Homeschooling or Circus Act

I needed a break. I needed it more than I can express in words. I felt worn down, frustrated, jolted, and exhausted. The academic year 2012-13 was challenging for me as a mother and as a teacher. My youngest son, who was in seventh grade at the time, is an intelligent, push the parental boundaries type of tweenager. I felt as if I were somehow failing him. I spent a great deal of time thinking and analyzing the situation during the summer of 2013. I developed a plan and moved forward with it. This led me to an unintentional blogging hiatus. I did not have time or the energy to think about or process anything outside of being a mother or teacher. Now, after finishing the 2013-14 academic year, I feel as though I am ready to write again.

My then tween has an uncanny ability to remember almost everything he reads or hears with immense accuracy. He is a chatterbox full of curiosity, ideas, and creativity. He may be extremely focused on a topic, yet easily distracted if the assignment is not high on his priority list. (I would venture to say that many of us experience this type of distraction.) He went down an academic path that sapped my cognitive processes. I would make assignments that would never be turned in to me. When I questioned him, he would tell me that it was misplaced. Somehow all of his assignments were misplaced. When we discussed the material he was studying, it was evident that he was reading the material. However, he chose not to write papers or complete any of the written assignments. I know some people would argue that I should allow him to direct his interest and assignments. Personally, I believe in balance. I discuss interests and learning objectives with all four of my children as we plan each school year. I believe it is important to teach them how to follow directions and complete assignments, even when it is not their number one desire. I provide them opportunities to express their concerns, ask questions, and request assistance. After all, they will be in college someday and their professors will not negotiate. They will have bosses who will have expectations and set deadlines.

I had to determine an appropriate plan for my son. I did not want to discourage his love of learning. Truly, he loves to read, ask questions, research, and analyze information. And, while I needed to pull in the reins on him to teach him that assignments matter, I still had three other children who needed me to let go a little. If only I had the training of a circus high wire performer. I felt this balancing act was about to crash. I discussed the issue to death with my wonderful, supportive husband. I am sure he was tired of listening to my venting. I was feeling self-doubt and failure on my part. Luckily, my husband was standing nearby with a net to catch me just if I fell off the high wire.

I am sure many people would disagree with the approach I used with him. That is fine. The way I see it – children are all different. They are not cut from the same mold. What works with one kid, will not necessarily work with others. Believe me, all four of mine have similarities, yet huge differences as well. What did I do as a solution? Take a deep breath. I failed him for the school year. Yes, you read that correctly. This homeschool mom failed her son on his seventh grade year. This time last year, I would have told you this while hanging my head, trying not to cry. This year, I write about this experience with a smile on my face and joy in my heart. Why the change? Initially, it was heartbreaking for all of us. But, he jumped in with both feet and completed all of his seventh grade work by mid-year. He worked every weekend on his school work. I did not tell him to do this. He asked me if he could work hard to get back on track. I told him to turn in his work daily, including his note taking tasks, and we would see how things panned out. We revisited planning, organizing, prioritizing, and decision making. We are constantly working on executive functioning skills at our house. I get to be the frontal lobe for five of us. Hubby is on his own, well, most of the time.

I also had to juggle the schedules of our seven and eight-year-old daughters. I was teaching them basic time management skills and prioritizing assignments. I still had to work individually with them, but I was teaching them the building blocks for independent learning. And, our oldest son was in his senior year of high school. This required monumental patience of guiding his frontal lobe to be certain that he was completing everything necessary to be accepted to college. Now, that is a blog post of its own. So, I’ll drop that topic for the moment.

There you have it. I was on a blogging hiatus in order to go through homeschool circus training. And, what did I learn?

1. This homeschooling journey is a balancing act. Sometimes the wind will nearly knock you off the high wire.

2. Sometimes the animals have their own agenda. You have to find out what makes each one tick and work with them.

3. The animals need boundaries. They all need love, and encouragement. And, when they fail to perform as expected, they need more boundaries, love, and encouragement.

4. You will feel like you are falling from the high wire at times. Hang tight and look for your safety net. Who is there to support you?

5. Remember why you began this journey. Look at where you were at the beginning, and how far you have traveled.

6. Laugh. Cry. Laugh until you cry. Then, laugh some more.

I hope to get back to weekly posts. And, for those of you who are wondering, I am referring to my children as animals in jest. Also, by no means do I support the cruel acts of circus animal training – just so you know. Most importantly, my son finished seventh and eight grade in one year. He is on track to be a freshman in the fall. His work for both grades were thorough and impressive. Now, you will find me smiling. I am proud of what he accomplished.

Chaos or Learning?


Piano music permeates the living room.  Clank, clank, clank of dishes being put away in the kitchen cabinets.  The sound of computer keys lightly clacking in the breakfast area.   A voice conducting math instructions and making assignments.   Good morning, folks!  You have just entered our house on a typical school day.

I often wonder what people think when they enter our home during school hours.  Typically, we don’t have visitors on school days.  However, since moving south, we have learned that you need to have a bond with exterminators so that termites and other interesting insects do not invade and destroy the house.  Every three months, the “bugman” makes his visit to our home.  We conduct  school as always.  Occasionally, the kids get a short lesson on insects and other creatures from our exterminator.  He kindly answers the kid’s questions and sometimes provides a short mini-lesson spontaneously.  I wonder what he thinks as he pulls out of the driveway.  Maybe I don’t want to know his thoughts. <chuckle>

The face of homeschooling is diverse.  What you might see in my home is different that another family who chooses to homeschool.  There is no right or wrong way to do it.  What I do know about the chaos:  learning is happening right before my eyes.  It might not look organized to someone who walks through the door.  However, it is orchestrated.  Seriously, have you ever walked into a public or private classroom and wondered, “What is going on in here?  What is happening?”  Yes, good school teachers organize their chaos too.  It is like the idiom, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  What is chaos to you is learning in action to us.  Obviously, there are times we need silence for a particular assignment.  We make silence happen.  But, most of the time by the end of the day, my ears are exhausted.  Tired from the sounds of computer keys, chores being completed, scissors being used to cut paper, questions being asked, hearing my voice, and so much more.  I long for the silence of the night; those few hours that I have between getting up and down with children.  But, when the silence finally arrives, I think about all the learning that I had the pleasure of witnessing.  This makes those sounds of our homeschool environment all the more pleasing to my tympanic membranes.

Approach to Teaching: Flexibility and Research



“If a child can’t learn in the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” ~Ignacio Estrada

I have always believed in approaching my patients in speech-language therapy this way.  When I taught speech-language pathology students and supervised new graduates, I would tell them to assess what they are doing as a therapist before assuming a patient would not make further progress.  Now, this quote inspires me as I homeschool my children.

Have you ever presented a brilliant lesson, yet your child looks at you as if you have two heads?  Your well executed plan deflated right before your eyes.  You try multiple times, but with each attempt your progress halts.  Yes, it has happened to me.  What can you do in this situation?  Here is my approach:

1.  Ask the child to explain what she learned from the lesson in her own words.  This allows you the opportunity to figure out what information she has correct, and what you need to adjust in your explanation.

2.  Evaluate your method of teaching the topic.  Find another way to explain it.  Use different words.  Does the child know the definitions of the words you are using?  Ask them what is confusing to them.

3.  Ask other people how they would explain the topic.  Use Google to search for other ways of teaching the topic.  You might be surprised at how many ideas are readily available.

4.  Let a sibling attempt to explain the information.  Even my younger children have been able to help the older ones.  They are “nosy” and listen to everything going on around them while they continue with their own schoolwork.  They may not explain it all correctly, but often they will say something that triggers a lightbulb moment for the older ones.

5.  If they become frustrated, dismiss the topic for a while and return to it at a later date.  Is the child tired?  Are you tired?  If it is a building block for the next topic you have planned, well, change your plans.  Flexibility is the key.


“The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask him which he finds it hard to answer.”   ~Alice Wellington Rollins

I believe the more you learn, the more questions you formulate.  A couple of months ago, a mom asked me, “What do you do if your kids ask you a question you can’t answer?  I would just die if i couldn’t answer their question.”  My response, “We research the answers together.”  Whether or not you homeschool, your children are going to ask questions.  As a parent or a teacher, you do not have all the answers.  Education is learning out how to find answers.  It is important to show them that learning occurs over a lifetime.  It is not about memorizing facts, but learning what to do with the facts you have learned.  Applying knowledge and making decisions based on the research they have conducted.  Teaching them how to find reliable sources.  This is how we look at education in our house.


Liebster Award


Liebster Award


I would like to thank MingoMomma for nominating me for a Liebster Blog Award.  She is an energetic and positive homeschool mom, raising a daughter and a son.  She has many interests, first being her family.  She enjoys cooking, gardening, and photography.  I enjoy reading her blog, which is genuine, caring, full ideas and love for her family.  I am honored that she enjoys reading my blog enough to nominate me for this award.  The Liebster Blog Award acceptance means that I must answer the questions presented to me by this inspiring homeschool mom.

Who inspires you?  My husband inspires me.  He is dedicated to our family, in addition to his career as a professor and researcher.  He is forward thinking, loving, kind heart, and a wonderful father.  My parents inspire me with their compassion for others and their decision to always take the high road, even when others are not so kind.  And, good-hearted people in general inspire me.  When I see the love and dedication others provide for their families, friends, and strangers I feel a restoration of humanity in my heart.  People who advocate, provide care, and love children and adults with special needs uplift my spirits.  

What is the hardest part about blogging, if any?  The hardest part about blogging is finding time to write.  Currently, I write in between everything  happening in our household of six.  Often, I write in the midst of chaos, which is not any different than many bloggers.  I am not sure if it is a sign I am aging or the busyness happening all around me, but words seem to escape my lexicon on occasion.  And, I do not have time for that minor problem.  :)  

What is your favorite quote?  “A person’s a person no matter how small.” ~Dr. Seuss

What is your favorite dessert?  Oh, I love dessert!  Do I have to pick just one?  I would have to say anything with chocolate is high on my list.  Our family eats a plant based diet.  We began this adventure two years ago.  And, I thought desserts would be out of my life, but I was so wrong.  There are many fantastic vegan chocolate desserts!  

What skill do you wish you had taken the time to learn when you were growing up?  I wish I would have learned to sew.  I can do simple things such as sewing a button or hem, and making pillow case dresses.  However, I should have learned the craft from my mom when I was younger.  She can sew anything!  Now, I attempt projects and call my mom for help.  She lives 11 hours away.  Thus, we discuss the projects by telephone.  Although, little does she know, I plan on having her Skype with me regarding a few sewing projects.  :)  I would like to incorporate sewing into a few math lessons.  Seriously, think of all the math that comes with it.  

What is the one activity you wish you had the time to pursue?  There are many activities I would like to pursue.  But, one thing I really would like to finish is decorating our house.  I jumped into homeschooling and a move to a new state all at the same time.  The house was unpacked and ready to go within our first month of arrival, however, the little decorating details have not been completed.  I have a grand plan in my mind, but I lack the time to finish it at the moment.  Someday, it will all come together.  

If money were no issue, where would you like to travel?  I would like to see every state in the U.S.  Currently, I have traveled to 39 states.  Also, I want visit Australia and Europe.  I have my iPhone set to respond to me with an Australian accent.    

What is your favorite holiday?  This is a hard question.  I love Halloween and Christmas!   We make our own Halloween costumes.  It is a fun family activity.  Everyone shares ideas and pitches in with manpower.  And, at Christmas I enjoy trying to pick just the right gift for each of the kids and my husband.  I do not like to purchase items for the sake of buying them.  I enjoy the process of thinking about each person and what item would be the most unusual, yet loved.  And, it is not about expensive items.  It can be simple.  But, I like it to be something that surprises them.  Also, I love family activities at Christmas, which includes traveling back home to West Virginia where many of our relatives and friends reside.  

What is your favorite pastime?  I enjoy running, yoga, biking, reading, photography, cooking, baking, movies, crafting, and just hanging out with my family.  Typically, all of my pastime activities include the family.  We exercise, cook, craft, and watch movies together.  

What book are you currently reading? Currently, I am reading: What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland; Wonder by R.J. Palacio with my two youngest daughters; and, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum.  I highly recommend these books.  

Do you play a musical instrument?  I used to play musical instruments, but now I do not have the time to practice.  I can pick out songs on the piano.  And, I am relearning the recorder with my daughters.  

Now, it is my turn to nominate other bloggers for this award.  These blogs are full of good ideas, life experiences, recipes, and much more!  If you get a chance to check out these blogs, I think you will enjoy them.

To the winners, if you would like to pass this award on, you can post about this award on your own blog with your own nominations. One of the rules for the Liebster Blog Award is to post your answers to the questions above that I answered.  This will allow me to know you a little better!

Congratulations to the following bloggers:

1.  Quarks and Quirks

2.  From the Mom Cave (She contributed entries in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book I am reading.)

3.  Fitting into Vegan

4.  Roxane’s Natural Kitchen

5.  Homereferee’s Blog

Keeping My Sanity

Run, breathe, and downward-facing dog:  what do these words have in common?  Any ideas?  Yes, exercise is one good answer.  But another commonality for me is keeping sane during my life detour.  I find myself spending day after day, hour after hour working constantly for the munchkins in our house.  Now, I do not mean waiting on them hand and foot.  But, the constant feeling of being responsible for their education and future success does weigh heavy on me.  I am constantly researching, planning, grading, and driving myself batty over educating them.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love it.  But, I need an outlet.  So, I run, breathe, and get out my yoga mat.  I manage to do this by incorporating it into our school days.  We get our blood flowing first thing in the morning with yoga.  Amazingly, since putting this in our routine, I have noticed a huge difference in attention and focus of our children.  I feel more awake and energized to handle the day, not to mention the increased flexibility that has returned to my aging body.  All four of our children are on the local recreational swim team.  While they are at practice two evenings a week, my husband and I take turns running while the other stays at practice with the kids.  Those days, I run with a friend of mine.  We have increased our miles recently.  We began with two miles and now pump out five.  No, I am not a marathoner.  I am just a mom trying to stay healthy and sane.  Although, we have entered 5K races as a way to set goals.  My husband and I run together on the weekends.  We put our daughters on their bikes and we run behind them.  We try to run six to eight miles on weekends.  Our sons run as well.  This is my first step to securing sanity, teaching our children that exercise is important, and getting a great endorphin rush.

How do you feel after laughing so hard that you can barely breathe?  There is that word again, breathe.  You get winded during exercise as well as when you laugh so hard your sides feel as though they are splitting.  It feels good.  Blood full of oxygen is flowing to your brain and muscles.  I laugh as often as possible.  Mostly, I laugh at myself, my husband, our children, my parents, and siblings.  (Thankfully, they know how much I love them.)  I even laugh while running with my friend.  Now, this does pose a little difficulty.  Talk about needing to breathe.  And, my dear email group of motivational running gals make me laugh.  We encourage each other via email, and frequently someone will write something that causes me to laugh.  Truly, I am fortunate to have a variety of friends.  Some love sarcasm and the nerdy/dorky sense of humor as much as I love it.  Of course, there is the group of dirty minded friends, who always catch me with innocent comments, and turn them around on me.  Really.  What can you do but laugh?  Laughter helps me maintain sanity.

Writing.  I love to write.  I am out of practice.  I have put my children before my work and hobbies.  But, recently I have tried to find my writing voice again.  I have nearly completed a children’s book, several others are in the works, along with the beginning outline of a young adult book.  Eventually, I plan to put the books in a binding for my children.  I do not plan on going through the publication process.  I just want my kids to have my silly stories bound for their children.  Additionally, this blog about my life detour helps me keep my marbles.  I write in short snippets of time between lessons, grading, planning, cooking, continuing education units (keeping my speech-language pathology license), exercising, continuous chatter and endless questions.  I am acquiring a new skill while keeping my sanity:  learning to write in chaos.  And, my friends have assured me it is possible.

So, there you have it.  This homeschooling mom keeps her sanity by exercising, laughing, and writing.  How do you keep your sanity?  We all lead busy lives.  How do you manage it?

Education Outside the Classroom: Money Saving Tips


You can save money on educational trips with your children.  The key is to plan.  We have a family of six, so cost saving is important to me.  Here are a few things that I do to save money.

  • First, I determine the total cost of entry and compare it to a family membership.  Sometimes it is cheaper to purchase a membership by a few dollars.  If we are returning to the area within the year, it might be worth the membership.  If the museum is local, we can plan multiple trips focusing on different topics or time periods.  Additionally, a benefit to memberships is the reciprocal agreements with other museums.  This means you can get in other museums at discounted prices or free.  I always check the list of reciprocal agreements to see if it includes other museums we might visit in the upcoming year.  Typically, you can find this information online at the website of the museum you plan to attend.  Memberships also offer the potential of discounts on summer camps, lectures, and other special events.
  • Some museums offer a free day once a month.  I read their webpages carefully, looking at the calendar and special events page to plan for free days or discounts.
  • I use,, and online newspapers to search events.  They list many activities in the area that I might not think about when initially planning.
  • If you live in or nearby a university town, remember you can attend activities on campus that are open to the public.  Universities and community colleges have performances, museums, art galleries, planetariums and much more.  Often, the students and professors in the music department will have recitals free of charge.  Also, some provide reduced prices for theater productions during matinees times for schools/homeschool families.
  • Often, local activities offer opportunities for you to provide your children with a host of skills.  Simple activities such as attending the local farmer’s market can become a learning experience.  We always take cash with us as a way to let our younger children learn about figuring costs, paying with the correct bills and coins, weighing produce, getting the correct change back, and managing money.  They interact with the farmers during the transaction, while we assist them as needed.  Additionally, it is a chance to discuss nutrition, vitamins, fruits, vegetables, and many other health topics.    Other local events such as First Fridays are wonderful for learning as well.  The last one we attended had several tables on recycling with activities for kids and adults.  You never know what opportunities will arise, so check your town and find out what is available in your area.

These are only a few cost savings ideas that are possible.  There many ways to incorporate learning into their daily lives.  Think outside the typical field trip box.  The grocery store, yard sales, nature walks, and various other activities can be wonderful learning environments for your kids.  The key is all in the planning.

Museums, Aquariums, Zoos: Learning in Public Spaces

The places we take our children on field trips, or for a fun weekend, can echo moments of embarrassment at times.  Many of these public places do not have carpeting or any other sound absorbing materials in the rooms.  And, this is for good reasons.  However, when your child looses his or her sense of volume control, well, everyone in the place hears the child’s thoughts.  Here are a few moments that our children have chosen to share with the public:

  1.  “Mom, I need to pee!  It’s an emergency!”
  2.   “Mom!  Mom!  There’s a statue with a penis!”
  3.  “There are too many naked paintings in here!”
  4.  “Ewww.  Let’s go see a different animal.  It smells like poop in here!”
  5.  A bloodcurdling scream from our daughter followed by, “Get it out!  Get it out!”  Dad, “Get what out?  What is wrong?”  Daughter, “An ant is biting my belly button!” She continued screaming at the top of her lungs.  And, yes, in the quiet, historical museum an ant managed to get caught in her tiny belly button and bite her.

Generally, our kids are well-behaved in public situations.  We have worked hard to teach them how to act properly.  As you know, it is a long process that requires a great deal of attention on the part of the parents.  However, well-behaved children embarrass us at some point.  We can’t expect perfection from them.  Seriously, are you perfect?  I know for a fact that I am far from it.  Now, don’t fear, you get your chance to pay your children back for the embarrassing moments.  We call it the teen years.  Now, that requires an entire post all to itself.

When I have talked to parents about taking our children to art museums, their faces become ghost white.  I have had people ask me how in the world I could enter an art museum with four children.  My response, “How could I not take them to art museums?”  Part of what we teach is how to behave and what to do in such environments.  We teach them by immersing them in the culture.  Explain the etiquette and let them ask you questions.  If they conduct themselves in a way that is not proper, then remove them from the area.  Address the behavior privately, explaining to them in terms they understand.  Then, take them back to the exhibits.  I began this process from the time our kids were babies.

I have had parents ask me how I get our children to stop and read the exhibits.  There are many ways to engage your children in field trips.  Think about their developmental stages.  Where are they performing at this time?  Can they read?  How well can they read?  This is a wonderful opportunity to bring together reading, writing, art, science, etc.  Here are a few activities that are easy to conduct at various stages of development.


  • Take a drawing pad, pencil, and crayons on the field trip.  Sit in front of a painting and tell them to draw what they see.  Ask them what they like and dislike about the painting.  When visiting an aquarium, zoo, or botanical garden the same activity is possible.
  • Eye Spy:  This is a favorite activity at art museums.  We take turns finding different shapes and objects in paintings. This can be adapted to many field trips.
  • Find short exhibit descriptions and read it to the kids.  If they are able to read a few words, have them search for those words in the exhibit descriptions.  If they are not reading, but can recognize letters, ask them to identify lowercase and uppercase letters by pointing to them.  Once they find the letters, ask or remind them of the sound it represents.
  • Plan ahead and read about the topics you are going to explore on the trip.  Let them formulate questions ahead of time and have them look for the answers while at the museum.  Allow them to ask you questions as well as the staff.

Early elementary:

  • Eye Spy is still enjoyed by our children at this stage.
  • Drawing what they see is still fun for them.
  • Learn how to take notes on a few exhibits.  I help them figure out what to write, but sometimes I just let them feel free to read and write what they think is important. It is interesting to see what catches their attention.  Oftentimes, their observation skills will surprise you.
  • Let them read the exhibits to you and discuss it.
  • Let them read an exhibit independently, and then report 2- 3 facts they found interesting.
  • Plan ahead and read about the topics you are going to explore on the trip.  Let them formulate questions ahead of time and have them look for the answers while at the museum. Allow them to ask you questions as well as the staff.

Middle and High School:

  • Take a drawing pad, pencil, pen, and colored pencils on the field trip.  Allow them to recreate a painting, draw an animal at the zoo, a scene at the botanical garden, etc.
  • They independently read the exhibits and take notes.
  • Plan ahead and read about the topics you are going to explore on the trip. Let them formulate questions ahead of time and have them look for the answers while at the museum.  Allow them to ask you questions as well as the staff.
  • Tell them while on the field trip to discover their favorite: time period, artist, art medium, animal at the zoo or aquarium, etc.  Have them research it after the field trip and prepare a presentation for the family.

We always follow-up our field trips with discussions.  We all take part by answering questions such as the following:

  • What was your favorite part of the exhibits?
  • What interesting facts did you learn?
  • What would you like to learn more about by researching at the library?

I have addressed this from a homeschool perspective, however, these activities are possible for any parent.  These valuable experiences range in prices.  I have found many free, reduced prices, and other bargains by planning ahead.  I will discuss cost saving ideas in a future post.  Remember, many local activities make great trips.  We are fortunate to have a local community theater and art gallery in our small town.  The university has a planetarium that provides free public presentations.

Public transportation is another activity that we build into our field trip experiences. We let the children read the maps and tell us how we should get to our destination by walking, riding bus, trolley, water taxi, or personal rapid transit.  There is a great deal of learning that takes place when exploring and using different forms of transportation.  Allowing them to navigate with your assistance teaches map reading skills and problem solving.  Unfortunately, our small town doesn’t have public transportation.  We only have the opportunity to explore public transportation when we travel out of town.

Taking kids on field trip adventures is exhausting and fun.  Our children might embarrass me at times, but most of the time they make me proud.  Children can amaze you with what they observe and learn from situations.  They need guidance, reminders of the rules, and interactions from the parent or adult taking them on the trip.  It is better to interact with children, rather than letting them run loose in the museum.  Older children can handle more independence, but they still need your interaction.  Stay with them and enjoy their observations, inquiries, and comments.

aquarium    robotarm