Category Archives: Writing

Make It Middle School

I was doing some cleaning out of old files and found what I think were some of the first notes I made when I started writing my book about homeschooling middle school. I was writing a blog post about why it’s so critical to homeschool during the middle grades… and by the end of it, I was jotting down random questions. I think I gave up and moved to a new document where I started mapping a book instead.

I wrote…

If you homeschool one period of schooling, make it middle school. I’m saying this as a former middle school teacher. I really do believe that middle school can be so bad for kids that even if the relationships at home degrade pretty badly or if your child really wants to go to school, that it’s better to wait. I think even if you have to unschool middle school, kids will be in better shape overall.

While that’s obviously a pretty strong opinion, I thought I’d back it up by talking a little about statistics. Did you know that in several different studies where they looked at kids from the same populations who attended middle schools vs. K-8 elementary schools, that the kids who went to middle school had their test scores go down while the kids who went to K-8 schools had their scores rise? Middle school did that little for them.

Some other things worth noting. First, while homework may have some moderate benefits to grades and test scores in middle school, once you get over an hour per night, that benefit disappears, yet most estimates show that middle schoolers have more homework than that – sometimes a lot more, more like four hours worth. Also, we know that bullying is often its worst in middle school. And my number one complaint as a former teacher is that a lot of that work looks good on paper – it sounds cool to parents – but it’s a lot of effort for not a lot of learning. It’s basically false rigor.

Every time someone tells me they got something about of that book, I get a warm fuzzy feeling inside. But also, it makes me hope they’re able to give their child a good middle school experience away from the way that most American middle schools are run.

You can still find my book on Amazon. Tweens, Tough Times, and Triumphs is the title.

PS – Last call for my secret codes and puzzles class over at Simplify. This class is definitely a go and begins next week! I’d love to have your middle schooler!


Deep Breath

I discovered at least three kinda not awesome typos in my book. Cue the panic attack.

Homeschoolers are brutal too. I know y’all are going to tear into me! I swear I read through it multiple times and had my husband, who just happens to copy edit as part of his job, do a serious once through. I know I need to let it go, but it’s hard!

Someone I know shared this classic Onion article the other day. As I found my typos, I had a few of those thoughts. Oh no. That’s it. I’m discovered for the fraud I am. Someone is going to leave a one star review and I’m going to cry. And I might. I know we all have these feelings sometimes. Mine are not necessarily that bad most of the time, but sometimes when it hits you, it really hits hard. Deep breath.

Last week, I took BalletBoy for his first appointment with a physical therapist who specializes in dancers. She was wonderful and clearly knew her craft. It was a pleasure to watch her interact with BalletBoy and assess what would help him. I thought: here is a wonderful expert. We have to pay out of pocket for her, but she will be worth this hefty fee.

Then I thought, I need to remind myself sometimes that I am also an expert in the things I know about and have studied for years. My knowledge is also worth something.

I’m headed off to the SEA Homeschool Conference this week, with some family stopovers along the way before I arrive. I’m psyching myself up for networking and believing in my own worth, even with typos and any underlying worries.

Deep breath.

And when I get back, I’ll make an edition that fixes all the typos!

I Wrote a Book!!!

I know I’m being a little giddy. Three exclamation marks? Uncalled for! And yet… I’m just really excited and proud.

I wrote a book! You can buy it!

The first thing you should know about this book is that it’s not short. It’s nearly 300 pages. There is a whole chapter about how middle school came to be and what’s wrong with middle schools today. There’s another about what’s going on inside young adolescents’ brains and bodies, as well as how to parent them through it all. There are chapters about understanding different homeschool philosophies, keeping your homeschool organized (and why to bother doing that), how to really engage with the world around you through field trips and travel, and how to cover all your basic homeschool subjects.

My favorite chapter is about “best practices” for teaching middle school, where I talk about a few things that I first posted about on this very blog, like doing a short story every month, and using books that are short but meaty to generate discussion without bogging kids down. It’s also about other practices that I think are good for kids, like sometimes spending your whole math time on a single math problem or letting kids spend time on passion projects.

At times I really struggled writing this because I think that a book that says “here’s THE way to homeschool” probably sells better than a book that says, “there is no single path.” However, I firmly believe that. You have to know yourself and your philosophy, your kid and their needs, and then be flexible in making it all meet up. This book is meant to be helpful to a lot of different people, from people brand new to homeschooling to people who have been at it for a little while. It’s meant to be for people who are approaching things from a more strict mindset or philosophy to people who are just doing whatever works.

Above all, I want this book to be a manifesto on why you can and should homeschool the middle grades. I know it’s a time when many people leave homeschooling. I know people are intimidated by this age group. They can be stubborn, moody, and spaced out. Middle schools these days try to make teaching the middle grades seem like rocket science when it’s absolutely not. You can do this. It’s totally within your reach.

Cover and Title Reveal

Okay, it took awhile, but I have a title for my forthcoming book. I hope it sums up the middle school years. They go from tweens to teens. They rarely have smooth sailing throughout. They also tend to have big leaps in critical thinking and creativity that are very much worth celebrating.

More importantly, I also have a cover! This cover is really brought to you by Mushroom, who refused to take credit for it, but who did most of the heavy design lifting by altering the images and doing the basic layout. I swooped in and finessed some things, but I’m mostly just bursting with pride for him. I have no idea how to do half the things he did with the software he was showing me. This is middle school, guys! It’s kids who suddenly know more than you about something that isn’t just dinosaur names or video games, but something super useful!

Expect to see it on Amazon as both a paperback and an ebook in the next two weeks!

Looking Forward to SEA

The next few weeks are busy, busy for me here at the Rowhouse. The kids are finishing up their school year, wrapping up Algebra I and some literature and various other things we’ve done this year. I officially “graduated” them with a special meal and a gift of decent school style backpacks. They’re the same Jansport model that I still have from my own youth. Mine made it through high school, college, and then as I traveled extremely light across Asia in my early 20’s. That’s a good backpack and hopefully theirs will see some good adventures too. First up, we’re taking a short “8th grade trip” to New York to see a Broadway show and hit some spots the kids have never visited.

I’m also chatting with clients for Simplify, which is fun and exciting, to hear about other people’s homeschools and challenges and help them out. I’m trying to finish up my book about homeschooling middle school so that it should be out within the next month or so. It’s getting some final revisions and a solid round of copy editing by a professional. I still have to choose a title, which is a little nerve wracking. Your Complete Middle School Homeschool Survival Guide? Surviving Homeschooling the Middle School Years? Something more clever and cute? Eye-rolls and Deep Thinking: Homeschooling the Middle School Years. I’ll figure it out soon!

Finally, I’m putting the final touches on my talks for the SEA Homeschool Conference in Atlanta. I’m so excited to see some of you there! It’s going to be lots of fun. I’m especially looking forward to talking about middle school. It’s like crystalizing my book into presentation form and it’s helping me discern the most important points.

If you’re on the fence about going to the SEA Conference, there are some amazing speakers there and some great looking presentations. If you live anywhere around Atlanta, you can also get a single day pass now, which seems like a great option if you’re just hoping for a small dose of homeschool inspiration. I know I often resist these sorts of events, but when I go to them, I really do come home fired up about new things and more reflective about our practices. Homeschool parents deserve professional development too!

Maze Me

I’m slowly trying to get back to writing more regularly.  You know, in a format other than this blog.  I’ve been writing, but so sporadically.  First up, a boy chapter book project that I wrote awhile back but never got around to revising.  So I’m starting that painstaking process.

And, because there’s a maze tie in, I am randomly sharing mazes with you all.

First up, there’s some great printable mazes out there for kids and adults alike.  A simple set can be found at Print Activities.  There are other good little puzzles there too, and the mazes include number mazes for skip counting and number recognition, which we found really useful in kindergarten.  An even better source is Krazy Dad’s maze collection, which includes some really elegant mazes and some astoundingly difficult ones too.  Looking at that collection will make you wonder why anyone would ever spend money on a book of mazes.  Finally, Mazoons has printable cartoony handmade mazes that are pretty cool.

For online mazes, the simplest option is at Mazes to Print, where the “create you own” maze is actually a maze you just do on the computer.  For simple games, you can try Maze Frenzy, which has simple maze based flash games where you try to carefully move a little ball through a moving maze.  This is an old fashioned little maze game where you guide a robot through a maze that you can’t see, gathering needed items which younger kids might enjoy.


Of course, you all know me.  I’m a book person.  For just straight up doing mazes, you can’t beat printing them off the internet, but many maze books have excellent illustrations that make them worth a look.  And there are also some books about mazes that aren’t for using your pencils.  Two maze books I just love are Mazes Around the World by Mary Lankford, which is a nonfiction picture book about mazes.  It includes information about corn mazes, the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and meditation labyrinths, among other topics.  Another one is the wordless fiction picture book The Museum Trip by Barbara Lehman.  Lehman’s work is all wonderful, but this one is my favorite.  A boy discovers a maze inside a maze inside a maze which he must complete.  The illustrations are cartoonish and bright but somehow manage to feel like they have more depth than they might initially seem.  It’s for younger picture book readers, but I still like it as a grown up.


This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for all my families and communities.

First and foremost, I’m thankful for my immediate family.  I’m thankful that the husband has a good job that allows for him to provide for the life we choose to lead.  I’m thankful that Mushroom and BalletBoy are such amazing, wonderful kids.  I’m most thankful that we have such a loving household where we all try our best to respect each other and take care of each others’ needs.

I’m also thankful for my extended family: my parents, their spouses, my in-laws, my step-siblings, my grandmother, my aunts and uncles and cousins and all my connections in the world.  I am blessed to have so many wonderful family members.

I’m also thankful for my writing groups and for the fellowship that I find with them.  I recently had the pleasure of hanging out with my friend Pam Ehrenberg at the Writer’s Center as she gave a short class about running a writing group, so the benefits of writing groups have been on my mind.  Writing is a solitary endeavor.  I’m lucky to have found people to share it occasionally: people who inspire me and who help me write more and write better.

I’m thankful for all the wonderful homeschool parents I know.  First, I’m thankful for my co-ops and for my wonderful Half-Caf and Decaf friends.  Sure, I found other families so that my kids would find friends, but sometimes I think I’m the one getting the best socialization out of these relationships!  It can be hard in some corners of the world to find homeschoolers who share your basic outlook and can be friendly companions for your homeschooling journey.  I’m so lucky to have found so many families who are so loving and wonderful.

Finally, I’m thankful for the online community of homeschoolers that I’ve found, especially in the blogging world.  I’m still a bit of a newbie to this blogging thing.  I’ve gotten a lot out of so many homeschool blogs, who have led me to resources, made me laugh or think, and let me (and everyone else) into their world.  I’ve been especially honored when my fellow bloggers, like Theresa from Our Life in Words, Rayven from Ramblings of a Dysfunctional Homeschooler and have mentioned little old me in posts and tagged me in blog games.  I’m not always very good at following memes and blog awards, but it’s pretty cool to have gotten a couple of them.

So, happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  I hope you have just as many wonderful people in your life to be thankful for.

Creative Distractions

Traveling has been one of the greatest creative distractions.  It takes a lot out of me so that I can’t get much writing done.  Actually, that’s an exaggeration.  It means I don’t get any writing done.

However, I have a myriad of other creative distractions that tear me away from writing.  I think the creative process is such a difficult one to understand.  Watching my kids, they are filled with a seemingly unlimited supply of creative juices.  On the other hand, they have small attention spans and few skills through which to express their creativity.  Last year we participated in the Destination Imagination program, which I highly recommend for homeschoolers, by the way.  They have a specific category for K-2 teams with its own challenge.  At the team leader training I went to, the trainer explained that many people think of Destination Imagination as a “creativity competition” which it is, kind of.  However, she said it doesn’t not teach creativity because kids already have that.  It teaches teamwork and encourages skills to harness creativity.  A fine distinction and a difficult one.

Le Petit Prince-esque shirt idea by BalletBoy. Design and sewing by moi.

I have the skills (or, at least, a few skills), but sometimes I think I’m missing that mad rush of creative flow that kids have.  I feel like my creativity is something that gets parceled out like my time.  There is only a limited amount.  When it dries up, I may as well go watch TV.

Art, or distraction from art?

Homeschooling, especially planning and finding new materials or dreaming up activities, soaks up my creative energy.  Blogging is an outlet, I’m finding, but it also drinks down a little.  Oddly, organization uses it up for me.  Occasionally I go on mad rushes to organize bits of the house or “improve” things and I find I almost never get any writing done when I’m at it.  Then there are the artistic side projects that take me away.  I did some lino and wood block printing in the winter that was excellent fun.  It rejuvenates me to find a new artistic hobby, but it also zaps that creativity allowance.  There are also sewing projects, especially T-shirts for Mushroom and BalletBoy, that take my creativity juice.

In the end, I always return to my writing.  It wants to come out and it refuses to be ignored.  When I don’t write for a long stretch, I begin to get a little anxious.  Stories build up and I have to get back to the keyboard, even if it’s just to set down a little bit.

Spies Like Us

Last summer I got really into the Alex Rider books and this summer I can already foresee that my spy reads will probably be the Gallagher Girls books.  I read the first one in an afternoon and there’s a new one coming out at the end of June.  I don’t know what it is about spy stories exactly, but they sure are hilarious fun, especially if there’s spy gadgets.

In case you don’t know the Alex Rider books, this is a YA series by Anthony Horowitz that’s extremely popular across the pond, about a boy who stumbles into becoming an MI-6 spy after the death of his uncle.  All the fun games and activities his uncle did with him growing up seem to have been designed to turn him into the perfect spy.  Each of his adventures is more preposterous than the last.  The eighth book in the series, Crocodile Tears, was just released last winter, so you can imagine how preposterous that one was.  However, there’s something incredibly fun about watching Alex succeed against all odds and with ever more impressive gadgetry.  It’s great how these books hit that familiar YA theme of adults just not getting it, but played grand in life or death situations where MI-6 refuses to give Alex any backup.

The Gallagher Girls books have the same teen spy feel from an American perspective.  However, these books are at least as much romance as adventure.  I admit that the writing wasn’t perfect.  The dialogue isn’t very well done and some of the cleverness just gets a little cutesy.  Actually, there’s a whole silliness factor that needs to be toned down, which is really saying something in a genre that thrives on being silly.  However, the premise was good and there’s potential in the characters.  Each book has an excellent, if lengthy, title.  The one I just finished was called I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You. In it, we follow sophomore Cammie at the prestigious Gallagher Academy, a school for young women to become spies.  There’s not too much real action.  Instead, Cammie finds her first romance with a normal boy who she meets while on a covert ops training mission and must figure out what to do.  Later books in the series apparently present more action for the Gallagher Girls.

And now for my own spy secret.  The writing project I’m working on now is a little bit spy.  Actually, that’s sort of an argument for me to stop watching Spooks reruns and reading spy novels so I can do my own thing.  That probably won’t happen though.

Writing Retreat

One of my writing groups took a writing retreat last week.  We did a couple writing exercises, critiqued everyone’s stuff, talked publishing and writing…  oh, and ate too much junk food together.  All in a cute West Virginia cabin that smelled strongly of the knotted pine that made up the walls and cabinets.

I think retreats, conferences, classes and all that stuff is great as a general rule.  Even when I think it’s hokey or not useful, I usually come home recharged and ready to write.  I have one novel off, still being mulled over by a publisher who asked to see revisions twice (everyone cross their fingers for me!).  I have a million other projects jockeying for my attention, but my writing group helped me pick the project I think my fun side wants to explore.  Something crazy and high concept, with magic, gadgets and mystery.

Why are there hippos in this post? Well, my writing group will understand and the rest of you will just have to wonder.