Emergency Afternoon Dance Breaks And Other Homeschooling Joys.

So far I have shared all kinds of challenges we have faced in starting out on this homeschool journey. I don’t want to give the impression that it is all a challenge. We have a lot of awesome happening here! So much happened  that I am just so grateful to have experienced with my little man today. If I were working outside the home (believe me working moms, what our at home sisters say about the work is real), I would have missed so many moments. So here are a few really cool things that happen when you decide to homeschool.


1) I realized that I am not a terrible math teacher.

I totally rocked out some great math explanations and we showed Red Bird Mathematics who was boss this morning (after we got over ourselves about an initial mistake). We high-fived, we showed muscles. We may or may not have danced a little.

Since I was young I have believed that I was terrible at math. While we are only doing 2nd grade math right now, I was worried that I would not be good enough at explaining things to my buddy. I put that myth to bed today. I am an AWESOME 2nd grade math teacher, so far. If it sounds like I am bragging. I am. I am ridiculously proud of this.


2) Reading is done cuddled up on the couch.

My buddy and I love reading. He is like me in that he reads quickly and recursively. We started reading Roald Dahl’s, Matilda. Though we started the novel together, he has since gone on to read the whole thing (probably twice), but he still humors me when we talk about each chapter. We can’t make predictions, because he doesn’t want to spoil it for me. I love cuddling with him and reading because he is getting older and may not want to cuddle for longer. The best part was that he said we were the opposite of Matilda’s parents because we loved him and love to read.

3) Carschooling. It’s a thing, and it is cool.

We are in the car several times everyday whether we are on the way to the beach or gymnastics. As a long-time fan of podcasts and audiobooks, I had been used to listening to my favorites when I was in the car by myself, but now that I have my co-pilot with me most of the time, I have started looking around for some kids podcasts. We use the Podbay app and have been listening to Brains On! lately. The episode “Bright Lights, Big Sneezy” was one of our favorites so far.

It’s not that we talk about the actual episodes that much, but they make him question and remember other things he has learned and wants to share with me. It has a pretty good theme song that we like too.

We will be adding some audiobooks soon, too. We’re still debating what title to choose.

4) The Dance Break

So, I love the movie, Guardians of the Galaxy and the soundtrack is awesome. We have pretty much been listening to it non-stop for about two weeks. Today, when I Want You Back came on, we danced around laughing and spinning. He was reading, and I had been packing for our upcoming move, but we both stopped to have fun together and it was perfect.

These are the moments that I was so longing for when we made this major life change. Though I have no doubt that we will continue to have moments that are challenging along the way, we are finding our path with joy and love. You can’t ask for better than that.


FreshGrade a Digital Portfolio Tool Appropriated for Homeschooling

I have really been lucky with educational technology lately, and thought I would pass on some of these great resources to you.

For those of you that are not unschooling or who are required to document your child’s learning in an annual portfolio, Freshgrade, an app created for teachers might work for you. Check out the demo below.

How I am using this:

This is a screen shot of one of our portfolio entries. As you can see, we are still working on letter writing.
I have created a class with one very important student, J-man. He is my favorite! I signed up my husband as the parent, so that every time I update the portfolio, he gets a notification. It’s nice for him to get to have those little daily updates about the little buddy’s work.

As we work on different activities, I take a quick snap shot and write a caption. This way I don’t have to try to remember what we have done when I’m putting the portfolio together. So, while this is an app made for the traditional teacher, I am super stoked that I have this safety net to help me document all of our learning this year.

If you have more than one child, you can just add students to your “class”. You can view the portfolio as a whole class to get an overview on what you are doing over time, or you can view by student so that you can see what each individual child is doing.

This app is going to save me because as organized as I am trying to become, paper remains the bain of my existence and I just know these daily reminders of J-man’s work would not make it to his portfolio evaluation at the end of the year.

Do you have apps that help you in your homeschool? Are you appropriating something from traditional schools to use in your homeschool? Share those ideas here! I would love to learn what you are doing!



Perseverance and the Perfect Cartwheel


Last Thursday I got a real treat. The Gymnasium was nearly empty for J-Man’s gymnastics class, which is pretty rare. Usually, I can barely see him through all of the other classes, much less hear him and his teacher as they discuss the finer points of the different tumbles. This time, I had a clear shot the parent bleachers and what I saw gave me hope in the face of some recent struggles.

J-man is gifted intellectually and what that often means is that he has become accustomed for things to be easy for him. He struggles with challenges and mistakes. Earlier in the week, he was helping me label some boxes for moving and misspelled a word. He lost it because it was permanent marker. He couldn’t deal with this mistake. This has been pretty indicative of his reaction to imperfection. On this day, though, I watched him attempt a cartwheel and fail. He tried again, and he failed again. And again. And again. He then asked his teacher if he could try again. And failed to keep his legs straight and swing them over. Why would this make me happy? He did not get upset. He asked questions, and asked to keep going. I could not have been more proud than if he had channeled Mary Lou Retton and cartwheeled the whole length of the gym.

We have been doing our best to help J-man develop a growth mind-set. This means encouraging J-man to focus on developing skills and not focusing on outcomes. As a former IB teacher I have been familiar with the IB attitudes in the Primary Years Programme. Students are encouraged commit to working through the difficulties of a task and come up with multiple solutions rather than placing the emphasis on getting the right answer to that multiple choice test. We try to stay away from comments like, “Wow, you are so smart!” in favor of comments like “I love how you stuck with that, buddy! Look at what you can do when you keep at it!” But, we are FAR from perfect. Carol Dweck is the guru of the “growth mindset” framework. Here she is giving a TED talk about believing in growth.


When J-man started to read early, we were known to exclaim about how amazing he was and how proud we were of him. I’m afraid we were contributing to a fixed mindset, focused on achievement, instead of focusing on the process and effort. This can be problematic because he was in those high growth years where his brain was forming dendrites and making connections. He started to connect achievement with praise. JoAnn Deak talks about this in Your Fantastic Elastic Brain. Learning comes easy in the early years, but the challenge is if they are learning bad habits at this time it is hard to break them and create new ones.

To help us with this process of focusing on growth rather than product, we created this info-graphic to hang in our work area, available on Teachers Pay Teachers. It emphasizes the things that students and parents can say to reframe their thinking.

Developing a Growth Mindset Infographic

While we probably have a long way before J-man will feel comfortable making a mistake, at least now we have some fertile ground to plant seeds. Oh…and the cart-wheel? On Monday, just three short days later, he executed a series of perfect cartwheels with beautiful straight legs and stuck the landing. Mary Lou would be proud!

More on Motivation

So, as I have been sharing with friends and family that we will be homeschooling next year, I have received an almost uniform response that experienced homeschoolers would probably not be surprised to hear: “What about socialization?” and “What about diversity?” and most recently “Don’t you think you could work with the school to enhance his curriculum?”.  In a sense, these are the easier responses, because, really, almost every homeschooling/unschooling blog addresses the socialization issue at some point and there is plenty out there about making sure your child has real-world exposure to people from different cultures and different backgrounds. The really hard question comes more as a statement, “I can’t believe you would homeschool.”

I have worked in public schools in Florida for the last 18 years. For the last 11 years, I have been semi-administrative as a reading coach and then the coordinator for two different International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programmes. We have built our whole family life on the cycles of public school life, and for the last 17 years I have felt the sacrifices my family and I have made in serving other children have been worthy and almost noble. The change has come, for me, because my son is growing so fast, and I feel like I am missing it.

J-man baby picture
The first picture of J-man.

A bit about the J-man here:

From the first time I ever saw his face, I looked into his eyes and could see that he was unusually intelligent. I know that most parents think this, but there was almost an eerily alert quality to his gaze that convinced me that there was more going on here than with the average little tyke. Like most one year olds, J-man loved hearing his favorite stories read to him. The great Where’s Spot marathon of 2009, saw J-man recovering from his cleft palate surgery with nearly non-stop narration of his favorite book. By the time he was two and a half, he was reciting entire books in the car, and by four he was reading on his own. This is not that unusual, except he was choosing to read National Geographic books about dinosaurs written on the 2nd-4th grade levels.

When it was time for my little buddy to start school, we fell in love with the concept of Montessori. Here is a place, we thought, that he will get to advance at his own pace and have the autonomy to choose his daily activities. He excelled at Montessori. He was writing stories  with the letter manipulatives and illustrating stories that he and I would make up at bedtime.

He ran out of vowels at the end. He had just turned four in this picture.
He ran out of vowels at the end. He had just turned four in this picture.

In his second year at Montessori, once he was one of the older students in the class, he started to have challenges both behaviorally and academically. He tended to want to choose materials that were more appropriate for his new younger friends, and his behavior started regressing dramatically. So when it was time for kindergarten he came to school with me, and started in the International Baccalaureate.

Here his behavior in class got better, though he started showing anxiety when presented with problems without concrete solutions or that required creativity. He became a perfectionist, fearful of trying difficult challenges, if he wasn’t sure he would do well. At the same time, we had introduced him to some math videos for him to watch at night as he was going to bed, if he wanted. He advanced quickly and soon was doing far more advanced math than his kindergarten curriculum.

The problem here is that the public school curriculum would have him still working with addition until 2nd grade. He is reading far above level as well. Some people say that I should just try to skip him up a grade, but that really isn’t the answer either, as emotionally he is a little young for his age.

So we plan on letting him lead the charge on making friends that he likes, that might be younger than him, and studying what he wants which will likely be further along than what his friends in traditional schools will do.

So far this summer he has fallen in love with Roald Dahl, and spontaneously started what we called an author study in school. He is keeping a binder of all of his robot drawings and practicing descriptive writing by describing their capabilities. I feel pretty good about letting him take the lead, because he is already doing it. He is a sponge, and my job is to let him soak everything up!

The Decision to Change

First off, this is not a blog that is anti-public school, anti-charter school, or anti-private school. This blog is not really anti-anything (except hardboiled eggs, which I can’t stand!) Instead, this blog is pro-J-man and pro-my family. It supports listening to your gut, but doing your due diligence. All of the opinions expressed in this blog make sense for my family based on our particular set of circumstances and values. We hope that by sharing our journey, we can inspire or help others to make decisions that work for them, and maybe open up possibilities for others that may have, before, seemed like long shots.

This blog chronicles our journey to make a new way of life. Our goals for this year are few, but significant.

You don't say!
You don’t say!

Goal 1: We want to take back control of our time.

I have always said that there is nothing in this world so precious as time as it is the one commodity in life that you can never get more of and assuredly will run out of too soon. Yet, even knowing this, I have allowed my time to be controlled by a series of choices that piled on top of each other resulted in our family feeling harried and frazzled much of the time. We were always “going” and rest time was never really resting. I may have looked like I was home for the weekend, but my mind could not stop spinning about the fifteen projects I was working on from work. Consequently, I started to realize that I was never fully present any where. This year, I will be consciously reducing my obligations and working to eliminate multi-tasking. When I am with J-man, I will not begrudge him time I could be spending on other things. He will be the thing. A colleague said to me recently, that teachers’ kids often get shafted for attention because we are spending all of our time trying to help everybody else’s kids. I don’t want this anymore.

Traditional school is all about time. We do this at 8:00 and something else at 9:00, and that worked for me. I was great at school. J-man is doing fine too, but he has to wait all day to really dive into topics and books that interest him. Add homework to the mix and he often does not have any time to pursue his own interests. By homeschooling, he will be learning through those interests.  He will own his own learning time. The fact that nobody in this house will have to get up before 6:00 AM is an added bonus.

Goal 2: Live simply and appreciate our blessings.

To make this change happen, we will use my retirement to transition to a new and probably less reliable sources of income (more on this later). We will have a year’s worth to live on to get set up, which will give us time to make the shift smoothly, if we simplify our life. Right now we live like we have more money than we know what to do with, which is definitely not the case. We eat out or bring home take out, regularly. We have Direct TV and Netflix. We have expensive cell phone data plans, and I have an expensive Michael’s crafting habit (which would be fine if I actually focused on just selling). In short, there are places where we can cut our spending to make it possible for us to focus on what is important and live a life that is peaceful. No one will be happy all the time, but I think a feeling of overall peace is certainly attainable.

A brain so powerful, we see sparks, or it might have been Disney fireworks.
A brain so powerful, we see sparks, or it might have been Disney fireworks.

Goal 3: Lastly, but most importantly, allow J-man to learn and grow at his own pace with a curriculum designed specifically for him.

J-man is nearly obsessed with robotics. On the weekends he writes comic books about robots, draws blueprints of potential robots he would like to make, and watches documentaries about robots. He already has the potential with just this topic to cover science, reading and writing, art, and engineering. We could add in math with the materials lists. The bonus: he would be so excited to do this that he would barely be able to stop to eat. Right now, he fits this in as a robotics club one day a week and what we can do on the weekend. I can’t wait to see how far he can go when he has the time to really focus and someone to guide him on the way.

Have you ever made a DECISION that felt like it needed all caps to express its bigness? How did you decide to take action? Are you, too, choosing to take control of your child’s education? Let’s have some tea and share our stories!