Choosing your “Cup of Tea” — Freedom for Homeschoolers


often say “it’s just not my cup of tea.”  When I make this statement, I am asserting my right to choose for myself what I consider fun and useful in my life.  So while a 20-mile training run is my cup of tea, going to a wedding shower is not.  Yes, the cup of tea I choose is different than that of most people of my age, sex and social position.

Do we allow the same freedom to our children?  Do we allow them to choose their own “cup of tea?”  Two books that have really reinforced that question for me lately are Guerilla Learning by Amy Silver and Grace Llewellyn and The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn.  These two books that focus on kid-powered learning,  based on choice and interest by the child, are both change and guilt inspiring.  How can we as parents give our children power over their own learning, while still fulfilling our roles as parents?

  • Really listen to our children’s interests and desires.  By being alert to what makes them excited, we can direct them toward activities that expand their horizons and help them reach their goals.
  • Find opportunities in the community to expose them to new ideas.  Being on the constant lookout for new opportunities for your children is one of the best ways parents can help their children know what is interesting to them.  How can a person be interested in astronomy if he’s never looked at the stars?  How can a person follow a passion for music without hearing a wide variety of music?  Investigate opportunities for your children to try new ideas and activities in your community, at local museums, at the library or amongst adult interest groups.
  • Allow plenty of free time for exploration.  Don’t fill every moment of your children’s time.  Allow them the space to  find what really interests them.

One of the most difficult things advocated by these books is for the parent to support their children’s interest whether or not that is one of the parent’s interests or the parent feels that this interest is valuable.  For example, it is much easier for me to support an interest in classical or bluegrass music than rock music.  Although this is true, I need to allow my child to pursue his own interest.  (Easier said than done.)

I highly recommend reading these books — Guerilla Learning is directed to parents, while Teenage Liberation Handbook is directed entirely to teens.  Each of these will give you great ideas for expanding your child’s freedom as a homeschooler.

What have you read lately which has guided your schooling decisions?  Do you believe in letting your children choose completely, or do you try to strike a balance between child-led and parent-led schooling?  Please leave me a comment below.


Awesome Ocean Science at Home (for kids)

In anticipation of a hoped-for vacation to the beach, I began a Unit Study about Oceans today with Lulu and Max.  It has been about 7 years since I used this particular curriculum.  Lulu was 2 on our first (my first!) ever visit to San Diego to see the ocean.  In the months of planning toward that trip, Brett and Eden made Ocean Journals, read tons of books and did many experiments.  While our unit study may not be as in-depth, we are using the same book for the backbone of our curriculum that we used before.  The book Awesome Ocean Science, by Cindy A. Littlefield , is wonderful.  It is written in an interesting and entertaining way.  But most importantly — THE EXPERIMENTS WORK!  (And many involve food coloring, which is irresistible, right?)

Awesome Ocean Science

I have shared with you before my frustration with science experiments at home.  Often they require lots of mommy time, effort and mess, with little result or little correlation to the subject being studied.  I usually unschool science.  I bring home lots of books on various subjects, and try to let the kids go ahead with the experiments they can perform on their own.  I have been excited to do the experiments in this book, however, because they really prove their points, quickly and easily.

For example, this drop of salt water is dropping through the fresh water because salt water is denser than fresh water.

sinking salt water

This carrot is floating in salt water, for the same reason.

floating carrotThe kids now understand the phrase “just the tip of the iceberg.”

kitchen icebergAnd we know why melting ice in Antarctica can raise sea level, while melting sea ice does not.

melting polesSome of our next experiments are about ocean currents, and they will be looking at tide pool videos on Youtube and making tide pool creatures from clay.

Do you have any recommendations for our Oceans unit?  Please leave me a comment below!

October Reading List (in November)

Even though November is well underway, I wanted to share with you a few of the books I have been reading lately.  I’ve noticed a trend in my reading toward “lighter” reading right now — both fluff fiction and fluff non-fiction.  Do you agree with me that much of the non-fiction published right now is fluff?  These journalistic books could be published in installments in a current women’s magazine and feel right at home.  I am going to try to stop checking these books out of the library:  books on “clean” eating, how exercise helps depression, and books examining the way teenagers are turning into adults:  mostly just a waste of time.  I end up skimming, reading portions and returning these books without gaining anything of benefit, but having wasted my hard-won reading time.

These three books, while on the lighter side, were worth a review.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.  Alice wakes up on the floor of the gym, having forgotten the last 10 years of her life including her three children, her best friend, and her divorce.  This book was a very quick read for me.  I actually couldn’t put it down, and stayed up late two nights in a row just to finish it and get on with work that should have been done.  While Alice was discovering that in many ways she had made a mess of her life, I was rejoicing that I do not feel regrets over the past 10 years of my life.  So many things we have begun in the last 10 years–homeschool, hiking, running — have brought me such joy and happiness.  Thank goodness I don’t need to re-live those years in a “do-over.”

The Year of Learning Dangerously — Adventures in Homeschooling by Quinn Cummings is one of my fluff non-fiction books.  This is not a book of homeschooling how to, neither is it a book of one family’s journey in homeschooling.  Instead it is a book of a journalist’s experiences traveling and observing different homeschooling occasions and events, mainly while leaving her daughter (in her first year of homeschooling) at home.  I guess from the tone of the previous sentence, you realize I did not approve of this mother’s attempt at commercializing her homeschooling attempt.  While many may have some sort of prurient interest in a fundamentalist Christian homeschooling convention, or a home school prom, of what benefit is it to disguise oneself, attend the event, and then write about it?  I hardly believe it was for her daughter’s benefit that she did this, especially since this family is professed atheist and the daughter is in fourth grade.  (I’m wrong.  It’s probably for her daughter’s financial benefit.)  So, this is one book I am glad I found at the library (rather than buying!)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green feeds my young adult fiction addiction.  Not your standard hope-despite-cancer story, this novel follows Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters from their meeting at a cancer victim therapy session to the end of their story together.  Funny and sad, its themes of quiet heroism — the kind that affects one life, not millions– and endurance were presented in an easy to read story.  Eden read and enjoyed this as well.

My November reading list includes more classics, as I try to wean myself from fluff.  Although I read for relaxation and enjoyment, I want to read for education as well.  Even now, I am halfway through Henry James’ first novel, Ward and Watch.  I’ll let you know how it goes soon.

Do you read whatever catches your eye, or do you try for book “assignments?”  Please leave me a comment below.

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.

For Desert Lovers Everywhere

Its appeal is not the appeal of things universally attractive, like smiling fields, bubbling springs, and murmuring brooks.  To some it seems merely stricken, and even those of us who love it recognize that its beauty is no easy one.  It suggests patience and struggle and endurance.  It is courageous and happy, not easy or luxurious.  In the brightest colors of its sandstone canyons, even in the brightest colors of its brief spring flowers, there is something austere.  From The Desert Year by Joseph Wood Krutch

Since I am not in the desert, I have been reading about the desert and daydreaming about desert hiking.  There is just something wonderful about the sense of space and breathing room achieved only where there are not even any trees to block the view.

I hope you’re enjoying your week!  Are you pursuing your summer reading goals, or have you been sidetracked, as I have?  Please leave me a comment.

Hiking (and Life) Advice from Annie Dillard

Advice:  (from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard)

When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find.  It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since.  For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street.  I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk.  Then I would take a piece of chalk, and starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions.  After I learned to write I labeled the arrows:  SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY.  I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe.  But I never lurked about.  I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped by the impulse to hide another penny.

It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans.  I’ve been thinking about seeing.  There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises.  The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand.  But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny?  If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way?  It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stop to pick up a penny.  But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted with pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.  It is that simple.  What you see is what you get.


Eat every wild raspberry you see.

Hope you find a few pennies today!

July Reading

After a long phase of non-fiction reading, I’ve switched back to fiction for the last couple of weeks.  I read A Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler, a book which I enjoyed very much.  It was very reminiscent of her book The Accidental Tourist, and made me want to watch that movie again.  I finished The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  I had not read any books by this author before, and it is really not my usual style.  I am not a mystery reader.  This book was an enjoyable read with an engaging heroine (actually 3 or 4 engaging heroines) and a plot which although fairly transparent was interestingly developed.  I usually say “this was written on a postage stamp” when the solution to the mystery is obvious halfway through the book, but enough of this mystery was left unknown to make finishing the book worthwhile.

Eden recommended Impossible  by Nancy Werlin.  It took me an afternoon to read, and was not a typical rewritten fairy tale but a twist on a classic ballad, Scarborough Fair.  The most interesting thing to me about this story was the description of the attachment between the pregnant woman and the child she is carrying.  It made me nostalgic for the days when I would “speak” to my pregnant belly, longing for the day I could hold the baby in my arms.

I also read Finding Ultra by Rich Roll.  I have read several endurance training stories recently, since I read Born to Run. This book actually contained far more information about his recovery from alcoholism than his training and change to a plant-based diet.  As such, it educated me about some of the challenges facing a recovering alcoholic, but did not fulfill the promise of its title.

Lulu and Max have been reading the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull.  She has read all 5, and Max just finished book 3.  They really like this series, and have been using these ideas in the imaginative play all week.  Perhaps your kids would like these books, too.

The other books on my list for July are nature essays.  One is a book about the Grand Gulch area of southern Utah that I am really excited to start, and I am also looking forward to reading the others.  One problem I have with essays and short stories is that I have a tendency to gobble them down.  I think of a book of essays or short stories as a box of chocolates.  I really should just eat one, enjoy it, and come back for another tomorrow.  Instead, I gobble them down quickly and end up with a stomach ache!  I am going to exert myself to read these books slowly.

Do you enjoy reading essays and short stories, or do you prefer novels?  What is on your reading list for July?  Please leave me a comment below.

What Summer School Means for Us

We don’t school year round.  We don’t take a summer vacation.  Well — we sort of do a mix.  We tried doing our regular schooling through the summer one year.  All of us felt really sad to be using our short Utah summer that way.  We tried taking a summer vacation — that lasted about 3 weeks, until bored kids and frustrated Mom picked up some summer school.  So now, we do summer school.  At our house, summer school looks a lot like this:

And like this:

And quite a lot of this:

We usually pick a subject or two or three that we feel didn’t get enough attention during the winter, something fun like science, geography or food science, and give it some real attention two or three days a week during the summer.  Whenever we are not hiking or swimming, you can find us puttering around at some of our special “summer school” projects.

We keep up our music lessons and practicing through the summer, and I also like to assign one math lesson a week.  This helps keep the numbers fresh so we don’t have to do as much review during the first months of the following school year.

Summer school is a wonderful opportunity to study science, especially anything that requires outdoor experimentation.  I can’t even tell you how frustrated I was reading through a brand new expensive science curriculum and coming upon a pond study that would fall about 3 months into the school year.  In December in Utah, we can’t really do an effective pond study!  (Maybe we should vacation in Australia for a few weeks so we can do the experiment?)  Anyway, May through September is a great time for those kinds of projects — and they certainly don’t feel like torture!

This year, we have a great book with lots of projects picked out for our science school.  We found What Makes the Grand Canyon Grand? by Spencer Christian at the library book sale, and intend to flesh out our study with lots of supplemental reading from the local library.  Eden is assistant teaching this summer for me, and she is designing “virtual vacations” to three different countries still tba for herself and the littler ones.  We hope to make scrap books showing just what it would be like to take a month long vacation to each of these countries, doing the preparation and seeing all the sights.  I just hope she picks somewhere with good food — you know what an ethnic cuisine lover I am.

What plans are you making for learning this summer?  Do you do any formal schooling, or do you just try to relax and have a great time?  Please leave me a comment.

The Case for Book Ownership

I have a guilty confession to make.  I know a lot of you are becoming “e-readers”, some of you especially because you don’t want to accumulate more “stuff.”  While it might make me appear materialistic, I have to tell you, I disagree.  I am a bibliophile in every sense of the word.  I don’t just love the words on the pages, I love the pages themselves.  Why just today, I ordered six more books!  We check out books by the dozens from the library, but even the large library where we pay for membership in a neighboring city doesn’t have many of the older books I love.  Or, if they have the books, they are lacking the original illustrations that make a book really beautiful.  This is another reason I don’t love e-books.  The illustrations often make the story.

Another reason I love book ownership is that everyone in the family can read the book at his or her own pace without running out of renewals.  We often buy books that we want to read aloud as a family — the pressure to read it in the 6 weeks allowed by the local library just isn’t worth it.  We buy books that we want to use for school, and we often buy cookbooks (Eden and I just made the first Tres Leches cake from the new Pioneer Woman cookbook today) because we want to be able to take them on trips and get them messy.  We buy books to replace books that we have “read to death.”  We buy books so that we can loan them to our friends.

We buy books online, through Amazon, Abebooks (my favorite for used books) and Alibris.  We buy books at library book sales, yard sales and thrift stores.  Our friends and parents give us books they think we might enjoy.  The fact is, we hardly ever say no to a book.  We do sort occasionally and pass books on.  In fact, we are needing to pass along a lot of fairly good condition children’s books right now — Max is outgrowing all but the very favorite of the picture books.  I wish we could find a place to donate them.  Then we would have room for more books!

Thank goodness I am married to a finish carpenter!  He has built wonderful bookshelves in nearly every room of the house.  There are a few rooms lacking bookshelves — the bathroom (Our last house had a bookshelf in the bathroom, but I couldn’t keep any books I really valued there.  It was too dusty.), the kitchen (but I would love one, I just can’t find the spot.), and my bedroom (I know, strange.) All of the kids have their own bookshelves in their bedrooms, and consider it a privilege to have  certain series in their own collection, along with books purchased specifically for or by themselves.  You should have seen the joy in Max’s face when he was allowed to put all the Mrs. Pigglewiggle books on his own shelves.

Don’t you think there is still plenty of room for books on all these shelves?  I mean — look closely.  There are holes!

What do you do?  Do you collect books, or do you love them and let them go?  Leave me a comment.

Book Recommendation: The Element by Ken Robinson, Ph. D.

The premise of this book is that each one of us has a unique Element or even Elements that will satisfy our minds and bodies and give us a sense of fulfillment and happiness in life.  If we are able to find this Element, we will be able to find satisfaction with our lives. 

The first chapters of the book focus on the definition of words like intelligence and creativity and how society has limited the use of these words to specific situations and persons.  Therefore, many people do not consider themselves as intelligent because they did not do well on standardized tests. Conversely, people who do well on standardized tests may consider themselves intelligent even if they have not achieved success or fulfillment in their lives.  Creativity has also been limited in definition to people who are artists or authors by trade, rather than widening that definition to include all who use their abilities in a variety of ways to achieve their goals.  The author seems to state that widening our definition of these words will help us to re-define our paths to success.

Another issue that this book discusses is the problem of finding others to help and mentor you in your Element.  He speaks directly of the fact that “Many people don’t find their Element because they don’t have the encouragement of the confidence to step outside their established circle of relationships.” Although those around us may genuinely care for us, they do not necessarily know what will make our lives happiest or most meaningful.  It takes courage to step outside of the expectations that others set for us.

The last chapters of this book really spoke to me.  Chapter 7, “Do You Feel Lucky?” focused on the value of a positive, confident outlook in achieving success.  This is an idea I have tried to share with many people throughout my adult life, and it is stated far better here than anything I have been able to say.  It is so important to have confidence in a good outcome when going into a project.  A negative outlook guarantees failure.  Summarizing findings from the book The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman, Dr. Robinson states that “lucky people tend to expect to be lucky, creating a series of self-fulfilling prophecies because they go into the world anticipating a positive outcome. “ And, “lucky people have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck to good.  They don’t allow ill fortune to overwhelm them, and they move quickly to take control of the situation when it isn’t going well for them.”  I would like to read this chapter to people who through the years have accused me of just being “lucky!”

In Chapter 10, “For Love or Money,” examples are cited of people who became amateurs in certain professions instead of making that profession a source of income.  The author discusses how the word amateur actually means a lover of something, and how being a real amateur can bring one pleasure and satisfaction in life.  This really went along well with his ideas about it being never too late to find fulfillment in your Element.

The other chapter that I felt all homeschoolers should read was Chapter 11 on education.  The author describes standard public education as factory-style education, with each teacher installing one bit of knowledge, bound by bells, batches of students and time schedules.  He advocates an individualized approach to education that would allow individuals to pursue their interests and learn toward real world application.  He recommends a “Michelin model,” holding schools to very high standards but not standardizing schools.  Reading about some of the schools he recommends, I couldn’t help but think of Dewey’s educational approach again, and also the difficulty of actually implementing this approach within limits of a public system.  Luckily, as homeschoolers we need not be bound by concerns of what others will think or funding and are able to give each child an individualized education if we are ready to make the effort to do so.

This book, along with two others I have read recently–How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and How to Live On 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett, has given me much food for thought on how I am focusing my time to make the best use of my talents and interests.  As a parent, I realize that although providing for my children’s education is important, the best I can do for them is to give a good example of fulfilling my own potential at the same time.  These books gave both encouragement and direction in that regard.  The Michelangelo quote in the afterword of this book really made me ask, “Am I aiming high enough for myself?”

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”