Homeschool Encouragement

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Myth Busted: Homeschool Kids Don’t Just Teach Themselves

Maybe you’ve read those homeschool blog posts or magazine articles that say your high school aged kids will teach themselves.  They will hit this magical age where you will just hand them a book and they will acquire the knowledge it contains through careful study and meticulous work ethic. 

And then they’ll turn around and teach your younger children.  It’ll be so beautiful! 

myth busted: homeschool kids don't teach themselves at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsAnd when your oldest reaches high school age, you’ll be able to put up your feet and start reading murder mysteries again.  They’ll also cook dinner (canapes and other fancy stuff) and even clean the house.  It’ll be like having your own personal house servants. 

Now, I have no doubt that maybe this actually is the case in some homeschooling households.  Possibly?  Ist it?  (I don’t know any homeschool families like this, but surely they are out there, right?)

It certainly is not the case in mine.

It’s true some kids will teach themselves, even from an early age.  They are so driven to acquire knowledge that you can just hand them the book and off they go.  And even if you don’t hand them a book, they will seek it out on their own.

But I wouldn’t say that’s the norm.  Or if it is, my own children are far from normal.  Will my kids learn stuff on their own?  For sure…but not algebra, nope, never algebra.  Their passions, yes, but not the things that must be learned.  In fact, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I was able to stop sitting by my teen’s elbow to keep him from having a math meltdown. 

While he does work largely independently as a 10th grader, it’s not because I just hand him a stack of books and off he goes.  It’s because I work with him to formulate a plan to conquer whatever subject he is working on and then I check in with him (frequently) throughout the day, week, year to see how he is progressing.  He works hard and he checks in with me. 

We’re a good team. 

When he  hits a wall, whether it be due to a lack of understanding of a mathematical concept or an awkward structure for a history paper, I work with him to  help him climb his way over that wall.

What happens when I don’t scaffold my son in this way?  I let him down. 

It’s not an issue of not wanting to see him struggle or never fail (struggle is good for building character, and we all have to fail sometimes), but of withholding tools he needs to succeed.  He just isn’t academically self-sufficient, yet.  He’s getting there.  And I’m sure that there are plenty of other 16-year-olds that are there already, but I’m not educating them---I’m educating my 16-year-old and he still needs some hand-holding.

If he were in school, chances are that his teachers would give nightly assignments and check in on things like paper drafts and such.  Surely the homeschool mom can at least give that much, right?  And so I give him what he needs to succeed.  Then I sit back and watch him do his work.  He’s still the one using the brain power and putting in the effort, I just help him keep on track and give him the positive reinforcement he needs.

I praise him (he deserves it).  I look at his drawings and take interest in his personal interests.  Because this is a big part of the reason I homeschool---to be in-tune with my child.

There are a lot of reasons why our family homeschools, and depending upon who asks me and what the circumstances are, I generally talk about one or two of the most pertinent ones at the time.  But here’s a little confession.  One of the things that convinced me that I should do this thing, that I should dedicate my days to educating my children and not to doing something else was connection.

You see, when my oldest was in school (David attended a Catholic school for grades pre-k through 1st), one of the things that bothered me most was the fact that I didn’t know what he was doing all day.

Let me talk about that a bit, because it sounds stalkerish.

I’m not talking about control here.  I didn’t want to be in control of my son’s day.  It’s not even that I wanted t know all the minute details.

I just didn’t want to be in the dark.

Because that’s what I felt at the time, that I was in the dark.  Sure, he could tell me about his day…actually, he couldn’t, if I asked about his day, he’d say “I dunno,” but kids, right?  But that’s not really what I mean, knowing what he did all day.  It was more about knowing him.  I was losing track of my son, his dreams and his reality.  I felt weirdly disconnected from him.  I felt like our relationship was suffering.

I can honestly say that I now have a great relationship with my teenaged son. 

It’s not like we always see eye-to-eye.  But we are honest with each other and respect each other.  I don’t know that I can attribute that to homeschooling, but I suspect that we are closer to each other than we would be if we weren’t homeschooling.  We know each other better.  Maybe that makes us weird. Winking smile

So, getting back to my main point…what was that?  Oh yes!

Does my son teach himself?  Sometimes (especially if it’s about building hovercrafts or learning javascript).  All my kids teach themselves lots of things.  Not algebra, though, never algebra.

Do the older children teach the younger children?  Sometimes, but not their regularly scheduled lessons. 

The other day, Peter was teaching Emma the difference between proper nouns and commons nouns.  Because Mad Libs.  So it is true that younger children will learn from older children, for sure.  That is not the basis of their education, but it does add some depth and helps to strengthen their relationships with each other.

Do my children do all the household chores?  No, but they do contribute to the household, for sure.  They do need frequent reminding and sometimes I feel like a nag.

So, do my kids homeschool themselves?  Nope, not even the 7-year-old.  Your mileage may vary.

If you are thinking about getting into this homeschooling thing because you think your personal outlay (whether it be emotional, spiritual, intellectual, whatever) will be minimal, don’t do it!  Do it if you are willing to give it all you’ve got…and then be relieved when it requires a little less of you for this or that season in life.

If you’re just starting out and you’re feeling like…ugh, this can’t be right, my kid needs me all the time.  It’s ok…sometimes that’s what it takes.  Over time they will need you less.  And then more.  It’s a continuum.  You can do it.

Have you got a self-teaching prodigy on your hands?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This Year’s Homeschool Fizzles and Successes

The three younger children have finished and the oldest will be finishing up next week.  It seems a bit anti-climactic to talk about the end of the year since we had our homeschool portfolio reviews way back in March, but we did it. 

Yes, we had a successful year in our homeschool!

End of year recap at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsBut it did have its ups and downs.  To be totally honest, at times I wanted to get off this roller coaster. Winking smile

I could easily just tell you all about what went right this year, but I want to share with you the whole picture.

Why?  For two main reasons: 

  • I don’t want you to compare your everyday to my highlight reel.
  • I need a personal record.  It’s helpful for me to go back over my original plans for the year and figure out what worked well and what fizzled so I can (hopefully?) avoid the same pitfalls in the future and capitalize on the successes.  Maybe, hopefully?

Today I’m just going to talk a bit about what worked and what didn’t work for the three younger children.

They’ve been finished for a bit and I’ve had some time to digest our successes and failures.  I’ll probably post about my high schooler’s year in a week or so when he’s done for the school year---I want some time to mull things over.

So let’s take a little journey back several months…to the beginning of our 2015-2016 school year.

Mary was entering 6th, Peter 4th, and Emma 1st grade.  I had planned out the year and I was pretty happy with my plan.

Unfortunately, a mere 3 weeks into the fall semester I had to make major (MAJOR) changes in the plan.  Meaning dumping the main part of it.

You see, I had planned the perfect year.  Except I forgot (as usual) that neither I nor my children are perfect. 

The “perfect” curriculum will sit there on the shelf and jeer at you all year long as one child has meltdown after meltdown over math. The perfect curriculum will use up all your printer ink and reams of paper only to have your children sigh (or groan) and say “again” over yet another professional little notebook page to fill out.

The “perfect” curriculum will have you flip flopping back and forth and pulling your hair out if it doesn’t fit you and your kids. 

The truly perfect curriculum isn’t the one that encompasses every single thing you want your homeschool to embody. 

It’s the one that gets done and gets done consistently without anyone (including you, mom) losing his/her mind on a daily basis.  That’s right, we aim to not have daily crying in our homeschool.  Occasional lost minds or head banging we can deal with, but not constant pain if we can possibly avoid it.

So, what went wrong?

I started the year using Trail Guide to Learning: Paths of Exploration with Mary and Peter. Emma was a tag-a-long.  We added in additional science for everyone and Five in a Row as an extra for Emma. 

Trail Guide is  essentially an “all-in-one” type of thing, covering history, geography, language arts, literature, and art in a cohesive whole (you just add math).  There are 6 units in the year and each is like a free-standing unit study (though they do refer to each other somewhat).

I am thankful that I bought Trail Guide and most of the books used, because it would have been a lot harder to let go of it otherwise.  Three weeks into the fall, we all knew that there was no way Trail Guide was going to get done all year.  It was sapping us.  Instead of looking forward to doing it each day, we were happy to be done with it each day. 

I still think Trail Guide is a wonderful program, but it was exactly the wrong program for my crew at the time I tried to use it.

Part of the reason I chose TG was because I really wanted something that didn’t require a lot of daily planning on my part.  I wanted something that I could pick up and use with all my younger children.  I wanted it to cover all the basics (aside from math), to be enjoyable, to not be too textbookish, to allow us to use some of the parts of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy that work well for us, to get DONE, and to make some connections between science, history, art, and geography.  I wanted their spelling and vocab to be relevant to their other studies. 

I also wanted to spend a few hours a day together and be done for the day so they could have plenty of free time for other pursuits, and I would (hopefully) still have energy to work with my high schooler.

Language Arts with Trail Guide to Learning at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsThis is not meant to be a detailed review of Trail Guide, so I’ll just briefly state why we didn’t stick with it.  It seemed to fit exactly what I wanted for my kids’ education, but in use it just didn’t fit what they needed.  They did not enjoy the assigned readings.  The language arts needed to be tweaked a whole lot to fit them.  There was too much busy work and it took me too much time/planning to decide what busy work to cut out.  It seemed like they only had two subjects each day: Trail Guide and math.  And Trail Guide just seemed to go on and on.  They needed their days to be more broken up. 

We worked with it, revamped, switched things around, tried to work out a predictable routine, but ultimately it felt like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  Could we have ultimately made it work for us?  Probably.  But I was trying so hard to fit my kids into the curriculum and it seemed too unwieldy to fit the curriculum to my kids.  It was easier to just pick individual pieces that fit my kids better.

So I threw in the towel. 

I am saving TG for when youngest is old enough to do it on her own and maybe it will be the perfect fit for her at that time (or not, who knows?). 

So we dumped Trail Guide to Learning after 3 weeks.  Kind of pathetic, I know.

I felt like such a quitter.  In retrospect, though, it wasn’t worth the frustration.  I’m so glad I gave it up.

For history we switched to a middle school level spine called Makers of the Americas and gathered all the fiction and nonfiction books I could find in the house on American history into a book basket (a couple dozen at least, including many of the books I had purchased for Trail Guide).  Mary and Peter would each choose a book from the book basket to read as their “assigned” reading and choose a new book whenever they finished that book.  For output, I had them create their own notebook pages on what they were learning, about one a week.  They could choose from whatever topics we had learned about that week or write a report on the book they had just finished. 

About halfway through the year, we had to make a further adjustment to history.  We switched to the Complete Book of US History for our spine.  Peter was getting bogged down in the overabundance of detail in Makers. And, in spite of the fact that many would say that Complete Book is below Mary’s level (it’s labeled grades 3-5), I found that bumping down the level of our spine led to much better retention for both middle kids.

You know what?  I don’t care if it’s “below her level.”  What matters to me is that she learned a heck of a lot about American history this year, remembers it, and wrote some wonderful pages about it.  If she got that much out of it, it was definitely the right book for her at the time.

In addition to their “assigned” reading and free reading, they have also been doing daily copywork for spelling and grammar practice.

When we dumped Trail Guide and its related science/nature studies, we picked up Mystery Science to fill that gap.

Mystery Science at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsWe were able to use this for free during their “beta” year.  Mystery Science was a near perfect fit for us for this particular year.  My only regret---that they don’t have more units done or units at a middle school level, because I would definitely pay to use it a second year if I felt it would be enough for my rising 7th grader.  I think it probably isn’t, so we’ll be doing something different next year.

Doing art at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsFor the Arts, we’ve been doing art projects as they occur to us.  Emma has been doing Kinderbach when the mood strikes for music.  Mary and Peter have been using Hoffman Academy’s free piano lessons.  Peter's Scooby-Doo drawing at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Math has had its upsets also.

Math U See Blocks at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsPeter continued with Math U See (he’s currently in Delta) and that’s still a keeper. 

Mary started the year in Modern Curriculum Press’ grade 6 book.  For various reasons, we found this one to be a poor fit.  She ended up testing out of several chapters and using Math Mammoth topical workbooks plus other worksheets to work on week areas.

Emma started the year with Miquon and Math Mammoth grade 1, plus math games.  At first she really grooved on Miquon, but then got bored with it.  She’s moved on to Mathematical Reasoning 1st grade. The variety in the Mathematical Reasoning book keeps her interested and she loves the logic puzzles.

I’m pretty pleased with where we are at with math at this point.  All three kids are learning and improving their skills.  Peter will continue with Math U See (which causes him some frustration sometimes, but he sticks with it and is becoming confident and competent in math), finishing Delta and moving onto Epsilon.  Emma will continue with Mathematical Reasoning, though I may add in some Math U See.  Mary will be moving to Teaching Textbooks in the fall, which she’s really excited about.

In the end, we took a year that looked disastrous 3 weeks in and made it a success. 

Picking the wrong program is not the end of the world.  Over the past year I have watched these children grow so much.  Sometime soon I’ll be writing about their academic and personal goals for the next year as we think about what we are doing next.  Stay tuned.

Are you finishing up your academic year in your homeschool?  How did it go? 

Note: the links provided in this post are not affiliate links, they are simply provided for your convenience.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Homeschooling Hearts & Minds Returns After a Year Hiatus

About a year ago I decided to stop blogging here at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds.  My plan was to leave it up as an archive of resources for home educators, while I switched to writing about my more personal pursuits at a different web address. 

Homeschooling Hearts & Minds is back after a year hiatus!The archive bit happened, but the rest?  Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

The short story is that I just needed a clean break from blogging for awhile.  What I thought would be a few week break turned into a few months and before I knew it almost a year had passed.

And then I realized that I wanted to come home to this blog and talk with you, not build up and create an all new blog and talk to all new friends. 

So, welcome back!  I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with you and sharing what we are doing in our homeschool. 

Let me give you a quick update on the family.

It’s been a very rainy spring and we are all kind of sick of being cooped up inside.  This morning the kids are building together.  And not fighting.  Bliss!

Kids building with Pinblocks at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsKids building with Pinblocks 2 at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsThey are using Pinblocks, which are pretty cool (even the teen is fascinated).

Chris and I celebrated our 18th anniversary this January.  This picture is from his birthday a couple months before (his age on the cake is in binary---see if you can figure it out).

binary birthday cake at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


David is 16 and just finishing up his 10th grade coursework.

David's birthday at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


Mary is 12 and finishing 6th grade.

Mary reading during graveside memorial at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


Peter is 10 and finishing 4th grade.

Peter in a tape body outline for Emma's detective mystery at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


Emma is 7 and finishing 1st grade.

Emma in laundry basket at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


The girls after their ballet recital:

Girls' ballet recital at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


Peter bridged up to Boy Scouts this spring.

Peter bridging up to boy scouts at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


Emma discovered that selfies are fun.

Little kids like selfies at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


We noticed that sometimes the sky looks just like a painting.

Amazing clouds at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


We engaged in plenty of learning…

Physics with marbles and pipe insulation at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

…and a whole lot of silliness.

Being silly at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

I’ve had some health issues this year.  There’s something about being in your 40s and suddenly having health issues that makes you take notice of your mortality.  Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere---but I am taking stock of the way things are and what I’d like change.  There’s only a couple more years before my oldest becomes an independent adult (eeps!).  This is a good time to be reflective and intentional.

Christmas at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds


Since we are finishing up our coursework and heading into summer, I’ll soon be talking about what worked and didn’t work for us this year. 

Me and my crew at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

In the meantime, how have you been? 

I’d love to hear from you, whether here in the comments, or on facebook, or even by email.  Feel free to drop me a line at

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Updates: New Blog is Now Live!

Homeschooling Hearts & Minds will remain on the web for now.  I probably will be removing some of the personal content or making it private, but the freebies and articles on homeschooling will continue to remain available to the public.

If you'd like to keep in touch and find out what we are doing these days, my new blog is now live:

Why Not Sparkle?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Hello to Spring and New Beginnings! Important Announcement!

Our first crocuses opened their purple petals just in time for Holy Week.  The wind is still a bit chilly, but the lilacs are donning whispering leaves.  4

Spring is really here!  I’m looking forward to nature walks, garden planting, and joyful voices at the playground.  One of my kids came home the other day with the first sunburn of the season.

New Beginnings...important announcement at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Just as the landscape is undergoing a transformation, so is our homeschool. 

I remember last year around this time I was thinking about giving up this home education thing.  My kids were having a hard time getting along (growing pains) and I was having a hard time in my heart.  I wondered if it would be best for my oldest to attend high school in a brick-and-mortar school.  I wondered if my 2nd oldest needed a break from the rest of us.

In retrospect, I think it was the 7-year-itch.  It was the middle of my 7th year as a homeschooling mama and it was a hard year for me.  If I’m completely honest, it continued to be hard until quite recently.  I think I’m over the hump, now.  Our home learning continues to be an important and enriching part of our lives.

But part of getting over that hump was coming to some important realizations.

1st Realization:  I love teaching my kids. 

I love learning alongside them.  And I love talking with them every day about the things that are important to them.  I love knowing first hand what they are learning about, but also being taken completely by surprise when they teach me something that they have learned on their own.  They teach me something new every day!

2nd Realization:  My kids love learning together, but they can seriously get on each other’s nerves.  

Most of us are introverts.  We like people, but we also need space and time to recharge (away from everyone) on a regular basis.  

3rd Realization:  I was (am) worrying too much about fitting our learning into “acceptable” patterns. 

There isn’t one right way to do high school.  There isn’t one optimal course through the foundational grades. I knew that in my head, but I still found my plans being heavily influenced by what others think is a rigorous, engaging course of study rather than what really and truly works best for my crew.

The reality is that my kids are not the norm.  Nobody is.  And trying to stuff them into the accepted course was, well, it wasn’t working for anybody.

4th Realization:  Sometimes simpler really is better. 

The best curriculum is the one that gets done.  I’m not going to get into all the plans I had for this year that didn’t happen (and there are lots of reasons), but what we are doing right now is much simpler and it’s working!  It is the best plan for us because it’s getting done.  The kids are learning so much. 

My grand plans may have looked better on paper (or in a blog post), but this, this is what works and so it’s what we will stick with.  For now.

This same realization applies to so much more than just homeschooling.

5th Realization:  There is so much more to me than being a homeschool mom, a mom, or a wife. 

And in just a few short years, my kids will start graduating from my homeschool and I will have more time to pursue my interests.  But, here’s the thing---none of us know how long we have on this earth.  Don’t continually put off until tomorrow what you can start today.

6th Realization:

Deep Breath.

It’s time for a new beginning. 

I will be retiring this blog and starting a new site (the new site is a way to help me focus on the 5th Realization above).  When the new site goes live sometime in the next couple of weeks, I will post an update here to let you know where to find it. 

This decision has been a long time in coming.  In fact, I’ve owned the domain for the new site for over a year and it’s taken me this long to go ahead with it.  It’s hard for me to let go of a good thing.  I’ve put a lot of myself into this site, but I know that putting it aside is for the best.

Homeschooling Hearts & Minds will remain here as an archive for homeschoolers looking for the resources I’ve accumulated over the years, so no worries about downloading everything before it is gone. 

But over the next couple of weeks I will be shutting down the comments, follows, etc.  I may keep the FB and Twitter pages intact, haven’t decided for sure (let me know if you want to still connect about homeschooling on FB). 

Please be aware that I may or may not renew the domain name when it comes up for renewal at the end of this year.  If I do not renew, I will revert it back to its blogspot address and will post an update here.

The Virtual Curriculum Fair will run again in 2016, but I have turned it over to a group of lovely homeschool blogging friends of mine.  I will post an update about its new home at some point in the future.

So, please stay posted---and look for my new home on the web in the next couple of weeks. 

He is Risen!

He is truly risen!

He is Risen-001

Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Play Love Laugh---Kid-Safe, Vegetable-based Nail Polish (a review)

Do you have a little girl who loves fancy nails?

Play Love Laugh, Inc. has developed a kid-safe, vegetable-based nail polish that comes in all the trendy colors, including pearls and sparkles. 

I recently had the opportunity to try out their pearly Pink Rose polish with 5-year-old Emma and…

She is in love! 

play love laugh-001IMG_0503