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Category Archives: Learning at Home

Norah for President

A conversation with my five year old:

Norah:  Mom, have you ever heard of a king who did whatever his people wanted him to do?

Me:  No, I don’t think so.

Norah:  I’m pretty sure they exist.

Me (homeschool mom trying to insert a lesson in government):  What if you had some yummy lemonade and I wanted your lemonade.  What would the king do then?  How would he decide who would get the lemonade?

Norah (without hesitation):  He would make more lemonade!

Portrait of this stay-at-home-mom

6:45:  Wake to sounds of husband in the shower

Cedar crawls in bed with me.  I feel mauled by a grizzly bear by the time she’s finished wallowing on me.

Make coffee.  Kiss husband.  Wave good-bye from the window with naked 2-year old by my side.  Norah wanders in.  Grumpy.  Much like me in the mornings, this one.

Cancel my 10am playdate.  Bummed about it but I have some sniffles starting and I don’t want to spread them.  We were supposed to make homemade hair conditioner.

Breakfasts consumed by two small children over the next three hours (4 boiled eggs, two blueberry pancakes, 1 orange, 2 peaches, 4 spoons of peanut butter, 1 piece of toast, 1 chunk of cheese, 1 yogurt).  Yes, really.

3 cups of coffee and a secret cupcake consumed by me.

Sounds of Elizabeth Mitchell on Pandora.

Save Cedar from a puppy attack.  Clean up puppy mess.  Find a library book shredded by puppy.  Put puppy in crate.

Shower.  It is a good day.  And I have new soap.

While in shower, Cedar brings me her diaper.  She has removed it.  It contains poop.  I try to lure her to the shower so I can clean her butt.

Learning with Norah:  She reads to me.  I read to her.  We read about amazing heroines of the American War.  Turns out that while Paul Revere rode 16 miles, a sixteen year old girl rode 40 miles at night.  In the rain.  Where is her poem?  Ahem.  (Oh wait!  I found one!)

Back to learning.  I drink coffee while she does addition with coffee beans.  She reviews her timeline cards and we giggle over pronunciation of “Hammurabi,” “Amenhotep” and “Tutankhamun.”

We break so Norah can play with My Little Ponies.

I clean up potty messes made by both Cedar and puppy.  Answer work emails.  A friend wants to know about natural birth of twins.  A woman tries to decide between VBAC at the hospital or at home.  A lactation question.  A contract confirmed.  A private class arranged.

Norah and I worked on memorizing “The Bones Song.”  It is so much fun to sing.  Our motivation is to sing it for Aunt Noelle in December.  The skeleton Dr. Stafford loaned us has been a fantastic visual aid.

Lunch.  A triumph and a fail.  Triumph:  I finally convinced one of my children to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Thank you Cedar for branching out.  Fail:  Norah wanted a lettuce and plain wheat bread sandwich.  Which she didn’t eat.  She ended up with celery and peanut butter.

Cedar napped.  Norah worked/played on her computer.  I ate lunch and read a book.  (I will be happy to finish this book 5 from Game of Thrones.  Madness.  Should have never started the hefty series.  But I must finish.  How many thousands of pages have I read?)

Phone call from a client with maternity leave ending.  Daycare looming Monday.  Anxieties.  I push the girls on the backyard swings so I can talk without fighting in the background.

The 5 year old yells “stupid phone call.  I hate your phone.”  Um, it was the only phone call all day.  Time for physical play!  With much dread, I dress them in old underwear and we walk to the neighbors’ backyard renovation project.  I unleash them with cookie cutters and buckets in a giant mudbath.  My neighbor and I (and baby Elisha) talk about slings and wool diapers while my children make mud angels.


 ****Pictures deleted because creepy people keep searching “children playing in the mud naked.”  Um, gross!****

Hose children.  Bathe children.  Fill and empty tub three times to get rid of mud.  The girls use all my new soap.

Pack children and drive to my parent’s house.  Time it perfectly for uninvited dinner.  While eating, Cedar has an allergic reaction to either red pepper or tilapia.  Swollen lips, red bumpy cheek (“it hurts, mama!”), sneezing, coughing.  For a couple of hours.  Norah entertains with a magic show involving a hat and the requirement that we all close our eyes each time she needs to make something disappear.

We look at constellations using an iPad app.

On the way back home, we listen to the unabridged Anne of Green Gables on CD.  Norah asks “what is the depths of despair?”  Oh child.  My mind races to events that will take her there someday.  I hold back tears as we continue to listen to Marilla Cuthbert and Anne Shirley with an “e” talk of what tomorrow might hold.

I feed bedtime snacks of yogurt.  I risk giving Cedar some Benadryl.  She’s still reacting to the pesky food.  Benadryl usually causes her to go hyper-wild.  Do I risk it?  She seems pretty tired.  I risk it.  Put Cedar to bed.  Norah to bed.  Craving salt, I sit down with bean sprouts and tamari sauce.  Bam!  Cedar fell out of bed.  Put child back in bed.

Talk briefly with my husband before he puts a kayak into the ocean at night.  Turn on his Pandora station, “GruzFrahBah”.

Search for the perfect poem for a friend’s blessingway tomorrow.  Settle on this one.

Play on Pinterest.

I fret over my poor neglected blog and decide to blog something.  But what?

It is 1am as I finish this post.  And I gasp as I remember that Norah still has red mud in her scalp and we have to leave at 8:30 in the morning for her science lab.  Shoot.

Run my mind over all the events and expectations of tomorrow.  It is going to be a doozy.

Small Space Homeschooling

Space is a hot commodity in our house.  Some of our poor hall closets have been repurposed five times in as many years.   One was Cedar’s “nursery” since we knew she’d sleep in our room for at least the first year.  And one even got absorbed into a recent room remodel.  So when it came time to commit to a homeschool space, of course, I was scoping out the weary closets.  I imagined a rolling cart of some sort that would appear during the day and disappear when we were finished. 

Then I remember a time when Scott and I were first married and had the tiniest kitchen space ever.  It was when we lived in the haunted farmhouse.  Have I ever mentioned that place?  No matter.  We needed a place for two to eat.  And we needed compact storage.  On a crazy impulse, I bought a china hutch that had a murphy-bed-ish table.  It seemed the perfect solution.  And it was.  Only it turned into our first REALLY awful, REALLY big marital argument.  Something about making big purchases without talking to the other person first.  Yada, yada. 

It would not be our last argument.

As time passed, the table was removed from the hutch, the chairs went to other rooms, and the hutch became merely a hutch. 


I repurposed as my homeschool hideaway.

I think it will suit.  I can fold the table up when we’re not using the space to keep the destructive curious two-year old out.

Don’t think I don’t hear you veteran homeschool moms laughing.  Of course, I realize that soon my hideaway will spill out into the house and yard.  I know my house will reek of homeschool when guests come over for dinner.  But a girl can try, right?


Do you remember imaginative play?  I do.  I remember it with such envy.  I remember getting lost for hours playing with my button collection.  I still remember how I played and the names of certain families buttons.  And I sometimes bring my buttons down from the attic and hold them in my hands. 

I suppose that is why I can’t take enough pictures of imaginative play.  I might have more pictures of abandoned toy set-ups than pics of my children! 


“The adult has various means at his disposal of coming to terms with the whole range of his environment…but the path of children is and remains that of play.  Simply by a staircase of games, children have reached the world of adults from time immemorial.  Each step is made up of the games of a particular age-group.”  –Children at Play (Heidi Britz-Crecelius)

I struggle some days with Norah’s “schooling.”  She’s a December baby so she would not begin kindergarten until this fall.  We homeschool.  Which, at this point, mostly means she has unrestricted free play.  That is the bulk of her school.  I remember the year I went to kindergarten.  It was half-day then.  And I remember playing.  It seemed like that is all we did.  Sometimes we made peanut butter on saltine crackers.  I don’t think kindergarten is like that anymore.   

Re-centering involves reassuring yourself that you have made a good choice, that you have recognized that the true center of childhood is play, not work.  After all, play is the primary way children were designed to learn…research shows that a child’s intellectual awakening takes place during the normal adult-child interactions that occur in everyday, purposeful activities…playful environments and spontaneous learning opportunities hold the keys for a happy, emotionally healthy, and intelligent child–and for a fulfilled parent.  –Einstein Never Used Flashcards (Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff)

I hope I can stay relaxed and trust she is climbing the staircase.  I need to find ways to play more, too.

The weird one at the homeschool co-op

I have often felt out of place in our homeschool co-op. Like the one time a bunch of the moms were standing around talking and it came out that I was the only one who had gone to public school. (P.S. I loved public school and I’m thankful my mama didn’t homeschool me.)  I tried to blend.  I didn’t even wear a single hippie skirt all year long!  But I noticed the blank stares when I asked certain questions. 

The event was Field Day. Here are the top three ways I felt weird.

1) The kids did a relay race involving a plastic spoon and a cheese ball. *Sidenote: the kids were warned not to RUN with the spoon. I chuckled over that one and considered sending it in to Free-Range Kids.  But that isn’t what I’m blogging.  At the end of the race the kids were allowed to eat their cheese ball (as long as it hadn’t fallen on the ground…again, chuckle).  Norah had never tasted a cheese ball.  I know, I’m an awful mom.  She crinkles her nose, smells it, touches it with her tongue.  Then gleefully eats it.  And she begins loudly gushing to everyone within earshot, “I’ve never HAD a cheese ball.  Mama, have you ever had a cheese ball?  Oh it is so good!”  Seriously, she hasn’t stopped talking about this glorious experience. 

Perhaps I should have a food tasting day in the privacy of our home.  She’ll taste her first poptart, moonpie, dr. pepper, fruity pebbles, grape crush, easy cheese, frozen chicken nuggets, spaghetti o’s.  Don’t get me wrong, she’s had plenty of junk food.  I just see now that there are missing elements to her repertoire.

2)  Then we had lunch.  I let Norah pack her box.  She chose green peas, half a cheese/lettuce sandwich, a carrot, and edamame.  Almost every other family ordered Papa John’s.  Can you say “sore thumb?”

3) The Grand Finale:  the ice cream truck arrived.  More than a few moms glance at me with concern or ask “Are you going to let her get ice cream?”  Of course I am!  She chose a cotton candy twirl popsicle.  Then announced to the whole group, “I’ve never gotten ice cream from an ice cream truck before!”  Ok, that is simply not true.  Rascal!

I loved the event.  And I’m thankful to the moms who organized it.  Norah and Cedar had a great time.  Norah loves her friends there.  And so do I.  I’m proud of Norah for making healthy choices (she even does it when I’m not around).  Homeschool is so new to me and I’m overly observant–mostly of myself.  I also see that I don’t neatly fit into a group.  

But then again, when does one neatly fit into any group?

An idea that you can test

Norah (4yrs) has been fascinated with “hypothesis” lately.  She is ever performing science experiments.  A few days ago, she was rolling objects down the back of the couch to see which hit the cushion first.  And Sunday, she made a pulley using rope and a door knob to lift her stuffed monkey.  She spontaneously turned her rice crackers into moon phases. 

Recently regarding the mouse on her laptop (yes, she has a laptop–it was one we had retired):

Norah:  Daddy, my mouse won’t work.

Scott:  Well, let’s see.  Hmmm…it looks like someone cut the cord (!).  With scissors?  Norah, did you cut your mouse with scissors?

Norah:  No.  It just stopped working.

Scott:  You didn’t cut it with scissors?

Norah:  Well, actually.  Yes.

Scott:  Why did you lie?

Norah:  Because that is what I do.

Later she told me she had simply wanted to see what would happen.  All the while I thought she didn’t know what “hypothesis” even meant.

Norah:  Mom, a hypothesis is an idea we can test. 

Hmm…maybe instead of homeschooling, I should just let her watch “Sid the Science Kid” all day long.  And hide the scissors.

Transparent thoughts on homeschool

I imagine homeschool as a new country.  I don’t speak the language.  I don’t know the customs.  I’m a tad fearful of the natives. 

For this reason, I’ve reserved the right to change my flight plans at any point. 

Here are a few thoughts on my itinerary.

It seems many people I encounter homeschool because of their Christian faith.  That is not why I want to homeschool.  I am not afraid of public schools in that sense.  I am not afraid of my child learning different philosophies or even being steeped in them.  Secular classrooms did more to shape my faith than Sunday school.  They caused me to question, dig in, find reasons for why I believed, and learn that Jesus is bigger than I thought. 

So why am I homeschooling?  I want to preserve a strong love of learning.  I want my kids to have all the flexibility in the world to explore subjects they love.  I’m not a fan of testing and grading.  I’m not a fan of rewards as motivators. 

**I do not think there is anything WRONG with public school.  I had a public school education and loved it.  And, again, I reserve the right to change my mind at any point and enroll my kids in public school.   🙂

Now what kind of homeschool do I want to do?  I imagine that will change and morph as we acclimate to the culture.  I feel comfortable in saying we won’t do a traditional method.  I started out certain I would do Waldorf.  After I put away my pentatonic recorder and dropped out of Waldorf school…I thought unschool.  Unschooling fits me.  But does it fit my kids?  Hmmm.  And then I also think Charlotte Mason is dreamy.  And I absolutely did not plan on doing anything formal until first grade. 

Then Norah changed my plan.  She told me she wanted to go to school.  She pointed to all her friends who go to school.  She begged me to let her join a classroom.  She even asked to watch youtube videos of kindergarten classes.  In a search for compromise, I looked into a co-op that offered one class a week but they were full.  And then I was reminded of a brilliant woman in my community who homeschools.  I emailed her and asked her she would hold my hand.  She immediately invited me over for coffee. 

She uses the classical model with her children and enrolls them in Classical Conversations.  I’d heard of CC before and dismissed it as not a good fit.  But I gave it a second look now that I know Norah a bit better.  The classical model is one of the more rigorous of methods.  A far cry from my “nothing formal until first grade” plan. 

I took a deep breath and bought the ticket.  I can always change my mind. 

Norah is super excited.  At the very least, CC will give us a structure for our trial run year.  And that will give my husband peace of mind.  He knows my lack of discipline and tendency to jump from one idea to another with astonishing speed.  I’m boarding the plane!

Unschooling in Action

I’m in the early, early stages of deciding our school path.  I often battle with the voices in my head (“is it ok that she isn’t in preschool?” “shouldn’t I be doing more?”) and the real voices around me (“why isn’t she in preschool?”).  Right now, we unschool.  A simple, but loaded word, which means following the child’s desire to learn.  I try to use everyday moments as teaching opportunities and if she displays some interest, we follow it.  This has led to impromptu hula dance lessons on youtube, library searches for stories of female lighthouse keepers, and discussions about bullfrog ears. 

I have long loved an Audre Lorde quote “The learning process can be incited.  Literally incited–like a riot.” 

For the last two days, she’s been working on something secret.  She has asked me to spell some words for her.  And she requested masking tape.  Today, she asked me to read her a book.  I almost fell over when the book she wanted me to read was her own!  Here it is (inspired liberally by Olivia the pig):

Title Page (with author’s name prominently placed)

Olivia played the piano

This one is supposed to say “Olivia brushes her teeth.  Moves the cat.  Moves the cat”

Then they danced

This one is supposed to say “Olivia was disappointed.”  I remember yelling the letters for “disappointed” for her yesterday as I was making the beds.

The end

The whole thing was gloriously taped together with 4yr old masking tape abandon!