An Afternoon in Manhattan

This gallery contains 11 photos.

  Joe had off last week and we decided to take a last minute trip to New York City.  Freedom to travel is one of my favorite benefits of homeschooling. After visiting family, we spent an afternoon in Manhattan.  I’ve … Continue reading

Very Serious Playtime


“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate
between a time for learning and a time for play
without seeing the vital connection between them.”
Leo Buscaglia

Daily Prompt: Playtime

Do you play in your daily life? What says “playtime” to you?




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.

Daily Prompt: ( YAWN )

Actually, memorizing math tables can be quite painful.

Actually, memorizing math tables can be quite painful.

We are lucky.  We spend most days doing whatever interests us.  Learning is pretty fun around here.  We do use workbooks, but even they are not too bad.

Don’t tell my kids, but what has really been boring for me is memorizing math tables.  We tried fun ways like playing board games or with Apps.  We used Wrap-ups.  We watched videos.  We read books.  We ran flashcards.

They were, indeed, fun.  In the end, though, to really get the job done, we needed to just write them out.  Over, and over, and OVER.  Then we wrote them out again, and again, and AGAIN.  It is tedious.  And boring.  And it takes time.  But, you know what?  It works.  Even Joseph is learning them just because he wants to do what Molly is doing.

All this dull work reminds me of one of my favorite quotes about education:

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Daily Prompt:  ( YAWN )

What bores you?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us DULL.

Is it Possible for Children to Learn Without “Instruction”?

WARNING:  My editor (hi, honey!) says this is the most boring post ever.  But it’s what’s on my mind right now.  I would love to hear what you think.  So here goes:

As a parent, I love to watch my kids learn from each other.  Molly shows Joseph how to pause for the comma, Joseph reads board books to JohnJohn, and JohnJohn gets both kids sounding out letters for him.

Joseph shows Molly how to somersault, Molly advises Joseph on how to advocate for himself to Mommy, and JohnJohn gets both kids laughing on a regular basis.

As the kids get older, I find that if there is something they want to do – – like make muffins, or enter a contest, or go on a trip, or play a video game – – they will read and ask questions about it until they figure out how to do it.  They are natural learners!

Is it me or does the cupcake that your child bakes herself sweeter?

Is it me or does the cupcake that your child bakes herself taste sweeter?

And yet, I still don’t trust that my kids will learn without formally structured work in subjects like math and grammar.  I have to admit, I just don’t trust that they will gain proficiency on their own.

I am starting to wonder if that is a failing on my part as a parent and teacher.   Have I been so conditioned by my own education that I am making my kids jump through needless hoops?  Am I wasting their time by making them do workbooks and rote lessons?

I am a really bad unschooler making my kids do math tables

I am a really bad unschooler making my kids do math tables

“Unschooling” was first defined in the 1970s by educator John Holt, (the “father” of unschooling) as “allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear.”   It is interest driven, child-led, self-directed learning.  It is a branch of homeschooling that does not use curricula.

Despite the age of the movement, education researchers have not done much looking at unschooling methods and outcomes.  However, The Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning (Volume 7, Issue 14) recently published two papers on the topic.


The first, by Peter Gray and Gina Riley, The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling, According to 232 Families Who Have Chosen that Route, reports that the biggest challenge for unschoolers was overcoming feelings of criticism from others.

The reported benefits included “better learning, better attitudes, and better psychological and social well-being for the children; plus increased closeness, harmony, and freedom for the whole family.”

The results of this research make sense to me.  However, the authors’ use of self-selected unschoolers, without comparing them to other types of homeschoolers, muddled whether the results correlate to unschooling or simply homeschooling in general.

The main advantage of unschooling (and I would add, all homeschooling, even if you spend some time on curricula)  is increased time available for other, presumably more beneficial, activities.  Stepping out of the relatively inefficient traditional schooling model, in general, reclaims an enormous amount of time.  That is a fact born out by our own experience this year.

Perhaps if we didn’t use workbooks and assignments we would have even more of this precious commodity?


The second, by professors of education and unschooling mothers, Kellie Rolstad and Kathleen Kesson, Unschooling, Then and Now, compares their unschooling experiences in two different eras, one in the early days of unschooling and the other over 20 years later.

These accounts are interesting in that they actually demonstrate how unschooling works in their families.  I was especially interested to learn the importance of technology from Dr. Rolstad, who handled the “Unschooling Now”, perspective.  She writes:

Unschooled  I-Gen children, freed from the demands and constraints that school places on schooled children, spend their time engaged in their own pursuits, many of which involve playing with technology, whether designed for play, such as videogames, or for seemingly more serious purposes, such as computer programming .  YouTube videos provide an astonishing array of learning opportunities as well, with “how-to” videos on almost anything imaginable, e.g., how to gut a fish; how to speak ancient Greek; how to calculate angular refraction, how to apply anime-style makeup, etc. 

I worry that my kids may have too much screen time already.   I also worry that, without the guidance of formal lessons, my children won’t master a subject comprehensively, especially in subjects that I am less comfortable with myself, but that I also value highly, like math.

While I totally understand how my kids might seek out a video on anime-style make-up or how to clean a fish, I’m more doubtful that, without some guidance, my children will pursue information on, say, basic math, grammar and spelling.

I guess the question is, do I really need to manage my kids until they memorize those addition tables now or can I “comfortably bear” it if they wait to memorize them for years or if they never memorize them at all?

The Adding Tree (A Prettty Fun Math Card Game)


I found a version of this activity in the The Home Instructor’s Guide for Singapore Math that we are using, where they call it “Pyramid”.  Both older kids loved it and Joseph, especially.  He made me play every day for weeks when we first discovered it.  It not only helped us learn addition, but also helped me to discover that he needs glasses (because I noticed him straining to see the numbers when we played at night)!  How is that for a powerful game?  I had Molly do the math in her head but allowed Joseph a “cheat sheet”, which you can see in the left of this picture.

What you need: One deck of playing cards, without any of the picture cards.  Aces count as 1.

Set the cards up in a pyramid of 6 rows overlapping as you go.

Put the rest of the cards face down in a pile at the bottom of the pyramid.

Pick a number from 6 – 16.  Pairs of cards that together add up to the target number can be removed from the pyramid.  You may only remove a card if you remove the cards touching it below first.  If you remove a pair, you go again.  Continue until there are no more pairs to be made.  Then it is the other persons’ turn.  The person with the most pairs at the end wins.

BedTime Math

Have you heard of  Bedtime Math, a website that gives free daily math problems to solve?

You don’t have to do them every day but I like to read them so I can bring them up when convenient. Like, say, when we are hanging out at Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamogg.

You can sign up for daily e-mails, which give a problem and three possible ways to handle it, one for “wee ones”, one for “little kids”, and one for “big kids”.  So it works for various age groups.

Plus, Ninja Training!