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!"