Category: homeschooling

Relaxed Homeschooling: How to Fuel Your Children’s Passions


I suppose it is the greatest blessing and also the greatest curse that homeschooling affords so much freedom. Instead of the mythical idea that “only experts can teach”, homeschool moms face the often-overwhelming dilemma of sorting through the ocean of teaching resources, styles and approaches.

But if there’s one freedom for which I’m thankful, it’s that of allowing my children to pursue their passions. Children need room, tools and lots of time to grow and develop their gifts. And they need to be told that those gifts are important and can make a difference in how they live.

Through years of research, we decided long ago that the traditional classroom approach wasn’t the best method of educating children. (Read John Taylor Gatto for more information.) We take a more relaxed approach that frankly pulls ideas from Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, eclectic, unschooling and traditional, tailoring it to our family’s needs, and changing through the seasons.

If the relaxed approach of homeschooling appeals to you, my book, Think Outside the Classroom is a great place to start, giving an overview of what it is and then practical ways to put the style into practice.

As I frequently get asked to explain exactly what we do in school, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of what we’re doing this year, as I’ve added a slight twist to the plan. Just remember that your family is different, your children are different, your season is different, and take joy in the freedom and discovering what works best for your family.


We are sticking to a traditional curriculum. Most of my children use A.C.E. paces, with a few exceptions. Remember, especially with younger children, that math is everywhere, and it’s important to help them see how math is used in all of life. I usually don’t begin math workbooks until they are 8 or so, using practical math until then. Counting, addition, subtraction, fractions, etc. can all be taught in the natural progression of life.

I also don’t stress about higher math. We have tools now that make it possible to function in society without being Pythagoras, and a child bent toward that field will thrive without much pushing.

Writing/Spelling Grammar

We are continuing what we’ve always done, which has proven sufficient for producing a foundation for good communication. Copywork. My children begin copywork as soon as they can form letters and continue through high school.


My three older children will begin an in-depth Bible Study. I created a plan of study and designated several passages of Scripture I want them to go through. They will also write summaries at the end of each study.

Main subjects

The previous subjects shouldn’t take much of the day to complete. The rest of their time I’m giving them to pursue their personal passions. My four older children have super-clear passions and thrive in each of them. I have mapped out a course of action that involves research, experimentation and/or a project.

  • Ashton: Art–He is to choose and study 5 different mediums of art, answering the questions I’ve written about each one, reading and researching which may involve visiting/interviewing other artists. Then he must experiment with each medium. Because he is an artist, we want to give him every advantage in pursuing his life work around his passions.
  • Alexa: Crafting–Her ultimate project is to open an Etsy shop. She will study branding, product creation, tips on selling through Etsy and business math as it applies to buying and selling.
  • Avalee: Fashion Design–She will study design through youtube videos, research color, shape and trends, and take some private sewing lessons and ultimately design and create an article of clothing.
  • Brooks: Mechanics–He has already learned (through youtube) how to dismantle things such as a carburetor and put it back. His greatest passion in life is to operate and/or repair heavy machinery. He will do some reading on mechanics of different types and then put it into practice in actual repair work. We have an advantage that my father lives close by and has lots of machinery that, unfortunately, need lots of repair.

Science, History, Geography

Everything else will be left to a more unschooling (with direction) approach. Between individual reading, family reading, documentaries and conversation, these topics are covered with surprising ease. The more to which we are able to introduce them in the course of interests and living, the more “stickable” they are.

Younger Children

My younger children do copywork, simple math and reading. They sit in on family read-alouds and they get massive amounts of time to do art activities and crafts (I try to keep them supplied with materials for creating). They watch some science shows, cook alongside me or an older sibling, do their chores, build, and play.

So that’s it for these next few months or maybe the whole year. It will change. There is so much to do, so much to explore and discover. Relax in the journey and remember your children were created for learning. It will happen.

A Book Series Your Children Will Love

If you are like me, you are always on the look out for good, well-written books that capture your children’s attention. Well I’m thrilled to recommend to you, the Growly Bear books, a series of adventure and fun for the family! The characters in this series are so likable and the adventures pull you in and paint vivid pictures to help you experience the story.

Unlike the twaddle that is so prevalent among children’s books today, the Growly series is a wholesome, fun story that props up your child’s growing vocabulary and whets the literary appetite for more mature, tantalizing literature.

I appreciate the craft of these works and the effort to produce exceptional literature for children, evident by the authors’ careful attention throughout the books.

Start a fun, family adventure with this awesome series by husband and wife team, Philip and Erin Ulrich. Read more about the Growly Bear Books!

“The forest was a wonder to Growly–the flowers and ferns so exotic with their shapes and colors, the tangle of vines amongst the towering trees, and the leafy canopy that blocked out the sky.  It was a truly wondrous place. He wished he could stop every few feet to study a plant or bug or flower, but they had to keep moving.”

The Magic of Copywork (And Why Doing Grammar Isn’t Necessary)

It’s both fascinating and frustrating to go from the teacher in a classroom to homeschooling. Fascinating because so much we were led to believe (and I mean staunchly, don’t-dare-question-the-system believe) about how children learn isn’t true and it’s easier than we think, and frustrating because so much we were led to believe about how children learn isn’t true and it’s easier than we think.

Grammar is one of those things.

I was an English teacher after being an avid English student, thoroughly enjoying everything from diagramming sentences to detecting rhyme schemes in poetry.

And even as I loved the tedious parsing of sentences, with a little thought, I realized it wasn’t helping my students become better communicators–the sole purpose of teaching language. Which was good news, because most kids hate it anyway so it ends up being a huge waste of time.

Now as a disclaimer, I don’t discourage teaching grammar. I still teach some, though I don’t panic about sticking to a strict regimen of completing every exercise in a workbook. I try to ask, “what will help them become better communicators?” and work around that. But I’m also suggesting that copywork alone is a sufficient foundation for learning to become an excellent communicator. The focus should be on the use of language. If and when they need to put the proper names with it, that can be easily taught.

So what started in the classroom and has followed me to teaching my children at home, is a complete revolution in my thinking about grammar and language, confirmed by results that overturn a long-standing belief about grammar.

Another thing that confirmed we might be spending too much time on technicality and not enough on usage, is that few people I question as adults can tell me what different parts of speech are. They might be able to identify a noun and pronoun, a verb and adjective, but beyond that, we forget. That doesn’t mean, though, that they can’t craft great written works.

How to Do Copywork

Copywork is copying other well-written work. Just like artists once copied other artists, so did early scholars copy good writers. Even in Hebrew culture, the bulk of education was copying the Torah.

From a young age I let my children copy sentences from their books, from the Bible, from poetry or any other work they wish. A few sentences for the younger ones, moving to paragraphs for the older ones.

It is important that they learn to copy the text exactly as it written, including punctuation and capitalization. Over time, the habits they copy will become ingrained in their command of language.

What else?

One of my children’s favorite hobbies is becoming pen pals with friends. This is a great exercise in penmanship and practicing proper grammar. This is one of the first writing “assignments” my children have. I help them a little with grammar, punctuation, etc., encouraging them to use what they’ve learned in copywork.

As they get older, we do written narrations once a week. This is simply a short essay about a particular book they are reading. I check it for spelling, grammar, punctuation and have them correct  their mistakes.

With very little formal grammar, my children are all, so far, good writers and communicators. Interestingly, they know when they hear wrong syntax that it’s wrong. Like most of us. Most of us know when an irregular verb has been misused, or an objective case pronoun should be in the nominative case, even if we can’t name the mistake. The names aren’t important. Being able to recognize and use the proper language is.


To help your children know whether to use an objective or nominative case pronoun when multiple pronouns are used, just have them do a simple test:

For example, if they are writing the sentence, “Do you want to ride bikes with Amy and (I, me)?” Just leave out “Amy” and see which one fits.

Homeschool “Victim” Shares Her Story



“Six years have passed since I graduated from what I have been trained to call formal education. I was taught that education was about more than the books and grades, so we called our curriculum, our scheduled learning, “formal education”. It is all documented in those records we kept, just in case anyone accused us of not doing real school.

It took me most of the last six years to really understand what was done to me during those years of home schooling. Firstly, and most importantly, I was never allowed to stop learning.  How cruel is that?”

Read the rest of From a Homeschool Victim Who Obviously Survived


P.S. Check the comment section below to see Olivia’s answer to some of the hate she’s received.

Homeschooling: Cheap and Easy Way to Teach Kids to Read

I’ve never used a formal Phonics curriculum with any of my children and 7 of my 10 children read well or are well on their way.

I say that for only one reason: educating children doesn’t take much money or a teaching degree.

Basically the way I  have taught all my children to read is to begin sounding out letters when they are around 5 or 6 years old, depending on their interest/frustration level. (Of course at this point, they’ve been read to since they were born.)

I do this with simple books and with a pencil and paper, pointing out or writing letters and helping them first identify the letter name and then learning the letter sound. (I don’t even teach my children the ABC song, although they end up learning it somehow.) I may only spend a few minutes a day at first on this exercise. Very laid back, no “you’ve got to learn to read now” approach.

After they learn basic letter sounds, I have two, old laminated letter blend charts that I teach, (tr, sp, fl, gr, cl, etc.) also in a laid-back fashion.

Today I found a super-easy and fun way to teach them.

Since we’re in wedding mode right now and the little girls are excited about being flower girls, it was perfect. I pointed out the first blend and asked, “Which two letters are getting married?” The child answered, “s and p.” (The younger ones are watching on with great suspicion too, and consequently, are learning their letter sounds by mere exposure.)

So with a silly voice and my two index fingers held at a distance, one finger said, “I’m s” and the other finger said, “I’m p and I’m going to marry you.” Then I made the “s” sound with one finger and the “p” sound with the other, and as they got closer, the sounds got closer, until the two fingers finally kissed and made the “sp” sound.

My reading child thought this was fabulous and wanted to do the rest herself, which she did, and it worked beautifully!

So go marry some letters and relax–they’ll learn to read!


Teaching Vocabulary is a Waste of Time

When I taught high school English I couldn’t understand why my students didn’t love their vocabulary workbooks. I mean here it was: WORDS and LISTS all on in place. How could you not love that? And so I would make up games to pique interests but in the end, some of them memorized enough words to pass the test and most of them forgot all the words afterwards.

“Teaching” vocabulary is a waste of time, in my opinion. Learning vocabulary isn’t. I’m a huge fan. But our understanding of the way words are learned is crucial if we want to make the best use of our time.

Vocabulary is learned the same whether you are 2 or 24. We learn words by hearing them and reading them in context. Even when the words are too hard to understand, over time, they become a natural part of our vocabulary if they are a regular part of it. (Conversely, trying to memorize words that are not used regularly will be forgotten. Ask anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language without practicing it regularly.)

We would do well to continually revisit the way a baby learns. It’s so natural and none of us stresses about it (until the latest hogwash propaganda about “learning readiness”). Then someone convinces us that even though we were brilliant at learning when we were babies and toddlers, we lose that ability at 5 or 6 then someone has to come in and rescue us to keep us from becoming idiots.

Language builds upon itself. With a rich environment of reading and mature conversation, the formal study of vocabulary pales as a rival.

This is fantastic news for homeschooling parents. Vocabulary doesn’t need to be a separate subject. Instead, we need to grow our own vocabularies, use them in our daily conversations, and make sure our children are reading rich literature instead of twaddle.

Because we learn vocabulary through what we hear the most, other things that profoundly affect a child’s language development are peers and media. Most children are with peers for the majority of the day and so their vocabulary reflects that. As a homeschooling parent, be aware of the numerous opportunities in the day that you are teaching just through dialogue.

And make sure those opportunities aren’t being robbed by the constant distraction of media. Conversation will not take place unless it is given space to happen.

If your own vocabulary is lacking, I would suggest learning a new word each day as a family. Write it on a chalk board or prominent place in the house and then challenge everyone to use it as often as they can.

Learning language is phenomenal and yet quite simple. Save your time and put away the unrelated lists of words. Instead, weave them into the fabric of your life.

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