City Kids, Country Kids

As much as we adore the city, trips to our lake house provide a welcome change of scenery and a host of new adventures.

Today we spent some time doing impromptu math problems at the beach inspired by the mallards and ducklings who floated by (i.e., 2 groups of 3 ducklings equals how many, if mama duck had two more babies, how many babies would she have, etc.). I also let M choose her own chapter book at the bookstore, and she wouldn't let the day pass without us finishing it.

I am still very much a "city mouse" at heart, but I am thankful that homeschooling allows us to spend beautiful Tuesdays in May learning in the country.

Memorial Day Parade

We always look forward to the city's annual Memorial Day Parade!

Getting Kindergarteners to Sit Still

It looks like the federal government is allocating $500 million in grants toward the "problem" of five-year-olds who "can't sit still" in kindergarten. Sigh. Here's the original article, quoting U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius:

"You really need to look at the range of issues, because if a 5-year-old can’t sit still, it is unlikely that they can do well in a kindergarten class, and it has to be the whole range of issues that go into healthy child development."

Quotes like this one reinforce my commitment to homeschooling through high school. I honestly believe that the education system in America is fundamentally flawed and that periodic tweaking by local, state or federal officials only exacerbates the problems inherent in compulsory schooling. Even if we give Sebelius the benefit of the doubt that she did not really mean that five-year-olds should be made to sit still in kindergarten, it's my opinion that the factory model of government schooling doesn't -- and can't-- provide enough opportunities for self-directed learning, individualized attention, and constructive social development.

My education goals for my kids involve helping them to discover their true talents and interests, cultivate a lifelong love of learning and reading and questioning, and spend the first couple of decades of their life being an integral part of their community and the environment. The last thing I want is for my kindergartener to learn to sit still.

Picture-Perfect Saturday

What a great day in the city! We took a quick bus ride to the Chihuly exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. It was a big hit with the kids!

Next we walked through the community gardens in the Fens.

And made our way to the Public Garden.

What better way to top off the day than a carousel ride in Boston Common.


One of the great things about city-living is that we don't have many mosquitoes. We compensate with our fair share of flies, but they don't bite. Given the volumes of rain we've had this spring, however, the mosquitoes have penetrated the city. And they are big. The ones we swatted during this morning's nature walk were massive and thirsty.

I love for the kids to spend oodles of time in nature, so I am trying valiantly to make peace with mosquitoes, and ticks, and poison ivy. I am generally more fearful of these things than any of the city's dangers, but I am working on letting go and not worrying about venomous insects and itchy plants.

For inspiration, I turn again to Charlotte Mason and her writings in her 1906 book, Home Education: "With regard to the horror which some children show of beetle, spider, worm, that is usually a trick picked up from grown-up people." (p.58 )

Harvard Commencement

Living between Harvard and MIT generates many learning opportunities for us. Today is Harvard's Commencement, so M spent the morning creating and decorating her own mortarboard, and then we walked around Harvard Yard, spotting graduates and listening to the band.

For most homeschoolers, our learning is a year-round endeavor, but I do think it will be fun to use Harvard's Commencement date as our ceremonial "graduation day" each year as the kids pass from one level of learning to the next.

Buses or Bikes

There are certainly many ways to enjoy a beautiful morning at the city's arboretum.

But I prefer bikes to buses.

Playground Projects

Urban or suburban, kids love playgrounds. And so do their parents. I love witnessing the times when kids who are perfect strangers one minute, come together in the next to create an elaborate play-scene. This one pictured involved serious collaboration to create a bird's nest at one of our city playgrounds. City homeschooling creates many opportunities for impromptu play with neighbors and friends so that we never feel isolated or alone.

City Spontaneity

The great thing about city spaces is that they change each time you visit them. On our walk to the river today, we watched Harvard undergrads celebrating their upcoming graduation with ceremonial jumps from the footbridge. The tough part was keeping J from joining them!

Wet Walking

Despite the lingering clouds and dampness, we and some other hearty city-folk ventured out for our weekly nature walk today. We were joined by the city naturalist which always adds to our learning and discovery.

Most of our fun, though, centered around puddle-stomping, sloshing through wet and muddy grass, and picking wildflowers by the marsh.

I just began reading, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. The author makes the point that many children today aren't exposed to enough unstructured, outdoor play time in nature and, Louv claims, this deficit can lead to many childhood behavioral and health problems.

Whether or not a book says it's good for us, I can't imagine a better classroom for kids than the outdoors. And even though we city-dwellers are surrounded by concrete and cars, welcoming green spaces can be found in almost every city.

Winter Throwbacks

It's wet. It's been wet for several days now and is scheduled to be so for several more. Ick. I feel like we're back to our mid-winter routine, with lots of baking, playdough, sink play, indoor forts, and inside playdates. In between raindrops, we are still managing to make it to the playground or get out for a walk, but it's wet. And cold.

So as not to get too depressed about the forecast, we headed to the museum this morning, along with everyone else it seems! It is field trip season too which added to the crowds. I find if we get there by 9 and leave by 10:30 or 11, we can see a lot before the space gets too unmanageable.

The ability to frequently stop in at museums for short spurts here and there is yet another benefit of city homeschooling. And as the kids age and become more interested in specific topics, we can target our museum trips to certain museum sections, like dinosaurs or Monet or electricity, rather than feel the need to consume an entire museum in one trip.

Hopefully the sun pops out again soon and we can get back to enjoying springtime in the city. But in the meantime, we'll try to make the most of our favorite "winter" activities.

HSLDA Radio Interview

I was interviewed today for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association's (HSLDA) radio program, Homeschool Heartbeat. Although the HSLDA is an admittedly Christian-focused homeschooling organization, their advocacy work has certainly helped to defend and advance the rights of all homeschoolers. I was delighted to be contacted by them. Here is the transcript from our brief interview:

Mike Farris, HSLDA: Today I’m joined by Kerry McDonald, a homeschool mom of three in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Kerry, welcome to the show! Kerry, a lot of your blog focuses on your experience of homeschooling your children in a big city. What made you decide to share your journey with the internet audience?

Kerry: I started writing my blog, City Kids Homeschooling, because I think there is an increasing number of urban parents who want to remain city-dwellers but who are not interested in a city's public or private school offerings. For a growing number of these parents, homeschooling can be a great option. Homeschooling in the city is really exciting! In my blog, I try to showcase how urban homeschooling involves using the city and its many resources as our primary learning tools. I hope to show current and prospective city homeschoolers that they can build a robust and engaging curriculum using the city's museums (which often have homeschooling-specific programs), and other city resources like libraries, universities, public spaces, numerous cultural events, and interesting neighbors. So City Kids Homeschooling encourages urban parents to give homeschooling a try!

Mike Farris, HSLDA: It’s always enjoyable to hear about the different ways families across America approach homeschooling. It’s important to show the public the diverse ways people choose to homeschool.

Today I’ll be asking our guests from this week how they have been impacted by writing a blog about homeschooling. How have your readers responded, and what type of impact does this have on you? Kerry?

Kerry: I really enjoy meeting current and prospective homeschooling parents at park days and other homeschooling activities and hearing, "hey I enjoy following your blog." I hope that it's encouraging some parents to remain city-dwellers and homeschool their kids.

Mike Farris, HSLDA: Thank you all so much for joining us this week, and thank you for putting a real face on homeschooling for your readers. I’m Mike Farris.

Better With Age

I think that being born first, M might have gotten the short end of the stick. I feel like I am a much better mom now than I was when I first started down this motherhood journey, and that J and especially A get the benefit of my experience.

I was such a novice when I started out as a mom. I knew nothing, except, thankfully, that I was passionate about breastfeeding. Fortunately that one simple act helped to uncover the many other aspects of motherhood that I now cherish. It took eight weeks of sleep deprivation and misery for me to discover co-sleeping with M, and I've never looked back. I knew nothing about cloth diapering until J was born. I was fortunate to have a homebirth with A, and she has been the one who has triggered my interest in homemaking, sustainability, cooking, knitting, baking.

More important than these acts, though, is that I think I am more patient and easy-going than I was when I started out mothering. I embrace messes to a much greater degree. And I enjoy the process much more, having gained the perspective of time and how fast childhood passes.

What about you? Do you feel as though your parenting has also gotten "better with age?"

The Library

Homeschoolers know that libraries are gems. We rely on them for a great deal of our learning and exploration, and city homeschoolers are especially lucky to have so many library branches within easy walking or subway distance.

I am in love with our public library. We live a block from the main branch which was completely renovated and expanded. Access to this breathtaking and abundant library is one of the primary reasons that we can't ever imagine leaving our neighborhood. With a very active toddler, I only get about five minutes to scope out books, but luckily we can visit as often as we want. In a few more years, I can see the library being the cornerstone of our homeschooling experience, complete with homeschooling-specific activities, city-wide parent-child book clubs, chess clubs for kids, and an array of lectures and special events.

I don't know if M truly appreciates how fortunate we are to live next door to the library, but I do know that visiting it is an almost-daily part of our homeschool routine which deeply enriches our learning.

Kitchen Table

I mentioned that we are doing a small kitchen renovation, mainly because there are now five of us in our small city condo and we need more room for all of us to eat in our kitchen given that the dining room was long ago converted into M's room/the playroom.

One of my biggest challenges was selecting a table that would be small and sleek enough for our busy kitchen, but functional enough to expand for more diners, and durable enough to withstand heavy use by active little people.

I think I found a good solution with a table that extends to seat 12+ people and won't otherwise overwhelm the kitchen space. I also found a classic black chalkboard to place above it, completing the look of my country kitchen. Even though we don't follow a "school at home" model of homeschooling, it will be fun to have the kitchen at least look the part!

(Note: This is the photo of the table in our kitchen after the renovation.)

Split Saturday

This morning Daddy, Uncle and the big kids went to Daddy's office and then explored the lovely Rose Kennedy Greenway downtown.

My music man, J's, favorite part of the morning was of course dancing to the subway musician.

Meanwhile, Auntie, A and I shopped for new countertops and appliances for my upcoming kitchen renovation and I am so thrilled about my new stove, complete with two ovens, to help facilitate my new commitment to homemade cooking and baking.

Pay It Forward

I've been thinking lately about one of the Waldorf early childhood tenets: that the "teacher" should be a constant role model, emulating the actions and behaviors that he or she wants the children to imitate. I was thinking about all the wonderful, homemade food that friends dropped off after A's birth, and I decided this morning that I'd talk to M about the concept of "paying it forward." This morning she helped me to prepare a dinner for a friend who is feeling a bit crummy during the first trimester of her pregnancy, and I talked about all the friends who brought food to us and how nice it is to do something special for another friend in need. (Plus it fits in with my new mission to embrace all-things-homemaking!)

I don't claim to be a perfect role model for my kids, particularly before my morning (or afternoon) coffee sets in, but helping the kids to understand and appreciate friendship and neighborliness is very rewarding.

Make-Your-Own Activities for Homeschoolers

Once again I've seen how city homeschooling generates opportunities to learn from community members and make connections that enhance our learning. I met a woman at our weekly nature walks (not a homeschooler), whose husband founded Flink Learning, a website designed to help homeschooling parents and other educators customize their own online learning activities or choose from ready-made ones. I have begun poking around on the site and it seems like there are great possibilities to build online activities based on your homeschooler's skill level and interests. For my computer-savvy four-year-old, these activities are sure to be a big hit.

While I am glad to have discovered this potential homeschooling resource, I am even more glad to see yet again how city homeschooling reveals so many learning opportunities.

Weekend on Cape Cod

We spent the weekend at the Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod, where my husband's firm hosts its annual family weekend. It's always a fun time with lots of kids and enjoyable activities. We spent much of the weekend on the beach, digging in the sand, spotting jellyfish in the ocean, and exploring the shore. In preparation for our beach trip, last week we borrowed books from the library on the Atlantic Ocean and tidal pools. The highlight of the weekend, for me anyway, was waking up with M at 5:30 on Sunday morning and watching the sunrise over the ocean. I am so excited about more beach and ocean times in the coming weeks as summer nears!

Sick Day Quarantine

M had a fever yesterday afternoon which broke by bedtime, but today we are following the requisite 24-hour post-fever quarantine just to be sure we don't spread any lingering germs. Self-imposed quarantines with otherwise healthy children on 70-degree Fridays create some challenges in the city, where, of course, we are surrounded by people. Parks are crowded, a nearby bike path has a too-tempting playground that would be sure to create an off-limits meltdown, and our condo building's backyard gets visited by small neighbors, so we decided to head to "the woods," or what we jokingly call the small patch of tree-laden grounds surrounding the nearby American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

It's a lovely little city oasis which is largely unknown. We grabbed books to read, and did some wildflower-picking, worm-digging, and squirrel-counting. As nice as the day was, I'll be glad when quarantine is over and we can re-join civilization tomorrow.

Are They All Yours?

So it finally happened. I was waiting for a passerby one of these days to ask if "they are all yours" and today was the day, as we walked back from running errands at the market with the two big kids in the double stroller, A in the Ergo, and lots of groceries. I probably looked more like a bag lady than a mom.

I was thinking that while having three kids under age five certainly isn't that unusual, it is probably (a) more unusual in the city, and (b) more eye-catching because a typical four-and-a-half-year-old around here is in school. So spotting a mom traversing the city streets at 10 o'clock on a Thursday morning with three kids in tow is a bit out of the ordinary. Then again, I have definitely seen weirder things on city sidewalks....

Secular Science for Homeschoolers

I've mentioned previously that our neighbor is a biology professor at Tufts University who has created a new secular science website, SciSpark, with resources for homeschoolers and others who want to augment their science curriculum. SciSpark is geared primarily toward middle-schoolers but can be adapted for all science learners. With hands-on activities and experiments, the goal is to help students think like a scientist.

SciSpark is now offering a free 3-month trial membership, which includes the report, "7 Tips to Help Home Schooling Parents Teach Science with Confidence."

Check-out SciSpark to see if it will be a good fit for your homeschoolers!

MBTA Stroller Ban?

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, colloquially known as the "T," is considering a ban on open strollers in buses and subways. For city parents like us who rely on the T for our excursions and errands, this move would be disastrous. In an era defined by high fuel costs and concerns about climate change, shouldn't we be taking steps to encourage and invest in public transportation rather than placing hurdles to discourage mass transit?

I hope you will take a minute to vote "no" on the MBTA's website survey seeking input on this topic. Please visit this link and click on the stroller icon in the top left of the screen to help keep the city accessible to families!

UPDATE (5/4): According to this Boston Globe article, the T has decided not to change their stroller policy for now. Let's hope the policy remains unchanged indefinitely...

City Weekends

I love the variety of the city. We had to decide among several city events this weekend, as spring brings lots of festivals and fun. We chose a free concert of "Peter and the Wolf" at our public library on Saturday and then the annual May Fair street festival in Harvard Square on Sunday. (As you can see, it's really hard to pass up any opportunity to go on a "big bounce.")