Three Internet Articles That Inspired Me Last Week

Recently I read three great Internet articles that inspired me.

In “10 Ways You Are Making Your Homeschool Harder Than it Needs to Be,” Jamie Martin encourages homeschool teachers to avoid 10 negative patterns that most of us fall into from time to time that zap the ease and fun out of homeschooling. Click on this link to the Simple Homeschool blog (one of my favorites) for a dose of inspiration.

Launa Hall, a kindergarten teacher from Arlington, Virginia, wrote an excellent opinion piece for The Washington Post titled “I Pushed My Pre-K Students Toward Reading. And I Feel Guilty About It.” In this article she laments the current focus on academic accomplishment in early childhood education and points to the well-documented benefits of childhood play instead.

Finally, Dr. Scott McLeod, who blogs at Dangerously Irrelevant (another favorite of mine) recently reposted an article by Alfie Kohn. Kohn is a “progressive educator” whose ideas may not always match mine, but they never cease to make me think. Read here for “12 Education Guidelines from Alfie Post.”

Until next time…Be fearless.


Holiday Homeschool Wrap-Up

The holidays are over and it’s time for our family to buckle down and jump back into our daily routines once again. But not before sharing a few homeschooling moments that occurred over the holidays.

Feasting on Thanksgiving

As has been the tradition throughout my lifetime, my 85-year-old aunt cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the extended family. Each family who attends is supposed to bring a dish to share, but our family is small so we aren’t nearly enough help.

Because I think it’s important for the Thanksgiving dinner to be “bountiful,” I volunteered to bring four side dishes. I cooked two dishes and then asked my two youngest daughters to pick their favorite Thanksgiving side dishes to prepare. I told them it was a homeschooling assignment. Izzy picked mashed potatoes and Roxanna picked green bean casserole. Since Kelsey (my oldest, married daughter) was already bringing sweet potato casserole, we were able to enjoy six different side dishes (my aunt prepared the traditional family favorite—oyster casserole) and complete a practical homeschooling cooking project at the same time.

Making Sense Out of December Events in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY

The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York have provoked a lot of discussion in our house, which has led us to watch CNN Student News on a regular basis. If you aren’t familiar with it, CNN produces a pretty good 10-minute daily news program for students. If you subscribe (free), CNN will drop the news program into your email inbox each weekday. The program is informative and the viewpoint balanced, although most news stories go into very little depth. We often pause the program to discuss details, give opinions, or offer more context for the stories.

From Plantations to Honky Tonks…Exploring Southern Culture and Music

This past week we took a two-night trip to Nashville, Tennessee. It was billed as “a homeschooling trip,” although our oldest son, Zac, also joined us. We love taking these mini-trips and I am more partial to what I call “culture trips” than visits to educational sites. Culture trips are practical and informative. They help children understand and feel more comfortable interacting with new and different people and places. And they give them points of reference when discussing any number of topics with other people.

As you might expect, our trip to Nashville was to give exposure to the country music scene and also enjoy some Southern culture (from a place a little more deeply rooted in it than Kentucky). When we got to Nashville, we headed straight to Music City Row, where we listened to the country music wafting onto the streets from the many restaurants, bars and honkey tonks. We slipped in and out of the various shops full of Southern trinkets and country music paraphernalia. In Nashville, children can visit the bars until 6 p.m. so we stepped in a few to enjoy the country music bands.

As it happened, Nashville was especially busy during our visit because thousands of Notre Dame and LSU football fans were in town for the Music City Bowl. We viewed this as a plus because our kids got a first-hand view of the excitement and fun associated with bowl games involving schools with strong football traditions. It also meant some fun “extras” for us we weren’t expecting. Our favorites? An (almost) impromptu street concert by Trace Adkins (a country music star we had seen on Celebrity Apprentice and, more recently, in the film “Mom’s Night Out”) and a street “Battle of the Bands” between the Notre Dame and LSU marching bands. The two bands marched down Broadway from opposite sides and then took turns playing fan favorite tunes while their respective fan bases cheered them on. Fun!

After the Battle of the Bands, we headed to Hattie B’s restaurant for Nashville’s most famous dish—“Hot Chicken.” The spicy fried chicken dish, accompanied by pimento mac and cheese and Southern greens, was every bit as scrumptious as the locals said it would be.

During our second day in Nashville, we visited the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, Antique Archeology, (the store featured on the television show American Pickers) and the Opryland Hotel, where millions of Christmas lights (both inside and out) made the hotel even more spectacular than usual. On our last day in Nashville, we visited Andrew Jackson’s home — The Hermitage. The actual house was incredibly beautiful and well-preserved and the grounds were stunning.

Next week we dive back into our homeschooling routine again. I’m looking forward to it!

Until next time…Be fearless.

Here’s to the Troublemakers…

I have a confession to make. I have a soft spot for children who break the rules. I’m not talking about defiant kids. Or ones that just want to call attention to themselves. Or ones that break the rules simply because they can.

I have an affinity for children who break the rules because they simply have something much more interesting and important they want to do than what they have been told to do.

These are hard kids to raise and hard kids to teach. But, oftentimes, they turn into very successful adults.

Did you hear about the five-year-old Kentucky girl who walked away from her kindergarten class on the first day of school this year? She was found more than a mile away from her school, strolling down the sidewalk in front of the Wayne County Courthouse. When a police officer asked the child why she left school, she said, “because I was bored.”

This child wasn’t trying to make a statement, defy her teacher or parents, or scare an entire county. She simply wasn’t interested in wasting her day. This kind of thinking reminds me of a little girl who lived in our old neighborhood. For the first two weeks of kindergarten she snuck into the school cafeteria so she could eat with the low-income children receiving free breakfast. When her mother asked her why she did it, she said “because I was hungry.”

Last year I was teaching a line dance class at our homeschool co-op and noticed a boy I didn’t recognize dancing in the back row. I asked him what class he was supposed to be in, and he told me he was enrolled in a science class. When I asked him why he was in my class that day instead of science, he said, “because I like dancing a lot more than I like science.”

On the one hand you want to strangle these kinds of kids. But, on the other hand, there’s something about their initiative, cleverness, and good sense that’s impressive. These kids march to their own drummers, manage their own lives, and find the world around them so immensely interesting a set of rules couldn’t possibly contain them.

Now, I fully understand that children need to learn to follow rules and do things they don’t always want to do. I get that. But it bears pointing out that rule breakers sometimes have more “going on” that compliant children who never challenge or question the status quo.

Penelope Trunk, an unschooling mom who writes a popular education blog, makes a good point about following rules. She says: “When I tell people we don’t do forced curriculum at my house, invariably people ask me how my kids will learn to do stuff they don’t like. Here’s what I think: How will your kids learn to stop doing things they don’t like?”

I think Penelope has a point. Our world has lots of compliant people who sleepwalk through life. It’s like they’ve been conditioned (probably at school and at home) to be content doing things they don’t like or enjoy. They never make a bold move. They never do anything truly wonderful. They don’t even do the things they really want to do.

Because I have two internationally- adopted children I often have people say this to me: “I always wanted to adopt, but I never did.”

Because I homeschool I also have people say to me, “I admire you for homeschooling. I wish I could do it.”

My husband and sons recently took a week to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. I can’t tell you how many times people said, “I always wanted to do that, but never did.”

These kinds of responses make me want to scream out: “YOU CAN! YOU CAN! YOU CAN!”

I think people get so comfortable with the routine and used to the mundane that they work harder to find happiness within their mediocre circumstances than to actually change the circumstances. Just as the little girl in Wayne County took a look around her kindergarten class and said “there’s got to be something better than this,” we need to look around our own lives and wonder the same thing. The spirit it takes to make a change and forge a new path needs to be encouraged and embraced in both children and adults.

Schools are the worst place to foster a spirit of independence and urgency in children. Because they are institutions serving large numbers of people, they must be rule-laden and rule-enforced. Children who think for themselves need not apply.

For the past 10 years I’ve been part of the leadership of a large homeschool group for high school students. This experience has given me some perspective beyond my own children.

Here’s what I see: The children who give us the most trouble as high school students are often the most impressive as they grow older. These “troublemakers” are not defiant students (we rarely have those), or mean students (we never have those) or lazy students (OK, we probably have a few of those), but I’m talking about students who politely decline to follow the rules because there is something much more interesting to do than what someone else has planned for that moment.

I’m thinking about the students who spend more time talking to their neighbors than listening to their teachers. Or the ones who are late to class because they can’t pull themselves away from their friends. Or the ones who skip out because they missed lunch and McDonalds is just down the road. I’m even thinking about the student who lit a fire in his desk (and all the boys who egged him on) because watching a fire burn seemed more fun than participating in a class discussion. These kids must be addressed and disciplined, but they should be treated with respect. Because this year’s fire starter is next year’s Bill Gates (he was once arrested), or Ted Turner (he was expelled), or Steve Jobs (who occupied himself in school by getting in trouble.)

“I was kind of bored for the first few years (in school), so I occupied myself by getting into trouble.” Jobs once said. “They (school leaders) really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.”

In the past decade, there have been a multitude of studies done on successful entrepreneurs, those people who earn at least 70 percent more than the average worker. Three different studies (from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Research.) found four commonalities among successful entrepreneurs. The first three were not surprising. Successful entrepreneurs are 1) smart, 2) confident, and 3) have been raised in middle-upper class, two-parent homes.

Guess what the fourth commonality is? Successful entrepreneurs tend to engage in aggressive, illicit, and/or risky behaviors when they are young.

So the next time you catch your child breaking a rule or causing trouble, don’t be alarmed. Ruminate on this quote from Steve Jobs instead:

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Stephen Jobs

Until next time…Be fearless.


Ten Very Sweet Reasons to Homeschool

RoxI recently snapped this photo of my daughter, Roxanna, sleeping on the couch. It was 10 a.m. on “a school day” and she was suffering from an annoying head cold. I love this scene because my daughter looks so warm and serene, protected from the outside world by her loyal companion, Boomer.

These are the moments I love best about homeschooling.  Academics, character building, and faith development are all important facets of homechooling. But there are some things that are even more basic, even more important for moms and dads to do for their children. Things like love, care, nurture, and keeping their children safe.

Home is so much more than a school. Schools are institutions, but home is a place where all the cares of the world can be shut out and children can just be, well, children.  No worries. No pressure. No stress. A place where, when you don’t feel well, you can grab your favorite blanket, bury yourself in the well-worn family couch, be warmed by the companionship of the family pet, and feel so comfortable and rested that you can fall asleep in the midst of the daily activities of a large family.

I learned the value of love and care in education when my oldest son was in second grade. It was the first day of school and we were looking at the teacher assignments posted on the front door of my son’s public school. There were a number of second grade teachers who were considered great teachers. But I was nervous because there was one teacher, Miss Sutton, who some of the moms in my neighborhood had warned me to avoid. Miss Sutton was considered too young, too nice, and too inexperienced to be a good teacher. But there was my son’s name…on Miss Sutton’s class list.

As I was still musing over my son’s bad luck, my friend, Kim, tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out that her son was in the same class as my son. She looked happy. So I asked her, “Did you WANT Miss Sutton?” She gave me a surprised look. “Of course,” she said. “Miss Sutton is nice. More than anything, I want my kids’ teachers to be nice.”

Kim’s answer raised my eyebrows. I had been a public school teacher in the past, but I had never aspired to be “nice.” I wanted to be a great teacher. I wanted to accomplish something with my students. I wanted to be respected.  Could it be that I missed something?

That second grade school year my son got sick. He was so sick that just getting him through the school day became a challenge. Day after day, week after week, my son suffered. But Miss Sutton took care of him. She made him a priority. She called me regularly. She bought a book on his illness and read the whole book. She was nice. And my son survived. Even thrived. I had learned an important lesson. There is nothing more important in education than how a teacher feels about and treats her students.

As homeschooling parents, your greatest gift to your children is your love and your home, the place where your love reigns. Children don’t need great curriculum, fancy schools, decked out classrooms, and trained teachers. They need love and care. Providing for your children’s schooling in the comfort and security of your home is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. In view of that, here are:

 Ten Very Sweet Reasons to Homeschool


1. When your child doesn’t feel well, he can curl up on the couch with a blanket and a book.

2. When the neighborhood children are huddled on the street corner at 6:45 a.m. in the morning waiting for the school bus,        your child is still asleep in his bed.

3. When the bus returns 7-8 hours later, so full of noisy kids it takes an adult monitor to keep things under control, your child isn’t on it.

4. When other children are rushing through their 20-minute lunch period in the din of the school lunchroom, your child is sharing a relaxed meal with siblings at the family table.

5. When personal events disrupt the lives of your children, you can put school on hold without a moment’s hesitation or explanation.

6. When tragedies strike, events can unfold with your children by your side.

7. When you go on on family trips and vacations, there’s no make-up work when you return.

8. When other children are up late doing homework, your child isn’t.

9. When other children are going out for recess, your child’s school day is long over.

10. When school gets long, you stop. When lessons get hard, you rest. When bodies get tired, you go outside and play.

There has been much said and written about how the atmosphere for learning affects learning. Stress, pressure, fear, and insecurity can shut down learning, while the loving environment of the home builds it up. Michael and Susan Card wrote this in their book, The Homeschool Journey: “Home is a place of comfort and healing, a place of safety and security. And from this secure outpost we can explore our world. Home is where great things are spoken and where our imaginations are unleashed to explore and wander in the presence of warm, loving companions who both encourage us and teach us what areas are best left unexplored. Home is where you learn discipline and are disciplined, because home is where you are loved.”

Until next time…Be fearless.


A Fearless New Blog

Writing a blog is scary. I questioned the idea over and over. Would people read it? Would they appreciate what I had to say? Would they like me? Fear pressed in from all sides until I wondered if there would even be a blog at all. 

Isn’t that the way things go with most things we attempt in life? We have great ideas, great plans, and great confidence…until the first “what if” sneaks up on us. It zaps our energy and destroys our initiative.

For the past 25 years I’ve been heavily immersed in education – public school teacher, private tutor, homeschooling mom. Almost every big idea that has swirled around me during that time has been rooted in an element of fear. We worry more about covering the basics and making sure no child slips through the cracks than establishing true excellence in education. Does anybody in America really believe that our schools inspire children to achieve at high levels anymore?

I find that homeschool parents are often driven by this same fear of failure. This fear grates on us daily and rattles our foundations until our homeschooling looks just like traditional schooling – rudimentary and uninspired. We scoff at traditional schools and then turn around and use the same types of texts and curriculums, the same kinds of classroom activities, and the same systems of grading and evaluating. We know, instinctively, that much of this does not work or we wouldn’t have turned away from traditional schools in the first place. But we are immobilized to change because we ask ourselves, “Wonder if they’re right and I’m wrong?”

A few years ago I resolved to set fear aside when teaching my own children. I was tired of fear dictating my every move. I was tired of doing the same wrong things over and over again for the same wrong reasons. I was tired of ignoring everything I had ever been taught or had experienced for myself about how children learn. 

So I changed the way I homeschooled my children. And a funny thing happened: My kids got smarter.  My home got happier. And our homeschool took a big, gratifying turn for the better.

This blog is about educational journeys – yours and mine. I want to tell you about my mine and I want to hear about yours. I was once employed as a news reporter so I’m naturally inclined to be curious about what people do and why they do it. I want to hear great thoughts and good ideas and I want to write about them.

I will try to be both practical and provocative on this blog. I will try to share both small suggestions and big ideas.  And, just to keep things fun and interesting, I will try to share a little bit of myself in the process. I’m looking forward to it.

Until next time…Stay fearless.