High School Progress Report: A Change of Paths

Nearly a year ago, I shared details about the alternative high school plan I'd tentatively mapped out for the girls. And for several months afterward, I diligently wrestled with various ideas for implementing that rather overwhelming scheme, including hours spent parsing through the hundreds of possible activities listed in the program's first few units, hoping to pare things down to "just" several dozen options that would be more manageable for us all.

But I'd also picked up an old copy of an old book - Senior High: A Home-Designed Form+U+La by Barbara Shelton - at a used book sale in early June. I started pouring through it immediately and, frankly, I couldn't put it down. In some ways, Shelton's ideas mirrored what I'd had in mind with the unit study program, but reading her thoughts about delight-directed, self-directed high school planted seeds of doubt in my mind about my original plans. The girls and I still tried my "pared down" arrangement of the unit study during our "high school preview" in October and November, but I quickly realized that trying to implement it as written would be just as constricting as any sort of traditional (i.e., school-style) plan - and much more cumbersome and stressful. In a nutshell, none of us felt motivated to continuously juggle all the academic balls we would had to have kept in play with that program. Overall, Shelton's thoughts made much more sense.
This revelation struck me very clearly when - as I presented the girls with lists of ideas from Far Above Rubies (FAR) along with some other options I'd collected over the years - they both gravitated to the non-FAR material. In other words, given a choice, they were both drawn toward using engaging whole-book sources rather than to the notion of continuously picking from among the somewhat random FAR activities. And, of course, I was happy to oblige because I want them to be interested and self-directed.

So, using what we learned during our dry-run in the fall, we officially began "high school" on January 4, utilizing what might be called a "guided, delight-directed" approach. Practically speaking, that means we talked about what it would mean to earn a "credit" (i.e., finishing a whole math book, for example, or completing roughly 140 hours of study in a certain content area), and - even though my husband and I are not hamstringing the girls with a "college-prep" program for a variety of reasons - I provided some general guidance about what sorts of credits are typically expected on a transcript (i.e., four "English" credits). Armed with that information and an array of possible resources, each of the girls chose the material she wanted to use to begin working toward some of the credits.
But, in keeping with Shelton's ideas and my own conviction that "grade level" is a ridiculous, meaningless construct of institutional schooling, we're not concerned about finishing particular "classes" during "freshman year" or in a nine- or twelve-month period of time. Why box ourselves in like that? Yes, adult life sometimes comes with deadlines, and young people need them, too. However, "real life" deadlines exist for legitimate reasons, not just because "someone" said a course of study "should" take nine months to complete. In "real life," people learn continuously as their interests and needs dictate, and they learn to meet deadlines when there is a real reason to do so. So it will be for us as well.

Thus, I've helped the girls to map out plans for working on each content area a little each month over the next four years, so that by the time they graduate, they'll each have just what they "need" on their transcripts. But, of course, they may choose to move more quickly in certain areas, and we're also very open to adding various electives as yet-unknown opportunities present themselves over time. So we have a basic plan of action with which to proceed while also knowing that in some ways for right now it's just the skeleton.

One thing that became clear as we were trying to figure things out was confirmation that we are a "humanities family." In other words, just as some families or kids gravitate toward science and math - and even though one of the girls has some interest in biology - they (as well as Jeff and I) resonate with history, literature, and the arts. So, though the girls obviously need strong foundational knowledge in math and the sciences, it's perfectly okay that we're not going to emphasize "STEM." In fact, it's our parental duty to focus on how God has actually wired our kids. Thus, high school here means an unapologetic emphasis on history, literature, and music, along with necessary math and science and a variety of interest-led electives. That doesn't make our plans less "rigorous;" it simply makes them less cookie-cutter.
Some of the Girls' 2016 Readers' Workshop/Literature Options
We are keeping to a slightly adjusted version of the January-December year-round schedule we've followed for some time, though it seemed to make more sense to go with a 7/1 rather than a 6/1 schedule now. So I'm still using FAR as one source - along with All Through the Ages  and Honey for a Teen's Heart - for choosing Readers' Workshop literature options to coincide with the eras the girls are studying in world and American history during each seven-week "unit." And I've also used it to brainstorm ideas for activities related to some of the Home Management skills the girls want to learn and practice. But it's not at all our main spine as I initially thought it would be, and I deleted the FAR support group I thought I'd moderate since I can't be a source of information for how the actual program might be organized.

I know last year's post, as well as the time I spent during 2015 planning our implementation and rallying other FAR users certainly made it seem that I was completely "sold" on FAR. And I was...in theory. But when the idea met with my kids' actual needs and desires, we hit a bump in the road less traveled.

And that's okay. It didn't freak me out in the least because I've been down this road before. What I learned then was that change - when the Spirit uses a mother's intuition to redirect her children's path - is a good thing. In fact, knowing a change is needed and then choosing to step out in faith - instead of staying put or berating one's self for the initial error - is worth celebrating.

Early last year, I knew I didn't want to constrain my girls by using a school-ish approach to high school. By year's end, I learned that dragging them along on a free-wheeling unit study that didn't resonate with them wouldn't be any better. Instead, I've now provided them with a compass pointing to the end of the journey and I've asked of each of them, "What path do you want to pursue?" So now I'm helping them gather equipment and supplies as they go along and looking forward to enjoying it with them every step of the way.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Interview with a Homeschool Mom

What a fun way to start the new year!

Jenny over at Faith and Good Works is launching a really interesting series today - she'll be sharing reflections from 25 homeschooling moms every two weeks throughout the year - and I get to be the featured mom in her very first post! 

Check out my responses to her questions HERE. And then bookmark THIS PAGE to access the other interviews as they're posted. I'm really looking forward to reading them all!


Merry MESSIAHmas!

It's true that Jesus was very likely not born in December. And well-meaning folks of old chose a pagan day when deciding to encourage remembrance of the Incarnation...because they hoped to redeem it for God. Of course, that attempt has been mixed at best, and the emphasis now for too many people - even in the church - is, indeed, too commercial and too secular.

BUT what matters is that He WAS born! If He hadn't come, He could not have taken on our sins, and if He hadn't done that, we could not be saved.

Yes, we get the day wrong. And the history of our celebrations is "messy." But what really matters to God is what we each choose individually in terms of His message: God - through His Messiah - IS with us.


One person considers some days
more holy than others, 
while someone else regards them
as being all alike.
What is important is for each
to be fully convinced in his own mind.
He who observes a day as special
does so to honor the Lord.
Also he who eats anything,
eats to honor the Lord,
since he gives thanks to God;
likewise the abstainer abstains
to honor the Lord, and he too
gives thanks to God.

~ Romans 14.5-6 (CJB)


My Homeschool Philosophy in a Nutshell

I recently clarified for myself a very short, generalized answer to one of the questions home-educating parents regularly hear: "So, why do you homeschool?"

I could actually write a book detailing my many reasons - and maybe one day I will! - but I had to come up with something short - yet also clear and engaging - for a panel discussion in which I participated. So I said:
My motivation comes from a deep conviction that it's my parental responsibility to take direct personal responsibility for the upbringing of my children in all facets of life. Though it hasn't always been the case, most parents these days outsource their children's academic learning. However, I know I'm called to take direct responsibility for every area of my children's upbringing, so I don't see any legitimate reason to outsource. In fact, homeschooling is honestly just an extension of parenting - parents choosing to take on the academic element of their children's lives in addition to all their other, natural parental responsibilities. 
I could expand on this statement phrase by phrase depending on my audience and purposes. For example, my particular conviction is largely faith-based, and it's rooted in clear, biblical precepts upon which I can expound. But I can simply talk about conviction in a general sense for a secular audience, as I did during the panel discussion. Similarly, I could go into great depth about the history of children's education - about how it was home-based in all cultures until very recent times and about why the move toward institutionalization was not actually done with children's best interests in mind. And I can outline why it's true that every committed, diligent parent is, indeed, more than capable of providing for her children's academic education along with all the rest of their needs without any involvement from schools or other governmental entities.

But I think it's important to have one clear, succinct statement that can stand on its own, and this idea of a conviction to take total responsibility struck me as "just right" when it came to me a few weeks ago. After all, can anyone (legitimately) argue against a mother's heartfelt conviction to do whatever it takes to maximize her children's complete and holistic growth and development?

Photo Credit: Harry


Fostering Your (Older) Kids' Love of Literature

Back in 2011, I wrote about the Readers' Workshop I had developed for my daughters in lieu of using any sort of pre-packaged literature curriculum. At the time, I summarized my rationale by explaining that, "after a child learns how to read, there is a place for further skill development and literary analysis, but that should not be your focus if you intend to grow joyful readers and lifelong learners in your home. [Instead] Readers' Workshop can and will do just that."

The girls are now on the cusp of high school - we officially start that part of our home learning journey in January - and I still hold firmly to the same conviction, in large measure because I actually first used Readers' Workshop with teens in my days as a classroom teacher. Thus, I knew even before my children were born that there would be no reason to throw away delight-directed reading just because a child has grown tall enough to look me straight in the eye.

That said, we've understandably changed a few things about our Workshop as the girls have grown up, so I decided an update was in order. I'll share the same background information as in my original post, and then describe my new secondary-level procedural ideas. 


When I was a classroom teacher working with immigrant kids at both the middle and high school levels, I rebelled. I simply refused to pull the dusty old literature anthologies off the shelves...because, even then, I had Charlotte Mason ideas in my head (without knowing it). Thus, I instinctively understood that reading snippets of literature chosen (randomly) by editors in New York high rise office buildings was not nearly as useful - or as motivational or enlightening - as reading whole living books. Similarly, though I once taught Steinbeck's The Pearl and annually enjoyed leading my high schoolers through mandated group study of Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar, I shied away from whole-class literature units as much as possible, too.

Instead - though many colleagues wondered what I was doing and some (especially at the high school) even ridiculed me for it - I developed a Readers' Workshop in my classrooms at both schools (and Writers' Workshop when I taught literacy blocks at the high school).

In the case of Readers' Workshop, that meant every student reading a different book at any given time. Often the books came from the extensive classroom library of appropriate literature I built over the years - and carried with me from the middle school to the high school when I transferred. But students were free to read other books, too, as long as they pre-approved them with me.

I encouraged the kids to read outside of class - the more they read, the higher their "quantity grade" for a semester could be - but class time became work time, not lecture or busywork time. Thus, on most days, we chatted together for a few moments after the bell rang and then the kids got to work (for the next hour or two) on whatever phase of a book each was working. So, if you'd been a fly on my classroom wall, you'd have seen on any given day that some were reading, others were journaling about what they'd just read (a required task that helped me track each one's progress), and still others were working on projects for recently-completed books. They all stayed on task because I'd built trust, communicated my expectations from the beginning and "roamed" the room, checking in with each student and helping as necessary.

I devised a series of projects - at least one that highlighted each multiple intelligence strength - and created detailed instruction sheets and grading rubrics. Thus, when a student finished reading a book, he chose a project and worked on that until it was completed to his satisfaction. When a project was finished, it was put up for display, and the student chose a new book with which to start the process again.

It all ran very smoothly, and I know my students - even the high school seniors - loved it. They weren't free to read anything - they had to choose literature of some sort (not magazines or comic books) and it had to be educationally appropriate - but they had enough freedom of choice that even the reluctant students enjoyed the task. And they had time to read right in class; thus, they actually did it. So, because they were reading regularly, their skills improved as a matter of course; I know they did because I read the daily summaries/narrations, and I saw growth of understanding over time. And then they were allowed to demonstrate their understanding in creative ways through projects that supported their various multiple intelligence strengths.

I knew without a doubt that my workshops were right for kids...and it didn't matter one iota (to my students or me) that my establishment-type colleagues scoffed at me. In fact, when one teacher in my department mocked my classes in front of our shared students, they defended me despite the fact that the only thing the woman ever worked hard at was intimidating them.

But what does all of that have to do with home education - my purpose and calling today?

Well, plenty...because I believe that the best way we can foster a love for literature (and learning) among our own children is to develop a homeschool version of Readers' Workshop with them. And that's just what I've done with my girls, starting when they were eight and nine.

Our current workshop system looks like this:
  • Choose a book.
    I use Gladys Hunt's Honey for a Teen's Heart and Christine Miller's All Through the Ages as the basis for the girls' choices, as well as some ideas from Far Above Rubies by Lynda Coats. I like that the suggested books in Hunt and Miller are categorized by age/reading level and that they represent a wide variety of literary genres; also very important is that the books in all three sources are real (quality) literature - not twaddle - and have been "vetted" for appropriateness for Christian children. In order to constantly have a wide variety of options available, I usually buy books in bunches from a discount source. Of course, I allow each girl to choose which book to read when, and I let them choose other appropriate books of interest as well. But theses source lists provide a very solid foundation.
  • Read the book, one chapter a day.
    I could require more than a chapter a day - and at times one of the girls will choose to read more - but we've found it's better overall to savor the books by taking our time. And, of course, the girls are reading other material for official bookwork and personal enjoyment every day as well, so they're getting plenty of content in all areas.
  • (Perhaps) write a narrative summary for each chapter.
    My girls have demonstrated an ability to comprehend and remember what they've read, so I don't require summaries of them. However, I did require daily journaling of my former students because of their learning needs. For a child who would benefit from such reinforcement, asking for at least a half page summary/evaluation per chapter is reasonable.
  • When a book is finished, choose a project and/or write a book review.
    My girls enjoyed creating projects until they were nearly 13 and almost 14, and some teens - including many of my former students - resonate with projects all through high school. For such kids, we must set aside our ill-informed bias that projects are juvenile or less "rigorous" than, say, writing a paper. Rather, allowing a teen to choose his preferred method for demonstrating his understanding of a book honors him as a capable young adult and also gives him the opportunity to develop and maximize the unique talents and abilities God has bestowed upon him. In other words, though kids do need to learn to write basic essays (and there will be plenty of time for that throughout middle and high school), writing is not "better" than other means of expression. Thus, the child who wants to design a detailed movie poster after reading The Grapes of Wrath, build a model of the Pequod after tackling Moby Dick, or sew a period dress upon finishing Gone with the Wind is not copping out. In fact, such hands-on endeavors - decided upon by the child with parent approval as needed - are often far more challenging than writing an essay.

    That said, my daughters both reached a point where they asked if they could forgo projects, at least for the time being. And that's fine as well. So we decided together that we'd create a 
    book review blog, and that the girls would review their completed Workshop books - as well as selected others - for the real potential audience of blog readers. In due time, we'll use sources like Grading with a Purple Crayon to work on more detailed literary analyses, but for now I've developed a Book Review Checklist to which the girls refer in drafting their reviews:
  • Work on the project/review.
    In most cases, I've allowed a week or two for a project and didn't have a problem with dawdling - both because the projects were enjoyable and because the girls are always interested in getting on with the next interesting book. Book reviews, on the other hand, generally only take two or three days: one to draft, a possible second to make necessary content revisions, and another to post the final draft - marked up by the parent for editing of mechanics - onto the blog itself.
  • Present the project/review.
    When a project was done, we scheduled a family sharing time in the evening, during which the project's creator extemporaneously summarized the book for the rest of the family and also explained her project. As part of the process, my husband inevitably asked questions, and that helped us to see what the reader had understood as well. In terms of book reviews, posting them on the blog is the girls' primary means of presentation for now, but I could also ask them to read the reviews during a family sharing time, and/or that they promote their posts via social media.
  • Start a new book...and continue the process.
And with all of that, I can almost hear the question bouncing around in many brains: So what about grading?

We homeschoolers often feel we can get away without grades in elementary - and even middle - school. But when we start talking about high school, we are sorely tempted to shove our kids into a school-at-home box - in the case of literature, by making them read pre-digested short story excerpts from an anthology text, look up meanings for vocabulary words, answer comprehension questions at the end of each selection, and then take unit tests...all cut-and-dried "objective" means of compiling percentages that can be converted to convenient letter grades to "prove" that our kids have "learned." In the meantime, of course, we kill our kids' love of reading (and learning) - and we spend their high school years wondering why our once-curious kids suddenly just go through the motions. But at least we've got those letters to plant on the transcript...

I've actually been talking with experienced homeschoolers - those who've graduated several children who've gone onto varied post-high school endeavors, including college - many of whom insist that, while having a transcript is important, including letter grades may not even be necessary. And praise God if that's true! At root, grades are simply a glaring, ugly symbol of the mass institutional schooling system that treats children like products on an assembly line - artificial and dehumanizing (we grade eggs and sides of beef but we shouldn't rate children in such a way!) - not to mention meaningless in the grand scheme of life. And we homeschoolers shouldn't buy into the system's way of objectifying children if we don't have to. So...just in case my girls are blessed enough to meet with progressive employers and/or admissions counselors, I'm giving serious consideration to presenting gradeless transcripts as our first offensive salvo into post-secondary life.

However, I also realize that most people have been sadly indoctrinated into expecting to see grades on transcripts. So we may be forced to jump through the grading hoop, loathsome though it is. Thus, I've been developing grading rubrics for all the girls' studies, including our Readers' Workshop, which will be one component of their credits in "English." With rubrics, students complete concrete, meaningful learning tasks based on clear, measurable parameters they know before their studies even begin. So rubrics respect kids as human beings by giving them all necessary information ahead of time and granting them choice about what level of performance they seek to attain.

For that reason, rubrics are the least offensive of all grading systems, and if I must provide grades for my girls, I can at least stomach rubric-based grades. And for me, the standard for the Readers' Workshop component of an English credit is simple: each of our terms is based on 37 learning days so if a child completes Workshop activities - either reading a chapter or working on a project/review - on at least 35 of 37 days, she will earn the top score (a 4) for Readers' Workshop in that term. And doing Workshop activities for fewer days during a term will result in a lower score (from 3 to 0). Of course, I could make the Workshop rubric more detailed and complicated - rubrics can be designed however one desires - but, because I know my girls will read and that they know how to write appropriate reviews, and also because the Workshop is but one component of an English course, I've chosen to keep it that simple. And to calculate a grade, I'll just average all of a child's rubric scores for all components of her English credit during our five annual terms and use a 4-point scale (i.e., the system used for calculating a grade point average or GPA in most settings) to translate that to a letter grade.

In the end, rubrics will give us grades if we "need" them. But what's most important is that my girls will be continuing to enthusiastically read a wide variety of literature according to each one's interests. And because they'll be reading from a foundation of personal motivation, they'll be absorbing and retaining knowledge and principles as a matter of course. That's what Readers' Workshop does - for older kids just as well as youngers.


Dear Homeschooling Friends

Dear Homeschooling Friends:

'Tis the season...for "mid-year" blues! Yes, it's that time of year - especially for many who follow a September-to-May "school year" - when it's very common to feel bad about "being behind." But I want to encourage you that what you may be feeling may not be legitimate.

In Proverbs 16.9, God says, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." This means that making plans is a good thing! Planning helps us to be organized and purposeful, and God doesn't condemn it at all.

However, He doesn't ever want us to turn plans into idols we place on a pedestal. Instead, we are to make our plans and do our best by them. But we need to remember to hold them rather loosely, not forgetting that He is the author of time as well as of the path He has intended for us, day by day and month by month. He knew how the last several months would unfold even when you did not. Thus, what we plan in good faith is sometimes (often?) not what He in His sovereignty actually had mapped out for us.

Now, if you've been sitting around for the past several months watching soap operas and eating bonbons, letting your kids do absolutely nothing (which - to be clear - is markedly different from the method known as unschooling!), then, yes, you have legitimate guilt and some repenting and redirecting to work on. We ought not sugar-coat that because, after all, God gives us a big responsibility in educating our kids, and He expects us to be diligent in our calling. I doubt very much that's really where most homeschooling parents are coming from...but even if you really have been lazy and undisciplined lately, don't let the enemy of our souls win! God does not ask perfection of us, and you have not failed as a homeschooler. He does ask us to repent when we realize we've messed up and then to simply get up and move on in Christ without guilt. Of course, that goes for homeschooling as well as anything else.

But, if - as I suspect is true in almost every case of homeschool mom "guilt" - you have been doing the best you can within the context of what has really happened to you and your family over the past few months - and if your heart and mind are still directed toward making diligent progress (no matter how limited some days) - you have nothing from which to repent even if your plans have not all panned out. Nothing! In this case, the feeling you're experiencing is not guilt - true guilt only exists when we have actually sinned. Rather, you're feeling shame...but shame is from the evil one, his trick to get you distracted from your purpose and calling.

And the remedy for shame is to spit in the devil's eye (tell him he has no place in your heart, home, or family!) and make yourself dwell instead on truth. That means choosing to put the facts of the matter (i.e., what really occurred in your life and family the last few months versus what you'd originally planned and the reasons for that) and faith in the Lord - do you really trust Him to properly order your days even when your best-laid plans have gone awry? - ahead of your feelings. Feelings lie; Jesus does not.

Finally, remember that the true authority for Christian homeschoolers is the Lord...not a government bureaucrat and not even a homeschool law. I'm not suggesting we flout the law...but please remember that God's ways are not man's ways. Thus, we may at times - in obedience to the Lord - need to be willing to get "creative" with aspects of man-made homeschool law. When we know we have indeed been diligent before HIM in whatever circumstances we've faced in recent months, we can in good faith work around the details of man-made law if necessary - again, not to flout it but because we must acknowledge that the God of the Universe, who sees all things over time and for eternity - not a homeschool law - is our Master.

Be of good cheer, my friends. God blesses - in His ways - whoever He calls. And there really is no doubt that, biblically speaking, He calls every obedient Christian parent to take the lead in directing the upbringing of his/her own - in every facet of life, not just the spiritual. So you are called by default to keep your children home. Therefore, He will bless your obedience to Him as you persevere in your call to homeschool, even through difficulty and even when it doesn't look like you think it should. 

Photo Credit: Molly


Class Dismissed: A Must-See Movie

Several months ago, I heard about the production of a new movie about homeschooling. I bought a copy when it was first released, but didn't watch it then. I finally made time a few weeks ago, though, and I can report that my immediate reaction was a strong and unequivocal, "Wow!"

Class Dismissed advertises itself as a movie that "challenges its viewers to take a fresh look at what it means to be educated and offers up a radical new way of thinking about the process." And, even though those who have already embraced homeschooling realize it's actually not "a new way of thinking" - after all, parent-led, home-based education is as old as time, while institutionalized, assembly-line style schooling is the real social experiment - the movie certainly challenges the average viewer who considers homeschooling to be "unusual," and it very accurately introduces the wide range of options available beyond the current cultural norm. In fact, the movie is, at root, an unapologetic endorsement of the unmistakeable benefits of private, independent homeschooling.

By shadowing one family making the transition from public/government school to homeschooling for an entire year, the film pulls viewers in immediately, giving a very real "face" to this notion of home education. Along the way, it also demonstrates what research has proven - i.e., that choosing to get off the institutional school treadmill is possible at any phase of a child's life and within a wide variety of family situations.

Another plus is that the movie focuses on the positive - homeschooling as a viable option for everyone - rather than dwelling on the negative. Of course, parents do need information about the very real problems inherent in institutionalized schooling, and thankfully, several such resources - Indoctrination, books by John Taylor Gatto, Common Core: From Farce to Failure, The Children of Caesar, just to name a few - are readily available.

But there was a great need for an alternative to all the appropriate alarm-ringing resources - one that would demonstrate to parents from all walks of life that homeschooling is here, that it's good, and that it's available to all - and Class Dismissed is that resource.

If you're a veteran homeschooler, I urge you to purchase at least one copy of the film in order to support the wonderful work the movie's producers have done; after all, money talks, and if we want such positive endeavors to continue, we need to clearly demonstrate our support. I also suggest that you consider buying multiple copies if your budget allows so you might readily bless families you meet who would like to consider homeschooling and/or so you can offer copies to your local public library and church library. Alternately, you can watch it by renting a copy, and then share the rental information with interested friends and family.

If you're new to homeschooling - or are investigating the possibility - you should consider Class Dismissed to be your primer - i.e., the first and primary introduction to homeschooling that you need. The amount of information available about all aspects homeschooling is vast - in fact, the overabundance of resources can even feel paralyzing - but if you start with Class Dismissed, you'll feel encouraged and excited to begin exploring those options as you take the leap into private, independent home education.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This is not an affiliate post. I have enthusiastically partnered with Class Dismissed through my website, The Homeschool Resource Roadmap - and I'm excited that the producers are promoting The Roadmap on their sister-site - but we don't have an affiliate relationship, and I don't earn any money or other "perks" by promoting the film. I endorse it simply because it's excellent and because I firmly believe that all current and prospective homeschoolers need it.


A Parting of Sweet Sorrow

Anyone who knows anything about how I do home education realizes that I march to the beat of my own drum. I don't subscribe to a particular "method" or rely on any one "style" or resource provider. I use a variety of materials from across the spectrum of options as I see fit, and I use components of each in a way that works for us, not necessarily how an author or publisher might suggest (because they don't know - can't know - my kids and their needs the way I do). In other words, I understand that curriculum is my servant, not my master - and, in fact, I'm getting more "alternative" rather than more "mainstream" as my kids approach adulthood!

We've also implemented our own version of a year-round learning schedule that neither mimics the calendars used by institutional schools nor bears much resemblance to most other homeschoolers' schedules. Basically, I do in all things what works for my particular kids, with the goal of maximizing each one's holistic growth and development as well as their overall, lifelong love of learning.

As a result, we never really "start a new year" - not in the sense that we have a day in September (or any other month) on which we begin all new books in every subject area all at the same time. It's never made sense to me that we must either push or hold ourselves back in order to end everything on some random, artificially-set "last day of the year" so that we can "start new" on the "first day." That works (in a way) if one's goal is to "cover" material in order to check off boxes in a planner and/or to imitate institutional, assembly line-style schools. But if the goal is real learning, it makes much more sense to diligently work at a pace appropriate to each learner and simply start a new book in each area of study whenever the previous one is completed - be that in May, November, or February. In fact, that's what we do as adults - i.e., if we finish reading a book of interest in early April, we don't frantically scour the web for worksheets to fill in time until the end of May and then wait to pick up a new book until September. So why shouldn't kids' learning be continuous and natural as well?

All that said, the girls and I actually are on the cusp of a bit of a change, because on October 1 we will begin a process of gradually transitioning into "high school." Now, in many ways, the shift is really just a slight curve in the road - merely the next logical step and nothing seismic. In fact, they'll actually continue with some of their current material as they are now. But we will be making some changes in scheduling and approach, so it is a real transition.

And we chose October 1 as our "moving day" because I knew a while ago - based on natural progression - that our studies in a couple of key resources (both of which we've used for years) would be wrapping up this month. Thus, making the transition onto the new path in conjunction with saying farewell to these "old friends" makes sense.

Now, though I am "eclectic" in my approach to materials - i.e., I have no allegiance to any one style or publisher, and I use the materials I choose the way I decide they'll work best - I'm not fickle. Thus, when I've found a good fit, I've been happy to stick with it unless or until it ceases to work for us; in fact, I've got long-standing "relationships" with a number of resources we'll continue to use even as we take this curve onto the high school road. But we've recently come to the logical end of our journey with a couple of my all-time favorites, the The Mystery of History and The Amish Pathway Readers.

About four and a half years ago, I chose The Mystery of History (MOH) on the advice of a discerning friend. As I was getting to know my girls' learning styles and needs, I'd been making rather frequent changes with all our materials for a couple of years, so I was leery of making yet another big move. But I knew I had to abandon a resource I'd thought would be my curriculum "for life" because it had become untenable. I just worried that MOH would not fit us well either.

My concerns were unfounded, of course. Our time with the four volumes of MOH - which officially wraps up on September 23 - has been rich and rewarding in so many ways, some of which I described in a review of the program I wrote last year. In fact, I am sure I've personally learned at least as much about world history as the girls, which was the main reason I insisted we continue doing MOH together long after they'd graduated to independent work for everything else; simply put, I wanted to make sure I got the whole MOH story, from beginning to end!

Interestingly, the girls have both chosen - despite having myriad other options - to use MOH as their main spine for world history studies in their high school program. So they'll each be working through the entire series again individually and at a deeper level - and their choice speaks to MOH's strength for all ages. But it's still a parting of sorts, since I won't be along for the ride anymore - not in the same way. And I'll miss it. But I am so very thankful to Linda Hobar - whom I've had the privilege to meet in person two times (so far!) - for following God's lead 12 years ago so that my kids and I - along with so many others - could be so blessed by her knowledge, wisdom, and passion to glorify the Lord in her work.

As poignant as it is to say a farewell-of-sorts to MOH, packing away the last of The Amish Pathway Readers - which the girls finished about a week ago - has been even harder. For one thing, our time with them really is done - until (God willing) we pull them out for the girls' children one day. For another, we've been using these books for even longer than we used MOH. I stumbled upon them at a curriculum fair back in 2007 - intending only to use them as a "temporary filler" - and we've enjoyed them ever since, working our way through all 13 books over the past eight years.

For some reason, I never blogged about the Pathway series; I should have because they have been a tremendous blessing. In fact, it was the simple-but-solid approach employed by the series that God used to heal my older daughter from the damage I'd done by pushing her too early and too hard with a pricey, overly intensive, bells-and-whistles program. As a result, she learned to read very well and found joy in the process. And it was the Pathway readers that also clicked with my younger daughter once she was ready. So, though I've used a Readers' Workshop program of my own design in addition to the Pathway series, I really do owe much of my girls' strong reading abilities and voracious appetite for good literature to these wholesome, pedagogically-sound little books. I'm really going to miss them!

Thankfully, I'm really looking forward to what God has in store for us over the next few years - these "high school" years. So I can look forward with anticipation even as I can't help but look backward with some nostalgia. After all, parting with these resources represents a parting of sorts with my daughters' childhoods. I love my beautiful young ladies, and it is really fun to see how the Lord is unfolding their gifts, talents, and passions as they blossom into adulthood. But, of course, I loved them to pieces when they were little girls as well - when we were in the midst of enjoying these resources together - and as much as I couldn't hold them back from growing up if I wanted to (and part of me does want to!), it's still a parting of sweet sorrow.


In Memory of DAG

Less than two weeks ago, I heard the devastating news that my first pastor, David A. George - who signed many of his notes and memos as DAG - had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then at an appointment on September 9, the doctors confirmed for David and his beloved family that nothing could be done, medically-speaking; none of the medical professionals involved in David's case had ever seen such an incredibly aggressive tumor. But it seems that news - knowing there would be no point in suffering through painful medical treatments - was what David needed because his anxiety evaporated that day. And then, on the afternoon of September 11, the physical pain he'd been enduring stopped as well, and his wife and children were able to sing and pray over him. Shortly thereafter, he was gone - at Home with his Lord.

David was instrumental in my faith journey. Here's what I wrote on the tribute page that has been set up in his honor:
When I was a messed up, confused, angry 18-year old, two friends invited me to come to a Sunday night service at New Hope Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I agreed because it was Sanctity of Human Life Sunday and, even though I was an avowed atheist, I knew even then that abortion was wrong. So I went, as long as my friends could promise me there wouldn't be "too much God-stuff" during the "meeting." 
In the Lord's sovereignty, that evening was a regular Sunday night service at the church with some emphasis on the pro-life issue, of course. But that's not what I remember from that night. No, what I remember is that there was something markedly "different" about the preacher - David George. He spoke with such conviction and clarity - and yet with such love and grace as well - and I knew I'd heard from God through that pastor that night. I remember thinking, "I want what he has." 
Just a few weeks later - after a bit more searching and an event that caused me to realize God was very clearly pursuing me - I gave my life to Jesus Christ and began attending that church. And I can honestly say that, though I've been privileged to sit under some other very good preachers since, David's teaching - which grounded me in the faith - was the most solid, consistent, "meaty" instruction (Hebrews 5.11-14) I have yet received to this day...all delivered in the context of real relationship and genuine care. 
My husband - one of those friends who'd first invited me to the church - and I did our premarital counseling with David just about three years after I came to faith, just before God moved him to plant a new church in northern California. Sadly, we did not have the joy of having him marry us; his fine associate pastor did so in David's stead. However, many years later, we are together and strong and raising our daughters for the Lord...and that would not have happened if David were not there in that pulpit that Sunday night one January long ago. 
Many years later, people from Green Bay still speak of David's legacy in their lives. And it's become evident to me from reading posts on the tribute page that he continued on as God's faithful servant all the days of his life. It's also clear that he continued to be the devoted husband and father I knew him to be. I can imagine him as a doting grandfather to his eight grandkids as well; what blessed children they are for having known him!

The tragedy of a Christ-follower's passage from this life is not that he has died; after all, we know that he has actually simply gone from this life to the next and that he is now reveling in the glory of the Lord he served so well here. And we can also acknowledge our trust in God's perfect timing for everything - even something like this. So our grief is for ourselves - most especially for David's family but also for all who had the privilege of knowing him on this journey - in feeling that he was taken from us too suddenly and too soon.

However, we also know we'll see him again. In fact, what David told his family on Wednesday afternoon is the truth: "It's not the end of the world. We're waiting for the world that is to come. I'm just going there sooner."

David's favorite psalm - so fitting for him -
which some friends also set to music this week in his honor:


Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the LORD, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!


Not-Back-to-School Day Fun

My family and I utilize our own version of a year-round academic schedule. One reason - among many others - is to demonstrate by our example that there is nothing "magical," special, or even necessarily good about the typical institutional school calendar. In fact, what everyone thinks of as "the school year" - the government school norm that is blindly followed by most private schools and even a sizable portion of home-educating families - is really just another example of the Pot Roast Story gone awry, and I've realized there's no reason to cut the ends off my family's lifestyle just because "everyone else" does.

Part of our family calendar involves starting a "new year" on January 1, not in September. Another aspect of the schedule that works for us is using a 6/1 format (i.e., studying for six weeks and then taking off for one). And, finally, we take a longer break in July and another in December but we do academics through June and August. Thus, we've been "back at it" - still making whatever time we wanted for summer fun - since August 3.

So we did our normal bookwork yesterday, and we'll do it again tomorrow. But we didn't do any today.

Instead, we enjoyed our freedom to live outside the system's box by purposely not making today - the first day back for all the government-school kids in my state - our "first day of school"  and by purposely not doing any academic work.

We've taken this quiet stand on the system's first day for several years running. At times, we've simply had a playdate or gone on a small field trip with friends. Other years, I organized a not-back-to-school picnic for anyone in my local association who cared to join us. This year I decided it would be a private affair - for just my girls and me.

We started out with what has become a solid tradition: breakfast at IHOP...arriving only after the morning school bells have rung. Then we went fall/winter (i.e., not-back-to-school) clothes shopping, with the girls choosing a visit to Goodwill in lieu of a "regular" store so they could stretch the budget I'd given them - and each came away with at least 10 items for the price of only one or two things elsewhere. We did visit two regular stores as well, and they had fun being silly before I surprised them by saying I'd buy them each one item of clothing beyond the budget amount. And then after a quick, diversionary jaunt to Hobby Lobby, I surprised them again by heading over to a matinee showing of Inside Out, where we munched on popcorn for lunch and were three of only six people at what amounted to a "private screening." Finally, we surprised my husband by going out to our favorite local place for dinner in celebration of the fact that our evenings are ours (i.e., not subject to homework).

We don't take our homeschooling freedom for granted; we realize it came at a heavy price for those who served as modern pioneers in our state. And it's actually for that reason that we choose to actively demonstrate whenever we can that we are free - i.e., not bound by the constraints of the institutional system. Actively participating in not-back-to-school fun is part of the plan in that regard...and a blessing to our family as well.



No, I Won't "Help" You

Dear Fellow Wisconsin Homeschoolers:

I treasure being an advocate for homeschooling. And I love mentoring new homeschoolers, locally and beyond. I rejoice when parents understand that homeschooling is the best educational option, and I delight in helping folks get started well.

And it is precisely for that reason - i.e., that I want what's truly best for homeschoolers (not what might "feel good" to a few) - that I am unable to "help" you navigate the new "sports provision" that was unethically hidden in the latest state budget and then rammed through against the protestations of literally thousands of Wisconsinites. In fact, I have always - on principle - advocated against any homeschooler choosing to become entangled with government schools in any way. Such involvement on any level elevates an illegitimate institution and - even more importantly - jeopardizes the academic freedom of truly independent homeschoolers. Simply put, there's nothing worth having if the only way to get it is via the government schools.

Thus, I cannot in good conscience facilitate anyone's desire to become enmeshed with the system via school sports. In fact, because the "sports provision" is actually a Trojan Horse meant to ultimately kill the academic freedom of all Wisconsin homeschoolers, me "helping" someone to participate would be like aiding and abetting a person's suicide...while also knowing that he'd planted bombs set to blow up later and kill hundreds or thousands of other people. I cannot be a party to that.

I will always do anything I can to help families become and remain wholly independent of the system; fact is that the testimonials of hundreds and hundreds of Wisconsin families over the years prove that it's entirely possible for children to live rich, fulfilling lives without ever being on any government school roster for anything. No, not even football.

With that in mind, I would ask you to prayerfully consider reasons to simply choose to abstain from this new temptation to become involved with the government schools. The fact is that if no one pulls the pin on the grenade, it can't hurt any of us. Thus, please read this clear explanation of why entanglement is a bad idea; the WPA's accuracy can be trusted (in contrast to appeasement-oriented national organizations that do not understand or respect Wisconsin's homeschool laws and history).

If you understand and agree, please do whatever you can to encourage other Wisconsin homeschoolers to steer clear of the snare. And please let me know how I might help you on your homeschooling journey. If, on the other hand, you happen to think this provision is a valuable "perk," you're on on your own.



On the Radio Again

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Chelene Nightingale and Randy Dees on their Wake Up Mission Radio Show this past Wednesday. I was on for almost an hour - starting shortly after the 60-minute mark of the two-hour broadcast - and had a great time in our broad discussion about homeschooling.

Interested? You can listen here or here:

Check Out News Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with The Wake Up Mission on BlogTalkRadio

Photo Credit: Roadsidepictures


The Heart of the Matter

I first wrote this piece in 2013 for the Celebrate Kids email newsletter, and it actually ended up going rather "viral" that year. In re-reading it today, I realized its message is still the heart of the matter in terms of what it means to be a mom. Thus, rather than coming up with something new for the occasion, I simply share this truth again.


A few days before Mother’s Day, my husband asked me what I’d like for a gift. I knew he wanted to show his genuine appreciation and that my daughters would want to demonstrate their feelings in a concrete way, too. As is our tradition, they would each give me a sweet card sharing elements of their love for me and they’d take me out to lunch or dinner. But they wanted to present me with something tangible to mark the occasion as well.

And I felt truly blessed by his desire to bless me. But I didn’t know what to say.

A few things I could use or enjoy quickly came to mind: a new printer, a gift card to a local bookstore, a weekend retreat to catch up on my scrapbooking. But when I began to think about what I truly need as a mom, I realized it’s not something my family can wrap up and top with a bow. In fact, it’s not something they can provide at all.

Simply put, what I need most is an ability to focus each day on the heart of the matter in terms of my calling.

Motherhood is not about finishing the laundry or designing the most well balanced meals. It’s not about the 3,796 diapers a mom changes for each child. It’s not about the carpool or organizing memorable birthday parties. It’s not about volunteering in the classroom or finding the ideal homeschool curriculum. It’s not about enrolling the kids in extracurriculars and supplemental activities. It’s not about planning “perfect” family vacations.

Of course, all those tasks (and many more) fill our time. And each small job has value and purpose, demonstrating our love for our families in concrete ways. But if we focus on the utilitarian doing of motherhood without remembering to be in the moments, we’ll miss the point. We’ll spend our kids’ childhoods exhausted and bitter about all the time “they’re taking from us” and then wallow in regret once they’re grown. I know women like that; I never want to become one.

Instead, what I most need as a mom is a growing desire to be fully present with my kids – mentally and emotionally – moment by moment. I need my heart to be with them while my mind and body work through the necessary to-do lists. I need to notice the details as their faces change from those of girls into young women…to really hear their ideas and questions…to grasp the intricacies of how each is wired…to put down the work in order to hold and comfort them.

That’s not something my family can give me. It is God’s gift to me, ready and waiting. But accepting the gift is a matter of my will – each day and in each moment. That’s hard because life is so full and busy. But I know that’s the heart of the matter.

Photo Credit: Britt-knee


Ten Tidbits: Winter 2015

It's been a long time since I wrote a simple "here's what we've been doing" post, and it's long overdue. As I mentioned when I wrote back in January about needing to re-calibrate my priorities, I want to get back to such simple pleasures. Sadly, I haven't (yet) been successful in regaining the mental and emotional balance I spoke of back then. But that's still my goal...and I do intend to make it happen!

So today I decided I'd take a step in the right direction by sharing some of the activities we've been up to in the last few months - everyday homeschool family things, not advocacy or "politics." Of course, each of these "tidbits" could have been a full post in its own right, but this summary will have to suffice for now:

1. We've seen our former TEACHERS' TOTS FRIENDS about once a month since I closed my daycare doors last June. We really like our new routine now that we're used to it - the girls get themselves going in the mornings while I often (unapologetically) sleep until 7:00, and then we get going with our academics by 8:30. However, when I get a message asking if the little girls can spend some time with us, I have no qualms about completely re-doing our schedule for a day to see them. And I love realizing how God has provided for their family and for us since their mom stepped out in faith to quit her job and I then followed suit by closing my business when He led in that direction.
2. The girls get another "baby fix" about once a month by serving in the NURSERY at church, caring for and playing with the under-two set. Abbie also serves on the GREETING TEAM, taking a turn once a month welcoming people into the church on Sunday morning - a perfect opportunity for our little social butterfly. And Rachel has recently begun serving in the church LIBRARY once a month, which is heaven for our bookworm-girl.
3. Both girls took up KNITTING last summer. Rachel enjoys working on occasional projects, and Abbie has really embraced it! Since we got the girls knitting looms for Christmas, she sometimes knocks out one hat, cowl, or headband a day and has even sold a few. She's also recently taken to knitting purses she designs herself and has even attempted a sweater. Meanwhile, Rachel has plunged into WRITING, working not only on her blog, One Girl's Words with Meaning, but on several other projects, including contributing to the women's newsletter at church and working on the draft of a novel.
4. The girls continue to work on their PIANO skills - in fact, they joined more than a dozen other students at their annual spring recital this afternoon - and both are part of our homeshool association's production of The Sound of Music, which will be performed in mid-May. In addition, Abbie took up VOICE lessons last summer; she had her first vocal recital in February and then tried her hand at a solo-ensemble competition in March, where she sang American Lullaby.
5. We hosted our fourth annual WINTER SLEEPOVER in February, with seven of the girls' friends attending. This year's theme was Cupcake Wars, and we held a cupcake-decorating contest of sorts. But the highlight of the 19-hour event was simply for the girls to be together having silly fun.
6. On a somewhat smaller scale, the girls have been involved for about a year in a "small group" of fellow homeschooled girls they've dubbed Girls4Christ (G4C). They get together - six girls in total when all are present - about once a month, with the moms taking turns planning/hosting. It has been a sweet way to build stronger, deeper relationships that all the moms hope will carry the girls through their high school years.
7. On the other end of the spectrum, Jeff and the girls attended their annual FATHER-DAUGHTER VALENTINE'S DANCE, one of the large-group events that our homeschool group co-sponsors. Amazingly, this was their ninth dance!
8. We've been doing our READERS' WORKSHOP program for about five years now, and we will continue a version of it as we embark on high school-level work in the coming months. But the girls both recently asked if we could discontinue the post-reading book projects as we've been doing them. So each of their recently-completed books marks the last of their projects. That's rather bittersweet for me because it's yet another indication (among many others) of the girls' growing maturity. But I'm aiming to look at transitions rather than at "endings," and I have in mind what I hope will be a new, engaging, age-appropriate post-reading endeavor.
9. Speaking of transitions, the girls recently wrapped up their last "elementary" math book and subsequently launched - just this past week - into PRE-ALGEBRA. Getting to this point makes me thankful all over again for Teaching Textbooks, the curriculum we've used for a little over two years now. TT, as it's affectionately known by its devotees, truly rescued the girls in terms of math after we'd spent way too much time in another program that left them floundering. It's enabled them to learn and master concepts and really progress in a way I wasn't sure was possible not so long ago.
10. Ironically, even though we do a year-round schedule and do not aim to wrap up our various content areas at the same time, we also just finished up our Apologia GENERAL SCIENCE book, the girls' first foray into secondary-level science. We do have the next book in the series - in fact, we have the next three. However, because of our plans for high school, we'll be taking a hiatus from formal science studies until the beginning of October. I've still got a lot to do in terms of getting our Far Above Rubies program organized, but every time I think about it, I get more excited about its potential to maximize the girls' high school experience.
In addition to all this, my husband took a missions trip to Guyana - among other things, he saw live piranha up close! - and I ventured out on "little" excursions to Texas (in February) and Cincinnati (earlier this month), where I was blessed to serve as a featured speaker at two 2015 Great Homeschool Convention events; that's me, below, during one of my seminars in Texas.

But, of course, this is Ten Tidbits, not Eleven Events. So you'll just have to come back to hear about that another time!