Unschooling Rules #12: A Great Mentor is Best

From Unschooling Rules by Craig Aldrich:

Internships, apprenticeships and interesting jobs beat term papers, textbooks and tests.

As a parent, I know how challenging it can be to find great mentors for your child.  But especially as they grow, they need the further encouragement to reach out to other adults and find people who can guide them in their quest for knowledge if their interests differ from yours.

Immediately after reading this rule, I met a local drama teacher at the beauty salon (yes, I hate to call it that, but that is what you call the place you get your hair cut.)  With this prompting me, I asked him if he ever needed an accompanist for his musical theater class.  Voila!  An interesting volunteer experience for Eden.  She went 3 days last week to a junior high class to accompany for the musical Legally Blonde, with lots more opportunities coming up!

While I wouldn’t necessarily be happy having Eden in this class, I love being able to participate in the activity on our own terms, and in a way that furthers her interests.

We also paid an exorbitant amount to a mechanic to fix Shandy’s truck last week.  While paying for the repairs, I encouraged Shandy to take the opportunity to ask if they would allow Brett to come help out (for free) and learn.  So, Brett spent two afternoons this week watching and learning in the mechanic shop.  While I don’t know if this will develop into a full-fledged apprenticeship, even the experience of being in the mechanic shop while they are working was beneficial for him.

My next search . . . an artist mentor for Lucy.  Art lessons are not affordable for us right now, but it would be wonderful if she had an adult to help her learn how to use her supplies in the best way possible.

Of course, our kids are mentored by their music teachers, and this is an excellent influence in their lives.  And the best influences of all are their extended families, who help and guide them with love.

Keeping this unschooling exhortation in mind will hopefully make me look for more opportunities for the kids, and be brave enough to ask for them.  Just one more reason I am glad I read this book.  By the way, it was $2.99 on Kindle today.  Have you checked on reading it?

How have you arranged for new mentors for your kids?  Who are your child’s best mentors?  Please leave me a comment!


Unschooling Rules #2: Focus on the three Rs

This is a series of posts discussing the book Unschooling Rules by Craig Aldrich.  I wanted to share with you just a few of the 55 rules he listed, and my take on how we could use them to be better homeschool teachers.

From Unschooling Rules by Craig Aldrich

Focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.

Take away:  As you are planning your shorter school day, focus on the three things that are the most valuable and useful for everyday adult life.

Mr. Aldrich states that these subjects were considered the basics by our ancestors for a reason.  They are the subjects which are children will use every day for the rest of their lives.  I would further his statement by stating that as parents are starting with preschoolers, focus just on one:  reading.  Once a child can read well, he can teach himself anything he wants to know.  Schedule time for reading in two different areas:

  • Child learning to read or reading aloud.  This may include workbooks (I loved Explode the Code) or simple readers (like Bob books.)
  • Parents reading aloud to children. This is the most important because without a desire to enter the world of books, the child will not make the effort to learn to read.  That desire comes from the realization that what is in a book is valuable: for entertainment or education.  Parents should read both fiction and nonfiction to their child at levels far more advanced than the child’s reading level.

After reading, writing follows naturally.  A child has a natural desire to “draw” letters.  As a parent provides opportunity for practice:  making lists, writing notes, and perhaps art projects that convey information (science posters, anyone?) writing can evolve naturally from a child’s reading experience.  A child who is read to and reads often will naturally desire to communicate with others in lasting, written form.

Math also begins naturally for a young child, and it is that math that we learn at a young age that is the most valuable to an adult.  I also believe that while using manipulatives is important to teach concepts, learning to do what the Saxon books calls “mental math” — use basic math inside their heads rather than on paper– is a very important skill that parents should reinforce nearly daily.  This skill will serve them well later in life when they are staying inside a grocery budget, checking a bill before paying, and even estimating gas mileage for a car.  When you don’t need an exact number, that kind of mental calculator is very valuable.

What if you don’t have time to study anything else after you’ve studied the three R’s?  Don’t sweat it.  Soon, your child will be an excellent reader, and you can use some of his reading time to read science or history.  Or, choose those type of books for your read aloud.  Other knowledge is picked up easily by learners, which is what you are creating.

Are these subjects the main focus of your homeschool?  What subjects do you consider vital?  Does it change as children mature?  Please leave me a comment below.

Unschooling Rule #28: Shorter school hours for homeschoolers

Over the next few days, I want to share with you just a few of the 55 rules listed by author Craig Aldrich that really made me think about I teach my children and how our learning can improve at home.  I have reflected on the disservice we do ourselves and our children by calling it “school.”  After all, that gives most of us the immediate idea of the public school we attended ourselves, and may make us strive to duplicate that experience at home.  Yet, the very reason we are homeschoolers is that we didn’t want that experience for our children.  Here is one of the rules I thought very most important for homeschoolers.

From Unschooling Rules by Craig Aldrich:

One traditional school day includes less than 3 hours of formal instruction and practice, which you can cover in 2.

Take home lesson:  Stop trying to fit in so much schoolwork!

As long time parent-teachers, we know that our kids do not waste as much time as public school children.  There is no roll, no waiting for another student to finish the work or to understand a concept, nor waiting for another student to quit disrupting the class.  Since our formal work takes so much less time, therefore, there is the temptation to fill up the rest of the day with busywork or even valuable learning experiences.  If the child is learning, is this a problem?

The problem may lie in the amount of learning that a child can do in a formal way during a certain period.  Mr. Aldrich makes the case that there is a capacity filled in about 3 hours per day for most people.  Most of us just cannot take in more new information that would be accommodated in 3 hours of instruction.  After that, it’s just like pouring more water into an already full glass.

What can we do, then, to make our homeschool more effective?  Keep track of the number of hours of formal instruction we are scheduling for our children.  Even homeschoolers who are “relaxed” or mostly “unschoolers” often have a few things that they refuse to leave entirely to chance (math is the most common.)  Do not allow these hours of scheduled learning to take up too much of our child’s day.  Instead, allow time for exploration of other subjects and life experiences as leisure time by your child.  These allow for a different kind of learning which is equally useful to the child, and also allows time for the absorption of the more formal instruction.

How do I put this into practice in my home?  For my younger children, I still make a list of what I would like them to accomplish during each day.  This includes any assigned school work, lessons, and chores.  As I make my lists, I make sure that (if they stick to their work) these assignments (including chores) will take less than four hours during any one day.  That means that on music lesson days, we don’t have time to do math or English lessons.  On days that math or English is assigned, we often do little or no other formal instruction.

How do they fill up the rest of their days?  There is no television in our house, so reading is the relaxation of choice.  It is certainly not all educational reading:  right now Max and Lucy are drowning themselves in the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.  They play outside in the sandbox, inside with Legos, doll house, or cars.  They started learning to play chess this week.  Sometimes they whine about being bored (and I offer to help them find work to do!)

I was glad to read this rule because it is liberating to stop trying to fill the days with worksheets and allow kids to really love learning.  It is a lesson I wish all homeschoolers could learn in their first week of homeschooling, rather than coming to it gradually over a course of years as I have.

Do you keep track of the hours you schedule for schooling?  How do you make sure your children have freedom in their learning experiences?  Please leave a comment below.

Apple Pan Dowdy

Hurry!  as October Unprocessed approaches, I need to sneak in all these not-so-healthy fruit breakfast recipes I told you about!  Actually, this one is not-so-unhealthy either, and could easily fit the October Unprocessed profile . . . maybe I should have saved it for October.  Oh well, make it again, switched around (I’ll tell you how it turns out…)

This apple pie knock-off is fantastic in a bowl with milk for breakfast.  Called dowdy because the top crust is tucked into the dish around the apples making for thick, cobbler-like sides to the pie, it is easy to make if you have about an hour in the morning for breakfast.  One way to make this pie even more easily is if you have someone in your family you can convince to peel apples while you make the crust.  In our family it works that way for many of these breakfasts:  “if you peel peaches, I will make kuchen!” or “If you peel and slice pears, I will make the claflouti!”  That way, we get a little kitchen cooperation early in the morning, and a meal everyone loves.  Since I know that won’t work for many families in the early morning, this recipe would also make a great easy dessert.

Apple Pan Dowdy

Serves 6

For filling:

4 apples, peeled and sliced thin (I used a mixture of Fuji and Ginger Gold)

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 Tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

For crust:

1 1/8 cups flour

1/2 cup butter, chopped into 8 pieces

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk

2-3 Tablespoons water

Peel and slice apples, then mix with other filling ingredients in 7×11 pan or deep dish pie plate. (The blue dish you see above was a recent gift from my grandma.  Isn’t it pretty?)  Place flour, butter, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add egg yolk and pulse once.  Remove to a small bowl, and add water, gathering the mixture together with a wooden spoon until it can be formed into a ball.  Roll this ball out into a circle approximately 3 inches bigger around than your dish.  Center on top of apples, then gently tuck around the sides and under the dish, lifting the apples so that the crust can tuck onto the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle with a little granulated sugar, then bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees.  Serve hot in a bowl with milk.

I am really thinking this could be made for October Unprocessed by removing the sugar from the crust and replacing the sugar in the filling with honey.  I often use whole wheat flour for crusts anyway, so I bet this would be tasty that way — I especially like the flavor of whole wheat with apples.  I might try it out and let you know!

If you’re interested in reading about how last year’s challenge went for us, look here.  If you want to know our plans for this year, please stay tuned!  Hope you enjoy this recipe.  How are you using fall apples?  Please leave me a comment.

September Reading List

I want to share and recommend to you a few of the books I have read in the past few weeks.  Two of these books have been on several high school reading lists that I have researched before, but I have never put them on my own reading list.  One is definitely required reading for homeschooling parents, and one is a cookbook I highly recommend.  Let’s get started.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.  Written from the viewpoint of a Native American whose shattered life lead him to pretending to be a deaf mute in an insane asylum, this vivid potrayal of life in an asylum around the 1960s is a definitely a must read tragedy.  A man who had been in the workhouse, but painted himself as insane in order to leave the workhouse and enjoy the (to his mind) easier conditions of life in the asylum, fights against the “Combine” — especially the Nurse Ratched who controls the asylum.  Along the way, he liberates the other inmates from their inward turmoil.  From the beginning of his struggle, as soon as you realize that he does not understand the meaning of the word committed, you realize that this book will be a tragedy, and I read every page in dread.  However, the story is wonderful in the way it discusses the empathy that even people who would normally be judged harshly as selfish and cruel can feel for another person in a difficult situation.  Strangely enough, this novel of an insane asylum is a story of Christlike sacrifice.  It belongs on the any reading list.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.  Another crazy person story from the high school reading list, this story is written from the viewpoint of a teenager, Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from another private school.  Covering only a few days in his life, Holden reveals his true self in his care for his siblings.  He tells his sister that he would like to be “the catcher in the rye,” saving little children from going over the edge of a cliff in an imaginary game.  An easier read that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and less tragic, it was another good investment of time.

The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner by Liz Edmunds.  As I told you a few days ago, I listened to the Food Nanny at a conference a couple of weeks ago, and immediately put her book on hold at the local library.  Divided into “theme nights,” with many recipes for each theme and conversation starters throughout the book, Mrs. Edmunds encourages families to make dinner a priority.  Although I found that many of her recipes are ones I already make under a different name (chicken enchiladas, chili relleno casserole, Hoot’n annie pancake,) I really enjoyed looking through her book and getting different serving ideas.  I would really love to give this book as a gift to a young (or older) mom struggling to put dinner on the table every night, or even as a bridal or baby shower gift.

Unschooling Rules by Craig Aldrich.  This is the only book on my September reading list that is now on my Must Own list.  Although I hesitate to call any secular book inspiring, this book was that for me.  In our quest to have the very best for our children, it is difficult not to fall back on the pattern of schooling with which we were raised.  This book, in very succinct rules, defines and confirms why interest led learning, or unschooling, is the pattern of a life long learner.  I ordered this book through interlibrary loan because I read reviews on Amazon that said it was worth reading, but took only about an hour.  I don’t like to spend $10 an hour on my reading habit!  But this book deserves hours of rereading and reflection.  I am now ordering it.  I will be sharing some of my favorite quotes in the upcoming weeks, but in the meantime, go check out this post from Craig Aldrich, and celebrate the fact that you have taken a different route.

Since I have already bored you with reviews of my books, I won’t tell you all about the kids books in the picture more than to say that if you haven’t read them, check them out.  E. Nesbit is one of our favorite children’s authors, and this is my favorite of her books, and How Do You Spank a Porcupine? is another great read in the style of Owls in the Family and Birds, Beasts and Other Relatives.

What are your great recommends for reading right now?  Please leave me a comment below.

Kids in the Kitchen: Hoot’n Annie Pancake with Strawberries

This time of year, our usual healthy breakfast routine totally fails.  It’s the fault of the farmers market.  After all, with fresh local peaches, pears, apples, raspberries and strawberries, who can resist making delicious fruit (desserts) breakfasts?  For the past few weeks we have been feasting on pear claflouti, apple crisp, peach cobbler and kuchen, and all kinds of other delicious breakfasts.

About a week ago, I attended a women’s health conference and heard The Food Nanny speak.  After I heard her, I said, “That is a job I would love to have!”  I immediately put her book on hold at the library, and brought it home yesterday.  Her plan for family meals includes “theme nights”:  Mexican, Italian and breakfast.  And in the cookbook, she had a picture of another delicious fruit breakfast.  She calls it German Pancake, I have also heard it called Dutch Baby, but in our family we call it Hoot’n Annie Pancake.

My grandma gave me the recipe when I got married, and we felt innovative by topping it with fried apples and whipping cream.  It has been a favorite family breakfast for a long time.  The Food Nanny’s idea was strawberries, sour cream and brown sugar.

Now, anyone who has not tried dipping strawberries in sour cream and brown sugar:  go buy some strawberries right now.  Yes, it sounds strange.  It is the best thing to do with strawberries ever.  So, how could we go wrong putting these on top of a pancake?  Eden and I came home from our run this morning and whipped up breakfast in about 5 minutes.  Slicing the strawberries was the most strenuous part of this recipe.

First, melt a stick of butter in a hot oven while you use the blender to mix the rest of the ingredients.  Pour the blended batter into the melted butter in the pan.

Then, set the timer for 30 minutes and prepare your toppings.

Serve and enjoy!

Hoot’n Annie Pancake with Strawberries

Serves 6

1/2 cup butter

1 cup milk

1 cup flour

6 eggs

Turn oven on to 375 degrees and place butter in 7×11 pan in oven to melt as it preheats.  Meanwhile, add milk, flour and eggs to blender and blend thoroughly.  When butter is melted, pour batter into pan and set timer for 30 minutes.  Do not open oven door while pancake is cooking.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.


3 cups strawberries, cleaned and sliced

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup brown sugar

Mix together sour cream and brown sugar.  Serve pancake topped with strawberries and cream mixture.

Do you enjoy having fruit based desserts for breakfast?  Stay tuned — I have another quick recipe for you soon.  Have a wonderful weekend!


Fall Hiking 2012

As the weather cools, we have been taking advantage of every hiking opportunity.  These are some random pictures to let you catch a glimpse of some of the beautiful places we’ve been in the last few weeks.

These are near Forsyth and Neff Reservoirs, close to Fremont, Utah.


From this viewpoint we could see all of Cathedral Valley and much of the San Rafael Swell.




Another weekend, we were able to hike the Tibble Fork and Mill Canyon loop trail in American Fork Canyon.

That same weekend, we stopped to see Cascade Springs on the Alpine Loop:

I hope that seeing these pictures inspires your own fall hiking!  Leave me a comment, let me know where you’ve been!  Have a great day!






Fruit Pizza and a Rant about Public School

I know, you’re dying to ask.  What possible  connection could there be between this lovely, delicious dessert and a rant against public school? Well, I’m dying to tell you.

Eden has taken several on-line courses through the state electronic high school system.  This started out as a way for her to supplement her English learning.  My own fifth grade teacher was teaching ninth grade English — and remembering her as a fantastic teacher, I let Eden sign up for the course.  It turned out well, although there was not as much teacher/student interaction as I would have liked.  Eden is like me, though.  She thinks she would like to try this course, and that one, and that one . . .  so she signed up for several.  The one she is just completing is Foods and Nutrition.

The Foods and Nutrition course teaches basic nutritional facts about carbs, proteins, milk, vitamins and minerals, etc., and then allows the student to do either an experiment (like cooking broccoli for 20 minutes and describing its texture, color and flavor) or prepare a recipe.  Here’s my rant:  throughout the course, no recipes were assigned.  The student was assigned to make “a milk-based recipe” or “a quick bread.”  I lied.  One recipe was assigned.  In the fruits and vegetables section, the student was assigned to make a fruit pizza.

Here was the perfect opportunity for a teacher to introduce nutritious recipes with a variety that would allow students to become acquainted with real food.  Eden completed her tomato-corn bisque for the milk-based recipe, and learned to make garlic-parmesan biscuit roll-ups for the quick breads.  This innovation was only because I found interesting recipes, though.  No ideas were even suggested by the teacher.  Why, a peanut butter sandwich would have qualified for a protein recipe!  But the fruit pizza was the last straw.  With millions or billions of recipes available which make innovative and nutritious use of fruits and vegetables, why ask students to make a sugar cookie (shortening based so it doesn’t even taste good) topped with Cool Whip (not even real food!) and fruit?

Eden complained.  She asked if we could just “say” we had tried it?  After all, we could imagine what it would taste like!  We ended up subbing real whipping cream for the Cool Whip, and everyone (included the little kids) threw away the sugar cookie and ate the fruit.  (And this was not coercion — it tasted bad!)

Just one more reason to homeschool, folks . . .

Have you had a similar experience?  Please leave me a comment below.

Plein Air Painting — Unschooling Art

A few weeks ago, I told you about how I turned control of science experiments over to my elementary age children.  Today, I am here to confess I have  done the same with elementary art education.  Yes, shamefacedly but triumphantly, I am here to tell you that I do not teach art.

Like most adults I know, I do not consider myself an artist.  I am a quilter, I enjoy viewing art, I love listening to music and making music on the piano, but art in the form of drawing or painting has escaped me.  I sometimes blame this on my ninth grade art teacher, who laughed at my attempts at watercolor painting.  However it happened, I certainly do not want my ineptness at representative art to rub off on my children.  I have decided that the best way to serve them in this is to allow them to do art — feed them ideas from museums, books, and websites — but with no adult interference.

Recently, this led to an afternoon spent like this:

We are fortunate in having these two large picnic tables on a patio outside our home.  Since the weather has been lovely, these tables are perfect for spending a long afternoon painting.  Lucy had an idea from her recent museum trip.  She had watched a video where an artist made abstract paintings and added texture by sprinkling sand over the drying paint.  We are blessed with a lot of sand at our house.  So she had a painting experiment, and Max followed along.

A great time was had by all.  I enjoyed it because the mess stayed outside and was completely cleaned up by kids, I had two great new paintings to hang on the wall, and because I had very happy children all afternoon.  Lulu loves doing art in any form, and was able to try out her new idea.  And Max enjoys mess!

Do you use an art curriculum, or do you just mess around as the ideas come to you?  Please leave me a comment below.

Learning about Caves: Another Friday Field Trip

I told you we started our school year with a bunch of field trips.  This week, I took the kids to visit Timpanogos Cave as part of the little ones’ science curriculum on caves.  During the past two weeks, we have watched the Planet Earth episode on caves, watched Nova’s Mysterious Caves movie, and read One Small Square: Caves.  The kids have made lists for extra research in their science notebooks, and done a couple of experiments.  They watched their pupils change from large to small to let in or shut out light.  They dissolved salt in water and watched the water evaporate leaving the salt.  And they made bat ears!

Not as a culmination to this unit, but before they start make a cave diorama or continue their studies, I wanted them to see a real cave system.  We have been in many very small caves on our hikes, but none deep enough to have any kind of formations.  I don’t think I would be brave enough to explore any real cave system on my own.

Timpanogos Cave is a National Park, and after the short (1 1/2 mile) hike straight up the side of the mountain, for a small fee you are offered a 40 minute tour of this small but beautiful cave system.  I had not been there since I was a child, remembering very steep drop-offs that I didn’t want to take small children on.  Now, however, we are more experienced hikers and this was a wide paved trail (with very steep drop-offs.)  So we gathered our courage, and climbed.  It was definitely a worthwhile experience.

One of the first things being inside a cave taught us is that caves really are made by water:  a lot of water.  Everything was dripping wet.  The hand rails and floor were slippery with water, and the stalactites were dripping more or less constantly.

We saw the “Heart of Timpanogos,” an estimated two ton stalactites, huge walls of flow stone, a little “cave bacon” and a few draperies.  One of the formations Timpanogos is known for are these tiny helactites growing like crazy little fingers from the walls and even on top of other formations.

We were also able to see that without the paved pathways and electric lights, there were still plenty of places to meander, explore and get lost in even this small cave system.

Round trip, our visit to Timanogos Cave took us about 3 hours.  Plan for longer if you have smaller kids with you.  It was a great field trip to help us understand more and encourage more studies of caves.

Do you like to plan field trips to work with something you are currently studying?  Do you have a great idea for places to visit?  Please leave a comment below.