Category Archives: General Homeschooling

Autodidacticism = Joy

Ah, yes, it was that kind of a week. Kids with colds, one kid who seemed to be coming down with a tummy bug but mercifully did not, an IEP meeting, an interminable appointment at the children’s hospital, where the parking lot is under construction.

But also: a week in which good books were read, and funny pictures drawn, and a cunning turquoise case crocheted for my cell phone by an enterprising daughter.

What I love about this homeschooling life is that even the bad weeks are pretty darn good.

It’s January, and we are back in our semi-annual Ambleside groove. (Also known, hereabouts, as "high tide.") Jane is reading the books on the Year 7 list this year, and since I have read few of them myself, I’m ‘doing’ Year 7 too, and I’m loving the books and the conversation. This life is an autodidact’s dream. I’m put in mind of a story my gorgeous friend Tracey used to tell: how she wasn’t able to go to college right out of high school, and she used to pray for the opportunity to someday continue her education. Then she got married, and she had a baby, and another, and she was delighted to be able to stay home with her little ones. She and her husband decided to homeschool the kids, and the oldest daughter was halfway through first grade when it struck Tracey: that old prayer had been answered. She was reading A Child’s History of the World to her daughter and learning much that she hadn’t known before.

"That’s when it hit me," she deadpanned, telling me this story years ago: "God did let me continue my education. He just figured I needed to start over at kindergarten!"

So here I am, reading Churchill’s history of Britain with my 12 year old, discussing Caesar’s assumptions about the island he was about to invade, and I’m thinking the whole time, I am the luckiest person alive. This is not, mind you, what I was thinking when we spent 45 minutes sitting in an exam room waiting for the doctor to show up, nor during the 20 minutes after the doc’s visit when we had to wait for the nurse to write up the lab slips so that we could spend another 35 minutes sitting in the lab waiting room. Beanie is quite correct in pointing out that my attitude became something less than cheerful during those long, long, long waits. And I wasn’t even the one getting jabbed with a needle.

But the books, the lively discussions, the sketchbook drawing of a blue-and-orange house wren (Bean opts for excitement over accuracy in her nature drawings), the words that fly over yarn and flashing hooks: this is what sticks with me, this is the rich life.

California Homeschoolers Using the Private School Option: It’s Time to File Your PSA

If you homeschool in California under the private school provision, now’s the time to file your PSA (Private School Affadavit, formerly known as the R-4) online. This is the document that registers your homeschool as a private school.

This page at California Homeschool Network will walk you through the PSA step by step

Here’s the CA Dept. of Education’s link to the PSA itself. Start here to fill out your online registration. The filing deadline is October 15th. If you miss that deadline, you may submit a hard copy "Statement in Lieu." See the CA Homeschool Network link above for instructions.

After you submit the online form, print out a hard copy for your records. This will have a confirmation number on it to prove you submitted it to the state. I follow the CHN’s advice and keep a folder containing my PSA hard copy next to my front door, along with a copy of the pertinent sections of the CA Education Code. In a separate folder are the other records a private school is required to keep on file (but not required to show to public school personnel such as truant officers).

Educators’ Discount Cards for Homeschoolers

Lord knows we deserve ’em, the way we spend money on educational resources!

Barnes & Noble, as most of you probably already know, offers a 20% discount to educators, including homeschoolers. Usually you need to show some kind of proof that you’re homeschooling—in Virginia I brought in the letter the school district always sent to acknowledge receipt of my Letter of Intent. Sometimes individual employees aren’t clear on the store policy, so you might have to politely educate them. (Further qualifying you for the card, LOL!)

Jo-Ann’s Fabric has a Teacher Rewards card that homeschoolers are eligible for. I had one once, a few years ago, but I forgot to renew it. I’ll have to get right on that, what with sewing being at the top of Rose’s request list for New Things to Learn. Here’s the scoop:

Jo-Ann Stores is proud to support teachers and education in each
and every community. We are pleased to offer our exclusive Teacher
Rewards Discount Card to make purchasing supplies more convenient and

Sign up for the Teacher Rewards Discount Card to become a Preferred Customer
        by using the form below.

As a Teacher Rewards Discount Card holder and Preferred
        Jo-Ann Customer you will receive these great benefits:

  • Teacher Rewards Discount Card for 15% off your total purchase*
  • Receive advance notice of sales & special events via email
              and mail
  • Money-saving coupons
  • Inspiration for future creative projects

Your discount card will arrive in your mail within 6-8 weeks, as well
        as your sales flyer. Watch for the next available email in your mailbox
        for online and store offers and money-saving coupons.


You can apply at the link. The fine print at the bottom makes it sound like you have to be a member of PEAH, but that isn’t the case.

Homeschooling on a Shoestring has a nice list of other available educator discounts.

The Kids in Our Neighborhood Start School Tomorrow

That is just so strange to contemplate. They have really short summer breaks here, it seems to me. School didn’t let out until late June. How can summer vacation be less than two months?

Meanwhile, we’ve had such a busy summer that I’m looking forward to some post-Labor Day mellow time. It’s been a happy busy, though. Showing our Virginia pals around town last week, we felt like seasoned San Diegans. Except I can’t be that seasoned when I’m not sure of the correct term for a resident of San Diego. San Diegans? Sandy Eggs? Hmm.

I have a fun (more fun!) plan in mind for this coming year, but it was inspired by Alice and I don’t want to write about it until she has posted on the topic first. It’s going to be delightful, though, and the kids are excited…It will happen on Tuesdays, and if you know San Diego at all that gives you a hint.

And in another totally-lifted-from-Alice plan, Jane and I are starting a Shakespeare Club. We’ve assembled a small group of ten-to-twelve-year-olds and will meet weekly, or every-other-weekly, to read a play together and perhaps perform some scenes. I am really looking forward to this. It hit me with a huge shock about a year ago that my Juliet days have passed me by. In my college Shakespeare class, I wrote three papers on Romeo & Juliet, and I think I did two Juliet scenes in drama classes that same year. I always knew my Capulet day would come…but I guess I got busy. It’s okay, though, because now when I read plays with my kids I get to do all kinds of characters. I have passed the ingenue torch to my daughters. Lady MacBeth, here I come.

(Actually, I haven’t decided what play we’ll read first, but it isn’t likely to being MacBeth. Jane and I have done Julius Caesar, Midsummer Nights’ Dream, and As You Like It together. We might revisit Midsummer Night’s with the club because it worked so well for Alice’s group, and because it’s such a fun play for kids, but I need to talk to the other families first. Maybe Twelfth Night? The Tempest? Winter’s Tale? I’ll have to think about it. Scott, who thinks outside the box, is plugging Two Gentlemen of Verona.)

Radical Unschooling, Unschooling, Tidal Homeschooling, and the Wearing of Shoes that Fit

This is part of a (much) longer response to the comments on my "Lovely, Lovely Low Tide" post. I thought this part of my comment was relevant to the ongoing discussion here:

I am certainly not perfect
and I try show my warts and all on this blog. I am constantly pondering
and working with questions, and I wonder sometimes if that makes me
seem inconsistent, like people must be wondering if I’m ever going to
pick a lane! I am comfortable, though, with who I am (my favorite John
Paul II quote was, "Families, be who you are!"), and who I am is
someone who likes to mull over a wide range of ideas and see what
WORKS. For me, for us, for my kids, my husband, in our unique and
ever-changing situation.

I sometimes do feel an urge to "belong" to one school of thought or
another, to find that label that fits me perfectly. As I said in my
original Tidal Learning post, I couldn’t find the label, so I made one
up. It’s useful mainly as a way of answering people’s questions when I
meet a new homeschooler.

I have written elsewhere about how some part of me seems to stick out
of every niche I enjoy visiting (and that is probably true for most
people). I’m a pro-life Democrat, for Pete’s sake! Sort of. Ha!—I
don’t even fit THAT label across the board.

But still there is that desire to find the perfect label. There are
times I read Charlotte Mason and think: She makes so much sense! I want
to be a whole-hog CMer! And other times when I read Sandra Dodd and
think YES, I grok that, I’m an unschooler! But the reality is, I have
places where my understanding doesn’t completely line up with either CM
*or* radical unschooling. And that’s fine. I can still learn from both
schools (unschools?) of thought, and identify with aspects of each.

One area I’m keenly interested in is the balance between a rich
unschooling environment (the kind of environment & relationships
Sandra describes so vividly in her book and site) and the logistical challenges
of raising a big family, especially with my special-needs son. When
you’ve got big kids and babies in the same house, all with their own
(sometimes conflicting) needs, you’re probably going to have to make
compromises somewhere. Tia, that’s the issue you seemed to be exploring
in your post on Always Learning—-how your need for a clean, uncluttered
space seems to you a valid need that benefits the whole family, and how
you feel able to maintain that without shortchanging your children of
your time or attention. It seems like a good question to explore, but
is perhaps a bit out of context on that particular list. And I saw that
the reactions of experienced radical unschoolers there were coming out
of a sense of concern that your vision of it being possible to maintain
a tidy home while unschooling might make newbies feel like failures if
they can’t pull that off.

Probably some of the friction comes in the different definitions people
have of unschooling. I try to consistently use "radical unschooling"
when describing the lifestyle Sandra speaks of, which incorporates an
approach to parenting that believes kids grow up happier and nicer if
there aren’t constant conflicts with parents over chores, TV, and so
forth; and that the way to avoid that kind of tension is to relax
control in those and other areas.

While I find much to learn from in that vision of parenting, I cannot
say it totally lines up with mine. I’m completely on board with "say
yes as often as possible"—but I also see myself as the leader of this
crew of kids and am comfortable with the notion of parents being in authority
over their children. I don’t see authority as a bad thing or
necessarily meaning there will be friction and discontented children.

But I digress. I was saying that as I understand it, "radical
unschooling" has a specific meaning, and some discussions are not going
to be relevant in a radical unschooling context.

Just plain "unschooling" is a tricky term, because to some it means
radical unschooling, and to others it means "kids growing up without
‘doing school’ either in a schoolhouse or at home"—without necessarily
applying to *parenting* style. You’ll find, then, families who consider
themselves unschoolers but where the parents have an authoritative (not
the same as *authoritarian*, and I credit Jeanne Faulconer for writing
a post years ago that first made that distinction clear to me)
parenting style. That probably best describes how Scott and I are
raising our kids. So while I have great respect for people like Sandra
who have, by all accounts, raised some fabulous, considerate,
compassionate, respectful, nice kids according to the parenting
principles that accompany radical unschooling, I’m coming from another
perspective, one informed by my Catholicism (the only label that truly
fits me across the board), my experience, my husband’s viewpoints, and
the temperaments and needs of our specific children.

So yes, I think you can be both an authoritative parent and an
unschooler, and there are unschooling discussion lists where it might
be interesting to have that discussion, but I would naturally expect the
experienced & happy radical unschoolers to speak up with strong
arguments from their perspective. And if they all disagreed with my
opinion, I’d have to say, well, I went to the vegetarian banquet
looking for hamburger recipes!

Still, I love to hear the RU perspective, with its emphasis on JOY.
Joyful parent/child relationships, joyful person/learning
relationships, peace and delight and harmony in the home and with the
world. It’s a refreshing vision—invigorating, I think is the word I
used in my Low Tide post. Sandra’s work truly refreshes and empowers
me, and I would hate to discourage anyone from encountering it, even if
I’m not a radical unschooler myself.

One insight I had about myself during this current re-immersion in
Sandra’s website & list is that I was able to put my finger on why
our foray into pure CM method this past winter/spring fell flat after
six weeks, so that I found myself—for the first time in our
homeschooling experience—with a roomful of discontented kids.
(Discontented with our learning experiences, I mean. They have
certainly all been discontented before, like whenever I cook dinner.)

The realization that
came to me via my rethinking Sandra’s philosophy is that what was
different about our High Tide time this winter was that always before,
while we may have been taking an excursion aboard the S.S. Charlotte
Mason, I was captain of the ship, adjusting our course as needed, and
pulling into port for refreshment or exploration as my young sailors
required. This time around, I turned the ship’s wheel over to Cap’n
Mason herself—and much as I love her captain’s logs, she doesn’t know
my crew the way I do. After six weeks, they were ready to mutiny.

So I am back where I belong: comfortable in my own shoes. I’m a Tidal
Homeschooler, and it works for us, makes for fun times with my happy,
pleasant children. But it was the Radical Unschoolers who taught me
this lesson, and I will continue to enjoy learning from their
perspective— just as I learn from the pure Charlotte Mason folks and
the Real Learners and the classical-ed people and the Waldorf folks. I
really, really like to learn. So do my kids, so I’m content to "be who
we are."

As a final note, it occurred to me there might be others out there
interested in exploring this concept of Tidal Homeschooling, so I have
created a group for that purpose. I encourage you all to join me there!

Lovely, Lovely Low Tide

The first time I posted about tidal homeschooling at Bonny Glen (in January of 2006), I said,

Our family enjoys both kinds of learning—the heady adventure of the
well-planned fishing trip, with a goal and a destination in mind, and
the mellower joys of undirected discovery during weeks at the
metaphorical beach. Around here, the low-tide times happen much more
often than the high tide times, and often I find that the children
catch more fish, so to speak, when the tide is out. Beachcombing
reveals many treasures.

I was talking about unschooling v. Charlotte Mason-style learning, which, as readers of this blog know, are the two philosophies/methods of education which most resonate with me—even though they are very different philosophies.

We have been unschoolish Charlotte Mason learners, and we have been Charlotte Masonish unschoolers; I described it in that post like this:

[T]he what we do—read great books, study nature, dive deeply into history, immerse ourselves in picture study and composer study—is highly influenced by Charlotte’s writings and their modern counterparts (particularly Elizabeth Foss’s treasure of a book, Real Learning); and the how we do it—through strewing and conversation and leisurely, child-led exploration—is influenced by the writings of John Holt, Sandra Dodd,
and other advocates of unschooling. But I couldn’t say we’re "real CMers" because I don’t carry out Miss Mason’s recommendations in anything like the structured manner she prescribed; and I probably do too much behind-the-scenes nudging for us to be considered "real unschoolers."

I’d say that continues to hold true, a year and a half later. If you start looking for a definition of unschooling, you’ll find there’s a lot of disagreement between different people about what exactly unschooling is, and any definition I attempt to apply to it is simply my own take; but to my way of thinking, the term is most useful when applied to an approach toward childhood in which the parents do not "make" the children "learn stuff." The children are learning, constantly, enormously; and the parents are actively engaged in discussion and strewing and facilitating and offering new experiences, and at times classes or curricula may be a part of those experiences—but only as the child wishes.

And so, since there have been some studies I have required of my children (Latin, for example), I can’t say I’m a full-fledged unschooler. I am very, very unschooly, most of the time.

This past winter, I veered farther off the unschooling path than ever before, with our very much by-the-book Charlotte Mason term that began after the holidays. And, as I talked about here, it started off great guns, loads of fun, a very rich and animated time of formal learning—and then we hit some rather large bumps and the fun started to spill out of the cart. 

Scott’s back went out; we sold our old house; there were lots of
distractions. We stuck to our rhythm of morning read-alouds and
narrations, but last week I noticed the kids were squabbling with each
other a lot and our lesson time was turning grumpish.

(And re-reading that post, I see that a lot of what I’m writing here is a repeat of that one.)

I reassessed and saw that the year’s upheaval had tangled us up quite a bit, and I turned to my favorite Waldorf resources to help us untangle: we immersed ourselves in the soothing, homey pursuits of baking, painting, making things with yarn or clay, singing, telling stories. Our CM lessons continued but at a slower pace, and mostly for Jane. Gradually, as our spring got busy with recitals and outings, I retired the CM schedule altogether. I did this without fanfare or announcement, and the children seemed scarcely to notice: they’ve been too busy learning.

Learning about (to rattle off a few topics from the past week) the history of purple dye, the legends of Hercules, musical notes, how to make cookies without mom’s help, how to adapt a knitting pattern for crochet, measurement, air pressure (pumping up a baby pool and watching the pressure gauge), geography, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, ISBNs and book cataloging, ocean life (could be a long list itself), the joys of playing in the sea, snakes, turtles, goats, miniature horses, Lightning Lad and Superboy, writing and cracking codes—and that probably isn’t the half of it. Just today, Rose sat down to write a story, and when it was finished, she asked me to correct it ("I want it to be like a real book"), and that led to conversation about spelling rules (slam/slamming, split/splitting, reply/replied), punctuating dialogue, indenting paragraphs and when to start a new paragraph, capitalization of titles, when to capitalize "mom" and when not to, and more grammar stuff that I can’t remember.

Whenever our low-tide times come around, I laugh at myself for forgetting how true are the words I wrote above: I find that the children
catch more fish, so to speak, when the tide is out.

A week or two ago, reveling in the richness of low tide, I got in the mood to read some Sandra Dodd. Sandra’s website is one of the best educational resources on the ‘net. She has been collecting wisdom from experienced unschoolers (including herself) for over ten years, and her site is a vast (really, I’m not using the word carelessly—there must be a hundred? pages there, at least)* repository of quotes and anecdotes to inspire and edify anyone who is interested in how people learn. Be careful; you’ll lose yourself there for hours.

But you’ll find yourself, too. Sandra always makes me think. She can be challenging, in the sense of ‘one who challenges you to examine your assumptions.’ I’ve lurked on her email lists on and off over the years (and not always lurking; I used to participate in the discussion, two or three younguns ago), and I sometimes found her almost painfully blunt. But now, ten years into my own home education journey, I think I understand why she doesn’t mince words in conversation with other homeschooling/ unschooling parents. She doesn’t want them to lose precious time to friction and tension. She wants there to be joy and delightful connectedness between parents and children, always and as soon as possible.

I don’t necessarily agree with her on every topic, but I appreciate the way she gets me questioning, pushing, pondering, learning. I like her emphasis on saying yes as often as possible. That one simple idea can effect HUGE changes in your relationship with your kids. Sometimes I get so busy, so caught up in the logistics of managing this busy household, that I drift into scolding mode. Ugh. Sandra’s work reminds me not to scold, but rather to listen, and to smile, and instead of barking out a kneejerk "No" to the child who proposes something, to ask myself "Why not?"

A small example. On Sunday after Mass, the three older girls and I were standing on the sidewalk outside church, waiting for Scott to pick us up. There are two entrances to the church parking lot, and I had positioned myself at the corner of a traffic lane in the lot, so that I could see both entrances. I didn’t know which way he’d come in. The girls wanted to cross to the other side of the lane. I didn’t want to, because then I would only be able to watch one of the entrances.

A month ago, all wrapped up in my brisk busy-ness, I might have simply said no—offering no explanation.

A week ago, with my renewed focus on saying yes and, well, being nice (the busy me is not always the nice me), I might have said, "Sorry, gang; if we cross over there, we won’t be able to see Daddy coming."

A day ago, with my wits sharpened and my desire to be connected and happy with my children renewed by an immersion in unschooling belief, I asked myself, "Why shouldn’t they cross the lane? I can stay here and watch for Scott. Anyway, even if I don’t stand here, it’s not like he won’t find us. It’s not a big place. Why do I need to watch for him at all? What was I thinking? Or rather, why wasn’t I thinking?"

So I said, "Sure!"

And guess what? Scott found us just fine.

Oooh, that pesky auto-response! It is so easy for a mother’s default setting to be NO. But truly, so unnecessary too.

About the same time I went poking around Sandra’s site, I treated myself to a copy of her book, Moving a Puddle, which is a collection of essays she wrote for homeschooling publications, message boards, and other places. I’d read some of them before, but many of them were new to me and it’s nice to have them all in a book I can curl up with or tuck in my bag. I got halfway through the book and had found so much I wanted to talk about that I simply had to order a copy for my pal Eileen in Virginia, Wonderboy’s godmother and my crony in unschooly Charlotte Masonishness. (Or is that Charlotte Masony unschoolishness?) She received it a few days ago and we’ve racked up quite the tasty phone bill, discussing and enthusing every day since she opened the package.

I feel downright invigorated, and I didn’t even know I needed invigorating.

Of course this begs the question: if low tide is so fabulous, why not stay there forever? Why have high-tide times at all? That’s the question I am continually examining (see this post: Accidental v. On-Purpose Learning), and will be pondering again this summer.

*Turns out there are over FIVE hundred pages at Sandra’s site, and that’s just the unschooling arm of it; she’s got other sections, too. 500! I told you it was vast!

But Don’t Just Take My Word for It

The lovely Karen E. mentioned in the comments that my last couple of posts tie in nicely with what super-cool Theresa of Lapaz Farm has been talking about: What makes a good day of learning?

Karen explored the question in posts here and here. She also points us toward Willa’s part of the conversation.

I’ve been so immersed in my Waldorf books this week as prep for this series of posts that I haven’t had any time to read blogs all week, and now I see what I’ve been missing. I love this passage by Willa:

There will be slow days, thorny days, miraculous days. But if you are
there, they will be good days. They will balance themselves out in the
long run. You will see what needs to be done, and do it.

is an art more than a science. Knowledge helps make the art better, but
it is not the art itself. The art is in actually living like a
homeschooler, in season and out, trying to do your best but keeping an
openness to the not so good days. Learning from them but not letting
them ruin what you ARE doing.

That’s just what I was getting at yesterday with my lists of what we did and didn’t do in the course of the day. Charlotte Mason talked about narration as a technique for discovering what a student actually knows about a subject, as opposed to various testing strategies that in effect show what the student doesn’t know. She wasn’t writing from a self-esteem-boosting, "focus on the positive" standpoint; she talks about the subject in a very pragmatic manner, suggesting that the positive information (what the student knows) is far more useful for both student and teacher than a paper full of wrong answers, because in looking at what the student remembers about a subject well enough to narrate it, we see how the student connects with the knowledge, forms a relationship with it.

I think the principle applies perfectly to how a homeschooling mother might assess the "success" of a day of learning. It’s all too easy to get hung up on the deficits, the weaknesses, the miles yet to go. But that information is really only useful insofar as it relates to the somewhat arbitrary timetables slapped on skill sets and knowledge categories by external parties.

More useful, in my opinion, is a good look at what the children do know, what they have connected with, because this view gives me the opportunity to strew the path with books or experiences that might expand the connection even further.

I think this also keeps me looking at who my children really are instead of viewing them as sort of shadowy figures behind a superimposed amalgam of the accomplishments, habits, and knowledge I would like them to possess.

On the topic of rhythm, Jeanne Faulconer has shared an excellent article she published in the Virginia Home Education Association newsletter a while back.

Despite not being able to figure it all out, I continue to try to hit any homeschooling challenges with my rhythm hammer. A lot of times, it works. I can attempt to organize our time with attention to rhythm, and I can counsel myself to be patient with a child who learns in a "two-steps-forward, one-step-back" rhythm. And when the cobwebs mount in our brains I can walk my boys down to the river to catch crayfish and skip rocks. Even if I ultimately have to use another tool to resolve a particular homeschooling challenge, considering rhythm gives me insight and helps me generate alternatives and potential solutions.


My Head Is Going to Explode

So I’m in the middle of writing all these reviews—actually, reflections is a much better word—about Donna Simmons’s audio downloads, plus I’ve got other posts in my head springing from points addressed in earlier posts and comments this week, and each paragraph wants to blossom out into its own entire post, because there is So Much to Talk About. I realized I’ve had a lot of this discussion on a simmer for the past six months or more, but what with the move and all, I haven’t had time to dive into it.

Time, time, time, it always comes down to that.

Anyway, while I’m working on my reflections and whatnot (see, I don’t even have time to find sensible words), I thought I’d throw out a question for discussion. What’s your preference (or your children’s preference, and the answer may differ by child):

• total-immersion learning, where you dive deep into one subject and sort of live and breathe it through different media & activities for a good long chunk of time (methods like Waldorf, unit studies, rabbit trailing come to mind, as well as the natural tendencies of life in many unschooling households)

• slow-and-steady progression through particular books, in several subjects simultaneously (a la Charlotte Mason, classical ed, most school programs, etc)

or (as we do here)

• a combination of the two, shifting methods over time according to seasons, life changes, or kids’ needs?

Tawk amongst yaselves.

Tweak Tweak

The nice thing about what I call "tidal homeschooling" is that it keeps the pressure off me. By now, I have learned that our family’s life seldom maintains a consistent rhythm longer than, say, four to six weeks. I have learned to enjoy the ebb and flow, the seasonal change. When monkeys toss their fabled wrenches into our works, as those naughty little monkeys are wont to do, I know it’s time to do a little tweaking.

Our "high tide" Charlotte Mason term chugged along nicely during February, but this month we went a bit off kilter. Scott’s back went out; we sold our old house; there were lots of distractions. We stuck to our rhythm of morning read-alouds and narrations, but last week I noticed the kids were squabbling with each other a lot and our lesson time was turning grumpish. That is always, always, a cue for me to shift gears. (And mix metaphors. Good heavens, I am haphazard with the metaphors today. Metaphor soup!)

I’ve mentioned before that my introduction to the idea of homeschooling was through the writings of John Holt and Sandra Dodd. Sandra is the guru of radical unschooling, and though I don’t agree with her take on everything, I have learned a great deal from her writings. Jane was a babe in arms when I began to ponder Sandra’s ideas about children learning naturally, through life experience, apart from school; and truth be told, it was Sandra who sold me on the lifestyle, way back when I was lurking on the homeschooling boards at AOL.

Now you know that while I have a big streak of unschoolishness in me, I’m not an unschooler per se; the Charlotte Mason method, applied according to her principles, is not unschooling. But Charlotte, too, envisioned the kind of happy and eager childhood that you hear about in the writings of the unschoolers. And that’s my main answer to the question, "Why do you homeschool your kids?" I say, "Because I think it’s a way to give kids a great education and a joyful childhood."

During our low-tide times, which occupy the larger portion of the year, we are like unschoolers. We live and play; we take care of our home together, the children and I; we have adventures and read lots of great books.

During our high-tide times, we keep doing all of the above, but I’m the one picking out the books, and I have the kids narrate a lot of the reading back to me, and we work more deliberately on mastering skills that take practice, like piano and math and Latin.

After the big adventure of moving to California, quickly followed by the big adventure that is Christmas, all of us were ready for some structure, some predictability. Hence our current lineup of studies a la Miss Mason. And as I said, our "term" (the term amuses us, ba dum bum) got off to a terrific start. Last week, when the fun started to fizzle, I gave some thought to what might need tweaking.

The first question I always ask myself when I’m assessing our family rhythm is "What would we be doing if we weren’t doing this?" If, for example, we weren’t spending three mornings a week reading and narrating, how would we spend them? We already have activities the kids love which take us out of the house twice a week, sometimes more; plus I’ve tried to be good about making spontaneous outings to the zoo or the park, exploring this vast new land we’ve moved to. I find that an important ingredient for family harmony is having plenty of mellow time at home. I am not, therefore, inclined to add any more activities to the mix right now.

Home time, then. The kids want to do more painting. Check. I can make that happen. They want to do more baking, and Easter is around the corner…Check. Jane has a flat of herb seedlings going, and all of us are in the mood to do some gardening ("all of us" as in the entire Northern hemisphere), so: Check.

Thus far in my ponderings, I have found nothing that really requires a tweak. We can do all those things any afternoon of the week; I just need to remember to DO them. (Check.)

But the grumpishness of the last week or so, that’s got to go. That’s where the tweaking comes in. What jumped out at me when I gave some thought to the question was that it has everything to do with the challenge of keeping five small people happy at once. (Make that four small people and one medium-sized person; Jane is really getting to be such a big kid.)

I decided I was trying to do too much all together. After traveling in a pack (both literally and figuratively) for the past nine months, my kids are ready for some one-on-one time with me. This can be as simple as making sure Beanie gets to help me wash dishes, or Jane gets me for a few screens of Absurd Math, her favorite online pastime. Rose wants to stretch out on my bed and chatter; she is my most introverted child, and I think she soaks up a lot of observations during the big group activities and wants my ear in which to pour them later on.

This morning I gave Rose a stack of books and helped her set up camp on my bed. She beamed. While Jane read a picture book to Beanie, I spent some one-on-one with Rose. Then I grabbed Bean for some cozy couch time, and we rediscovered Eric Carle’s Animals Animals together. Jane went off to her favorite corner of the craft room and read the books I’d given her; later she came back and narrated to me while I changed a few diapers, nursed the baby, unloaded the dishwasher. It was a good morning. The house is a mess but our moods are tweaky clean.   

I’m Too Busy NOT to Homeschool

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you’re interested in homeschooling but worry that it would be too time-consuming and you couldn’t juggle everything, don’t be. Worried, I mean. If you can handle the time commitments required of a good, involved school parent, you can handle the time commitment of home education. Don’t let worries about time be what deters you, if everything else about the concept is appealing.

This morning I had to get Wonderboy out the door by 7:20 for his half-hour speech therapy session at the elementary school down the road. As I hustled him out of his jammies and rushed him through breakfast, I silently thanked "the Johns"—that’s Mr. Holt and Mr. Gatto—for the zillionth time for hepping me to the whole notion of a way of life that doesn’t require the frantic morning rush-out-the-door on a daily basis. I cherish our relaxed mornings: the pile-in-one-bed snuggle time, the lounging in pajamas with a book at the breakfast table, the impromptu piano recitals, the leisurely pace at which we move through our morning chores. Our Charlotte Mason lesson time begins around nine. Nine-ish. The schedule is fluid. It’s a luxury, and I am deeply grateful for it.

Of course speech therapy is going to muck that up a bit twice a week, but only for two of us. The advantage to having an early session is that we can squeeze it in before Scott leaves for work. The girls can stay home with Daddy, moving at their usual molasses relaxed pace.

Once, back in Virginia, a local newspaper reporter interviewed a bunch of us homeschooling moms at a park. She asked me why I had chosen to educate my children myself, and I gave what I hoped was a succinct but illuminating explanation of our belief that we can give them an outstanding education and a happy, wholesome childhood. Later I made a silly quip about how "also, it means we get to sleep in every day" (which wasn’t even true, since Wonderboy was about three months old at the time, and sleep=ha!), and wouldn’t you know that’s the quote that made it into the article. All my neighbors got to read about how the reason I homeschool my kids is so I can sleep late. And actually I think that notion made homeschooling look attractive to some of them for the first time, so go figure.

Being a good school parent takes a lot of time. Packing lunches, getting the kids to school or to the bus stop, checking backpacks, signing off on reading logs, volunteering in the classroom and at fundraisers, going to conferences, making costumes, helping with homework, running out for supplies for that project that’s due tomorrow—I know the list goes on. I have lots of friends whose kids are in school, and I am mightily impressed with how they juggle the many tasks required of them. And I’m super-thankful I don’t have to juggle that load myself. Honestly, I don’t know they do it!