News and Notes, Newsletters

October Pezze e Piselli, by Briana Elizabeth

Pezze e Piselli is Italian for “patches and peas.” It’s a bits and pieces dish that gets thrown together with whatever pasta bits were leftover from the making of the dough. It was the first thing I thought of when our editor Tammy asked me to revive the long-neglected newsletter and tuck it into a Thursday post for the blog. Who can say no to Tammy? Not me.

Some of these links you’ll remember from the Facebook page. (Have you friended us? You should! We try to make it as relevant and as fun as we can!)

This piece titled The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland by The Atlantic was floating around, and it sparked a lot of questions. Many of us remember kindergarten as a lot of play time interspersed with cutting and pasting and a story or two. We all know that the case is much different now, and we should ask, is that better?  The links within the article are noteworthy as well, so be sure to check them out. It also lined up with this article we shared on Delaying Kindergarten.

We thought this styrofoam cup trick for teaching place value was pretty cool!

One of our authors Jen Naughton wrote a great blog post on what might make a good Norse Myth reading list. It ties in well with this article, Hygge: A Heartwarming Lesson from Denmark.

You might really agree with this list of 10 Things Homeschoolers Wish They Could Say.

If your house is anything like mine, Halloween costumes have been chattered about for the last weeks, and finalizing of pumpkin carving images has happened. Don’t forget to save some seeds for roasting! 

Not to rush you, but November is coming up fast. My family celebrates Martinmas if we can. Here are some links to ponder and get you thinking about what kind of lantern you can make. I’ll post more about that later, too, just in case you forget.

Finally, some posts from STS that were particularly talked about: Georgiana opened her heart and wrote on Homeschooling Through the Hard Times.  And Slow and Steady reminds us all to really ponder how fast we have to work at homeschooling. Is faster always better?

And last but not least….


A New Year, A New Rhythm, by Cheryl

We are now in our eleventh week of second and fifth grade. It has been a rough start! As he entered the logic stage, Aidan’s workload increased. He struggled to adjust to the extra work. He was also resentful of how long he was spending on schoolwork compared to what Lilly was doing.

For the first six weeks we went about things exactly as we always had. We sat at the kitchen table for everything except our Prairie Primer time. Then we snuggled up in the cozy living room chairs.

Aidan was distracted and frustrated by Lilly and me working because we talk so much. Plus Matthew the Toddler likes to distract everyone while we do school. We were getting things done, but we were pretty miserable. Something need to change.

Our first adjustment was a schedule change. I have always followed a typical school schedule, but that just was not working for us this year. So we took a week off after we finished week six. We started week seven fresh and rested. During our week off we took a couple of fun field trips. We read books. We played. Six weeks on, one week off worked great for us, and I plan to follow that schedule the rest of the year.

The second modification was to clean up Aidan’s desk under his loft bed. He now takes his work to his room and does his independent subjects in silence. Lilly and I work at the table for reading and math. When Aidan is done, we all come together to read the Little House books and go through the Prairie Primer lessons for Bible, Science, and History. This usually means an hour of reading the novel and various books from the library. Some days we do a lab, home ec, or craft project. Sometimes we just finish and play.

Home ec

The other big change we made was to bring back our bedtime reading. We had read bedtime stories together nearly every night since Aidan was very young. Once he started reading novels on his own, Aidan no longer participated. He went to bed and read alone. Lilly and Matthew wanted Dr. Seuss. Aidan was not interested anymore. Now we all read a chapter of a longer novel together before bed. Then if Lilly wants a Dr. Seuss book, we can do that too. Being purposeful about the bedtime reading has been great for us as a family.

A big change for me personally is quiet time. When I wake up, I don’t turn on the television anymore. I fix a cup of coffee and I read. Some days I get to read for two hours before the kids wake up. I am finding I’m more productive and less short-tempered with the kids when I get that time to study the Bible and read a novel or homeschooling book.

We continue to tweak our new schedule. But so far these changes seem to be having a positive impact on our school time and our family.

Lilly and Puppies

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

How We Make it Work

A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool, by Briana Elizabeth


I woke up around 7:30 to the dogs barking because my 10th grader was leaving for music classes. He walks down to the local public school (and home) about four times a day between all of his classes and marching band. I stayed in bed. Husband had a conference online with a Chinese company and didn’t get home until 1:30 am, and I sat up to wait for him. I’m dreading the day. Slightly.

7:50  I go downstairs, start my pear jelly, and make a pot of tea. I turn the oatmeal on (I let mine soak overnight so this is easy) and walk a dog or two.


8:19  Everyone is around the table drinking coffee and reading. I join them. Eventually I go over the schedules, and people start talking about presidential candidates. The whole table joins in, it becomes a civics lesson, and I reroute them back to reading.

8:27  I forgot to add ginger to my jelly, so I get up and add that in.

8:33  Still drinking tea and reading–really reading this time.


8:37  Last sleepy head wakes up and joins us, and I confess I did wake her up. We’ll go too long if she doesn’t start soon, and she wants to play with the neighbors everyday. I like to make that happen for her.

9:20  Jelly is done.

9:22  10th grader comes home, and we stop reading to eat breakfast.

9:30  Daughter has to be driven to work. (Thankfully this is less than 2 miles away).

9:45  Another cup of tea.


9:46  Dh is about to leave, and I get him ready to go to work for the day. Normally he leaves around 9, but this is a somewhat off day.

10:03  Kids are finishing up algebra, some are eating, and I review notes with my son on a paper he wrote.

10:15  I make my own omelet and sit down to eat and help two kids with math.

10:17  Son takes over teaching his sisters algebra, so I can help a small person.

“God gave you fingers, use them.” Yes, I just said that.

10:20  Son is so adorable and kind as he helps his sisters. We are all laughing at the problem.


10:22  Pugsly is in the kitchen making himself an omelet. I can’t eat oatmeal; he hates it.

11:00 Complained about algebra on Facebook and was not only commiserated with but given the idea to buy Dragonbox. Done deal. Smaller kids are playing while the stragglers get showers. I am looking up meme quotes while everyone takes a breather.

11:10 I grab a straggler to do some language arts and my commonplace book.

11:15  Everyone is at the table doing “English”.


11:45  I split everyone up and sneak off to teach small child history.

12:12 People have written some excellent stuff today! We successfully pulled out of the algebra tailspin.

12:22 Three kids are still writing and working on compositions. I send Pugsly to read a poem, while I do mapwork with Small Child. Pugsly comes and reads me poem, and we talk about it.

12:32  Three STILL working on compositions (why would I go and ruin a good thing by stopping them?). I finish poetry analyzation with Pugsly, and we bank one lesson extra.

I am finally going to get a shower.


12:48  Downstairs again. Made my bed and switched around the wash while I was up there. Dinner is mostly made, and I have a meeting at 7 pm. I need to remember to start tomorrow’s dinner too (soak beans, make stock). We have a picnic and a church service tomorrow, so I need to ‘bank’ as much as I can!

12:56  I call an end to the writing. Two have music class at 1:30, and I need to eat. I walk a dog and load the second batch of dishes into the dishwasher (the boys did the first earlier). My neighbor stops over for a few minutes.

1:22  Daughter decided she’s not going to band, so Pugsly is off to class by himself. The girls are still working on compositions, smallest child is doing some spelling corrections, and it’s all very, very quiet.


1:26  Smallest child is done, and she will have lunch. All she has left is Nature Study.

1:36 Both daughters are done with compositions (history crossover), and they were both so well done that I get to cross off over a weeks worth of writing exercises. This homeschool thing might work after all.

All I have left is poetry, science, and history with the olders. Oldest son has physical therapy (had an operation) at 3:40. Hopefully I can get it all done by then.

1:40  Older boy leaves for honors choir. He’ll be home at 3:30. I have to make some puppy formula, and one daughter hits the shower.

2:07  Puppy pen is clean, and they are fed. I am doing nature study with Smallest Child.

IMG_7893 (1)

2:47 She looked for bugs, and I picked sage and apples and weeded a bit. We have worms and grubs, millipedes and … bugs to look at. I was hoping to see the baby roly poly that I saw the other day, but we couldn’t find him. The older girls are now working on mapwork of the fall of Rome.

2:57  Science! Pugsly is home, and wants to go play football at the school, so we are Getting It Done.

3:40.  PT.  Dropped Pugsly off at the high school to play football on the way to PT.

3:58  Heading to the screened-in porch (called The Fake Outside) to do poetry with the girls.

4:18  Finished poetry. The girls are going to give one dog a bath. I’m going to sit out here for a bit and enjoy the sun.

4:30  Girls feed puppies and take off to play with friends.


5:00 Another sink full of dishes, and I sit down with an iced coffee to do some STS work.

From here on out I put the clipboard down and it’s muddled, but it goes something like this:

6:00 I start dinner. This is late for a lot of people, but Dh regularly works until 7:30/8 pm and we all eat together. When my kids were small, they ate much earlier.

6:55 Dinner is in the oven finishing up, and I walk out the door to go to my meeting. Since it’s only a block away, I make it in time.

8:00  I come in the door and Dh just got home. The kids served themselves, fed puppies, and walked dogs, so we all gather around the table.

8:20 pm I decide I don’t want to go to the store in the morning for bread, so I leave to pick some groceries up and buy a can opener. We have a picnic tomorrow and church at 12:05, so I want to  leave myself wiggle room in there. Thankfully I live in town and the store is less than a mile.

9:00 pm I’m home. Dh took care of the pool, and I see wine on the counter. I pour myself a glass and sit out in the library with him to chat.

9:30 pm  Football game is on. I shut the kitchen down for the day, then head to poke around the internet.

10:00 pm, I walk all the dogs, give them water, straighten things up, and grab a book.

10:30 pm I’m in bed and the kids are too.

Looking back at this list, I realize I accomplished a good bit more than I thought I did.

Now to do it all again tomorrow.

Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Education is a Life, Homeschool Wisdom, How We Make it Work

Homeschool Carousel, by Briana Elizabeth

I woke up this morning feeling a strong sense of deja vu. It’s a homeschooling carousel, the music and bright lights being the books and pedagogies, and the choosing of what to do each year is the up and down of the circular ride.

Though I am wed to classical schooling, each child is so different that I have to reassess subjects each year and decide what is to take precedence.

This year has been particularly hard for me, so I’m going to do something I never really do: I’m going to share about one of my children specifically so you can understand how some of these questions and struggles never leave until your last student is out on his own. This is just part of homeschooling, and you can expect it. It’s nothing to angst over, and yet these are our children and our high calling, and so we dwell on these questions.

He is entering his sophomore year and is my first child that I have homeschooled from the very beginning. There has been a marked difference between his studies and that of his two older siblings whom I pulled out of public school. Though my other children were good students, their public school years served as a birth defect in their education. This son’s studies, his abilities, his bent, if you will, are a shining example of how education informs character and will and forms loves. I say this only to remind myself that there is no right or wrong decisions with his schooling at this point; there are only right and wrong decisions as to what is best for him. Let me unpack that and share how though your children get older, the struggles of what to teach each year are still there, no matter how long you’ve been a homeschooler. My purpose is to hopefully give you some peace; this is how it goes; this is a stage of every year, just like stages of growth in children, and in relationships.

I could graduate him. Yes, as a sophomore, I could enroll him into the community college in my town and let him loose. He has finished his required subjects for graduation. However, he is also enrolled in our local public school’s extra curricular activities of marching band, jazz band, concert band, wind ensemble, honors choir (this is a hugely popular choir whose performances with purchased tickets are standing room only – rightly so), and this year he is auditing AP music theory. He also participates in track and swimming. To graduate him would mean that he would have to give up those very worthy classes, having  been matriculated, and these are classes and experiences that I would not be able to afford him privately.

He has also started his own business, and is working toward his Eagle Scout. He is taking coveted classes with a renowned luthier.

And so I am left with deciding which subjects are the most important for him to know in these three short years we have.

This is no small decision. And this is where I can say there is no wrong answer -he is essentially finished – yet our choices are of the utmost importance because we have to choose the very best for him. He doesn’t have the time for me to throw a full schedule at him; he only has 24 hours in his day and I insist on his sleeping at least 8 of those hours, and having some hours to stare at a wall if he chooses. Eating is also high on the priority list.

Believe it or not, he loves Latin enough to continue on with Henle 2 this year. I thought for sure we could cut out Latin because we had more than finished it as a requirement, but this is what he wants, and how can I argue other wise? He has a wonderful mentor in Scouting who was classically educated, and they conjugate verbs and talk of translating when they’re not teaching young scouts to shoot rifles, and my son’s affection for this mentor, and this language are so worthy of his time. However, I am leaving it all up to him. He can take The National Latin exam if he chooses also.

We could cut out math, but should we? With his desires to continue his education, quitting math might be a danger because his lack of using it might lead to forgetting much of what he had learned. Math continues. It will be what he chooses, and we’ve been toying with the idea of  a course in statistics.

Science is our own course, The Physics of High Fidelity and some Biology* this year because I love dissecting things, and I think he should too. This is not a course that I’ve built for him, rather he has built it for himself and I’m just giving him the credit. It is basically what his business is. He is designing guitar foot pedals (they alter the sound on the guitar, and he can design them to make different sounds; he then draws the schematics and builds them with electrical circuits. It’s a lot of wire and welding) He chose to do Chemistry last year, and we can switch things up like that because we’re homeschoolers.

So that leaves humanities to whittle down – and the pain of this you cannot imagine. Which books to cut? It’s a knife to my humanities-loving heart. His father and I have an abiding love of history, and he wants to pursue a minor in history in college.  He happens to love the Catholic Textbook Project’s textbooks, so it will stay as a spine. (Did you know I hate textbooks? Hate. These are amazing. I have all but one.) But we can’t do all of the wonderful assignments. He can’t outline every chapter. We read (I try to keep up with him) and we discuss – this is what we’ve done for years. How can I argue with this streamlined option when it made him love history so much in the first place?

The last choices would be what books to read. With this schedule, it’s leaves only room for the most excellent. However, because I’ve used the Norms list since seventh grade, he has some excellent books under his belt already. Now I can cherry-pick the ones from the tenth grade list he hasn’t read and that I feel are most important. He doesn’t have time to write reports on all of them. Again, we read, and we discuss. I can’t bring myself to fix what ain’t broke.

When I have to pare reading lists down to what is most essential, I always check myself with Memoria Press’ choices. You can’t go wrong if their books are the only ones read for the year. More is not always better. For this year I’ve chosen The Aeneid, Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, St. Augustine’s Confessions, Dante’s Inferno, Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, Erasmus’ Education of a Christian Prince. That still is quite a list, and we will just keep chipping away at it. Literature is read year-round in our house, so there is no set month he has to finish these. If he is still reading them next year in eleventh grade, is that the worst thing? Not in the least. Poetry will be interspersed because that’s how I roll.

The last of my decisions, and what I will require, is one small paper each semester and one research paper to be handed in at the end of the year. Because he has been homeschooled from the start, because right thinking leads to good writing, we’ve climbed this ladder well. We’re honing skills at this point, and our lingering family dinners have made this possible as much as any writing courses we’ve done over the years.

So that’s it. It’s the most of what we can do, and the least of it.

I can get anxious over what he might be missing–what I thought he should have done – but would that really be worth the anxiety? Isn’t he doing enough? Is it not classical? Is it not beautiful and crafted specifically to him?

This is why I don’t really pore over books and schedules and get upset, fretting that we didn’t do everything. Those books and schedules don’t have MY child, with his talents and loves. I’m not saying to not look at them, but don’t be bound by them. Glean what they have for you, but be free in leaving what is not for you, your family, your child. Leave it with no look back.

*This is my friend Macbeth’s homeschooling site. She’s a biologist who has graduated four kids. We love her science recommendations.

High School

Calling An Audible, by Brit

It’s Throwback Thursday so we’re posting a blast from the past!  Enjoy!

There’s a bittersweetness to the end of summer. I love when my husband has time off in the summer. It means lazy evenings without work interfering. Bike rides to the park. Field trips to the zoo and aquarium. And some summers, month long road trips. In other words, one way or another, we tend to make a lot of memories as a family during the summer.

But the beginning of the school year, even though it brings with it earlier bedtimes and earlier wake times as well as dad gone all day again, brings routine again. There’s more predictability. Our days seem to be more consistent and structured than in the summer. And on a whole, we yearn for that consistency.

The beginning of the school year also brings on fall. I do love fall. I think it is my favorite season. As a child I loved the newness of the dawning school year, the school supplies, the smell of the books. I still love those things as an adult. Fall, much more than the first of January, brings so much potential. It also brings football and the World Series. My husband and I spend many evenings discussing whether the Angels have a snowball’s chance of making the play-offs and debating the merits of the latest AP and Coaches poll for NCAA football.

This year, though I was looking forward to the new school year, I really procrastinated the lesson planning that comes with it. I wanted to hold on to summer as long as I could. Maybe it’s due to our summer not really feeling like summer this year. Home improvement seemed to suck it out of us. I wanted just one more week or so to play as a family, go on a field trip, ride to the park before the daily work began. Granted, by the time mid-August hit, I had all of my third grader’s work planned and pretty much all of my fifth grader’s work planned. And though my eighth grader is taking one online class, not to mention my husband planned math and I let Kolbe plan grammar and religion, I resisted planning the rest of his year. The night before we began, I was up until after midnight working on history plans. The entire time I had a gnawing feeling that what I chose for history was not going to work. But by this time, I didn’t know what else to do.

My fears came true within the first few hours of our first day of school. My eldest took his history book into his room to read the first 5 ½ pages of the introductory chapter. He came out about thirty minutes later saying he couldn’t get past page 3, it was too much to read, and he didn’t know what he was reading about. Panicking inside, I tried to calmly tell him to just try a little bit more. I sat with him, asked him to show me how far he got, asked him if he’d made sure to read the sidebars and such, and then said I needed him to try to finish. It was pretty clear within a few minutes that was not going to happen.

My eldest was a very late reader. Phonics finally began clicking towards the end of second grade. By the beginning of seventh grade, he was pretty much reading “on grade level” but he was a very reluctant reader. For the majority of his homeschooling career I have read everything out loud to him. But, once he hit sixth and then seventh grade, I needed him to read at least some of his work to himself so I could also read more age-appropriate materials to his younger siblings. He did alright in seventh grade. I made sure to ask him questions daily about what he read (only history and science), and helped him look back in the book if he couldn’t remember. But unfortunately the history book I chose for this year was just too much – too large of pages with too small of font with too much information in each chapter. He just wasn’t ready.

That night I called an audible. The play had to be changed and I was running out of time on the clock. So, my husband stood at our chalkboard, asked me questions about what we were hoping to cover through twelfth grade, and then together we came up with a (hopeful) solution to this year. The problem was I wanted him ready for Kolbe Academy’s ninth grade literature and history sequence, all based on Ancient Greece. Up to this point, we have studied a variety of history, largely based on interests. Last year he did US history as I knew he wouldn’t see it again until high school. I asked him this past spring what he’d like to study this year and he said WWI and WWII. (When we neared the beginning of this year, he denied ever saying that!) I chose to use Light to the Nations 2 – The Making of the Modern World with him. It has a great build-up to the 1800s and 1900s, and ends just after WWII. The books are extremely well done (he used From Sea to Shining Sea, also by CSTP last year). But, the intensity of Light to the Nations 2 ramped up considerably from the book he read last year.

As my husband and I discussed the problem of preparing for Kolbe, we came to the conclusion that no matter what we did this year, our son wasn’t going to be ready for Kolbe’s 9th grade year. I have taken eight years with him to build what little confidence he has. He’s not one that likes to rise to the challenge and much like boiling a frog, I have had to increase difficulty minuscule bit by minuscule bit. The jump in difficulty from last year to this was actually minor based on what he’d have to do next year with Kolbe. Now granted, he may emotionally and academically mature in the next twelve months. But he may not. And I have to go with who he is right now. So, high school got rearranged. And that solved my problem. My expectations were shaping our school year (and in many ways, we should have goals and expectations to shape our year – but the goals and expectations should always take into account the whole child we are educating), and my son was showing me he wasn’t ready for those goals and expectations. So, they had to be rewritten.

If we were only in this journey of homeschooling for academic success, college admissions, and a career, then I could justify pushing him through the original history book. It’d take a lot of tears (both of ours), a lot of time (both of ours), and a ton of hard work. And maybe we’d come out of this year stronger and wiser. Or maybe we’d come out of this year with wounded spirits and a wounded relationship. But, that isn’t why we are homeschooling. I am raising boys who will grow into men. Yes, I’d like them to be well-educated in an academic sense. I’d like them to have a choice when it comes to colleges and be able to pursue a career that brings them joy. But, more than that, I want them to love God with all they are and all they have. I want them to be men of virtue and strong character. I want them to love us, their family, as adults as they do as children. And I want them to be able to follow God’s call for their lives because they have the academic background as well as the emotional and spiritual background required. Because of our reasons for homeschooling our children, pushing our eldest through that history book was not worth it. There are other history books; there are other ways to achieve the same ultimate goals. All it took was my willingness to set outside my predetermined ideals and see my son as my son.

Brit and her husband are living this beautiful, crazy life with their three sons and one daughter in sunny California. They made the decision to homeschool when their eldest was a baby after realizing how much afterschooling they would do if they sent him to school. Brit describes their homeschooling as eclectic, literature-rich, Catholic, classical-wanna-be.


Guest Post: On Not Teaching High School Science, by MacBeth

I have often made the claim–or perhaps it is a confession–that I do not teach, but I do facilitate. This is not precisely the case now, as in my “retirement” from homeschool, I do “teach” classes for other homeschooled students. But my goal is to mentor more than teach, and I hope that’s how it actually turns out. I truly hope to inspire a love for science in my students through encouragement and observation as we examine the world around us through scientific eyes. School as leisure is the key, just as it was in the elementary years.

Lately, I have been asked by a few folks to outline an approach to high school science using living books, and I am glad to have a few moments to do so now. I’d like to begin with some real honesty: A living books education for a student of science is more difficult to throw together than a textbook education. But don’t panic. The difficulty sits squarely on the shoulders of the student, and rightly so. By high school, the student should have a good idea of his strengths and weaknesses, of his learning style, of what appeals to him, and of his particular areas of interest. He need not love science in order to complete his coursework, but he ought to love the books he chooses and the aspects of scientific topics he pursues. In the end, a living books science education will provide the student with a depth of understanding that a high school textbook education cannot approach.

Let us suppose your high school student wants to study biology. Biological sciences are broad and deep, but for the high school student, most of biology is a list of definitions. In anatomy, for instance, we identify body parts. In botany, we identify plants and their features. In behavior, we categorize actions. In genetics, perhaps, we must consider statistics but only on a basic level (for high school); we are still simply defining the agents of inheritance. But definitions are best learned in context, and living books are the context. Written by one author who loves his subject, living books are the author’s way of sharing the love.

So to begin, head to the local library. There on the biology (or chemistry, or physics, or geology…) shelves your student will find books written at every level on each particular subject. Browse the books, starting with the most basic (do not be embarrassed to check out books from the children’s section), and bring home a stack. It does not hurt to look at the table of contents of a biology text if you don’t want to miss any particular topic. And I do recommend the Self-Teaching Guides for an overview of a subject (Astronomy, for example). If you have a student who is preparing for SAT subject tests, a prep book is not a bad idea. Such study guides will not convey the love of science as a living book will, but they are useful to ensure that test topics are covered.

Back at home, take note of the topics which most interest you, and head back to the library with those topics in mind. Examine a few more complex texts and delve deeply into them. If the author goes too fast, find another book or take it slowly. If you need more illustrations, look for a book that suits you (oversized books may be on a different shelf). Periodicals and professional publications may be available at a local college or university. Find out how to gain access to these or subscribe yourself. Sometimes students get discounts on subscriptions; it does not hurt to ask.

The student might take notes, but one of the great features of a living book is readability. A fast reader with good comprehension skills will enjoy a living science book as he enjoys a good novel. One hardly takes notes when reading for pleasure. After reading, a homeschooler, pacing himself, has time to go back and reread a part or take notes on a section that is more difficult or complex. The student of biology might need to make vocabulary lists. The student of physics will need to keep track of formulae. In those cases, the student should read closely and take good notes. The style of note-taking will depend on the student, but systems such as Cornell Notes or SQ3R Notes are helpful for some students.

But what about labs? Laboratory demonstrations are great for hands-on experience with equipment and will give a student an opportunity to write a lab report in a formal way. For the most part, a high school student is not experimenting to make a new discovery but rather repeating tried and true procedures in order to make a concept clear and, for the sake (especially in chemistry) of learning, how to handle the equipment. In theory, a student may successfully watch virtual labs online while trying only a few demonstrations at home. The student who is very interested in a particular topic may desire the hands-on experience that labs provide. For that student I suggest living books again. A student with an interest in anatomy might want to do a cat dissection. (Cats for dissection–I know this is sad–may be purchased from companies which acquire euthanized cats from shelters.) A student of chemistry may want to set up some sophisticated equipment in a garage and try his hand—with care–at distillation or synthesis. A student of physics may wish to learn how to grind lenses and experiment with optics. I am a firm believer in hands-on science with good equipment, and there are books available for these projects. A student who saves his own money for such purchases is learning another lesson as well.

In this age of YouTube and social media, students can and should take advantage of the brains of others. College lectures through open university courses, simple how-to videos posted by enthusiastic amateurs, and everything in between are available on the internet. Your student of physics can fix your car. Your student of biology can learn bird calls. Your student of chemistry can learn how NOT to perform certain hazardous experiments. Astronomers can learn star lore, follow NASA spacecraft, and calendar celestial events. Geology students can get an app that will alert them to earthquakes as they happen. Never before has so much scientific raw data been available to students in real time. And it’s free!

Despite the ubiquity of video presentations from around the world, don’t forget the real live field trips. Go to a mine and break rocks. Go to a dark field and look at stars. Go to the sea or a pond with a net and find critters. Go to a laser light show. Visit museums and attend university lectures intended for the public. Purchase and use a good microscope.Your enthusiastic student will be welcomed by amateur and professional societies. Mineral clubs, birding clubs, astronomy clubs, ham radio clubs, etc. are always pleased to greet young people who share their passion. And unlike video resources which engage sight and hearing, a live experience engages all five senses. Smell the sea! Smell the barn! Feel the wet grass! Taste the wild edibles!

Which leads me to my last point. Talk to strangers. For instance, if you are hiking by a pond and a scientist is tagging fish, politely engage him in conversation. (Birders will expect you to be very quiet as they observe but will be willing to point out a rare sighting if your student conducts himself appropriately.) Over the years we have met some fascinating people with interests in a wide variety of topics. Real scientists working in the field are always an inspiration.

I have, in the past, provided living book lists—suggestions, really—for high school students. It is the nature of science that new books based on new discoveries and new perspectives are being published all the time. Please look to the lists, but don’t feel limited by them. Some can be found on the sidebar at MacBeth’s Opinion and on the very old and outdated site (some links might not work)

A living books education is not just for those interested in humanities. A motivated student of science will enjoy the challenge of a living books education. A reluctant student of science may enjoy the engaging style of a passionate science writer. Either way, the living books approach will open the eyes of the student and inspire a new way of looking at science.

(Two days later, Macbeth was having a conversation about this post on her facebook wall, and she offered some more advice we wanted to pass on.)

“No tests. No quizzes. Conversation, always. If there were labs involved, we sometimes did them together. If anyone had a problem understanding, he would look for another resource, or ask for help. New and exciting concepts were frequently shared at the dinner table. If we visited a lab, I expected to hear (and did hear) good questions about the research. If we visited a mine, concepts and vocabulary were reinforced. And grades on transcripts are arbitrary things at best…I suspect this aspect of unschooling makes folks uncomfortable, but it worked well for us.”

MacBeth Derham is a biologist, and veteran homeschooling mom with four outstanding college graduates of her own. She taught natural history for 25 years and now mentors for Aquinas Learning.

Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight: Hardships and Inequalities — a Paper by Miranda

Editor’s Note: This was an assignment from Excellence in Literature in which Miranda responded to a prompt about social issues in writing.  10th Grade

Hardships and Inequalities

In most stories the author uses their characters’ views and morals to reflect their own. Whether it is something as simple as a love for dogs or something as serious as their views on monarchy, authors express themselves in their stories. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is no different. Twain used A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to illustrate his own views on slavery and the views of 19th century America.

In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Hank is transported to the time of King Arthur. Through a series of events he becomes “The Boss,” a high power in the kingdom, and decides that he is going to try and change the crude ways of Camelot.

One of the problems Hank strives to correct is slavery. Slavery was a large dilemma in Camelot, where everyone who wasn’t a noble was, in his eyes, a slave. Most of King Arthur’s British nation were slaves, pure and simple, and bore that name and wore the iron collar on their necks; the rest were slaves in fact, but without the name. (8.3)
Hank tried to free the slaves slowly in order to prevent a revolt from the knights. He took King Arthur on a journey disguised as peasants to show Arthur how the people were treated. After they end up being taken captive and sold as slaves, Arthur finally realizes how bad slavery really is. After a long hard journey slavery finally comes to an end in chapter 40. Slavery was dead and gone; all men were equal before the law; taxation had been equalized. (40.2)

Throughout the book Hank’s views on slavery are made very clear. He is disgusted with the way slaves are treated and tries with all his might to set them free. These negative thoughts against bondage seem to come straight from Mark Twain himself.

As a young boy Mark Twain (Samuel Clemmons) lived in a small city in Missouri. In this small city slavery was still legal and very prominent. Twain grew up talking to the slaves and listening to their stories. A Twain biographer by the name of Ron Powers says, “Race was always a factor in his consciousness partly because black people and black voices were the norm for him before he understood there were differences. They were the first voices of his youth and the most powerful, the most metaphorical, the most vivid storytelling voices of his childhood.” But soon the problem of slavery became very clear when Twain witnessed the shooting of a slave and found the body of another in a river. After this Twain struggled with the way slaves were treated his entire life.

In almost all his books Twain has a very strong view against slavery. These views reflect his own and are strengthened by the force of the pro-slavery movements of his time. Against all that he had been told as a child, Twain fought for freedom. Even though he couldn’t free the slaves in his own time, Twain fought for the ones in his stories.


Education is a Life

Slow and Steady, by Briana Elizabeth

When I was in my early twenties, I got stuck  in a very dangerous situation far, far from home. I was given a window of opportunity to get out of it in the thick of a Nor’Easter.

Now, some of you may not know what a Nor’Easter is, so let me explain – it was feet of snow coming down so hard and so solid that 18-wheelers had pulled over onto the side of the highway to wait it out. As W.C. Feilds would say, “It ain’t a fit night out for maaaan or beast!”

(Do I have to show that clip? Yes, yes I do. Classics and all that…)

Despite the severity of the weather, I had to get home. My real home. I got in my Bronco with no license plates, a few dollars in my pocket, and everything I owned on the earth in a trash bag on the back seat.

On a fair night with good weather and traffic, the trip should have taken four hours. On this night I passed a few car crashes. I missed a few spin outs. Snow was coming down so hard that I could see only a few feet in front of me.

The fear could have been overwhelming.

I had one sentence running through my head the whole eight-hour trip, “Slow and steady wins the race.” I was in 4-wheel drive the whole way. Foot by foot I made it home.

I made it home.

As you can imagine, I learned a life-long lesson that night.

Slow and steady wins the race.

I still say it to myself all the time.

When I’m out weeding and it seems like a gargantuan task, I tell myself, “Just one more handful.” Before I know it, the garden’s done. Painting a room, a mountain of laundry, canning a bounty, praying for a long-off dream – it all gets done one moment at a time.

I say it to my children when they feel like they have a monumental task, be it educational or physical, “One thing at a time.”

One day at a time.

Slow and steady wins the race.

How do we win the marathon of homeschooling? Slow and steady wins the race.

Harder, faster, louder, shinier doesn’t win it, as the hare taught us. We can work ourselves into frantic spinning circles, but that doesn’t win the race.

The first few weeks of my September are always packed. It’s just the math. Five kids with five different schedules, throw in some medical procedures with physical therapy, a few urgent care visits with follow ups, sports practices, band practices, newborn puppies, a little weekend entertaining, and ZOOM! September’s over.

How do I do it?

Slow and steady wins the race.

I do that which is before me. I work at it until it’s time to stop for the day. My kids work at what they have to do for the day, until the day is done. Sometimes we don’t get everything done. But that’s alright – the end of the day is not the end of the marathon. It’s not the end of the journey. It’s just one more foot gained on the way home.


It’s the slow and steady continual effort of the everyday that wins the race.

Slow down. Put one foot in front of the other. Give it your all, your best, and do what you have to do to keep that momentum, but know that it doesn’t have to be *frantic* momentum. It doesn’t have to be the high-pitched scream in the back of your brain. It’s simply one foot in front of the other.

Slow and steady wins the race.

That Aesop, he was a smart guy.