Thursday, August 27, 2015

The "I could never do that" Challenge

One of the phrases I hear most often when I tell people my kids homeschool is, "Oh, I could never do that!" Why? Because it's hard? What isn't hard about raising children? I never thought I would get them past potty training. I didn't think I would ever be able to arrive anywhere on time without allowing an extra hour per child. I thought I would spend my life trying to figure out why one of my kids was upset. Wait. I still have days like that.

I grew up with chronic asthma. I spent most of my childhood hearing others--and sometimes my own body---tell me what I could not do. It was frustrating for me to think of all the things I was told I could never do. It became my mission to prove what I could do. I could have pets. I could walk long distances. I could be strong. I could have a baby using natural childbirth. I could have a second in a birth center. I could have another at home.

My defense mechanism is to not think too hard about anything. I find it's much easier to rise up to a challenge if I don't over-analyze it. I don't think about long term issues. If your child is going to be a first grader, you should concern yourself with first grade, and not worry about how you will handle high school or whether your child will be accepted into college. It's true that you will look back some day and wonder at how fast it went by, but when you are in the midst of it, homeschooling works better if you think about it year to year, term to term, week to week, or even day to day. It's a cumulative effect. 

I don't know how much time I have with my kids. I do know that their childhood is not forever. And things happen in life. I have known wonderful homeschoolers who passed away too soon. Our own life situation changed dramatically last year when my husband lost his job of 19 years and I had to take on a part time job at the library. Luckily, I love what I do and consider it an extension of my homeschooling experience. And still I homeschool my youngest. Mostly because I am stubborn and don't give up easily, but also because I want my kids to see that I am willing to rise up to the challenge. If I can do it, so can they. 

Think of when you use the words "I can never do that," and challenge yourself to try.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Carnival of Homeschooling: It's the Journey Edition

Some of my favorite moments spent learning with my kids have been during walks at parks and nature preserves. There is something about walking under the trees and along the trails that brings out the best in us. I think it's the fact that every step is important. Even if you run, you need to run carefully to avoid stumbling. You need to pay attention so you don't walk off the trail and get lost. You need to be present to each moment. You need to appreciate the journey.

Welcome to the Carnival of Homeschooling: 
It's the Journey edition!

Getting Started
You need to make sure you are prepared for your hike. Essentials like proper attire, insect repellent, water, snacks, and a charged phone help you enjoy the journey and anything that comes your way. Just like Fried Clams and Sweet Tea prepared their children to be good readers with 5 Tips for Raising Readers

I used to keep a supply of snacks handy in the car, since I never knew when we might walk and buying food on the run can be more expensive than planning ahead and buying on sale. The Open Window - An Autism Blog knows that this is a good time of year to buy School Supplies.

When you start homeschooling, you also need essentials, and a great place to start is free resources. Every Bed of Roses shares Homeschool 4 FREE Resource Lists (Homeschooling Essentials).

Here are more essentials for your journey. Homemaking Organized offers some free Long Division Math Help Printables

And more. Embark on the Journey offers a FREE Frozen Printable and Activities and Wizard of Oz Read Aloud Activities and FREE Printable.

Do you see a pattern here? I go to parks that don't cost money. Just because I can't afford the extra expense doesn't mean we have to stay away from an activity we love. This Sweet Life of Mine believes that no matter your homeschool budget, homeschooling does not have to be expensive.You don't have to think I Can't Homeschool Because...I Can't Afford It. This Sweet Life of Mine also offers Ten Free Sites I Use in My Homeschool and 50+ Upper Elementary Writing Prompts for your favorite young writer.

And for more on the subject, Raventhreads writes about Keeping Your Homeschool Budget in Check.

When you are ready for anything, you can enjoy the journey no matter what happens along the way. Counting Our Blessings shares How to Homeschool when Life Happens.

Grab a Map

Maps help you plan out your trip. Good planning makes for a smoother journey with less surprises. Online resource lists help you navigate through the sea of websites available. Let's Play Math! offers New Internet Math Reference Pages.
We once got lost on the trails because I didn't stop to take a map on the way in. Luckily, I had my phone. Being able to reach support is important. Every Bed of Roses knows how important a Support Network can be and what to do in an emergency: Day 4 - Homeschooling in a Crisis
Walking the Trail
There are so many paths to take. It seems impossible to choose. I can honestly say that no matter which way we go, we will see something interesting. It is impossible to waste your time if you decide you will benefit from the journey. As He Leads is Joy decides I Am Willing to Waste my Time teaching things that might be considered a waste of time. 

Every path is different. Some are winding, some straight, some challenging and steep. Finding the best route for you is important. Gypsy Road gives and overview of different homeschooling styles in A Homeschool Story -- Stylistic Approaches.

My two oldest have walked in other countries. What if you hiked a trail in another country?  Use your imagination. Or a unit study! Petticoat Government discusses Learning about Lithuania.

Always remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. You have to start somewhere. ElCloud Homeschool offers help to beginners in I'm Thinking About Homeschooling. Where Do I Start?

How long should your hike be? You might want to figure that out based on who's taking the journey. Embark on the Journey answers the question How Long is a Typical Homeschool Day?

Watch out for Hazards!
In our favorite preserve, there are fens, poison ivy, brambles, and fallen trees; there are mosquitoes and ticks; there have been sightings of coyotes, bobcats, and rattlesnakes. You need to be aware of your surroundings.Sometimes awareness comes in seeing yourself in your children. MathFour discusses Smurfy Student Traits You See in Yourself.

Our park rangers are awesome. They have taught us everything from how to do a tick check to identifying poison ivy. It helps to get tips from someone with more experience in navigating the hazards. Gypsy Road offers tips & tricks for Getting Started with Road Schooling. Gypsy Road also provides a master list of all the Unit Studies, many travel & geography-based, created for their home school.

Being able to communicate clearly helps improve our safety along the trail. Gypsy Road offers this third part in a series of Speech Therapy Resources for Homeschoolers.

Discoveries along the Way
One of the nice things about hiking together is that you also notice things together, like dragonflies along the boardwalk. In nature class walks, we learned things like mushroom identification together. Fried Clams and Sweet Tea learns algebra together with her kids in Algebra 1/2...Or How I do Middle School Math.

It's always exciting when a child makes a discovery. You can see their eyes light up with wonder! Our Curious Home share their daughter's excitement when making An Arithmetic Breakthrough.

While we're making discoveries, it might be time for a snack! Let's Play Math discusses 

My kids used to pick up rocks whenever we went for a walk. Rocks are great for science activities. They can be identified, sorted, cracked open, and tested for hardness. Years later they can still identify many rocks. Hands-on learning stays with you longer. Some Call it Natural shares her children's learning in an office environment in 5 Days of Office Schooling-Day 5-Life Skills are Important.

When my oldest was 8, she compared a hike to the dwarves crossing the Misty Mountains. Don't you love it when they can relate to something they read? Reading aloud is a great way to ignite that love of reading. The Arrowood Zoo shares Our Read Aloud Favorites.

You can never have enough to read! Here are more book favorites from Solagratiamom's post Summer Tea and Books. Solagratiamom also offers Tea for Tuesdays! and Three Keys to Tutoring Success.

Just as a love of nature can expand into a love of the natural sciences, a love of reading can expand into a love of history using historical fiction. Embark on the Journey offers a list of suggestions for Historical Fiction for Elementary Ages.

Pacing Yourself
If the trail you pick isn't working, It's perfectly OK turn off onto a path that is gentler or more challenging. Journey-and-Destination writes about their experience  with Ambleside Online and how they adjusted it for their children's needs when Coming Late to Ambleside Online - some thoughts on the high school years.

It's also OK to take a break. When everyone is burnt out, you need time to recharge, before things get overwhelming (that's what the snacks are for). Then you take things one step at a time. The Arrowood Zoo wonders about the Homeschool Battle, "Surely I can't be the only one who seems to have these situations and moods come up that hurt my homeschooling soul."

This Sweet Life of Mine is also battle scarred, and shares some advice in Don't Give Up On Homeschooling, Mama.  

Children may also lead us in directions we didn't expect. Why Homeschool's youngest daughter shares A homeschooler trying out a private school.

Sometimes our favorite trail gets flooded and we need to go a different way. Your walk will not always be how you envision it. Being flexible and willing to change your path can help you enjoy the journey. Counting Our Blessings shares Why We Choose Year-Round Homeschooling.

Enjoying the View
If you don't stop and look around every once in a while, you miss a lot. When we reach the top of the old quarry we look back to see how far we've come. Fried Clams and Sweet Tea looks back on a very full Day in the Life of Middle School.

Stopping for a moment gives me the chance to reflect on what I accomplishedOur Journey reflects on her first three years of homeschooling and ponders If I Could Tell My Beginning Homeschooler Self Something...

How I see the view will be different from someone else's view. Another reflection on the journey from Faith Hope and Homeschool offers What I Have Learned: Homeschool Edition
Stopping every now and then also allows you to catch your breath. Every Bed of Roses discusses homeschool burnout in this important post: Mother Culture - Time Out (Homeschooling Essentials)

Family, Faith, and Fridays found a different way to take a break, using Sabbath Week Schooling

On a clear day, the view is breathtaking. I like bringing our camera to capture it, but sometimes I forget. On those days, I describe the view for my friends. ElCloud Homeschool describes What does homeschooling look like? Then and now.

I love it when I see my kids enjoy the natural world as much as I do. Nature inspires us all and reflects in our art and crafts. The Arrowood Zoo shares the results of her family's  Beautiful Sunburst Art Project. They also did this Line Art Project - Easy & Fun.

Finishing the Journey

As you reach the last part of your hike, you may feel unsure of yourself. Perhaps you took an unknown trail and don't know when it will reach the end. All you can do is hold tight to your map and phone and trust that the end is almost in sight. Likewise for the home educator, the high school years can seem intimidating and impossible to finish. ElCloud Homeschool offers her experiences with Homeschooling High School: Planning for High School.

You may reach the end of the trail tired, dirty, and sweaty, but you are always energized by the experience. You've come a long way, and you did it! ElCloud Homeschool celebrates ElCloud Graduation 2015: Take Two!

This concludes the Carnival of Homeschooling for July! Thank you to Why Homeschool for continuing it and to all of the bloggers who submitted posts this month. You are all awesome! If you want to join in the fun, consider submitting a post in next month's carnival

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Homeschooling Bloggers: I'm hosting the next Carnival of Homeschooling!

This is a note that I am hosting the next Carnival of Homeschooling here on Home Spun Juggling. Please help me make the July Carnival a successful one!

You can send in up to three posts about homeschooling via either of these methods:

 1) You can send an email to:
 Please include:

  Title of Post(s)
  URL of Post(s)
  Name of Blog
  URL of Blog
  Brief summary of the post(s)

 2) Or use this Google Doc:

 Please send in the entries by July 13th, at 6:00 PM PST.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Thoughts on the Village and the Child

There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child.

This got me thinking.... (a dangerous pastime, I know)

In our society, it certainly seems to take a village to raise a child. From the moment of birth (conception, really) we have industries devoted to the care and keeping of the child. Without even considering the obvious ones, like prenatal care, daycare, and schools, think about the many ways our children are influenced by their village. Childproof devices, television shows and videos geared toward the youngest, toys, books, more toys, clothing, electronics, youth sports, dance classes, etc. all court the child and parents with promises of creating a superyouth who is smarter, stronger, and more stylish than his or her peers.

I think of all that has risen up from schools. Learning centers, curricula, textbooks, teaching supplies, and tests are all offered by separate companies to supplement the child's education. Stores have Back-to-School sales now before classes end in the spring.

Then there is government. How many laws do we create because it's "for the kids?" How much money do we hand over to educational systems "for the kids?" Is there anything we wouldn't do "for the kids?"

It appears to me that it takes a child to raise a village.

I, myself, have always benefited from kids. I entertained at children's parties and events. I worked as a teacher's aide in public schools. I taught circus arts at afterschool and summer camp programs. Even now, I benefit by working in a children's library.

I wonder how our village would survive without the child? Because I think the child would survive fine without all of the attention.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Homeschooling Blog Carnival at Dewey's Treehouse

The latest Carnival of Homeschooling: The Retirement Edition is now up at Dewey's Treehouse. Please click over to the carnival and read some interesting submissions from homeschooling bloggers around the world!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Reading Outside the Books

What are you reading?

It doesn't sound like a complicated question. Every quarter -- for 17 years now -- I list the books currently read by my homeschooled children. Kids read books. It's not that difficult. Is it?

My youngest made me rethink a lot of my assumptions about learning. Ever the rebel, she balked at my traditional methods to teach her to read. She learned by playing a word heavy computer game. Her brother and sister would read the instructions and story to her and she eventually just started reading.

She is also a natural speller and has excellent penmanship, two things I thought were truly teachable. My son taught me otherwise. No amount of writing helped. It frustrated him. Do you know what happens when you are stressed and try to write? You're handwriting and spelling get worse.

Considering my experiences, it was not a surprise I had to rethink what it means to read. I couldn't write down all of those wonderful classics I had written on my oldest daughter's reports. I couldn't even write down the classics adapted to graphic novels that I had for my son. My youngest enjoys manga and anime.

For those who need the lesson, manga and anime are simply the terms used for Japanese comics and animation. It's a wide ranging field full of the genres you would expect in our own Western culture -- school based fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, sports, etc. -- but you get this from a culturally different perspective. You also read manga (if the publisher stays true to the art) from right to left and if you watch the anime in the original Japanese, you get subtitles. Lots and lots of subtitles.

From watching anime with my daughters, I know they both read very fast. Because I don't and I often need to ask what was said. My youngest is picky about what she watches. The story needs to be good and it needs to be funny or she moves on to something else.

So what is my daughter reading? How do I express that to an educational engine that has reduced reading to the sum of its parts? Because reading isn't about levels and requirements and keeping track of minutes. It's about reading what interests you, even if the words don't happen to fall neatly on a page.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Cake Season 2015

My annual cake baking marathon was a real challenge this year. The pulls from a work schedule, my youngest's volunteer schedule, and my son's intern schedule meant that if I wasn't baking or decorating, I was in the car trying to get somewhere. May was a monster, and I think that reflects in some of the month's cakes.

We start a few days before May with my dad's birthday. He had a milestone 75th birthday, so I wanted to celebrate with a special cake for him. It's my faithful chocolate buttermilk cake recipe with a buttercream frosting. I couldn't find the frosting recipe I usually work with, so I used one from the Fannie Farmer cookbook. I thought it was ridiculously sweet, so I don't think I'll use it again, but it worked with the lightly sweet chocolate cake.

Guitar cake

It's supposed to be a Spanish cuatro, but it ended up as a regular guitar. I need to get a better set of decorating tips for my pastry bag. And yes, I know the hole is too low. The first cake of the season tends to have these issues with detail. You can't tell from this photo, but the adjustment knobs are chocolate chips.

The second cake was for my anime/manga loving youngest. She wanted Kyubey. Kyubey is from Madoka Magica Puella Magi, the Magical Girls series. SPOILERS: Kyubey is a bad creature. The cake was buttermilk chocolate, but this time I opted for a whipped cream frosting. I sawed off pieces of ice cream cones to form the neck and ears, used chocolate covered pretzels for the rings and strawberry slices for the eyes. The mouth is just melted chocolate drawn on with a pastry bag. The separate cupcake was to give a place for the candles. Thirteen this year.

Kyubey cake back
Kyubey cake front

The third cake was an octopus for my oldest daughter. It nearly destroyed me. The velvet cake recipe I used usually is reliable. This time the cake came out fluffier and ended up breaking when I took it out of the pan. I originally tried to make a creamy chocolate frosting, but it never set. It looked like an octopus that got caught in an oil slick and died a horrible death. There were tears the night before her birthday. I went to bed exhausted and got up early for work the next morning. Home from work, I set out to fix my mess.

Octopus cake

Several applications of chocolate whipped cream frosting later and it looked much better. The tentacles are all spiral slices of cake and the anemones were cake donuts filled with whipped cream. The eyes are chocolate chips. The original frosting never solidified completely, but instead formed a fudgy layer that made this one of the best tasting cakes I will never make again.

The last cake of the season was for my son. He wanted a Cthulu carrot cake. I did the head and shoulders. Cthulu is a monster from H.P. Lovecraft. My theory about the monster cakes is that my kids feel less guilty about cutting into them. When my son was younger, he would leave the room when an adorable innocent cake needed to be sliced. The carrot cake recipe was from a kids' baking set. I quadrupled it to allow for the fact that I wasn't using mini cake pans. I used my own eyeball-the-ingredients cream cheese frosting, first spreading a white layer and then tinting it green. The eyes are strawberry slices, the wings are sugar cones, and the tentacles are carrot peelings and frosting.

In spite of a challenging, extra busy month, I think the cakes turned out well. And every one of them was delicious. For me, that is the most important part of baking homemade cakes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Swimming Upstream: Thoughts on Testing

I didn't plan to test my daughter the week before schools started testing, it just happened that way.

Today's paper gave stats on how many students opted out this year. I'm proud of the parents who are standing up for their children. It's hard to swim against the current, but sometimes it is the only way to effect change.

I don't have the luxury of opting out. Testing is part of the requirements for homeschooling in our state. Since I'm already swimming upstream, I would rather save my energy for more important things. We stumble through a week of testing each year and in return we have the freedom to not test her for the rest of the year.

This year, our test changed to align with goals of the Common Core. We don't have the benefit of the curriculum that goes along with the test, we wouldn't follow it anyway, so any prep must be crammed into the week or two before the test is administered. It's annoying, but nothing we haven't dealt with before. I'm learning to take deep breaths to deal with my own anxieties over these tests and try to remember that the test is a tool. It helps to identify where she is strong and where she not. That is the point of it.I try not to worry about topics we haven't covered, because we are not learning on the same schedule as children in school. She is not behind, we are on a completely different clock.

I already knew she was good at reading and language arts, but I learned that my daughter is also really good at word problems. If every math question were a word problem, she probably wouldn't stress about math at all. Unfortunately, the same doesn't hold true for straightforward calculations. I was like that. Carefully figuring each sum to assure myself I had the correct answer slowed me down. I never figured out the beauty of patterns in math because I was too intimidated by numbers and trying to count out the right answer. I could never finish all of the problems in the allotted time. I thought math was a race I couldn't win. It made me hate math.

Our society looks at testing backwards. We worry about our children doing well instead of their well being. A test should help teachers and parents to identify areas to improve and determine whether they are ready for the next level. If we tell them that passing is all that matters, as if they are winning a game, they learn that passing is all that is valued, not learning. Is it any wonder that cheating and risk taking is on the rise? When are we, as a society, going to learn that the answer to education reform is not found if we keep looking for it in the same places--an extended school year, more homework,  a high score on a multiple choice test? You don't find change when you swim in circles.

I think educating your own or opting out is where true reform lies. Filling in bubbles leaves you without air. It's hard to swim that way.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Time of Sparkles on Dirty Snow

The snow is melting here. Finally. We can see the front yard again and we pulled out some of the Christmas decorations that had frozen into the ground in January. Birds are pairing off, crocuses are pushing their green blades through the mulch, and our first flowers, winter aconite, are blooming. In spite of a few hiccups of late-season snow and unstable temperatures, spring most assuredly has arrived.

Watching the dirty piles of slush and snow seems cleansing. Have you ever looked closely at those melting patches? They are more than just tired hills of dirt-peppered ice. On a sunny day, the light hits it and sets it all aglitter. In spite of all, it is beautiful, and then it's gone. It disappears into the soil and the earth prepares to reward our patience with growth. Soon the yard will be full of green and flowers.

Homeschooling is like that, don't you think? If you looked at our house on an average day at the height of our homeschooling years, it was full of piles of books, paper, crafts, toys, and games. The swirl of activity left a mess in its wake. The clean-up seemed endless. The detritus of our unusual life filled our home. Now that it is melting away with two grown children, I stop and notice those sparkles as we advance into a new phase of life. I appreciate the close knit relationship of my children. I enjoy listening to their conversations, their aspirations. I try to help them where I can as they reach for their goals. As childhood recedes like a mound of snow at the end of winter, I notice the glitter of their personalities, their dreams, their hopes for the future. We see it up close for this brief period before they set out on their own to have adventures and begin their adult lives.

Don't forget to look for those sparkles on dirty snow.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


My camera died last December. The last place I used it was the train show, and after that it stopped focusing. All I could see was a blur, and then nothing.

I try to use my daughter's camera every once in a while, but I'm impatient with it. It feels like I'm using someone else's glasses. I can't "see" anything the way I could with mine. It has no manual focus, and possibly no sport setting either. I used the sport setting on my camera to photograph bugs. Of course, I haven't seen a bug since winter set in, with our frigid temperatures, but I like to be prepared. It was also good for fast moving birds. I watch them, longing to capture their image.

To have a camera is to focus on one thing at a time. To see my subject as I might not if I look at the full scene. To see that one detail that makes me gasp when I open the photo files: the stretched wing of a bird, the delicate scales on our small lizards, the light and shadows playing across the cat's fur, the concentration in a child's face. To focus is to learn, to appreciate, to wonder, to love. My camera deepened my understanding of these things as much as sketching did.

I miss my camera. It served me well for (almost? over?) ten years and survived several drops from various heights over those years. It is likely it lived on borrowed time. My husband wants to replace it eventually, possibly with something "better," something different. I'm trying to come to terms with that. Anything different means relearning how to use a camera. I know I'm going to be unforgiving and compare it to my old one, but I will try to focus on the positive.

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