Homeschooling When Life Refuses to Cooperate


I was excited. This school year looked to be starting out just right.  About the only thing we do that could be considered traditional is our start and end dates. We “traditionally” begin on the Tuesday after Labor Day and end the Friday before Memorial Day. It just works easiest that way. We feel like we’ve had a full summer and can get down to business.

So we started this year on Tuesday after the long holiday weekend. We were ready. I felt the boys were taking their learning seriously and just knew that attitude would carry us well into the year, if not through the whole school year. Yeah, wishful thinking, I know.

Our first week was pure joy. Each day we accomplished more than I had expected.  It was a short week, we only do school Monday through Thursday anyway and we’d already missed Monday so we had three really good school days. The first week was a success. And I went into the weekend thinking about how to build on our momentum.

Then I got a phone call. On Sunday afternoon, I was informed that my grandfather had fallen and I was the only one able to drop what I was doing and head to Florida to take charge.  So that’s what I did. I dropped everything, including our school schedule, and spent the next two days driving from Iowa to Florida. I took one adult son to help with the driving and my youngest to keep him company while I spent unpredictable hours at the hospital. The two of them would be fine together.

I brought school work for my student to do on the trip and left instructions for my other high school student who would be staying home because of his part time job. I tried to imagine that our perfect start to the school year would continue seamlessly over this hump in the road. Of course, that was more of that wishful thinking. While they made an attempt to do some of their work, very little was actually accomplished.

So, what do you do when your well-laid plans for school don’t go as smoothly as you would like? Well, after twenty two years, I can say that it happens every year. Our very first year included my mother’s death from cancer. After that there were babies being born, job changes, illness, surgeries, vacations, houseguests, financial setbacks and  a cross-country move. You name it and we’ve homeschooled through it and around it.

I used to panic that my boys wouldn’t be well educated because of all the interruptions. How could we possible do a good job with all the distractions? But year after year I dealt with the issues as they came and we seemed to do just fine. I remember thinking that we’d just had a bad day and things simply had to get better. Then there were times when we had a bad week, or month. A couple of years I realized that we’d just had a bad year and that was all I could say.

I watched my boys and realized that even with long stretches that seemed to me like wasted time, or marginally productive at best, they kept learning anyway. Sometimes, the most valuable learning took place because of the other issues we were dealing with.

There are several things that I learned through these times. Things that have molded how I view our homeschool efforts and have helped me to relax.

Homeschooling is much more than book learning. We always hear that homeschooling is a lifestyle. This truth is never clearer than when we are going through something that upsets the regular flow of our school day. We learn to adapt and flow with life, using every opportunity to allow learning to happen along the way. Each experience teaches life lessons you can never find in a book. The book learning has to happen at some point, in some way, but it isn’t the most important. Building character and life skills is so much more valuable over the course of a lifetime. On our recent Florida trip, my high school son learned a lot about making sacrifices for others and about life and death. He learned patience and had the opportunity to learn some priceless life lessons from his final conversation with his 96-year-old great grandfather. I’m so glad he wasn’t home reading a textbook.

Students can overcome all sorts of obstacles if they are motivated to learn. The thing that has helped us the most is that I’ve made it a priority to teach my boys how to learn on their own. They don’t need to be spoon-fed, so they can learn large chunks of information in a short time all on their own when they put their minds to it. When we have setbacks of weeks or months when things aren’t going as planned, they find ways to keep learning anyway. I used to think we were so far behind we’d never catch up and then I would remind myself that we aren’t trying to keep up with anyone. We are just moving along at our own pace which is all we should be doing.

You can homeschool anywhere. The idea that we have to be in a schoolroom or at a table or desktop computer for optimal learning to take place is a myth. We have done school in airplanes, in cars, in bed, in the backyard on a blanket, at the park, at the library, at church, in a hotel room, and at other people’s houses while on vacation. Sometimes we use books, sometimes we use laptops and sometimes we just use life.

So when you hit your own detour or delay in your homeschool journey, try to remember that in the grand scheme of things, this is a temporary obstacle. You can recover. You can find ways to continue the learning process in spite of the issues at hand. Remember, homeschooling is a lifestyle and that means it happens while you’re just doing life, no matter what that entails.



4-H: A Great Addition to Your Homeschool

This time of year I am alwa521924_10201304132179014_1214365667_nys reminded of our years in 4-H.  When my boys were young we had a 4-H club that met in our home for nine years. We started with about eight members and when we moved to Iowa the club had grown to over sixty.  This week our club back in Ohio is experiencing the exciting culmination of a year’s worth of hard work. The county fair is just winding down and well-deserved ribbons are being proudly displayed. It’s such a special time. I remember watching my boys putting on the finishing touches to all their projects, some details coming together much too close to the deadline for me! And now my grandchildren are getting old enough to experience 4-H too. They have actually joined the club we started so many years ago.

I believe that my boys are strong leaders today because of their participation in 4-H. It was in 4-H that they learned leadership skills but there was much more to it than that. They also learned something useful with each new project they took on. They learned to follow through and put in their very best effort. They learned to work in cooperation with others. They also learned to cook and take care of animals and to build with their own hands. 4-H was an important part of our homeschool experience. We incorporated the projects into our regular school day and learned things we might not otherwise have gotten around to.

The 4-H program begins with a group called Cloverbuds which is aimed at early elementary students. At age nine a child can become an official  4-H member and even run for an office. From there, students can remain members until they turn nineteen. There are dozens of project areas to explore. You can choose published projects that include all the instructions you need  or design your own projects.   The projects all easily work as unit studies that can be as simple or as in depth as you desire. The opportunities available through 4-H are so extensive I can’t cover all of them here. You will find all the details at the National 4-H website.

4-H is available in all fifty states and many countries around the world. To find your local 4-H community check out the Find 4-H page. 4-H is way more than shearing sheep and growing crops. If you think it’s just for farm kids, look again. You’ll be glad you did.

Standardized Tests — Good or Bad?



I guess I may have a bias where it comes to standardized testing. It may be the reason most of my seven sons have never taken a standardized test at all. The oldest ones did, when I was a new homeschooler and lacked confidence, but it still went against my principles. My younger children have never even seen a standardized test.

Why am I so skeptical of these tests that our education gurus seems to think are the answer to our broken education system? It’s because of an experience I had in college. Yes, that was several decades ago and I’m still not happy about it.

Continue reading

The Death of Education — The Birth of Learning

I ran across this really interesting and informative video about the current state of affairs in education and how our kids learn. It talks about the impact of technology on our traditional views of education.

One of the things we must do is approach the idea of learning and education from a completely new perspective. The way students learn and the way they have access to information is unlike anything we’ve seen before. They don’t need to learn and memorize all sorts of information anymore. They need to learn how to find and process information and they need to develop a desire to do so. The current model of education doesn’t offer these opportunities. It continues to crank out students who are like products of a factory, all experiencing the same things at the same time. By using the technology available to this generation, more students than ever before have the opportunity to follow their passions and achieve their dreams. Why would we choose to keep them contained in a system that stifles their creative minds by using an outdated form of education?


The video even hits the subject of standardized testing pretty hard:

“No one I know takes standardized tests for a living. So why are we using standardized tests to see if you’re gonna’ be good when we don’t have standardized test after you take it? It’s infected the entire marketing ecosystem of education. Because famous colleges are famous because they’re picky about your SAT scores. Parents want their kids to go to a famous college. Parents push the school to create kids who will get into a famous college by doing well on the SAT.  All of which is corrupting the entire reason we have education in the first place. ”

Seth Godin

Most parents get hung up thinking that their child has to have standardized testing to be able to succeed in their education and subsequent career. For more about standardized tests, watch for my next post.





Color Blindness – An Invisible Disability

Color Blind Test ControlIt was a simple request. My first grader was playing with a set of brightly colored foam shapes that he’d been placing on cards to make pictures. He’d been working contentedly for quite a while but now it was time to move to a different activity. My request was for him to sort the colors out and put everything back in the box.

When he had finished the task to his own satisfaction he proudly said,” Look, I’m all finished!” But there was a problem. I pointed out that he’d forgotten to sort the shapes  in one of the containers. He looked puzzled and responded, “Those are all the same color.” It was a moment of instant understanding for me. He had failed to sort the purples from the blues because he saw only one color. My son was color blind. The color distinction was extremely obvious to me but not to him. It was also not a new issue for me. I’d watched my mother match my father’s clothes for years. He was also color blind.

Color blindness occurs in 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women. At my house, those statistics are way off. I have seven sons, four of which are color blind. I also have one female cousin who is color blind.

While there is much information about color blindness available, those of us who have normal color vision may find it difficult to image living life with this disability.  One year I decided to go very simple with my Christmas decorations. I put up a tree and decorated it with simple silver ornaments and bright red bows. My color blind sons were not impressed. They say that was the most boring Christmas tree we ever had. For them, the red bows were the same color as the green tree. After that, I tried to be more varied in my decorating choices!

There are quite a few careers that are not a possibility for those with a color deficiency. My color blind sons cannot be pilots, electricians, firefighters or police officers. I have one who loves cars and works for a car dealership, but he’ll never be able to work in the body shop. And my boys probably wouldn’t do too well as painters or landscape designers.  I also have one son who may have become a chef but the color issues were just too big of a challenge.

Even though there are limitations in regard to career choices, we are thankful that we live in the US where they can all obtain driver’s licenses. In some European and Asian countries those with color blindness are prohibited from driving. There is much being done through research that is promising for those who are color blind but in the meantime, there are things you can do as a parent to make your child’s life a little easier.

Here are some resources with helpful information about color blindness. There are many ways to help your color blind student work around the often color dependent learning materials available.


First Day of Homeschool 2013

The beginning of another year. Year 23 for us. Five of those years I was teaching five grade levels at the same time. If we continue to homeschool until the youngest one graduates and you count each grade level taught as one year when I am finished I will have taught 26 school years but 87 grades.

Is it any wonder why we say homeschooling becomes a lifestyle all it’s own? It becomes the lens through which you see everything else. For 22 years, the heartbeat of our family has been learning. We have learned things I didn’t plan and would never have imagined.

So today, as we begin another year, I am teaching 9th and 11th grades. Of course, if you want to be honest, I’m not really teaching anything. I am simply watching my last two high school students learn on their own. We’ll do a few things together, but mostly they are on their own. Sometimes they don’t seem to be doing what I would like them to if I had my way, but in the long run they are learning. I only have to look at my older boys to be convinced that homeschooling has been a success for us.

Sometimes I get those questions from people who don’t understand how it all works. Questions like “what do you do about the gaps in their learning? How can you be sure that you’ve taught them everything they need to know?” I had to come to terms with that a long time ago. I realized when my oldest son was ready to graduate that I hadn’t taught him everything I wanted him to know. I was in a panic.

I spent some time thinking about this and finally came to a conclusion. I asked myself what my primary goal had been when we began this homeschool adventure. I decided what I wanted was to raise intelligent, responsible, godly young men who would take care of their families and honor God. If I look at the five sons I’ve graduated, I believe I’ve done that.

I haven’t taught them everything they need to know. But who ever knows everything they need to? What I have done is teach them how to learn, and where to find the information they need when they need it. What I’ve done is raise a houseful of boys who are much smarter than their teacher! I ask their advice on many occasions.

No, they aren’t all college graduates. They were not pressured to go to college unless they felt the need to. So far, only one has taken that path. Each of them is finding their niche and finding satisfaction in their chosen field. And if they decide they want to do something different, they aren’t afraid to jump in and try something new.

So today we begin the next phase of our journey. Only two left in school now. It will be much quieter than it used to be on the first day of school. We don’t buy new school supplies and set out our book bags for the beginning of a new year like students in government schools do. We don’t really do much at all to get ready for school except maybe go to bed a little earlier and get up a little earlier. Today won’t be that much different than yesterday because homeschooling is our way of life. It’s what we do every day in one way or another.

50 States Notebook

notebookingIf you are familiar with the concept of notebooking, you will enjoy this website full of ideas for creating a notebook of the 50 states.  If you have never considered doing notebooks with your students, this topic lends itself very well to learning the ropes.

By doing one state at a time, you can easily get into a rhythm of working on it a little at a time. Here are some possible plans.

              • You can work as fast or as slow as you want. You could do one state every couple of days for the entire school year and get a simple overview of each state.
              • You could stretch it out and do one state a week and cover  everything in two years. Perhaps pulling in a little history in the process.
              • You could also allot several weeks to each state and use it for geography and regional studies for all of your middle school years.
              • If you wanted to work with several students who are in different grades you could start the oldest one and when the next one is ready, have them work on each new state together until the oldest one is done and then complete the states the younger ones haven’t done yet. You could probably work with students from grades 5-9 at the same time, just requiring a little more effort from the older ones.

There are many subjects that work quite well for notebooking. Try the 50 states and then go on to other topics. Soon your students will have a collection of their learning adventures to share with others.

Motivating Kids to Read – Part 2

IreadingIMG_3794n our highly technical age, we are all aware that the love of books and reading takes more effort to build in our children than it used to. There are so many other things that compete for their time that reading gets pushed aside.  Renaissance Learning published a great resource listing ways you can encourage your kids to love reading:

  1. Read to and with your child every day.
  2. Make reading meaningful.
  3. Dedicate time to read as a family.
  4. Show your child how much you love to read.
  5. Set up a reading area in your home.
  6. Let your child choose the books of interest.
  7. Pair books with activities your child enjoys.
  8. Visit the library often.
  9. Revisit the books you loved as a child.
  10. Practice writing with letters to family members.
  11. End every day with a bedtime story.
  12. Celebrate your child’s success.

You can download the detailed list here.

You can also take every opportunity to involve your kids in library programs. It’s a step beyond just taking them to get books. Most libraries have regularly scheduled story times as well as special events throughout the year. Many libraries also offer reading programs in the summer and some even during the school year. Check with the children’s librarian at your local library to find out what is available to you.




Motivating Kids to Read – Part 1

There’s an excellent report published by Renaissance Learning who studied reading among school-age kids. The name of the report is What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools. In the introduction, Roger Farr, Ed.D., Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Education at Indiana University states:

Motivation to read is the result of the interaction of three conditions:

(1) a student’s interests and experiences,

(2) a book or article that matches those needs and interests, and

(3) a student’s success in reading.

The goal is to bring those three conditions together. It is not an easy task to accomplish but it is not only possible, it is accomplished by successful teachers all the time as the reading lists in this report suggest.

A great thing I’ve found, if you have more than one child, is to get the older ones to share their favorite books with the younger ones. One way to remember what books were especially enjoyable is to keep a log of what has been read along with a brief — and I do mean brief — comment about what the reader liked or didn’t like. I’m not talking about book reports here. Those definitely do not motivate a child to read.  Most of us have memories of the dreaded book report. Better to allow book recommendations to come in a more natural way since most of the time, having to analyze a book makes it much less enjoyable.

The goal here is to connect the three points listed above. One way to explore interests is to spend time at the library browsing the shelves. Sometimes we’ve come home with stacks of books in all different subjects just by finding things that sparked our interest at the moment.  Once kids have books that interest them, they will be more motivated to pick them up. The more they read, the better readers they will become and the more they will want to read. If you can get this cycle moving it can build momentum all by itself.


Is it Time to Take a Brain Break?

A couple of years ago there was a new phrase added to the educational buzzword collection. The idea of brain breaks isn’t new. But with the heavy push for academic achievement at an ever accelerated pace, it’s a good time for a reminder that some sort of regular rest period is important.

What is a brain break? It’s a pause after a learning session when the student (and the teacher) take a short break to let their brains rest.  The idea of recess in a school setting attempts to meet the same goal. But one or two breaks for recess in a school day isn’t really enough. Students will benefit from breaks that are much more frequent. Some experts say that a young child actually needs a break every 10-20 minutes. Older students and adults need a break about every half hour. That seems like a lot of time away from learning.

When your brain takes a break from the task you’ve been focusing on, it really doesn’t just quit thinking. When you change activities for even a brief time it allows your brain to continue to process the information you were just learning in a less intense way. Your brain is still working on the task but using a different method.  Some research suggests that while you are taking your short break your brain is moving the information into your memory banks so you can use that information later. The idea is that if you take in too much at a time your brain doesn’t have time to process all of the information before you lose it. So regular breaks are when your brain catches up and becomes ready for the next upload of information.

So what do you do during a brain break? There are many resources available that are full of ideas. Many suggest that the activity be physical in nature. This also helps with the students who get restless when they have to sit still for extended periods of time. Something simple like doing ten jumping jacks or some sort of simple contest such as seeing who can hold their breath the longest are possibilities. Anything that allows for a few moments to breathe and even laugh together are great moments of refreshment that help get everyone ready to go back to their lessons. These breaks don’t have to be for extended periods of time. A break that lasts one to five minutes or so is usually sufficient.

Here are some resources to help you find brain breaks that work for you and your students.