving away, starting a private school, or homeschooling.

There’s no easy answers, but it bothers me sometimes that homeschoolers like to bury their heads in the sand about some of these hard truths. We would like it to be simple that we’ve made the right decisions for our kids and would like to pretend that dropping out, tuning out, and isolating ourselves is without broader consequences both for us and society. Like I said, we homeschool, I believe in homeschooling for all sorts of families, and I don’t plan to change. But listening to those two stories is a heavy weight in a way.

The only silver lining, I hope, is that schools aren’t always much better when it comes to teaching tolerance and valuing diversity. By homeschooling, I can expose my kids to more diverse authors and literature than they might meet in schools as well as a more well-rounded history of the world as a whole. At least, that’s what I hope.  So I strive to teach my kids to recognize their privileges in the world, including the privilege of being educated at home.

Book Roundup

I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing our periodic book roundups. However, as always, we’ve been reading. Here’s a few things from our shelves from the last few months and I’ll try to get back to doing more book blogging again.

School Read
Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd
We took this book out of the library and let it inspire our final project for fifth grade: graphic design. This was such a readable book for my design loving kids that they both read it for pleasure reading first before I could assign it, which is a rare occurrence around here indeed. It’s a well designed book (as one would hope) and filled with great visual examples. The text also breaks down important elements of design in a way that’s simple for the reader. At the end there are ten projects for readers to try so they can do their own graphic design. As always, the kids has their own takes on how to do the projects, but it was a really good introduction. I highly recommend it.

Nonfiction Practice Reading
TIME: Modern Explorers
We have struggled a lot to hit the right length and difficulty level for nonfiction reading in our house. I may write more about this in a future post, but in the meantime, I found a good solution for now, which was to seek out adult magazines geared toward more casual readers by simply running through the offerings at the bookstore. This one has been the biggest hit. It’s a special issue of Time about explorers in all different fields: medicine, oceanography, outer space, climbing, and more. There’s a nice variance of lengths and both the boys have been excited by what they read. The opening article, about twin astronauts, was especially interesting to them. The writing is at a high enough level to be challenging, but not as challenging as many other publications geared toward adults and the length of the articles is just right, which has been a key element for my not so fast readers.

Required Reading
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
We do very little required reading, but I did choose a couple of shorter books to be read by all three of us at the same time then discussed at a poetry tea and this is the one that finished up our school year. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a boy named Jess, a middle child in a poor, rural family who dreams of being an artist. Leslie moves in next door and they quickly become friends. Leslie’s family is affluent, there because they’re fleeing the city for a country oasis. She’s different, smart, and well-read. She introduces Jess to a fantasy world and they play games in the woods across the creek. However, on a fateful, stormy day when Jess isn’t there, she is swept into the creek and drowns. I know this book is divisive for many. Some people feel utterly betrayed by the story and Leslie’s very unexpected death (there is some foreshadowing, but it’s limited). However, I felt like the book is one that has a strong impact on readers and generally elicits a strong response. I talked to the kids about how the book is sad and that there’s a surprise shocking thing that happens. Even with the warnings, BalletBoy cried when he read about Leslie’s death and it led to a lot of good conversations, which was exactly the goal of having a required reading book like this one.

Mushroom’s Serious Read
Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Mushroom has a book type these days, one that can best be described as “issue books.” He likes books where difficult things happen to kids or where kids have to overcome various issues. That’s why I was sure this book would be right up his alley. Willow, the main character, is profoundly gifted, but also misunderstood by everyone but her parents. Unfortunately, they die in a terrible accident, leaving Willow on her own without anyone. A bizarre cast of characters step in to help her out, but slowly, as Willow resurfaces from her grief, she’s the one who helps them out. I read this one alongside Mushroom and we both really liked it.

Mushroom’s Graphic Novel Read
El Deafo by Cece Bell
You know how I just said that Mushroom likes “issue books”? Well, here was one that brought together his two great literary loves in one volume: a book that was both an issue book and a graphic novel. What could be better? El Deafo won a much deserved Newbery Honor last year, hopefully making it the first graphic novel to be honored among many. The characters are all rabbits, but the story is based on the author’s own childhood. Cece loses her hearing and must adjust to having an awkward hearing aid, but one that soon helps her hear in places that no one else can. It’s a story that’s both serious and funny.

BalletBoy’s Serious Read
The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne
BalletBoy generally refuses to listen to any books I suggest for him so he always runs through the shelves and finds his own interesting titles, often of books I’ve never heard of. That was the case with this book, which is a sort of fanciful tale about a boy who is born floating. In a twist a bit like the classic Rudolph Christmas special, Barnaby’s parents are ashamed of his unusual state and do everything they can to hide it, that is until Barnaby floats away to have a series of adventures. BalletBoy really loved this book and immediately dove into another book by Boyne (who is probably best known as the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). I only skimmed a bit of it, but I can’t say I was as enchanted as he was, still, I think the fairy tale and moral qualities of the story appealed to him as a reader.

Farrar’s YA Read
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
This Printz award winner from last year begins like a typical teenage boy book. Narrator Austin is a bit of a stoner, a bit funny, a bit confused about his sexuality, and a bit disgusting in the way that teen boys can be. However, after introducing the characters, the book slowly veers into science fiction as a virus that ends the world by turning people into giant bugs is unleashed thanks to a series of accidents. This was one of those darkly fascinating books for me. It really stayed with me for weeks afterward and I liked how the book swung from being one sort of book to being another entirely. Austin’s voice reminded me a little of the main character from Youth in Revolt – a teenage boy who is both disgusted with himself and yet unable to stop himself when it comes to poor decisions. But by the end of the book, it felt like I was in a comedic Starship Troopers. This book is definitely not for everyone, but I liked what Smith had to say in his thank yous about how he wrote it just for himself, just because. Obviously, that led to a unique, interesting book.

Farrar’s YA Graphic Novel Read
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
I read this all in one sitting because I was so compelled once it got started (I know, not so hard for a graphic novel, but still). The setting is a sort of alternate universe where medieval values and trappings live alongside modern technology. At the start, the title character Nimona, a young teen with a medieval punk look, offers her services to the most famous super villain, a man who washed out of being a knight after his arm was destroyed in a jousting explosion. It quickly becomes clear that Nimona, who happens to be a shapeshifter, is dangerously unstable and bloodthirsty. The story makes you feel for her despite the high body count she racks up. But as the story continues, it becomes less clear who the good guys and bad guys even are and what Nimona is as well. I highly recommend this one to anyone who likes a good graphic novel. I liked the balance it struck between humor and seriousness.

What Learning Should and Shouldn’t Be

Mushroom and BalletBoy on a typical school day. I'm not sure they're having any fun, but they seem to be learning.
Mushroom and BalletBoy on a typical school day. I’m not sure they’re having any fun, but they seem to be learning.

I saw a question go around recently online: Should learning be fun? I thought I knew my answer, but from there, my head went round and round. Follow me for a moment.

My first thought was that there are really two schools of thought: that learning should be hard work and that learning should be fun. My knee-jerk reaction is to throw myself into the second camp. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I strive to make learning fun for my kids. I take them on field trips, I plan projects and experiences for them, we play games for learning all the time, and I generally want learning to be fun. Learning can be fun.

I dislike when people dismiss the value of fun in learning because I think it can be an excuse not to make that effort. Handing a child a preset plan can be a lot easier on us as the teacher than planning out a set of experiences where a child can play and get messy. Using a worksheet with a clear end and beginning point can feel a lot safer than sitting down to play a game. Yet doing those things can be essential and important.

Then my second thought was that, maybe learning doesn’t have to be fun. Sometimes it can be hard work, which is a value to itself. But, to flip the question around, I felt learning should not be miserable. When a child is in tears every day learning, then something has gone deeply wrong. School shouldn’t be painful and when a child is upset, we shouldn’t dismiss that. It’s important to figure out if a child isn’t ready for something, needs more support, needs a different presentation, or has a learning issue that is causing problems.

But then finally I thought, you know, none of these things apply all the time. Sometimes learning is teary and miserable. I don’t think we should try to make it that way or push anyone to experience it that way, but sometimes it just is that way no matter what we do. And I think that’s inevitable. There have been times that I learned things “the hard way” and while I am not eager to repeat those experiences, once I come to the other side of them, I am glad I made it.

Basically, I started to realize that maybe there is no should when it comes to learning. Learning can be hard or easy, fun or arduous, engaging or boring, joyfully or drudgery. And really, all those things are all okay at different times.

I’m not particularly a fan of Montessori methods overall, but one of the wonderful concepts in Montessori is of the prepared environment. We prepare the best environment for learning that we can by planning projects, choosing curricula, and generally making learning as good as we can make it. That means that we strive for fun sometimes, but also that we strive for engagement and interest. Sometimes that’s even better than fun. Having a debate about ethics or literature isn’t necessarily fun, but it can be deeply enjoyable and engaging. Solving a difficult logic or math problem can be rewarding even if it isn’t fun.

And the other thing we do is help kids see the meaning of the process. Much of learning isn’t inherently fun. We may dress it up with games or songs or the like, but copywork or math drills aren’t inherently rewarding and joyful. What’s joyful is the payoff down the line when we can use what we learned to craft our own compelling sentences or solve difficult problems more easily. There’s never a reason to tell a student to learn something “just because” – just because it’s on the syllabus, just because it’s in the textbook, just because everyone else does. Seeing the end result helps when the learning does feel like drudgery, so that we can take a little drudgery.

Learning is such a complex thing. The more we do it, the more potentially “fun” it can be because we’re building a network of information upon which we can build more and more. But it isn’t going to be one thing, nor should we expect it to be. Different learners need different approaches. Different subjects require different experiences.

 

Blog Clean Up

Hello, dear readers. I’ve been getting more hits in the last few weeks and it gave me a mild kick in the rear to clean up the blog a little bit. I don’t think I’ve looked at the links in a year (or two or three…) and I had not updated our curriculum section above. But that’s all updated now. Specifically, you can read about our wrapping up of fifth grade (that’s currently) and our loose upcoming plans for sixth grade in the fall. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on that in the near future (eek! middle school!). In the meantime, if you have a favorite book blog you think I should be reading, I realize I have fallen behind on keeping up with those, so please suggest it!

We started back to school after a break of about a month for summer camp, cousin camp, and a trip to see relatives. I’m sure I’ll post more soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this totally unrelated to anything picture of the boys enjoying summer to its fullest. I hope you’re all milking it for everything it can give as well.

boatsummer

Ten “Girl” Books My Boys Have Loved

Anyone who knows me knows I love to recommend books to people. I’m a children’s book nut and I like helping people find good books for their book devourers and picky readers alike. But often I feel like people who want book recommendations want to start in the wrong place, which is gender.

It’s important for all kids to be able to see themselves in the characters they read about (not to get onto a tangent, but that’s exactly why #weneeddiversebooks). Books are a mirror for our lives and help us understand our own experiences by identifying with others’ stories. However, I think it’s just as important that kids have the opportunity to read about different perspectives and that includes reading about what it’s like to grow up as a girl.

When people talk about the need for there to be books with strong female characters, the focus is usually to help girls become strong women. However, as the mother of boys, I think it’s just as important that boys read these books to learn how to respect, admire, and be understand strong women when they grow up. We do just as huge a disservice to boys when we don’t give them “girl” books as we do when we box girls into a reading corner.

So here are just a few of the many “girl” books my boys have read and enjoyed over the years. Many of them are books that are consistently on the “for girls!” lists.

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Conner
Last Christmas, my sister-in-law gifted BalletBoy a very amusing picture book: Fancy Nancy and the Wedding of the Century, signed by the author. He had a great blush. Why is she giving me this? But I knew immediately. As a preschooler, BalletBoy had loved Fancy Nancy so very much that he had announced that he planned to marry her when he grew up. We may have grown out of Nancy a long time ago, but her girly, vocabulary rich, pink-loving charms were once really enjoyed here.

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Mushroom and I recently reread this one curled up in bed late at night. It’s probably no surprise that this would have been a much loved girl picture book for my anxious kid. Henkes’s world has many boy characters as well – we especially liked Owen too – but Wemberly has a special place for us.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch
This classic tale of princess empowerment is funny for boys too. My boys always thought the picture of the annoying prince who needed rescue was very amusing. I especially thought it was good for boys to see that princesses can rescue them.

Ivy and Bean series by Annie Barrows
Not long ago, BalletBoy noticed a newer Ivy and Bean book he’d never read and picked it up sort of wistfully before putting it back and declaring he was too old for it. However, these books about two neighbor girls with very different personalities and a close friendship was one of the first chapter book series he read independently.

Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Not that we didn’t also enjoy Henry Huggins or Ralph S. Mouse, but Ramona’s struggles from pest to older kid have been Cleary’s most loved books here. She is one of the most real characters in children’s literature, with some of the most real family relationships and struggles.

The Penderwicks
 series by Jeanne Birdsall
We loved meeting the Penderwicks again in the most recent book.
The books are so sweet and touching positive with such great sister relationships. We have read every one and loved them all.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This classic was a read aloud ages ago and both boys enjoyed Mary’s transformation from contrary to happy. They may have also really liked my poorly done accents. I highly recommend the beautiful Inga Moore version, which was the one we had.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
This fairy tale with a girl power twist was a much enjoyed story for both my boys, who both liked Ella’s unlucky tale. I like the determination that Ella has to show and the way the romance evolves through the story. The boys thought the movie wasn’t all that great, but I’m pretty sure everyone agreed on
that.

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
Mushroom read this book not too long ago for pleasure reading. Wendy Mass has several more boy-centric titles, but most of her books are solidly female-centric. This light and funny one with a magical twist, with worries about middle school cliques and birthday party attendees, feels especially girl-centric. But he enjoyed it a lot and I like that the final message is so positive toward girls and boys continuing to be friends, even in middle school and
beyond.

Smile
by Raina Telgemeier
This coming of age graphic novel was based on the author’s real life and deals a lot with learning to figure out who your real friends are and how to be yourself, lessons that both girls and boys have to learn. It has a cult following among girls, but I have noticed a lot of boys reading it as well. I’m embarrassed to say that I initially didn’t give this to either of my kids, thinking that it might be to middle school girly. However, Mushroom specifically asked to read it. Clearly, he knows that “girl” books aren’t just for girls.

 

The Realistic Ten Most Important Things to Know About Homeschooling

Someone posted a link to this article about the most important things to know about homeschooling on a local list and I have to admit that it really rubbed me the wrong way. It’s perhaps a telling sign of how far I’ve moved away from some of my idealistic, unschool-influenced roots, but the rah rah homeschooling is perfect mentality is something that grates on me these days. You won’t find many people who are more pro-homeschooling than I am, but I feel like it has to be tempered with a bit of realism. So I thought I’d rewrite their list the way I see things.

Homeschooling is jumping into the great unknown sometimes.
Homeschooling is jumping into the great unknown sometimes.

1. Homeschooling is life changing for you and your kids. You may learn as much as the kids, if not more sometimes. It can change the way you see yourself and your kids if you are willing to let it. Along the way, there will be lots of uncertainty and chaos that you have to learn to live with. Model your learning for the kids and show them your love of reading, problem-solving and creating and it will help them learn those skills too.

2. You don’t need special credentials or even need to be highly educated. The most important thing you need is the drive to do it and the willingness to learn as you go or to admit when you don’t know how to teach something and be willing to find another way for a child to learn. However, not everyone should homeschool. If you don’t feel that drive or if life circumstances make it too difficult, then that’s okay too.

3. Some kids will be easy to teach. They’ll want to learn and you’ll find it easy to satisfy that. Other kids will be resistant to learning. They’ll try your patience. Sometimes it will be the same kid, just on different days. Your primary job is to help your kids learn how to learn and hopefully learn how to love learning. If you keep that goal in mind, it can be a guiding principle, but it doesn’t come naturally to every child.

4. Homeschooling is legal everywhere in the U.S. You don’t need to join a legal defense organization (as in, HSLDA) in order to protect your rights. You do need to follow the laws of your state or jurisdiction, which can vary. Some states require nothing, others require more extensive records. No one should try to use homeschooling to keep their children secret from the government. Ethically, your children have a right to their own homeschool records to prove that they were educated. If you homeschool, you should realize that, sadly, some people do use homeschooling as a way to mask abuse. Don’t be a voice supporting those people. It’s good to stick up for fellow homeschoolers, but put an eye of caution into your view.

5. Most homeschoolers don’t “do school” from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. Because it’s individualized instruction with a very low teacher to student ratio, there’s a lot less time wasted in homeschooling. However, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily get everything done in as little as an hour. Some days, or even years, you will, and some kids will be fast workers. But other kids will work slowly and other years will take more of your time every day. The most important thing to realize is that your time can be flexible. You can have short days but school year round. Or you can have long days but only school four days a week. You can blend life and schooling more seamlessly or sit down at desks and work hard for several hours then have plenty of play time. There’s not one model to make it work.

6. Socialization is something you have to work at a little harder when your kids are homeschooled. They will not have a ready made peer group and social scene. Sometimes you have to put in time driving them place to place or making friends with the other parents, things that you wouldn’t have to do if they were in school. However, the pay off can be huge. Homeschooled kids can have a much richer social life with people of different ages and experiences than their schooled peers do. They can sometimes avoid some of the negative aspects of socializing in school, like bullying or gender conformity.

7. Skills are important to have. There are lots of different paths and timetables to mastery, but it will be your job to make sure your children acquire those basic skills that people need to function in our world, like reading, writing, speaking clearly, using technology, and doing math, whether it’s learning them slowly through life or teaching them directly from a textbook or something in between. Inevitably, some kids will have bumps in the road and it will be your job to help smooth those out. This means that you don’t necessarily have to teach everything, but you do need to find ways to help your kids learn, and that includes the subjects that you struggled with as a student. If you have something you’re really struggling to teach, it doesn’t mean you have to give up homeschooling. There are classes and tutors out there, it’s just your job to find and use those resources.

8. It’s normal to have doubts. Parenting is full of them and homeschooling can amplify them. But the only thing to do is try your best and keep moving forward. You will make mistakes, but focus on the big picture. Find some friends to help you along the way and encourage you as you go. Homeschooling can be lonely. Having another homeschool parent who can see your kids and tell you how great they are can be a lifeline.

9. Homeschooling is difficult financially. Some primary homeschool parents manage to work, but you will likely sacrifice a full income or most of one in order to do it. That means living on less. If you can do it, it can be worth it. There are creative solutions to make it work, including working from home, starting a business, or co-oping with other parents. However, in the end, not everyone will be able to financially make homeschooling happen and that’s okay too.

10. There is a saying in homeschool circles: “Homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint.” Trust that it’s a long journey and that you have time to do it. Trust that small mistakes along the way don’t define that journey, even a bad year probably isn’t as bad as you think. Remember that kids are resilient and most kids can learn with minimal resources and just a lot of your support and love. However, also remember that homeschooling doesn’t have to be forever. You can make a different decision later if you need to do so.

Math Notebook

Since the boys were in kindergarten, we’ve done math on the white board or math on scratch paper or math with me scribing or math in workbooks or worktexts or with manipulatives. But when Mushroom reached pre-algebra this year I realized that what we had not done was math neatly laid out in a notebook. It was a mess.

However, I was patient. I gave Mushroom a special notebook for math to keep it separate for the first time from the rest of his written work and made him a special cover for it. Then I tried to instill in him to label the top of every page: the lesson number or “Scratch.” Then we got to simplifying expressions and I explained that you have to copy the expression at the start. He looked nigh on devastated. And the notebook was a mess.

But, hey, look at this! Just a month or so after starting to learn about how to keep his math notebook nice and neat, he did this:

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Math is so much about the process. However, there comes a point when the process is hurt by sloppiness. We try really hard to focus on what matters more than how it’s dressed in our schooling. So the quality of the writing matters more than the spelling, that you worked on art for an hour matters more than whether you ended up with a finished product, that you got the right answer matters more than if you forgot to write the units next to it. However, eventually, some of those things matter sometimes. I told Mushroom he had acquired a lifelong skill by being able to keep his math notebook neat and functional.

But I’m also glad I didn’t try to make him acquire this skill earlier. It was pretty painless at this point while it would have been difficult for him earlier. So I’m glad I waited for the right moment to worry a little more about how it looks.