Catching Up, Thanks to a New Reader

Hi, there!  It’s been a while.  I have so enjoyed the response to this blog and thank so many readers for reaching out to me over these past few years, especially as I have not posted publicly in so long. … Continue reading

Joseph, When I Think of 6…

I’ll think that this year went by too fast.

Maybe it’s that you’ve hit so many big moments, like losing your first tooth and learning to read.  The reading still amazes me because, unlike your sister, who sort of decoded over time, you just one day seemed to flip a switch and BAM!, started reading anything and everything you laid your eyes on.


Mostly, you lay your eyes on every book that Mo Willems has ever written.

Maybe – – OK, most likely – – it’s that your brother is in the last throes of the terrible twos, ordering us all around all day long, yelling and tantrumming until our heads spin.  That sure makes time go by fast!

About a year ago you broke my nose at the playground.  Remember that?  You swung your head back as I was looking at your brother and when you hit me, you knocked me back over 15 feet!

And you still flip around the house dancing and jumping and landing, telling me, “See, I didn’t hurt myself!”

But now there is a stillness to you when you play with Legos, or hatch a plan with Molly to have dessert for breakfast.  A lot has changed.

What hasn’t changed is your big heart.  And your sweet disposition.  No matter what, whenever anyone asks how something is, your answer is always, “It’s the best!” I hope you never lose that.  And although I worry it might end up a little worse for wear, I am so happy to have a kid that wears his heart on his sleeve.

Happy 7th, you sweet little man.





OCNJ 2015 Easter Ticket Sales


Gearin’ up for the Shore

Here’s the info. for this year’s ticket sales at Castaway Cove and Wonderland Pier:


Castaway Cove’s annual Easter 1/2 Price Ticket Sale runs March 28 -April 12.
Walk-up sales 12-5 p.m. daily or order here online.

This year you can purchase tickets for mini-golf (5 passes for $22), the Speedway (5 passes for $20), or Castaway Cove (40 tickets for $20).


It does not say how long the sale will last.

Tickets can be purchased online at Gillians.

Ticket prices are as follows:

1 book of 25 Ride Tickets $10.00






You Should Homeschool Just so You Can Take This Road Trip


One of the reasons we homeschool is so that we can travel.

It is both a blessing and a curse that I am in a perpetual state of planning for the next adventure, even when that next adventure is only back to Philly to see family for Mother’s Day.

We love our home but both my husband and I dream of someday traveling the U.S. with our kids to roam this awesome country.  Seriously, my husband’s dream car is an all-wheel-drive Sprinter van!

mbz sprinter 4x4 2

Total Hot Rod

The thought of deciding which landmarks matter, locating them, and planning a route is daunting, though – – even for a super-planner like me.  For a while I was going to use the sites from World’s Largest to lead us but, as it doesn’t cover the entire country, I think I’ve found something better.

Thank goodness for smart and fun people like Randy Olson, a PhD candidate in Michigan State University’s Computer Science program, who created an algorithm using an itinerary that

  • included stopping at least once in every state in the lower 48,
  • only stopping at National Parks or landmarks,
  • and only being able to take the trip by car.

With no traffic, this trip will take approximately 224 hours (9.33 days) of driving in total.

Here are the sites:

  1. Grand Canyon, AZ
  2. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  3. Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID
  4. Yellowstone National Park, WY
  5. Pikes Peak, CO
  6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
  7. The Alamo, TX
  8. The Platt Historic District, OK
  9. Toltec Mounds, AR
  10. Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN
  11. Vicksburg National Military Park, MS
  12. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
  13. USS Alabama, AL
  14. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL
  15. Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
  16. Fort Sumter National Monument, SC
  17. Lost World Caverns, WV
  18. Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
  19. Mount Vernon, VA
  20. White House, Washington, DC
  21. Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
  22. New Castle Historic District, Delaware
  23. Cape May Historic District, NJ
  24. Liberty Bell, PA
  25. Statue of Liberty, NY
  26. The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT
  27. The Breakers, RI
  28. USS Constitution, MA
  29. Acadia National Park, ME
  30. Mount Washington Hotel, NH
  31. Shelburne Farms, VT
  32. Fox Theater, Detroit, MI
  33. Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
  34. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
  35. West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
  36. Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL
  37. Gateway Arch, MO
  38. C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS
  39. Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA
  40. Taliesin, WI
  41. Fort Snelling, MN
  42. Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
  43. Mount Rushmore, SD
  44. Fort Union Trading Post, ND
  45. Glacier National Park, MT
  46. Hanford Site, WA
  47. Columbia River Highway, OR
  48. San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
  49. San Andreas Fault, CA
  50. Hoover Dam, NV

The realistic timeline of finishing the tour is about 2-3 months, which means that even Schoolers could take this trip on summer vacation!

Mr. Olson not only created a list of landmarks to visit, but also created a second road trip with a more urban feel with stops at the TripAdvisor-rated Best City to Visit in every contiguous U.S. state.

Here is the original post he wrote, which explains it all.

I don’t know when we will get our Sprinter.  And I don’t know when we will do this trip.  But with half the work done for us, I know that someday, we’ll do it.  I hope you will too.

My Mushu Waiting to Line up


Molly and I are running the Disney Frozen 5K this morning.  She picked the costumes so I am Mulan and she is Mushu. 

It’s early.  It’s freezing!  But we’re ready to run. 

Two Tandem Poems with a 3-Year-Old

A few weeks ago the kids and I went to a family poetry workshop with educator and poet Mckendy Fils-Aime. During the workshop, participants paired up with each other to write collaborative poetry.  The ultimate goal was to write a poem from two different perspectives about the same topic. JohnJohn was my partner. We wrote two poems.  They are not quite Whistling Vivaldi, but Molly and Joseph keep asking me to re-read them to them anyway. Can you tell which author created which lines? Also, are we ready for our first poetry slam?


I play on my ninja surfboard.
A giant seagull circles.
I eat a sandwich. It tastes like salami.
The seagull spots my son.
I try to feed the bird some bread.
I start swinging.
I feed him food from my hand and he pokes me with his face.
I freak out, yelling and running and finally…
I feel like I want to pet him.
I knock my son down, tripping, we both fall away from him.



I like to play my iPad in Nana’s basement.
Bellies full, we wash and dry.
Nana calls me for a snack – – flat cake.
We sip our wine.
Sweet and yellow, I want 5 pieces.
I cut up JohnJohn’s pound cake.
I jerk my hand back, hoping he won’t see the first cut.
Why not? (ahhh.  I should have known.)
I finish my wine and cut another slice.

Here’s What I Would Have Said if I was on HuffPost Live Yesterday to Talk About Homeschool Regulation


Before we get to it, Happy New Year!

I woke yesterday to an email requesting me to participate in a discussion on HuffPost Live on whether Homeschooling needs more regulation. I think this article in The New York Times prompted the segment.

By the time I got in touch with the associate producer who had contacted me, they had lined up their guests. Maybe next time!

If I had gotten the chance to speak with Nancy Redd, the moderator, here’s what I would have added:

Regulation of homeschooling is enacted state-by-state. The states vary in their level of regulation to a preposterous degree. So to ask the question “is there too much regulation?” lacks an understanding of the landscape of Homeschooling law. Some states don’t even require notification.  Some require only notification. Some require notification of homeschooling, as well as test scores, and/or professional evaluation of student progress. There are still others that also require home visits, curriculum review, etc.

Here’s my moderate one-line answer to that polarizing question: I think some states (the ones with high regulations) over-regulate and others (the ones with no regulation) don’t.

The education of a child involves many competing interests: the child’s, the parent’s, society’s, school districts’ (including principals and teachers), and those of the education industry.

Society has a vested interest in how we parents prepare our children for citizenship. Ideally, our children will grow up to be law-abiding, productive members of their communities. If not, society pays the price via the criminal justice system or social services. I respect that interest. As a member of society, I share that interest!

Parents have a fundamental right to prepare our children however we see fit. Our right generally trumps society’s interest. I wrote about that here.

Children, of course, have rights to basic needs like food, universal state-paid education, health care and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, and equal protection of the child’s civil rights. Parents’ rights are important and deserve respect, but children’s rights are equal and deserve the same level of respect.

Schools and companies don’t really have rights either, but they do have interests, mostly financial. I personally don’t care about those interests. One of the reasons we homeschool is because we want our kids to be participants in an educational process rather than commodities in the education industry.

How do you deal with all these competing interests? My view is that there should be checks and balances. I know. Not very controversial. That’s probably the real reason I didn’t make it on to the panel!

Scales, Weights, Measures, Gold

In my view, homeschooling parents have a right to educate our children however we determine is best, using whatever method we deem appropriate. But I do think that states should 1) know that our children exist and 2) have a method to check up on a child if a valid concern is raised.

I do not believe that states can offer me a cadre of experts to tell me what “success” is for my children. If I did, I’d send them to school.  I do, however, believe that there are some basic competencies that I have a duty to help my children achieve. I welcome support from the state because I am assuming and hoping that it has my child’s best interests at heart as well. Of course, if I find out that they do not, I will fight tooth and nail to protect my family.

How does this look? I think New Hampshire is a model state for achieving a balance between these interests and rights.

In New Hampshire, parents must notify the state once but then it is assumed that homeschooling will continue for the rest of a child’s education. The notice is simple and easy to do.


The map and plans from a recent trip to Philadelphia. Perfect for a portfolio!

Thereafter, we homeschoolers are expected to

1) keep a portfolio of our children’s work and progress (the portfolio can include anything and everything from reading lists, to workbooks completed, to photographs, to drawings, to tickets to museums, etc. It is simply meant to be a reflection of how they are spending their days in the event an issue arises); and

2) have the child evaluated annually either with a standardized test, an evaluation of the portfolio by a certified teacher or a teacher currently teaching in nonpublic school, or using a mutually agreed upon method with the appropriate participating agency.

Find more information about New Hampshire Homeschooling laws here.

The portfolio and testing results are the property of parents and parents do not have to share the results unless an issue arises.

I believe that if you are homeschooling with your child’s best interests in mind, you would welcome these regulations.

One of the gifts of homeschooling is that I know my children very well. I can tell you at any point in any day what their strengths and weaknesses are at that time. I know they are thriving. I don’t need the portfolio or testing to tell me this. And they don’t need it either.


Clearly thriving.

Nonetheless, the portfolio keeps me on track and fills me with pride and happy memories as I see how we are spending our days and the standardized tests scores give me comfort in knowing that my children could get back into the murky waters of our public school system any time.

Public schools have checks and balances with parents and boards and the public scrutinizing every move.  Private schools have checks and balances with parents and boards too.  It is only fair that homeschoolers have checks and balances as well.

Regulation is supposed to be a means toward an end.  That end, in my mind, in this case, is a child’s best interests. Any party to the situation can abuse their power, but that is a discussion for another day.

We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Rachel D., the winner of the Youth Digital Mod Design 1 Giveaway!

Thanks to all who participated.  I wish everyone could have won!

For those who did not win, it looks like Youth Digital is running a 20% discount on either (or both) of their Amazon offerings:  Mod Design 1 or 3D Animation 1 with coupon code “YDPLU20”.

They are already listed at $199.99.  If you take the additional 20% off by adding the coupon code, each course comes down to $159.99.  Not bad!

If you do take the 3D Animation course, I’d love to hear about it.  We bought the App Design 1 (which, sadly, is not on discount) course for Molly, which she will be starting after Christmas.



Whether it is online or off, I hope you all build something really great this year!




Curriculum Ideas for the Overwhelmed Homeschooler – Part 2 – ELA

This post is the second in a series in which I am responding to a reader who sent me this note:

I wanted to ask you what core curriculum you are using for Molly this year for 3rd grade specifically for Math and ELA. Also, my other child will be starting a bit of Preschool-Kindergarten work. Any recommendations for that age level for learning letters, number etc.? There is SO much out there for, which is a great thing. I am finding it overwhelming at this point, though, to narrow it down. Your recommendations in the past were great. Thanks for your continued help and support.

Feeling a Bit Overwhelmed

Hello again, Overwhelmed!  I hope my last post on math helped you.

Here’s the good news as far as ELA (English Language Arts) goes.  As a Homeschooler, your child already has a ton of the most important resource needed for Language Arts: time.

In my opinion, if you want your child to be literate, she needs to read.  And she needs to write.  A lot.

Maybe it’s because I am more confident when it comes to the liberal arts or maybe it’s just that I have had the luxury of stepping outside the insane Common Core bubble, but I have never really worried that my kids would learn how to read, write, or express themselves rationally.

Remember, ELA is primarily a Common Core term, as it is used to define the standards for getting public school students “ready to succeed in college, career, and life”.  As such, they are learning goals, whatever that means for millions of unique students.  As I mentioned in my math post, I “don’t trust completion (or lack of completion) of a certain level of a curriculum as the last word on competency.”

Even with my doctorate and a great love of reading, writing, grammar, and research, I’d rather poke my own eye out with a fork than than try to parse out how to meet these 66 pages of COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS AND LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS.  If that’s what you are looking for, you can stop reading now.

Also, there are many who believe that simply reading, writing, talking and interacting with others will teach a child what they need to know to communicate effectively.  You can read more about that here and here.  If you believe that, you can also stop here.

While I admire the Unschooling philosophy and think about it often, I think I am still not completely de-schooled.  If you read this blog at all, you know I worry that, without the guidance of formal lessons, my children won’t master a subject or skill comprehensively.

We don’t use a text book per se, but I do use a bunch of resources for helping the kids to learn how to communicate.

Here, broken down by specific skill-set areas, are some of the resources we use(d) for getting our kids to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively.  They all overlap so you might find one more useful for a specific skill than another.  Mix and Match.


For this post, I define “phonics” as the system of relationships between letters and sounds. Whether it is knowing that the letter B has the sound of /b/ or how to pronounce the digraphs ch, sh, or th, it’s phonics.  If you can do that, you can chunk a word, which makes reading and writing a lot easier.

For the early years, the Leapfrog:  Letter Factory and Leapfrog: Talking Words Factory  videos cannot be beat.  They are a wonderful introduction to phonics.  Here you can buy a box set with flashcards.

Endless Alphabet, which I’ve written about before here,  is an App that we have used with great success for all three kids when they were between the ages of 2 and 6.

We also loved the LeapFrog Fridge phonics Magnetic Letter Set and LeapFrog Letter Factory Phonics and Numbers.

We also use Starfall for the early years.

Once my kids were ready to sit and do workbooks, we turned to Explode the Code, which has worked really well, especially for Joseph.



We read a lot.  Together, at story time at the library, on our own and with any friend or family member who will read or listen.

We read every night with our kids before bed.  And I have always kept piles of books on the floor, which looks messy, but which are also irresistible to little kids.   Whether they are reading the  book, browsing the book, or eating the book, I don’t care.  I just want them to feel comfortable around books!

Back when we lived in Michigan, very far from our families, I had grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles read stories on camera so I could play the videos for my kids.  My kids loved them!  Not only did my kids love listening to the books, they loved seeing their favorite people every day, even when we were 1000 miles away!


My kids learn a lot of vocabulary just by talking with us!  We do not use any major text, but in reading and writing and talking with us, my kids are always asking what a word means or how to spell it.  For the younger ones I tell them.  For Molly, I make her look it up.  A dictionary is a good friend.  It is outdated today, when you can look up any word on line or in an App but my Dad kept this copy of The OED in his office and to this day, I have such fond memories of using the magnifying glass to find the word I was looking for.  I wish I had his copy.


I’ll buy it right now…


I’ll admit it.  I have an emotional attachment to Latin.  My Dad, an elementary school teacher for almost 30 years, loved language and made Latin a part of his curriculum every year.  Although I was never in his class, I was his sounding board and testing ground for many of the games and projects he used in his class, even after I left town to go away to school.  I have a lot of happy memories of all those word games with my Dad.

Aside from those happy memories, I think Latin is important mostly because it builds vocabulary and grammar. If you know just one Latin root word, you can chunk all sorts of English vocabulary words.

So, knowing Latin makes understanding English vocabulary easier.

As 55% of all English words are derived from Latin (90% of those over two syllables are Latin-based) and about 80% of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese words are from Latin, Latin is all around us!  Latin matters.

Once every week or so we do a few pages out of Getting Started with Latin: Beginning Latin for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age.  The kids love it and it reminds us to look for roots out in the world.

Molly also keeps Scholastic Vocabulary Packets Greek and Latin Roots  with her other books and every so often does a page or two.


One of the best parts of homeschooling is checking workbooks. I hope Joseph is in a band called “Awesome-osity” some day!

 If you don’t want to do workbooks but still want a reminder to think about words, try a 365 New Words-A-Year 2015 Page-A-Day Calendar.

You can also check out a Pinterest Board like this one for fun ideas on words.

Here also is a quick reference guide on word roots.  It is free and shows you just how many roots there are!


Even though I was pretty successful in school, I did not take it seriously until I hit college.  I just tried to pass tests and get A’s.  Actual understanding didn’t matter.  I just knew I needed to jump through hoops because that was what was expected and that was what everyone else was doing.

We homeschool because we don’t want that to happen with our kids.  We want them to seek information because they are interested in it and we want them to have the ability to grapple with it, understand it, and make informed decisions with it.  That is one of the best tools we could give them in their toolbox for life.

How do you measure understanding?  Tests.  Asking questions.  Watching your kids work.  Reviewing their work.  Being with them and talking to them.  That is how we do it.  I am really baffled by the need to test kids so much because I can tell you where my kids are at just by watching and interacting with them.  They do well on standardized tests but more than their understanding, I think those tests tell how well they take tests!

One of my favorite ways to have fun with comprehension is public speaking.

For public speaking, the Writing with Ease series cannot be beat.  Written by one of my homeschooling favorites, Susan Wise Bauer (with Peter Buffington) Writing with Ease alternates between having the student do copywork and/or dictation on one page and then listen to a passage from a piece of literature and answer questions aloud in full sentences on the next.  Its emphasis on reading comprehension and public speaking is invaluable.  I can see the gears in my childrens’ heads working as they think through their answers.

We have also really enjoyed participating in “Book Wars” with a local homeschooling group this semester.  Two other moms came up with idea:  once a month any kids interested show up at a local coffee shop and take turns presenting reasons why the book that they read that month should win for best book.  After everyone has a turn, each child is asked a few questions.  Then there is a blind vote and the winner wins a prize, which is usually some yummy baked goods.  Speaking in front of strangers is hard and thinking on your feet is even harder but Book Wars has made it fun.  Plus, we’ve gotten some great book recommendations through the group. Even if you don’t have a homeschooling group, you could just have your child present a book to you out loud.  It doesn’t matter if it is a chapter book, a picture book, or a comic book!  It is a non-threatening way to work on these skills.


Knowing about grammar helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.  You cannot communicate clearly without it.

Along with Writing with Ease, we have found Evan-Moor’s Grammar and Punctuation series easy to use and informative.

This year we have gotten in the habit of using “Daily” workbooks because it allows us to work on each subject a little bit each day.  Evan-Moor’s Daily Language Review series has been a great addition to the two mentioned above.

This post is not meant to be comprehensive but I hope it gives you an idea of some resources you can use for each skill set you may be interested in.

I am still planning to post a piece on resources for Pre-school and Kindergarten work.  And I am working on a post of resources for critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills.

If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

A Gentle Reminder That The Youth Digital GIVEAWAY ends Friday


If you are not interested in entering, then please just enjoy this moment with my favorite 6-year-old.


If you are interested in entering the Youth Digital Giveaway for Mod Design 1 (value $250) click on the Rafflecopter link on the right side of my blog (the one that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway”).  There are two ways to enter:  you may visit Youth Digital’s Facebook page for one entry and/or follow them on Twitter for a second entry.

If you win, you will be emailed a voucher for the course that you will be responsible for redeeming for your completely FREE course from Youth Digital.

I will be drawing the winner on 12/12/2014.  If you win, you’ll be contacted by email.  If I do not get a response within 48-hours, I will draw another winner.  Good Luck to everyone!