The #1 Reason Most Parents and Teachers Choose Books for Kids


Take any one you want. They’re ALL apples.

We parents and teachers run the risk of picking books for our kids only for their “educational value”.

Even the funny or fun ones – – the ones with really cool covers – – the ones we just want them to read for fun – –  we pick so our kids will A) learn their letters or 2) learn to read or 3) practice reading.

A promise of “educational value,” no matter how ambiguous, gets us to move that book right to the top of our reading list.

How could it not?   Don’t most of us just want to “prepare” our kids for school, for graduation, for life?

The fact is, our kids have a life now.  Why don’t we let them choose their own books?

Daily Prompt: Reading Material

How do you pick what blogs or books to read? What’s the one thing that will get you to pick up a book or click on a link every single time?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us CHOICES.


Take a Deep Breath for this Impromptu Physics Lesson

Last night, as the kids were playing with their current favorite App, Human Body by TINYBOP, Molly asked about the diaphragm.  As I had completely forgotten we each had one of those, Joe jumped in to explain the physics of how we breath with our diaphragm.  For those that didn’t pay attention in, what was it, Biology?, here’s a quick explanation:

When you inhale, your diaphragm, which is a muscle, tightens and moves down. This creates more space in your chest cavity, into which your lungs expand.  As your lungs expand, air is sucked in through your nose and/or mouth.  The muscles between your ribs (called intercostal muscles) also go to work here.  Your intercostal muscles tighten, but instead of moving down, they pull your rib cage up and out.  In doing so, they help enlarge the chest cavity.

When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and moves back up into the chest cavity. The intercostals also relax and reduce the space in your chest cavity.  As the space in the chest cavity gets smaller, air rich in carbon dioxide is forced out of your lungs then out of your nose or mouth.

If you want to learn more, click here.

So how do you explain this to kids and Mommy?

You don't need anything fancy to teach science at home.

You don’t need anything fancy to teach science at home.

Stuff you Need

  • 1 jar
  • 2 plastic bags
  • 1 straw
  • 2 rubberbands

Take a plastic bag, wrap it tightly around the end of a straw and fasten it with a rubber band (so that it looks like a balloon).  If you have a balloon, you can use that instead.

Put the straw, bag side down, into the jar.

Cover the jar with another plastic bag, making sure to poke the straw through it with as small a hole as possible.  You need to make sure no air can get in or out through that hole.  Fasten the second bag around the neck of the jar, making it fairly taut over the jar’s opening, using the second rubber band.

Pull up and down on the baggy covering the jar (this represents the diaphragm).

Look through  the jar and you will see the bag on the end of the straw (here, representing the lung) filling and emptying as you pull on the baggy.

You can see a cool 3-D animation of this process here.

It’s only a minute and as Molly says, “it’s so cool.”  So, check it out.

Also, if you have any interest in teaching your kids (or yourself) about their bodies, check out Human Body.

It is easy to navigate, very informative, and the kids love to learn how to care for the human body.  It has lead to lots of great questions.

It covers everything from eating, to digestion ( Joseph and JohnJohn, and OK, all of us, are still howling about the toots that really come out of the large intestine), to the various systems (muscular, skeletal, etc.).  At $2.99, it’s a fair deal.

They even include a handy Human Body Guidebook, which you can find here.  You can use it with or without the App.

How to Really Celebrate Good News

I used to think that to celebrate properly, there had to be a lot of hoopla.  That’s right.   “Hoopla”.

I’m talking big fat hullabaloo.  Full on ruckus.  The louder, the flashier, the more “scream the good news from the mountain tops”, the better.

Sometimes, it’s still really awesome to make a big deal.

And sometimes, the big deal makes itself.

Some celebrations require no words.

Some celebrations require no words.

Daily Prompt: Celebrate Good Times

You receive some wonderful, improbable, hoped-for good news. How do you celebrate?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us CELEBRATION.

JohnJohn, When I Think of 1…

I will remember the Big Mahoff, and his villain counterpart, The Puker.

I’ll see you dancing around on the soccer field in Joseph’s size-12 cleats, your Mickey shirt stained from too many wearings, kicking the ball like you belonged there.  You did pretty well!

I’ll reminisce with Daddy about your big paddle feet hanging over the couch, Ninjago playing, AGAIN.

I’ll smell blue bucky, and his smell will smell good, even though right now he just smells like sour milk and bad breath.

I’ll try to remember which way the saying goes, “long days and short years” or “short days and long years”.  I’ll pause.  Then smile with melancholy recognition.  Of course…long days and short, short years.

I’ll definitely recollect this with a smile:

You got  a problem with pink skates?

You got a problem with pink skates?

I’ll get tired all over again thinking of all that time chasing you and I’ll feel relief that you’ve figured out how to deal with all those emotions (you will have, won’t you?).

Of course I will have wished that time stood still today.  Except for the part where you woke up 9 times last night.  That, I would tweak.  Just a little.  But only if nothing else would change.

I’ll wish you were sitting across the counter from me eating your body weight in Piave and Parmigiano Reggiano.

I’ll wonder how much of it was a dream, and how much the snoozy haze of sleeplessness.

And I’ll think, Ahhh.  GOOD!

Daily Prompt: Standstill

For a moment today, time stands still — but you can tweak one thing while it’s stopped. What do you do?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us STILLNESS.

Living Within Your Harvest is a Talent you can Practice

I had many talents as a student.  I knew how to stay quiet.  I sat still in class.  I was reasonably bright.  I worked hard.  I participated.  And I knew how to take a test.  I could compete.  In my 18+ years of school, I ticked off achievements like items on my vegetarian grocery list.

I had a full basket but I was always wondering if I had enough fruit or how long my vegetables would last.    And could I actually make anything with what I had in that basket?  Plus, I was always checking out other people’s baskets.  Maybe I needed meat?  Was my basket big enough?  Oh, I wish I had more apples!

I don't think I once, ever really enjoyed my work just for the sake of enjoying it.

I don’t think I once ever really enjoyed my work just for the sake of enjoying it.

What a shame.  Instead of enjoying what I had, I always had an eye on others.  I had to.  You can’t compete if you don’t know what you are competing against.

Competition is a cornerstone of American public education.  One look at the website for the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which 45 U.S. states have adopted, will tell you that.

Here’s a talent I wish I had but don’t:  finding contentment inside.  That is, giving up what I thought I should do, and instead living within my own harvest.   I’ve come a long way, but it’s still not something I do well.  You can take the girl out of school but you can’t take the school out of the girl.

On this first day of Autumn, I am grateful that of all aptitudes, being satisfied with what you’ve got is a talent you can practice.  And I’m proof that with that practice, you can improve.

One of my greatest achievements?  I’m also grateful to be able to give my children the luxury and freedom to make and reap their own harvests unfettered by nagging comparisons.  It is one of the best things about not having them in school.

Daily Prompt: Practice Makes Perfect?

Tell us about a talent you’d love to have… but don’t.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us TALENT.

Sometimes the Best Teachers are Those That Don’t Teach

When we started homeschooling, I spent most of my time basically recreating school at home.  Lots of workbooks and formal lessons when I scheduled them.  I think that is a natural starting point for most of us, no?

We still use workbooks.  I still give formal lessons sometimes.  We work with many different kinds of teachers who teach us lots of different ways.  Formal teaching, for us at least, has huge value.

But I’m getting much more comfortable with the other side of learning:  If you trust your kids and expose them to the world, you don’t have to teach them everything.  Because the world is an awesome place.  And kids are naturally curious.  They want to learn.

Moreover, trying to “teach” kids everything you think they should learn, when you think they should learn it, doesn’t always get the job done and, in fact, sometimes inhibits learning.

We parents and teachers spend a lot of time thinking about what we need to teach our kids.  Maybe the exact content is getting too much attention. Shouldn’t teaching our kids how to teach themselves be our number one job?  We won’t always be there to give them the answers.  And, let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t even know them ourselves.

A great teacher produces students who can find their own great answers.


Can you find the love in these pictures?
I thought this nature walk was about leaves turning and animal habitats until my kids started pointing out all the hearts we found that day.
Lesson learned.


Daily Prompt: We Can Be Taught!

What makes a teacher great?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us GREATNESS.

Someone’s Gunning for my Job


I usually just go with a smiley face or the date when reviewing work.
Molly has taken it to a whole new level this week while “subbing” during JohnJohn’s illness.


How to Homeschool With 1 Sick Child (Plus a Great Bread Recipe)

JohnJohn is so sick today, throwing up like he likes to do.  He needs me to hold him, clean him, and cuddle him.  I cannot put him down.  So, I am largely out of commission to actually sit with the older kids as they do “work”.

At the beginning of the day I thought this post would be about how to homeschool with 1 sick child.  There are certainly some things I could share with you that we do that make it easier like 1) picking activities that don’t require mom’s hands or her to sit, or 2) cutting yourself some slack.  Sick days happen.

As the day wore on, though, I realized something important.  We “homeschooled” today just like we “homeschool” every day.

While I definitely prefer my kids healthy, days like this are great reminders that homeschooling isn’t about “helicoptering” a child’s learning.  And it is not about a parent/caretaker being a teacher (although I am hopeful that I teach them a lot).

It’s about giving your kids the tools to learn so that they can do it by themselves.  And then actually letting them do it.

My kids and I all have lists of tasks and activities every “work” day.  Depending on what each day brings, we add to or delete from our task lists.  We prioritize.  And then each of us is expected to get through our work, asking for help as needed and offering help too.

Joseph started the day with what he calls “hedgehog math”.  He grabbed a math workbook, cuddled up next to the fire, and did 9 pages with his beanbag on his back (like a hedgehog).


Little does he know I only would have asked him to do 4.

Molly asked to bake, which is something we are trying to do at least once a week together.  She’s competent enough to do it mostly on her own so I was able to bustle about with the baby offering help as needed (i.e., putting the pan in the oven).

She opted for King Arthur's Classic White Sandwich Bread.  Easy and delicious.

Is baking the perfect “school subject”? I think so. Baking teaches reading, addition, fractions, economics, chemistry, how to follow directions, nutrition, and patience (this recipe requires 2 hours of time to rise!).
In fact, what doesn’t it teach??


Here it is, finished.
Molly opted for King Arthur’s Classic White Sandwich Bread.
Make this and you’ll never need to buy bread again.

We’re all still in our pajamas, marching through our lists.  Sometimes together.  Sometimes alone.  Sometimes fast.  Sometimes slow.

And we’re taking lots of breaks for interruptions.  That’s life though, right?  Whether you homeschool or not.

What if I Miss Something?

“I’d just be worried that she wouldn’t learn enough.”

“What if they don’t have access to everything that they can get in school?”

“What makes you think you can homeschool?  What if you forget to teach something she needs to know?”

These are just a few of the things I have been asked and told this past year.  Now that school is back in session, “missing something” is almost a daily topic.

At the risk of sounding like Little Bill, here’s my answer:  SO?

What’s the capital of Idaho?  Where is Greece?  What is wisdom?  Where do tadpoles come from?  What is a verb?  Where does the word “philosophy” come from and what does it mean?  What is a tide and how does the moon affect it?  How much change will I get back from $10.00 when buying a treat at Claire’s.  Is it OK to steal?  Is it OK to steal food if you’re starving?  What are those pointy teeth in front of my mouth and why are they like a dog’s?  What are the biggest problems facing the world today?  Addition tables.  Subtraction tables.  Diving.  Kicking.  How do I get over anger?  Measuring.  Reading.  What makes us breathe?  What is a Right?  What do I do if I’m afraid?  Is bacon made from pig or chicken?

These are just a few of the things that we have talked and learned about this year.  You won’t find a lot of it in school textbooks or on standardized tests.  Does that make it less valuable?

We also learned that if you look for it, learning can happen anywhere and from almost anything.  SO WHAT!?

We also learned that if you’re interested, learning happens anywhere and from almost anything.

You know who I get the most support from as a homeschooler?  Teachers.

Because they know two things:  1) no matter how much they care and know, their hands have been tied by No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the general bureaucracy of public education; and 2) No education is perfect (even, and sometimes especially, if you’re in school).

One Way to Talk With Your Kids About 9/11

It’s the 12th anniversary of September 11th, when almost 3,000 people were killed here in America.  For most of us, this day’s events are clearly fixed into our memories.  We still grapple with their significance.

My kids have no idea about the events of that day or what they meant on any level.

As a homeschooler, it’s my job to teach them.  Because my kids are young and I don’t want to scare them, instead of going through all the gory details, we’re talking today about the general facts of what happened that awful day.   Yes, airplanes were taken over by terrorists and flown into buildings.  Many, many, people lost loved ones.  It is a very sad day in American History.

I cannot help but cry as I remember it.  And I’m letting my kids see it.

We remember those almost 3,000 injured and killed.

We honor those who fought back, who helped evacuate the twin towers, who searched for survivors, who provided medical care, and who cleaned up the rubble, by talking about their bravery and selflessness.

Is there anyone braver than a first responder?

Here's to the heroes that walk amongst us, whether they wear a cape or not.

To the heroes that walk (and have walked) amongst us, thank you, whether you wear a cape or not.

Why do we memorialize things?

I want my kids to understand their history and to respect it, even if it’s drawn in broad strokes at this age.  And I want them to understand the true sacrifice made by all those helpers.  To be thankful for real heroes.

And I want to celebrate resilience:  the ability to recover from difficulty.

It’s not what happens to you in life (you can’t control it most of the time), but how you respond to it that matters.


Brainpop has a great video on the topic here.  Watch it first to ensure you’re comfortable with it before sharing it with your kids.

NPR’s StoryCorps, (one of my favorite projects ever) has a very moving story on a boss who led his team to safety though he himself did not survive the disaster.  Listen to Connie Labetti’s story here.

I regularly use This Day in History for ideas on things to share with my kids.  Here’s their take on 9/11.

Daily Prompt: Thank You

The internet is full of rants. Help tip the balance: today, simply be thankful for something (or someone).

Photographers, artists, poets: show us THANKS.