Deserts: The Next Stop on the Biomes Tour! by Cheryl


Previously in our Biomes series: Grasslands

Why did we select deserts as our second biome? Because I found some amazing books at the library that I could not wait to dive into with my kids! Our study of the desert led us on a journey around the world with a look at some fun plants and animals.



As with our grasslands study, I picked up all of the books at our local library. Click the links to see the books. I will start by listing our two favorites!

Desert Days, Desert Nights by Roxie Munro has beautifully illustrated pictures of the North American Deserts during the day and at night. It is a search a find book that my kids truly enjoyed! For each desert, she has a daytime picture and a nighttime picture that illustrated the diurnal and nocturnal (vocab words from our grassland study!) animals of the desert. It made a fun introduction to our study.

Looking Closely Across the Desert by Frank Serifini takes closeup pictures of things found in the desert and has you guess what it could be. Each close up is followed by a full picture and description of the animal, plant, or land feature.

Life in Extreme Enviroments: Life in the Desert by Katherine Lawrence holds some great information on the topic. We did not read the whole thing; we looked at the plant and animal sections and skimmed the sections on people who live in the desert. Not because the book was a problem–my kids’ focus was a problem that day!

About Habitats: Deserts by Cathryn Sill is wonderfully illustrated by John Sill. We found some fun facts, and thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations!

America’s Deserts by Marianne D. Wallace was another book full of great illustrations!

Draw Write Now Book 8 by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer contains the lessons that correspond to the desert study.


We learned about some fun animals who make their homes in the desert. We also discovered that some animals we find in grasslands can be found in deserts as well. The pronghorn was one we found in both biomes. Other animals (and insects) of the desert include: horned lizards, javelinas, termites, ants, giant desert centipedes, stink beetles, roadrunners, desert iguanas, red racers, scorpions, turkey vultures, sidewinder rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, mule deer, kit foxes, gray foxes, and diamondbacks.


Our favorite desert plant is the saguaro cactus. We even made up a silly game to help my five-year-old remember what it is. Anytime someone yells, “Saguaro!” you must stop where you are and hold both arms up at right angles, like the cartoon cacti we have seen in books and movies.

Other plants to look for: golden poppy, agave, Joshua trees, teddy bear chollas, welwitschia


Arid, Sonoran Desert, Mojave Desert, Gobi Desert, Saharan Desert, Syrian Desert, Arctic Desert, estivate/aestivate, antivenin, tap root, oasis, wadi



We added a desert section to our  lap book. We also added another animal behavior piece. Our books are broken down into sections: Each biome has a section, with a separate section at the front for the general information on plants and animals that we come across.

CoverpageAnimalsPlantsMapAnimal Behavior (hibernation/estivation)

Our lap book pages for deserts

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 cherylcooking 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.

Next time: Rainforests!

Why Classical Education? High Standards, Customized, by Jen W.


I described in an earlier article how we fell into homeschooling. We fell into classical education in a similar manner. The Well-Trained Mind (TWTM) was first released in 1999, at the same time I was seeking information about homeschooling my eldest daughter. The ideas behind a neo-classical education appealed to me, from the idea of the Trivium to reading whole works of literature instead of excerpts from a textbook. Boxed curricula isn’t something that appealed to me; it didn’t feel natural or different enough from traditional school.

I combed through TWTM, carefully researching various programs and making elaborate schedules, even writing out a lesson plan for the entire year…in PEN! (I know, all of the veteran homeschooling moms are laughing now.) We’ve all been there, and most of us have figured out that it doesn’t generally work out as well in practice as it does in our heads or even on paper.


Over the years, I’ve noticed that there are various reactions from people when they find out I follow the ideas of classical education. They might get defensive, explaining why they didn’t want to do Latin. They might think I have too much time on my hands, that I am, in essence, designing my own curriculum. They might even say that it’s too stringent, not allowing time for creative play or to play to the strengths or weaknesses of a student. None of those things have been true in my experience.

My eldest is a senior this year. She completed two levels of Latin Primer before moving to Henle. She did Rosetta Stone Spanish and spent a year in a Spanish class for homeschooled kids. She suffered through the well-known boring but thorough “Traditional Logic.” She struggled through a variety of math programs before we found our groove. What did I learn? I learned that I was able to follow classical ideas in areas in which I am very comfortable while mixing more traditional forms of learning if and when I found it appropriate.

I majored in literature, and come from a family of history buffs. Those areas are my comfort zones. We follow TWTM closely in those subjects. I am less comfortable in science and math. We tend to use more traditional texts in those subjects. It may seem presumptuous (even sacrilegious!) to some people that I bastardize the program so heavily. But, when you listen to lectures that Susan Wise Bauer has given, read her blog, and watch videos from Peace Hill Press, you quickly realize that the intent was for you to pick and choose to customize your child’s education as you wish. The lists and schedules found in TWTM are descriptions of what might happen in a perfect world and while teaching a perfect child. But neither our world nor our children are perfect. We can adjust and allow for those imperfections.

The moment I realized I had been way too strict came when I was watching a video of Susan’s daughter doing spelling with a crayon. I never would have let my kids use crayon to write spelling words until that moment. I allowed myself to let go of the little things that only matter in a more traditional classroom. Why not do a spelling lesson in crayon? I try to ask myself that question more often now instead of strictly following a nebulous idea of a perfect classroom world. I’ve attended conventions, heard “experts” and spoken with veteran homeschool moms from all walks of life. None of our homeschools are perfect. There are “experts” whose child received a crash course in the 5-paragraph essay the week before the SAT or who had to spend two months doing nothing but Algebra because they fell so far behind. But, the education that they had received allowed them to quickly absorb and tackle the areas in which they were lacking.

The end goals of my homeschool are what I try to think about now. How do I help them love to learn? How do I help them learn to learn? What basic foundational tools will they need to accomplish those things? Learning to read fluently is a big one. Having a solid idea about the flow of history and how historical events relate to one another is another. Learning the basic language of math is the third. How to write a paper with a logical argument, sell themselves and comport themselves in public is the last (and yes, I think these are all tightly related). Everything else is a bonus.

I think one of the things that has helped my kids remain interested in learning is that I am interested in learning. When we make a scale model of the solar system, and I say, “WOW! Look how far away the sun is! That is amazing!” Well, they think that it’s amazing. I don’t think the fact that a text told us to make a scale model of the solar system makes it less delightful. How would I know how much delight I would take in creme brûlée, if I didn’t know that creme brûlée existed? When we talk about a book that we’ve both read and what we think it means, it has more meaning for them than a book I found too boring to read myself. I gave myself permission to do what I felt strongly about, even when it may have been put down as “too easy” here or there. For example, with my third child I finally learned my lesson about logic stage history. He is going through Story of the World a second time. I added videos, more difficult books, the tests, he outlines from a separate spine, etc. But, he is retaining the information better with the benefit of the narrative history text. So, I let go of the idea that he “should be” moving on to something higher level or more difficult in favor of better retention. Other moms will make different choices, and that’s okay!

In the end, this is what I like about neo-classical education. It is highly customizable. It allows you to work to your strengths and the strengths of your child. It allows you to shore up your weaknesses or your child’s weaknesses. It allows you to adjust texts and works of literature, and/or focus in history to feed the fires of your child’s interests. Most veteran homeschool moms who persevere throughout the school years learn these things the hard way. Listen to them. Learn from their experiences and relax a bit. It will make your home and your homeschool happier places to be.

Next year my eldest will head to college classes. She will be attending our local community college because (as a military family) we are likely to move the summer after her freshman year. I have no doubt that she will be successful both there and after she transfers to a four-year school. I know she will be successful despite (or maybe because of–who really knows?) my educational experimenting.


Jen W.– Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jejen_wn started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

When Homeschooling Isn't Going Well: 101 Questions to Ask Yourself, by Sheryl


We’ve all had those awful homeschooling moments. The ones where you look around at your kids and realize that everyone is going through the motions, but their education isn’t where you want it to be. Tears are flowing, projects are left unfinished, grades drop, and your visions of the perfect homeschool vanish.

When my crew is in the thick of homeschooling, it is easy to just put our “noses to the grindstone” and do the next thing. I focus on getting work done but rarely question the work itself. This has come to some disastrous results. At one point, I suddenly realized that I had been reteaching my daughter how to count to 10 for years. Something was wrong. I had to put everything on hold while I spent time in agonizing self-reflection to pinpoint how to proceed with getting her learning disability diagnosed and altering all of our lessons to reflect reality. It was a harsh change from my dream of what school would look like, and it was apparent that something needed to change. But what?

Self-examination is required if we are to look critically and find the source of the problem, but true self-examination is difficult. It requires us to analyze every aspect of our approach, including our methods, assumptions, and biases. It requires deep honesty and a courageous willingness to challenge our own beliefs.

Nobody likes to have their assumptions challenged, and we certainly don’t want to have our self-assessment reveal that we are contributing in any way to our children’s struggles. It is easy to avoid doing this work, but challenging our assumptions, objectives, and yes, even homeschooling itself, will push us to become better.


Get a pen and notepad or download our assessment form. We are going to mercilessly examine your school. For each question below, you will look at the following areas.
You will need five columns.

1. The original question

2. What are your assumptions?

3. In what do you base that belief?

4. Should you challenge this belief? If so, how?

5. To do.

Okay, ready?

The basics: Academic Reassessment

    • Are you on track to complete the school year?
    • Look at each subject independently. Are your kids struggling or mastering material?
    • What methods are working best?
    • What causes the most tears?
    • What creates the most joy?
    • How do the kids feel about school in general? Are they excited, content, anxious?
    • What one subject do you most feel that you need to tweak to fit your homeschool?
    • What is holding you back?
    • What do you really not want to change?
    • What materials did you pay too much for?
    • Look at each outside activity independently. Is it a good fit for your child?
    • Are there any signs of learning disabilities? What are they?
    • What subject are you not spending enough time on?
    • What subject are you spending too much time on?
    • What should you drop entirely?
    • Do you know your children’s learning styles? Do your lessons reflect this?
    • Is your record keeping system working well for you?
    • Are you pushing or challenging your students?
    • Are your children exploring on their own?

Leave room for imperfection. Not all students are capable of straight As, and purchased materials don’t come with charts that factor in exactly how to handle that month of drastic illness you suffered. It is okay to not be perfectly in sync with where you want to be, but strive to find a balance point.

Home Reassessment

    • In general, how is your home running?
    • How many days are you out of the house?  Do you feel okay with that number?
    • What one area are you struggling most in? (cooking, cleaning, laundry, time management, outside activities)
    • Are you delegating well?
    • Are your school supplies well organized and easy to reach?
    • Is there clutter that is distracting you or the kids from schoolwork?
    • How well is your routine working for you?
    • What time of day is best for your students? Worst?
    • What doesn’t work well for you as the teacher? As Mom?
    • Do you find yourself scrambling right before lessons to find the supplies you need?

If your time management is out of order, take a moment to do a bit of backwards planning and see where your time hogs are. This will help you to determine exactly what to keep, what to drop, and where to buckle down and simply work faster.

Relationship Reassessment

    • Is there a specific subject, topic, or time of day that seems to create the worst attitudes?
    • Are you feeling distant from any of your children?
    • How well do your children interact with one another?
    • Is your child’s relationship with your spouse positive?
    • Are there discipline issues that you need to focus on?
    • Are the kids healthy?
    • Would you describe your children as happy?
    • Are there any physical or emotional impairments that should be considered?
    • What is the role of religion in your home? Is this helping your relationships?
    • Are you demonstrating good manners and consideration?
    • Do your children have friends who are a good influence?
    • What are you doing to help your children to build strong friendships with others?
    • Are special projects and field trips helping or hurting your relationships?

Self Reassessment

How is your own attitude? Our kids feed off of our energy, and our attitude can set the mood for the entire family’s day, week or even year. Remember, be completely honest with yourself while doing this assessment. Our kids learn more from what they see us do than what they hear us say.

    • Are you healthy?
    • Would you describe yourself as happy? Would others?
    • Are your daily actions demonstrating what you believe to be true?
    • Are you available to help with lessons when needed?
    • Does being needed frustrate you?
    • Are there changes that should be made in your diet or exercise routine?
    • What are you most afraid of? Is that fear impacting your life right now?
    • What methods or materials are you using simply because they are easy?
    • What are you neglecting?
    • What one thing should you stop doing?
    • Is there one subject that you can delegate?
    • What distracts you?
    • Are you hovering or empowering?
    • How comfortable are you with the amount of preparation you need to do?
    • What are you doing really well?

The hard part: Goal Reassessment

These may seem like fluff questions, but they are really at the heart of the matter.

    • Why are you homeschooling?
    • What is it that you want to achieve at the end of your child’s school career?
    • Is your child on track for college entry?
    • What should your child know by the end of this year? Be realistic and specific.
    • What teaching philosophy do you believe in most? Do your lessons reflect this?
    • If you could pick only one priority, what would you teach your kids?
    • Are you accountable to anyone?
    • What is the most important change you need to make?
    • Is homeschooling right for your children?

Just do it

This is where the rubber meets the road. You now have a list of things that you would like to improve. Things that can help revitalize yourself, your home, your school, and your kids. It’s a long list. It is challenging, and it may involve some pretty major changes.

At this point you must remember that the purpose of re-assessment isn’t to point out all  your failures or inadequacies; it is to find the areas where you can make positive changes. None of us feel like we are “doing it right.” We are all concerned that our child isn’t progressing perfectly in one subject or another, and we all have areas in which we need to improve. No one is capable of making giant changes all at once. Choose just a few areas that you feel will be the most beneficial to your kids’ school experience and focus on only that.

Reassessment is just the first step in the process.  Are you ready to find out what changes you need to make?  Download the assessment form and get started.


Sherysheryll–Sheryl is living her dream in the house on Liberty Hill where she is a full time wife, mother, and teacher. She is passionate about turning children’s natural curiosity into activities that will inspire, enlighten, and entertain. Learn more about her adventures at

Homeschool is for the–SQUIRREL! by Faith


I was homeschooled for a few years off and on as a child. My parents used various methods and curricula (or no curricula at all), mixed in with various schools, the gifted program, moving around to new schools and programs–lather, rinse, and repeat. I swore that I would never homeschool my child. I would go crazy. I wanted maybe two children, tops, and they would go to school so I could catch a break. Homeschooling moms were crazy.

Well, I can’t say the last sentence is wrong! Some days I do feel absolutely insane. Sign me up for the loony bin. But we are doing what is best for our family, which didn’t turn out exactly as I had designed it in my head as a teenager.

My oldest child was born while I was in college and working full-time, trading shifts with hubby. My daughter, The Sponge, was adorable, charming, sweet, and we realized we really wanted more. So we had another shortly thereafter, giving us two girls two years apart.

That second girl, The Drama, was an extremely challenging babe. She ended up in Early Intervention, where she received therapy for severe sensory issues, speech and communication issues, and hearing issues from hidden/symptomless ear infections. So when The Drama, my wild child, began to surpass her elder sister in areas of self-control, attention span, ability to sit, ability to listen to anything read aloud, and more, I realized that perhaps The Sponge wasn’t quite on a normal developmental track.

The older she grew, the more pronounced her issues became. The children around her grew, matured, and settled. She did not. My visiting parents commented it was a miracle she was still alive. At 5.5 years, she was still running in front of cars in the street. She ran off wherever and whenever the fancy struck, honestly seemed not to hear people speaking at all; she literally seemed to have a disconnect between her brain and her body. In the moment, she was unable to control herself in any way, even if it meant putting her life in obvious and grave danger. The filter between “what I want to do” and “what I should do/reality/safety/rules” seemed to be completely missing.

She was even unable to handle her once-a-week 50-min Sunday School class without getting in trouble. We tried diet changes, supplements like omega-3 oils, and routines. She continued endangering her own life. When even my friend, a super-hippie, energy-work lady, recommended I take her to see a doctor, I was more than ready. At least it wasn’t just me!

During these formative years, The Sponge maintained a strange relationship with learning. She would hide in the back room, grab the workbooks I had bought for fun at the thrift store, and work through pages and pages and pages and pages without stopping. She could draw for 8 hours straight, but not sit still for two minutes for an actual lesson without nearly going insane. She would literally cry if an audiobook was turned on. She read on her own at three, but would cry and run away if I tried to teach her phonics. She adored logic, infinity, and negative numbers, but couldn’t add and had no grasp of place value. The Sponge was capable of upper elementary science as a preschooler, drank it in like, well, a sponge, and would chatter away about advanced details of anatomy and physiology.

So, how do YOU think school went for her?

First she went to preschool for 2.5 years, thanks to the generosity and love of the nursery school teacher at our church. Preschool was two hours of art, playtime, snack, and behavioral expectations aimed at children younger than she was, in a group of 4-6 children. That she could handle. Usually. She also rattled off constant questions to the teacher on why things worked they way they worked, why the crow was black, on and on and on. In such a small group with such young children, that was fine. She had a late birthday, so she was in preschool and half homeschooled for her kindergarten year (age five), simply because she couldn’t go into a school at her age.

When she was finally old enough for kindergarten, I signed The Sponge up for a multi-sensory charter school. It sounded fabulous on paper. Yet despite being a charter school, the academics were the opposite of rigorous. The packet she was to complete by the end of the year? Apart from knowing her address and phone number, she could have finished the entire thing on her first day–if she could have sat still long enough to fill in more than a few lines at a time, which she couldn’t. She was still at a preschool level of attention and control.

She had a long bus ride(starting at 6:45am!) to a place where she already knew what they were learning, and she was bored out of her mind. This does not help a hyperactive kid, by the by. Before the end of the first week, she was lying and faking sick to try and avoid school. In kindergarten. The fun one.

After many fruitless attempts to contact the (hypothetical) school psychologist, I finally pulled The Sponge from that school. I found a charter school that offered one day a week of all of their fine arts programs to homeschoolers. They were happy to place her with her age peers in first grade for the day. I enrolled The Sponge there and she went once a week for the entire year. She still lied and threatened in order to avoid going in the mornings, because in her words, “I HATE SITTING STILL!” but I thought one day a week was worth it. It did not teach her to sit still, or improve her mental functioning in any real way, but she drew, sang, learned, made friends, and always came home cheerful, which was a welcome change. After that year, though, I knew a traditional school setting was not in the cards for this girl.


Her learning was so asynchronous as to drive a normal person insane. She was five grade levels apart in various areas. She could not move past one-step math problems. She could not hold the first number in her head while she did the second part. Making ten? Adding past one place value? Not possible. Minute anatomical details and high-level science? Easy. This coincided with the recommendation of similarly anti-medication-minded friends to seek help for her issues before she got herself killed through sheer inattention to the world around her.

At an assessment at the pediatrician, she scored extremely high for ADHD and we began Adderall. The change was immediate. She was The Sponge, but with access to her brain. She could pause in that split second and make a choice; for the first time in her life, she could actually control her actions. She could hold numbers in her head, learned place value, learned how to write properly, and shot ahead in reading over the next year. Understanding her condition, her Sunday School teachers allowed her to color in class, which improved her behavior and her ability to answer questions tremendously. That year I homeschooled, and she learned and thrived.

Something else was still wrong, however. It was indefinable, but something was still not right in her brain. Things improved, but only partially. We regularly had to up the dosage of her medication, as it seemed to lose its efficacy. Tics began to show up and increased in prevalence. There was something else just…off in her thoughts and behavior. The pediatrician recommended a full evaluation by a professional.

Extensive testing found the missing pieces. The Sponge was diagnosed with a combination of Asperger’s, ADHD-Combined, and anxiety, plus Tourette’s. That was it. Asperger’s was the big missing piece in the equation. Her medication was switched to a non-stimulant, which reduced her tics and insomnia, plus an anti-anxiety/anti-tic medication that also boosts the effectiveness of ADHD medication. Two small pills, no stimulants. Elegant.

As it was a non-stimulant, the medicine took months to build to effectiveness. Thankfully it was summer, and I could send The Sponge out with her sister to play with friends, a new occupation once the medication began working–previously she had no interest in playing with actual people, only herself and her own games and experiments. In the period between stopping the stimulant and getting the non-stimulant up to an effective range, I was the parent of a hyperactive 2-year-old (ADHD Mode) or 30-year-old (Asperger’s/Anxiety Mode) in an 8-year-old’s body.

The medication is balanced now and she is capable of schoolwork again. The grade levels of her subjects are growing closer to normal, the asynchronous gaps shrinking. She is in a 13-week social skills program. Initially we all thought this program would prepare her for traditional school. However, as the weeks have gone by, I’ve seen how holding it together for the several-hour program takes all of her self-control, how she loses it when she comes home, how her anxiety spikes afterwards, and how she obsesses and over-analyzes the various parts of the program and every person in it. She could possibly manage to follow the rules and sit in a school setting next year, but it would take every ounce of her self-control and she would implode from the pressure.

In addition, she has very slow processing speed, so the work itself, if she could pay attention to it, would take her twice as long as everyone else. She would be doing homework the entire evening. Homeschooling is generally much more efficient than public school and can be completed in a fraction of the time, thanks to a lack of any busywork or crowd control or waiting for others. With The Sponge, we need a full school day of time to finish her work in this one-on-one setting. She would never manage to get it finished in a distracting environment where she is using every ounce of energy to sit still, remember the rules, follow the rules, plus not yell or blow her nose on her shirt or cry under her desk. She is thriving in homeschool: learning, closing gaps, and expanding her horizons. Homeschool is the best place for her right now. (She will be in a drama class with PS kids next year, though. She always needs some social practice!)

So, my kid is one of those Weird Homeschooled Kids. However, she would be the Weird Miserable Bullied Public School Kid or the Weird Miserable Bullied Charter School Kid if we didn’t homeschool. You can’t change Weird, but you certainly can tailor an education and life experience to Weird!


Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child and has experimented with various combinations of public, charter, and home schools. Her oldest child iFaiths diagnosed with Asperger’s with ADHD-Combined and anxiety, and she suspects her third child struggles with it, also. Faith is an unabashed feminist and “crunchy” mom, strongly LDS with a passion for knitting, avoiding cooking, and Harry Potter.

Why I Homeschool, by Sarah


Long long ago, in a galaxy not so different from this one,  there was a young girl who hated school. She never could see the point of going to school to be bored for six hours, so very early in her school career she checked out and rarely paid attention at all. She got decent grades even though she paid no attention in class and rarely did her homework. She was a fairly solid B student, and if she had done the homework, she would have had As. Every once in awhile she encountered a teacher who inspired her and she would work, but those inspirations were few and far between.

Bingo Reading

The girl grew up, went to college–lots of different colleges, actually–met a boy who eventually became her husband, and declared, long before they had children, that she was never letting them have the same experience she had had in school. Years before she had children, she was researching other ideas on how to educate them. Eventually she discovered homeschooling and found a message board where homeschooling parents met to discuss education.

She liked the thought, so six or so years before she was even pregnant she bought her first homeschooling book.  She kept researching, and talked to her husband. He had not had as bad a school experience, but he had been in a magnet program since he was in 4th grade; unfortunately, that magnet program was being gutted and changed, thanks to changes in school environments. The couple did not live in that district anyway. He listened to her arguments and thought about his school experiences, and long before they even had their first child had agreed that homeschooling seemed like a good method for schooling their children.

The girl continued to research; she was drawn to the method laid out in the book The Well Trained Mind, but she also liked the idea of unschooling. She thought for a while longer, and finally determined that she would not work well in within the framework of unschooling; so she decided upon the classical method laid out in The Well Trained Mind, with changes to better fit her personality and those of her future children.

Building a Lego Car

Eventually the girl had a child. He was a smart, active boy child who did go to preschool, but would not be a good fit for a regular elementary school classroom.  He needed too much movement time and was not happy sitting and following directions for long.  She also had a smart, curious girl child and then a second smart, curious boy child. Neither of the younger children appeared to have the issues with fitting in a regular classroom that their elder brother did, but that didn’t bother the girl, now a mother of three. She still planned to homeschool them all when they were school age.

Then the unthinkable happened. The eldest boy child fell out a window and ended up in the hospital, recovering, for 7 weeks. His recovery was amazing, but none of the doctors thought public school was a good choice for him. The girl was fine with that because she had always planned to homeschool anyway. So the summer after the eldest boy child came home from the hospital, they started his Kindergarten year, and have been happily homeschooling for 2 years now. The girl child will be joining them full time for Kindergarten in the summer; they will continue to homeschool, following an eclectic classical method with a dash of unschooling thrown in, for as long as it works for all the children in that long ago girl’s family, adapting and changing to fit each child’s needs.


Sarahsarah–Sarah is the wife of Dan and mom to Desmond, Eloise and Sullivan (Sully).  She enjoys reading,  board games, D&D, computer and console games, the Oxford comma, and organizing fun trips. Sarah and Dan decided years before they had children that they would be homeschooling and now they are. Their family has enjoyed beginning their homeschooling journey and the early elementary years. There are a lot of fun opportunities upcoming in the next year as well, including Eloise starting Kindergarten at home, numerous trips to Atlanta, and a month long trip to India. They currently reside in a suburb of Washington DC and enjoy all the local attractions available for day trips.

Beowulf, by Jen W.


I’ve had several people ask me why we still study Beowulf. What is the point? How does it relate to anything we experience today? Of course, Beowulf has value simply because it is one of the earliest stories written in Old English to have been found. We have a lot of good evidence and reason to believe that it was an oral tale long before it was written down by scribes. Beyond that, it is a very early tale of good versus evil: a hero versus monsters, a good ruler in opposition to an evil, bloodthirsty ruler. But where Beowulf most speaks to me is as a military wife.

Beowulf arrives in Denmark, determined to help a king who once helped his own father, and to kill the monster threatening the community. He is able to defeat both the monster and its mother despite the jealousy and treachery which are being fomented in the king’s court. His strength and leadership prove his worthiness. He returns home, sharing his treasure and rewards with his king. It is no surprise that Beowulf eventually ascends the throne upon his king’s death. Beowulf has a long and prosperous reign, and most stories would end there, but this one does not.

A new threat appears on the horizon, a dragon, whose lair has been disturbed by treasure hunters. Beowulf immediately wants to go fight it. The reasons are a little murky. Maybe Beowulf feels a sense of personal responsibility as king and protector of his people. Maybe he wants to maintain his reputation as a fierce monster-killer. Maybe he wants one last great hurrah before ascending to the great mead-hall in the sky. His motivations are unclear. Is it a selfish act or a selfless act? Can it be both?

Beowulf does defeat the dragon, but meets with his own death through the battle. His advisors and his people all worry that they will no longer be able to stand against their enemies, now that Beowulf is no longer there to protect them.

I know, relating this tale to modern warrior culture seems far-fetched. But, the truth is that warrior cultures have retained many of the same values, needs and qualities through the centuries. A Roman soldier carried between 60 and 90 pounds of equipment, the same as a modern US soldier. Strength, keeping a cool head while in danger, being able to lead, these are qualities praised both in ancient times and in modern militaries.

A trickier similarity is that soldiers feel both a sense of personal duty and responsibility as well as a desire for glory. These seem like competing rather than complementary feelings when viewed through the lens of Western values. It can be difficult for the average person to imagine feeling those things simultaneously. Beowulf can help people connect with more modern stories of soldiers.

As one example of a modern war story, these conflicting feelings are reflected in ending of the movie The Hurt Locker:

He tells his wife that they need more bomb techs, which shows a concern for others and a sense of duty. But, he also speaks about his love of the adrenaline.

There are soldiers who volunteer for deployments when it isn’t their turn, when they could avoid deployment if they wanted. They volunteer both out of a sense of duty and from a desire for the glory of war. How would you feel if you were a fellow soldier who didn’t want to deploy for some reason? How would you feel if you were the pregnant wife of a soldier who volunteered for deployment? Different people will interpret such an action in a different manner because of their own distinct relationships and perspective. We cannot easily dismiss any of these perspectives; each seems equally valid.

The fact that some semblance of warrior culture still exists today makes Beowulf very relevant to modern history. I think it can help people gain a small bit insight into the mindset of the modern warrior as well as the ancient warrior.

Photo taken by Asif Akbar


Jen W.jen_w Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.




Homeschooling: Joyful Vocation, by Angela Berkeley


Being the mother of a baby, toddler, and preschooler was such a joy to me. I loved watching my daughter grow and figure things out and enjoy her life. I wanted to do a good job, and with no relatives with young children close by I looked for advice in books and magazines, and sought community with other local mothers. I leaned toward attachment parenting, a cozy approach that seemed natural to me–consistent with how we humans were created to be–community oriented, building up a secure base for exploration, sensitive to others’ feelings without being pushovers.

The Lutheran view of vocation was a significant influence on how I approached parenting.  Lutherans believe that God places us in various roles in life, and that each of these represents a vocation in which we should serve ‘as to the Lord.’ Vocations are not just paid employment, but encompass roles like parent, child, church member, employee, employer, sibling, spouse, citizen, etc. Holding the vocation of parent means, in part, being responsible, to the core, for our children’s education and upbringing. This meant that no matter where our daughter studied, I would be in charge and ultimately responsible for making sure that she received a good and appropriate education.


By the time kindergarten age rolled around, I had read a great deal about various types of education, and had visited and toured several schools. I had benefited tremendously from my own education, learning my Lutheran faith as well as academics in excellent Lutheran dayschools that I attended through ninth grade, and then continuing to study in a very academic high school and a fantastic university.

As I looked at schools and read about different approaches to education, it became clear to me that the most natural extension of our already good life was to homeschool. Our daughter was introverted AND social, easily distracted and frazzled by noise, with an attention span that was longer than most, and verbal skills that were advanced. She loved to be read to, about almost anything, and to discuss things for a long time. The first time I took her to visit the tide pool touch ponds in a local natural history museum, she stayed for four hours in front of that little display, completely entranced.  She was just four years old.

As I learned more about homeschooling, there were so many things about it that seemed to fit just right. We could go on field trips and take our time, experiencing them thoroughly. There would be no time wasted standing in line. Playdates would replace 15 minute ‘recesses’, and would give opportunities for much longer, more imaginative games and deeper relationships than at school. Lessons would begin exactly at the student’s level, and be customized for her learning style, and taught in the quiet, cozy home learning environment that was already working so well. Project-based learning would be easy to work into the days and weeks, and religion would fit into every subject, naturally.

We took the plunge and started when she was in first grade, and never looked back. The style that worked in our household was loosely classical, with an eclectic flair, and we continued very successfully through thick and thin until the end of middle school. It has been a rich and joyful journey indeed!

Angangela_berkeleyela Berkeley–Although Angela Berkeley wanted to homeschool her daughter, she was unable to find others to partner with in this endeavor and felt that it was unfair to homeschool an only child; so she enrolled her in kindergarten. However, because the family was facing a mid-semester cross-country move during their daughter’s first grade year, she pulled her out to homeschool until they settled into their new home. This went so well, and her daughter liked it so much, that they ended up homeschooling through 8th grade.  Using an eclectic classical style, this was an extremely successful process, producing a confident, personable, and academically well-prepared entrant into a local high school.

Why We Homeschool, by Jack Squid


“Mom, I want to be homeschooled like them,” my kids’ friend recently told her mother. “I want to be able to get up whenever I want like them, and to learn what I want rather than having the teacher tell me what to learn.”

Though we are indeed night owls who get up ridiculously late, our homeschool is all about hard work — hard work that is often enjoyable, but hard work nonetheless.

It’s easy to see why homeschooling sounds so appealing to my kids’ friend, however. At age seven, she is in first grade. A year ago, she was an inquisitive, happy child who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Now, she has been labeled a failure by the thought-quelling post-communist system. She doesn’t “get” the basic arithmetic concepts that are being presented to her, you see, and she is too creative. Though I think it is ridiculous to expect children to write whole essays during their first year in school, that is what is being expected of them. When this girl described spring as “sweet” in a recent essay, she was rewarded with the lowest grade. “Foods can be sweet; seasons cannot. Essay-writing is not the time to express artistic creativity,” the teacher told the child’s mother.


I started homeschooling when my oldest child taught herself to read at age four. If she had lived in the country I grew up in, this is when she would have started school. Since school starts at seven here, I decided to start teaching her myself.

Homeschooling isn’t something I knew very much about at that point. A world opened up to me when I came across a great variety of English-language homeschool materials on the internet and found out that homeschooling isn’t all that unusual in America. Around the same time I learned more about the local school system and discovered The Well-Trained Mind. I knew that they couldn’t compare, and I wanted the better option.

We’ve skipped Latin and Greek so my kids could acquire some of the numerous languages that come with their own heritage instead, but I otherwise implement the sequence laid out in The Well-Trained Mind pretty closely.

My children will work on a math concept until they get it, rather than being written off as lazy or dreamers, like their friend. They enjoy chanting the full list of prepositions, rather than being told they must be creative and then being told off for it. They get to immerse themselves in history, rather than being the victim of recent historical events in their country of residence. After hard work they get to play and relax, rather than being faced with piles of homework.

I started homeschooling because I wanted to fill a need, committed to it due to more rigorous academics, and continue because it offers my kids freedom — freedom to delve deep, freedom to develop to their full potential, freedom to be themselves, and freedom to think and discuss their thoughts.