Eco-Friendly Christmas

It seems that many of us homeschooling moms-- and moms in general-- naturally become interested in ways to "green" our lifestyle. From making our own eco-friendly cleaning solutions to using cloth diapers to buying organic, locally-grown food, searching for sustainable lifestyle practices becomes an important priority. And so it is this Christmas that we have told Santa and our friends and family that we'd prefer either no gift-wrapping (just a big red bow), or wrapping in old newspapers or paper bags.

And we are following the same practice for the gifts we give, including purchasing smaller gifts with less packaging and sliding them into a monogrammed Christmas stocking that we reuse each year. M has found this new practice to be particularly exciting, as she collected old, leftover wrapping paper scraps and "wrapped" her grandfather's present!

We are also trying to encourage fewer toys, partly because of our limited city space and partly to be more eco-friendly. We've been purchasing sustainable and natural toys to reduce reliance on hard plastic toys that are generally not durable nor meaningful nor good for the environment. I read this great article on entitled, "No More Junk Toys: Rethinking Children's Gifts" which includes lots of good ideas for higher-quality, higher-impact toys. Just trying to think up new ways to reduce unnecessary waste-- and I'm very excited because I think Santa is bringing me a composting system for Christmas!

The Mitten

We've been reading Jan Brett's classic book, The Mitten, for several days now and it's such a delightful story. We've been having more indoor days lately, partly due to the frosty weather and partly due to my "nesting" desire in these final few weeks of pregnancy, so it's fortunate that there are so many wonderful winter stories to borrow from the library.

In light of this, I'm trying to incorporate crafts and/or baking activities that go along with a story. In the case of The Mitten, I found this fun and easy craft. I modified it a bit, so that instead of taping the mitten together, we used the one-hole punch to create sewing holes on the edges and then M used her kids needle and yarn to sew the edges, stuff the mitten with cotton and include the animal characters. The craft is a really great way to make the story more interactive, because now as we read the story, she can put each animal into the mitten at its appropriate time. More adventurous/adept homeschooling moms could easily use felt or other material for the mitten and characters!

I've also been thinking about how great poetry is for preschool kids. While I haven't yet suggested that M memorize and recite any poems, I can envision that occurring down the road. In the meantime, I expanded upon the mitten craft by finding a cute poem and affixing it to our paper mitten. Maybe today we'll bake cookies shaped like mittens before truly exhausting this theme!...

Winter Solstice

December is one of my most favorite months of the year, with chalky skies, long shadows, and lots of festive celebrations. This year, we are incorporating more focus on the Winter Solstice as the primary foundation for many of the December traditions we celebrate, like decorating our holiday tree, hanging stockings, hosting parties, and exchanging gifts.

One of my favorite websites, Rhythm of the Home, just came out with their winter issue and they offer a fabulous list of children's stories about the winter solstice. We borrowed several from the library today, including the delightful story, The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice, by Wendy Pfeffer.

I'm really attracted to the Waldorf-inspired focus on seasonal festivals; and celebrating the Winter Solstice this year, along with Christmas and New Year's, just enhances the magic of the season.

This is also such a great time of the year for baking and crafting, while holiday songs surround us. Today we baked gingerbread men and have read the "Gingerbread Boy" story several times to go along with it. December is so rich with curriculum opportunities for homeschooling kids of all ages! Incorporating lessons in astronomy, history, geography, and world religions -- in addition to the fine and culinary arts -- are easy and fun during this festive time of the year. Happy Holidays!

The Nutcracker

Today was M's first time seeing The Boston Ballet's "Nutcracker" performance at the Boston Opera House and she really enjoyed it. We have been reading the book and listening to the music for months now which helped her to understand and appreciate the story. It was great to see her make connections to the book, like when the godfather's life-size dolls danced, M said: "Oh that must be Columbine!" And when I asked her if they were going to Sugar Plum Land, she quickly corrected me to say, "No, it's the Land of the Sweets." But she did not like when parts of the ballet differed from the book, like a dancing bear in the initial party scene and a hot air balloon ride for Clara and the prince. We took a fun taxi ride to the Opera House and then the subway home, while stopping for hot chocolate along the way. All in all, it was quite lovely and the perfect way to kick-off the holiday season! I hope this becomes an annual tradition for us!

Vacation Days

With Daddy's busy and often unpredictable work schedule, we cherish the times when he can take vacation days or rearrange his schedule to be home in the morning or come home early in the afternoon. As we stomped around Harvard Square on this gorgeous Fall morning, we remarked how nice it is to be able to have the kids home whenever he can take time off, rather than relying on school vacation schedules which would rarely mesh with his work schedule. The flexibility that homeschooling provides is just another wonderful benefit of this educational and lifestyle choice.

Symphony Hall

Today was M's first visit to Symphony Hall for a family concert performance of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf," and it was wonderful! She was absolutely mesmerized by the instruments and the surroundings, and I was so glad that we've been reading the book and listening to the music for months now so she really understood the story and appreciated the experience. There are two more family concerts in the 2010/2011 season, so we will definitely take advantage of them-- particularly where we are so lucky to be just a quick bus ride to Symphony Hall! Once again, how great is city homeschooling?!

Summer Remnants

We've been lucky to have such a mild fall, relatively speaking, and yesterday we spent a good portion of the day outside enjoying the lovely fall weather. M found some wild flowers still blooming and decided it would be a good idea to "plant" these as bulbs for next spring. This gave me the idea to save our nearly-dead impatiens from the yard waste bin and instead let M and J play with them, dump them out, plant them, and generally have a great time in the backyard. And what a treat to be able to eat lunch and read books at our picnic table in mid-November!

Natural History Museum

Today we took a nice walk/bike ride to the Harvard Natural History Museum, which we had been avoiding recently because J had been at that awkward, 18-month-old stage when it was hard to engage or contain him at a more "sophisticated" type of museum. But today he did great. I'm also starting to see M moving to a new stage of interest where she will actually sit at the exhibit stations and listen intently to the audio narrative or really study items with the magnifying glass, instead of just playing with buttons. It's fun to see them move into new stages of development and interest and it keeps each museum visit fresh and enjoyable.

October Leaf-Jumping

Nothing says fall fun as much as some good, old-fashioned leaf-jumping! At our weekly nature walk, the facilitator brought plenty of rakes and the kids helped to create big piles of colorful leaves for jumping and burying. The kids had a blast! And then the facilitator, who always has very creative ideas, had the kids tape leaves on themselves and the grown-ups to pretend we were trees. I really want to try to think up more creative ways like these to use natural elements, like leaves and acorns, to inform our learning and make the most of each season....


Writing alphabet letters well seems to be a primary focus of preschool and kindergarten curriculum, but I have found that not focusing on this skill too much has actually made it easier and more enjoyable for M to learn.

While I may occasionally print a worksheet with letters for M to trace, that is very rare and only if she seems to want to. Most of the time, we just write letters as part of our craft activities. Like yesterday, for example, we were drawing and coloring on the picnic table and M decided that she wanted to write the names of all the new babies that have recently been born to friends and neighbors. So I told her how to spell their names, and she wrote the letters really well. I find this whole process fascinating because I have never explicitly worked on letter writing with her and yet, like most things with homeschooling, if she's interested in learning something and it's not arbitrary or arduous, she'll gravitate toward integrating the skill into her day.

Many homeschoolers-- particularly unschoolers-- talk about the need to trust in kids' natural curiosity and eagerness to learn and advise against unnecessary timetables to determine competency. I am beginning to observe this amazing process more freqently and it certainly makes me more willing to let my kids dictate their learning and not be at all concerned about a learning "timetable."

Kitchen Math

Homeschoolers frequently talk about using "kitchen math" as the foundation for teaching math and helping their kids to easily understand abstract mathematical concepts. I am beginning to see this in action! With all of our baking lately, it's easy to see how the reinforcement about measurements and fractions is helping M to become naturally more interested and adept in these areas.

For instance, we've been baking homemade french toast a lot lately and the recipe calls for cutting whole wheat English muffins into quarters. M has been watching me cut the muffins and then I let her play with one of them so that she sees how they fit together and what 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 looks like.

Well, yesterday at the playground, she and some other kids her age were making "apple pie" in the sandbox. When the pie came out of the oven, M said, "Ok now we have to cut it into quarters!" And she proceeded to cut two intersecting lines into the bucket to create quarters and then scoop them out for each kid!

So, I'm definitely seeing how kitchen math really works! And here's a good website with links for various kitchen math activities for homeschoolers.

October crafts

Auntie visited today so of course she had all sorts of fun crafts for M! They made little ghosts out of an old, cut-up t-shirt and some string, and then had lots of fun with black and orange felt to create pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns. (And Auntie bought me my very own hot glue gun so that I can continue to push myself to improve in the craft area!)

It was also such a lovely fall day that they were able to spend their craft time outside and we were able to get about 5+ hours of pure outside air time today, including outside dinner which we've been doing more often than not on the picnic table in our building's backyard. I just love having so much fresh air time, and as dusk is creeping earlier and earlier these days, it's making me shudder to think about how much inside time is just around the corner!

Also, continuing on my seemingly weekly praise for our local museums, on Monday M asked me out of nowhere, "Mom, how many people are on the Earth?" Not a bad question for a not-yet-four-year-old! I answered 6 billion, but then the next day at the museum we happened upon an exhibit that keeps the current running tally of the world population-- 7.7 billion. What a neat way, though, to again weave real-life questions and curiosity into our daily educational discoveries.

"Waiting for Superman"

This weekend, some friends and I saw the new, highly-acclaimed Davis Guggenheim documentary, "Waiting for Superman," about the crisis in American public education. It was disturbing, inspiring, informative and sad. When you see images of disadvantaged six-year-olds whose future truly hinges on a slim chance at a lottery win into a high-performing public charter school, it conjures so much anger and frustration.

Quiet Play Time

Since reading more about the Waldorf philosophy of daily rhythms, I have been pleasantly surprised to see how well they're working in our home. As I mentioned in an earlier post, rhythms, as defined by Waldorf, are not schedules but rather patterns that seem to naturally occur in each household's day, week, month, year.

Waldorf also reinforces the importance of daily rhythms having a predictable pattern of stimulating, high-energy periods, followed by calmer, quieter periods so that children can adequately absorb the day's stimulation and reconnect with their own individuality and imagination. For my high-energy preschooler, our quiet play time in the middle of the day has been magical to watch. She creates elaborate play scenarios with lots of imaginative talking and planning. And lately she's been quietly reading her "Dick and Jane" books to herself. After about an hour of quiet play, I can tell that she has absorbed our busy morning's activities and is re-energized for our afternoon.

The only glitch I seem to have run into with quiet play time is that it fails miserably when Daddy or another fun guest is with us!


I really think "homeschooling" is a complete misnomer, especially for city homeschoolers. The majority of our week is definitely spent outside of our home, so "outschooling" is a much more appropriate term for our learning.

I continue to be amazed at the array of community learning resources available to us in the city. At the museum this morning, we watched a wonderful live animal exhibit and I learned that these presentations occur daily now that it's fall. Taking advantage of these presentations will most certainly become a bigger part of our weekly schedule, especially now that M is old enough to appreciate them and J can be easily distracted (at least for a bit) with my cell phone. Today's animal was the American Kestrel and after the 30 minute talk, during snack, M and I talked about what she learned and gleaned from the presentation, which was happily more than I expected.

And this again reinforces a wonderful element of city homeschooling: that we often need to simply be facilitators of our children's learning, guiding them to educational resources, while various subject-matter experts and community instructors do the teaching. What better way to instill in our kids a love of learning and discovery than to expose them to so many experts who are passionate about their subjects!


I must admit that I have become a bit of a copycat mom lately. Inspired by the incredible homeschooling moms in our local homeschool groups, I have been incorporating new ideas, new routines, and new challenges into our day. For example, many of my friends don’t even own a television set—and somehow manage to quite nicely survive the day—so I decided several weeks ago to virtually eliminate routine TV watching in our home. The kids never watched much tv, but I have found that this new change has really helped us to maximize our days and create the type of home learning environment we desire. My homeschooling friends have also inspired me in other ways recently, including: helping me to integrate more Waldorf homeschooling components into our day (such as lots of outdoor nature time, unstructured play, and baking); motivating me to introduce new musical and artistic activities into our day; and stirring in me a personal desire to learn how to knit!

I think there is a tendency among moms especially to sometimes compare ourselves to each other. While I think it can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what we are not doing that other moms are doing, I have found it to be amazingly enlightening to learn about how my homeschooling friends approach their day and structure their learning. It has created new opportunities and new goals for me and has helped me to clarify the type of learning environment I want for my kids. It also reinforces a truth about homeschooling in particular and parenting in general: we don’t need to have all of the answers; we just need to have a willingness to learn, to experiment, to continuously improve, and to gain insights from others along the way.

Museum Educator Resources

September is such a great time to visit local museums, especially on dreary days like today. Gone are summer tourists and vacationers, and school field trips have yet to begin, so we enjoy semi-private museum exhibits. Most museums in major cities have amazing resources for educators, and many of these resources are available to homeschooling parents. Often museums have educator resource centers and libraries that offer curriculum guides and reference materials to enhance one's teaching, and many host professional development workshops in which homeschool parents can participate.

While some museums may openly offer these resources to homeschoolers, often all it takes is a phone call or visit to your local museum to gain access. And many museums post curriculum aids and worksheets online for all to use. For example, New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art offers fabulous online publications for educators which can greatly enhance a homeschooler's curriculum, particularly when combined with frequent museum visits. And Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry website has an entire "online education" section featuring videos, activities and podcasts that can augment any at-home science curriculum. Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian Institute website also offers lesson plans by subject-matter and by grade-level, and the San Diego Zoo has some great downloadables for kids at all grade levels.

We urban homeschoolers are so fortunate to have a variety of museums just a short walk or subway ride away, and when we take advantage of the additional resources many of these museums offer, we experience just how valuable these museums are to our children's education.

So many teachers

One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling is observing the great teachers from whom my kids learn. Just this week, M learned all about flowers, trees and habitats from one of our city workers who leads nature walks at a nearby reservation. Later in the week, our neighbors invited us to join them in their "sukkah" in our building's backyard as they celebrate the Jewish holiday, Sukkot. M got to learn all about this holiday, in preschool terms, from our neighbors and their kids.

With homeschooling, we get the privilege to recognize and seek out exceptional learning experiences for our kids, and connect them with inspiring teachers who greatly enhance their knowledge.

Yes, You Can Homeschool!

I often hear parents say that as much as they'd like to try homeschooling, they feel like they can't. Remarks like: "I don't have the patience," or "I don't know anything about teaching," or "I wouldn't know where to begin or how to proceed," or "I worry that I wouldn't do it right," often stop interested parents from further considering the homeschooling option. The truth is, yes, you can absolutely homeschool your kids! Who better to educate your children than the people who know them best and who can provide them with undivided attention and tailored learning?

Here are three reasons to put away your doubts and give homeschooling a try:

Being a parent is hard work. And being a homeschooling parent is harder work. You will have your share of bad days. You will have days filled with feelings of frustration, doubt and inadequacy. You will have days when you feel you are climbing uphill toward bedtime. All parents, homeschooling or not, have these days. They come with the territory. Realize that you don't have to be a perfect parent to be an excellent homeschooling one. Enjoying time with your kids, enjoying watching them learn and discover, enjoying providing them with a nurturing and stimulating learning environment: these are the "prerequisites" for being a successful homeschooling parent.

Some prospective homeschooling parents shy away from homeschooling because they feel they don't have the knowledge or expertise to homeschool their children. You don't need to be an educator or a subject-matter expert to homeschool. You do need to be able to facilitate your children's learning by recognizing their learning needs and interests and gathering resources to help them develop. Some homeschoolers purchase packaged curricula to ensure they are providing a thorough education for their children. Others choose an "eclectic" approach to curricula, perhaps purchasing curriculum for certain subjects and allowing for more organic, interdisciplinary learning in other subjects. And many homeschoolers rely on community resources, like classes, tutors, and local homeschooling activities, to introduce their children to a variety of instructors who are experts in their given fields. So stop worrying that you need to be sitting around a table teaching your children physics and calculus. Chances are you will find terrific instructors for these subjects, whether online, through textbooks and packaged curriculum, or through community learning resources, like community colleges.

If you decide to homeschool now, you can certainly change your mind later. There is no lifetime commitment to homeschooling. You can homeschool for preschool but not for kindergarten. You can homeschool for elementary school but not for middle and high school. You can homeschool one year and send your kids to a traditional school the next year. You can homeschool one child but send another to traditional school based on needs and interests. In fact, many homeschoolers move seamlessly between school and home depending on the year and specific learning goals. Experiment with homeschooling, see if it's a good fit for your family, and realize that you have the freedom to reevaluate your decision at any time.

So, yes, you can do it! You can absolutely homeschool your children and are well-positioned to provide them with a fulfilling, meaningful and rigorous educational experience.

Neighborhood Schools

In our city, like many, there are no "neighborhood schools." While parents can specify school preferences, students are assigned to elementary schools to ensure demographically diverse schools. I think this policy is actually a huge advantage for urban homeschoolers.

I was asked recently by prospective homeschoolers if it was ever difficult to "convince" friends and relatives of our decision to homeschool. In our case, fortunately no, but I know many homeschoolers struggle with this. Homeschooling friends of mine who live in more suburban communities with well-defined neighborhood schools face much more social pressure and interrogation than we city-dwellers. Often neighbors move to a specific area to attend a specific school and in some cases much of the neighborhood community revolves around school activities. I think it would be much harder to homeschool in those close-knit communities than it is for us here where most of the kids in my neighborhood, for example, attend different public elementary schools or different private schools.

I think city schools also get a sometimes unfair bad rap, and so it's more accepted that city parents might choose an alternative schooling option for their kids, whereas elsewhere questioners would be simply perplexed that parents wouldn't send their kids to the neighborhood schools, particularly in "nice" communities with "good" schools.

So in general I think we city homeschoolers face much less social pressure and fewer negative reactions than our suburban counterparts, which makes things a bit easier for us. But all of us, urban or suburban, choose to homeschool for many of the same reasons, like the freedom, flexibility and focus on personalized learning that homeschooling provides. It's these important educational attributes that should give us confidence when responding to critics and skeptics alike. And finding local homeschool support groups and/or activities with other homeschoolers can really help to highlight the merits of homeschooling and weaken the blow of naysayers.

Art Class

At art class this week, the teacher recommended a great arts and crafts website for little kids called, KinderArt.

I'm really feeling like I want to step up my game in regard to crafts at home. I always admire the creative moms who so effortlessly intertwine elaborate craft projects into their homeschooling day. They always seem to have just the right materials on hand and can easily visualize how a craft project will go. One of my homeschooling mom friends even has a hot glue gun! Impressive.

This doesn't come at all naturally to me, so I'm working on it. I'm not investing in a hot glue gun just yet, but I am going to try to be a little more adventurous with this fall's craft projects!

UPDATE: In working toward my goal, this morning we made an Easy Bird Feeder, which was quite fun and not nearly as intimidating as I anticipated!

Homeschool "Rhythms"

I was inspired to create a weekly homeschool "rhythm" worksheet from a homeschool-mom friend who was inspired to do the same from her Waldorf readings. I really like the idea of "rhythms," as defined by Waldorf, in that they help to segment each day into predictable patterns while ensuring lots of customization, spontaneity, and unstructured activities within the rhythm time blocks. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Here is a sample week, although there are certainly many more creative ways to approach this process. In the past when I tried to create schedules or calendars, I always got hung up on feeling like I needed to include timestamps. But this approach allows you to consider your somewhat "fixed" aspects of the day, like meals, quiet time, outside time, reading time, etc., and then plug-in your daily/weekly activities into the other time blocks. I find it really helpful to see how the week is shaping up and it allows great flexibility in what we can do. Also, if I think we'll go to the museum on Friday and it doesn't happen, no big deal; it's just a way to plot out the week a bit more proactively-- and to reflect on how much learning takes place each week!

On a related note, we went to a fun little vintage boutique today in the nearby square and I bought an adorable metal egg timer. M loves playing with it and I had the idea that I could use it to better-define "quiet time" for her in the middle of each day. I set the timer for 45 minutes to an hour, after lunch and during J's nap, and when it rings, then quiet play time is over and it's our time together to read, do a puzzle, play a math game, etc. So far so good!

Spontaneous Sewing

Today I printed and cut-out paper Halloween pumpkins for M to color and play with. She's very interested in making paper kites these days, so I used a one-hole punch to cut a hole in the pumpkin stem and then tied a piece of yarn to it for the "kite" string. Then I left M on the deck to play and color. After several minutes, she showed me her pumpkin creation: she had cut holes around the perimeter of the pumpkin and had used the extra yarn to sew a perfect pattern around the edges-- complete with the up-and-down technique that Auntie taught her!

Tree Bark Tracing

This morning we had a wonderful arts and crafts class and were delighted that another homeschooler M's age is also in the class. J enjoyed and participated in the class as well. It took him a bit of time to warm up, but then he was immersed in playdough and loved cleaning up with the sponges-- and of course snack time.

This afternoon we met our friends at some local "woods" and I brought along paper and crayons for the kids to do some tree bark tracing, a wonderful activity inspired by my recent Waldorf philosophy reading. Along the same lines as Waldorf and Charlotte Mason, we are spending as much time as possible outdoors these days, including eating as many meals as possible outside. Today we managed to get about 6 1/2 hours of pure outside time! The woods are so fun for the kids and they had a great time collecting acorns and digging for worms.

I also decided to revamp our entire fall schedule. I felt like some things weren't working for us, we were overscheduled, and I wanted our afternoons to be open and stress-free and allow for plenty of outside time-- particularly while the weather is still nice this fall. So, I eliminated swimming and ballet from our schedule and our afternoons now allow for much more unstructured play time. Live and learn.

Sewing lesson

Thanks to Auntie's guidance and fun craft, M demonstrated that she is a skilled seamstress! Auntie brought M a kid's beginner sewing craft yesterday and they had fun sewing together a little felt puppet. What a great skill and a wonderful craft-time lesson!

Lots of Cooking

When the kids wake up at 6:00 each morning, they hit the ground running and so I try to find some fun activities to occupy us for a little while until it's a respectable time to venture outside or to our morning activities. As such, we've been doing a ton of cooking and baking lately! Now that the kids have their Learning Tower and are able to safely and easily stand with me at the counter to cook, it's made the entire process much less stressful and more enjoyable. This morning we made homemade applesauce and oatmeal muffins, and then a lasagna this afternoon. So much fun-- and so productive too in my quest to be a bit more "homemade."

Homemade Applesauce Recipe

4 or 5 organic apples - peeled, cored and chopped
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon white sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a saucepan, combine apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Cover, and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are soft. Allow to cool, then mash with a fork or potato masher.


Tuesday marked the start of school for our city, and we got to spend it with friends at a fabulously empty museum, to which we took a fun bus ride. Later we went to story time at the library.

And in my quest to increase the amount of pure, outdoor air time we get so as to get close to Charlotte Mason's recommended 6 hours, we spent a good 4 1/2 hours of pure outside time on Tuesday, including eating lunch and dinner and not including our general "out-of-the-house" time, like trips to the museum and library, which occupy much of our busy days!

I love seeing the kids get all mucky in the backyard and watching M build bird nests and make paper kites. What a wonderful gift to allow kids to be kids -- to get dirty and explore different natural textures and expand their imaginations. I'm just glad that the "first day of school" involved so much fresh air, imagination, culture and muck-- but then again that's every day of our "school!"

Homemade Playdough

We hosted last week's homeschool playgroup and I made fresh, homemade cinnamon playdough, which happily occupied the kids for a very long time!

Play Dough Recipe:

1 cup white flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoon cream of tartar (find it in the spice section)
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup water

Mix first 5 ingredients in a pan. Add water and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3 – 5 minutes. Dough will become clumpy. Remove from stove and knead until desired playdough texture is achieved.

A Day in the Life

When I really take a moment to reflect on all the great learning experiences that the kids are exposed to on any given day, it really is remarkable. For example, this morning we went to our homeschool playgroup and M and the other kids spent part of the time sitting together in a circle under the slide spontaneously telling stories! So cute. Then, during J's nap, M had some quiet play time where she chit-chatted with her dolls, created imaginative little stories, and played with her word puzzles. After quiet time, we looked up Spanish words that she wanted to know in the Spanish dictionary. Then, I decided for "math" time to print out and number 100 little bus cards. M loves reading the numbers on the city buses when they pass us by, so I thought she'd love this activity. After nap, we headed to the library to borrow some books on spiders because we discovered a spectacular spider living on our deck and she wanted to learn more about them. Daddy was working from home for much of the day, so he was able to spend extra reading time with M at the library while J and I went to the market and I started making dinner. After dinner, we played in our backyard, then had bath and bed! What a wonderful day of learning and exploration.... as usual!

Rainy Day

Today was the first really wash-out day we've had in awhile and it was kind of nice. We spent the morning at the museum, which was empty when we arrived at 9 and jammed when we left at 11. We saw an amazing beehive, watched little chicks try to hatch from their eggs, examined what A looks like in utero, swung on some swings, dug in an archaeological site, performed an experiment, and participated in various other fun adventures along the way. Then M had "quiet play" time while J napped and mommy gained her second wind. M and I read books and then baked homemade oatmeal cookies! Yum. Then it was off to Spanish music class, which as much as M loves Spanish right now, I'm thinking has never seemed to be a good fit for us and I think we might avoid it this fall. We have enough going on!

Homeschool Support Groups

I initiated the start of a small, weekly homeschool group with four of the moms I met through our larger local homeschool group. We switch homes each week and the kids get to play and build relationships with others around their age.

And we moms have started meeting for 2-hour coffee chats on weekends every couple of weeks and that has been heavenly. So wonderful to be with like-minded women chit-chatting about curriculum ideas and homeschooling rewards and challenges....

Biking at the Arboretum

The kids and I had so much fun at our local arboretum yesterday morning. We decided to head over there so M could ride her bike freely. It was a perfect day for a walk amidst the flowers and the trees and we had a nice picnic in the meadow.

It got me to thinking yet again how incredible homeschooling is. While many kids spend the schoolday inside, my kids are exploring outdoors, naturally learning about the world around them, and fostering their innate curiosity. I was imagining how it will be a few years from now when we go to the arboretum and M is busy researching various trees and habitats, while J is recording which trees he sees in a nature journal, and A is collecting leaves for her discovery jar. Homeschooling provides such an amazing resource for differentiated, child-led learning -- even in the same location-- that it will be so fun to see the kids develop and discover right before my very eyes!

Letters and Numbers

During J's nap today, M and I did some learning time. We went to IXL Math and worked on identifying types of coins, while we had the quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies in front of us to better visualize the coins. Then we moved on to counting various shapes up to 20. It's such a great math program, segmented by grade level.

Moving on, we printed out some ABC tracing pages and practiced tracing letters with our pencils.

Saving Schools

I finished an outstanding book called, Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning, by Paul Peterson, Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School. It was a fascinating read and provides further evidence that the only way to secure our children's, and our country's future, is to accelerate the advent of choice, competition and decentralization in public education. Professor Peterson also touches on homeschooling as the ultimate in parental choice. He is the editor of Education Next.

Interestingly, Peterson discusses in the book how Horace Mann, considered the founder of universal public education mainly to "civilize" the poor Irish immigrants to Boston in the early 1800s, homeschooled his own children...

Free-Range Kids

I just finished reading the book, Free-Range Kids, by Lenore Skenazy, a NYC mom who was given grief for allowing her 9-yr-old to ride the NYC subway alone. It's a wonderful book that has really helped me to put parental concerns and fear in perspective, and to realize that most of today's parental fears are not based on fact (crimes against children are at the same level they were in the early 1970s), but on media hype and collective hysteria. In light of this book, and its well-documented research- I have vowed to be less anxious and more encouraging of my kids' independence.

Good unschooling blogs

Two very good unschooling blogs that are worth recording here are: Pat Farenga's blog about the teachings of John Holt, homeschooling's Messiah; and Boston College professor Peter Gray's blog, Freedom to Learn.


My favorite homeschooling book is Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves, by Alison McKee. A teacher, McKee started homeschooling her kids before they entered school and all the way through high school, when she saw how deleterious government schools can be for kids-- and this was back in the 80s.

I am definitely adopting more of an "unschooling" approach to homeschooling, which rejects things like textbooks, workbooks and established curricula in favor of organic learning and community experiences. Teaching math while picking dandelions, sounding out words while at a local diner, visiting galleries and museums, reading Charlotte's Web aloud every night. I think this is how kids learn best, at least in the early years.

Onion satire

We've come along way when the parents who actually send their kids to school are the ones being poked fun of!

Onion article

Valentine's Sewing Project & Chinese New Year

We had a great day with Auntie doing sewing projects and making Valentine crafts. M had so much fun-- she even insisted on going to sleep tonight with her new heart pillow that she and Auntie made!

M has also been enjoying learning about the Chinese New Year by reading an article and doing a craft in her "Cricket" magazine. Then, we borrowed a book about the topic from the library. And she can even point out China on her globe! Talk about great "unit studies."

Iris bulbs

We had a great visit today with Auntie, who brought iris bulbs for M to plant! After lunch, we spent awhile at the library, and M asked the librarians for books about flowers and gardening. She and Auntie did lots of reading and took turns pretending to be the "teacher" who read the story. M's story inevitably revolves around Dora and the Crystal Kingdom! It's wonderful to see how the library fosters such great "unit studies," where we do some kind of activity (e.g., bake gingerbread men, plant flowers) and then learn more about it at the library!

Gingerbread Men

Well, baking is progressive, right? Maybe next time I won't burn the gingerbread men, but this batch is at least very fun to play with!

M and I borrowed a couple of books about gingerbread men from the library and we decided it would be fun to bake some -- and see if they come alive like in the story! These guys are too blackened to be alive, but we have left-over dough in the refrigerator to try again later.

We also made up a really fun song, sung to the tune of "Jingle Bell Rock:"

Gingerbread, gingerbread, gingerbread man,
Gingerbread man, oh, gingerbread man,
We roll you, and pat you, and bake you today,
We hope you come and play!

Better Than School

I just finished reading a fabulous homeschool book entitled, Better Than School: One family's declaration of independence, by Nancy Wallace. The book was published in 1983 and is now out-of-print but the library had a copy and it is such a gem. It's amazing to read about the fight the family went through with the school board to homeschool their two kids when the homeschool movement was just beginning in the late-1970s. It really is so easy for us now.

I love this quote from the end of the book: "The thought of having them spend so much time in school when there were so many more interesting things going on right in the community seemed absurd (p. 237)." That's exactly how I feel about homeschooling here in the city.