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Reason Five: Different Levels and Styles

There are so many reasons we choose to homeschool. Here we are on the fifth one. I was thinking about this today as I hunted around on the internet for a worksheet for Brother-Bug. I was thinking about this yesterday as I worked with Sister-Bug as she read a BOB Book.


Reason Five: Different Levels and Styles

Brother-Bug was a precocious reader. He came to me at 3 1/2 and said “Mama, I’m not really reading my books.” I asked him what he meant. “Well, I am only looking at the pictures. Not reading the words.” I asked him if he wanted to read the words. He said no. Two months later he was back. “Mama, I am ready to read the words now.” And he did. We got some easy readers, we played on Starfall. I expected him to lose interest in a couple of days. But everyday the first thing out of his mouth was “When is my reading time today?” He drove the project and read Hop On Pop independently before he turned four. By his fifth birthday he was reading things like Magic Treehouse to himself. Sister-Bug is almost five. She wants to be a reader, but it’s not her main priority. So we play sight word games and read some BOB books and use our felt alphabet to spell easy words. She has some reading games on the iPad and also enjoys Starfall. But it’s not easy for her like it was for Brother-Bug. She needs me to keep it fresh and engaging and fun. Brother-Bug needed me to reach the easy readers off the shelf.

As I write this, Toddler-Bug is sitting on my lap. He’s singing Mamma-Mia (ABBA…yes, I know…). He’s very musical and has crazy fine-motor skills. Eventually he is also going to learn to read and he will also learn in a different way. And that’s part of why we are here, homeschooling. Sister-Bug loves working systematically thorough a math workbook. Brother-Bug needs more challenge – he get’s math concepts very quickly and needs those concepts to change and grow and diversify. He gets so bored with a linear book.

Because these are my kids, because I have watched them grow and learn and change from babies, I can make that distinction. Because they are the only 3 kids in my “class”, I can teach each one a different way and follow their lead on what they need and how they learn. And because of this, I believe they are learning deeply and well. They are not struggling to learn in a format that is unnatural for them, which would make that subject doubly challenging.

Additionally, we are not locked into a single grade level. Brother-Bug does 2-3rd grade math, but reads like a 4-5th grader. His writing is around 1st grade (that’s his hardest thing). Sister-Bug is just about on track for K-1st, but she’s still mostly playing in her school work and we don’t pay too much attention to her grade levels. No one is bored in an too easy class or frustrated in a too hard subject because I can adjust our lessons and experiences to fit in that niche of just challenging enough. I can pull us down a level if we are getting so frustrated we can’t learn or add complexity if we are feeling bored. I can add tactile elements for my SPD kid, or do all StarWars writing all the time to engage my StarWars obsessed child. It’s my choice, and their education, and I am so glad that we have the time and flexibility to reach each child in their time, and on their level.


Want to see our other reasons to homeschool?

Reason One: A Hot Cup of Tea

Reason Two: School Scheduled Around Life

Reason Three: Play Happens

Reason Four: Getting Out or Staying In


DIY Flag Ornaments

I love the way our ornament collection grows, full of memory. The wobbly salt dough ornaments from various childhoods, the bugs we painted with glitter one year (Brother-Bug has a millipede ornament), first ornaments of the kids, the angel ornament that adorned the top my our first mutual tree some 11 years ago – so small a tree (table top rosemary) that this angel ornament was almost too big. My childhood ornaments, Papa-Bug's childhood ornaments. It's precious.

This year I ended up with extra glass globes – empty and waiting. They came in a six pack and I only needed two. So I started looking around online. I found this lovely silhouette idea…

Nativity Silhouette Ornaments

But I wanted something to save This Year.

As you know, we are studying global cultures (and really enjoying it). So flags, I thought. Something fun and special just for us. Something to remind us of this year of travel from home and study of things abroad.

I found flag pictures online, tweaked them in Photoshop a bit, and printed them on vellum. Then following the tutorial I stuck them to acetate and put them in the globes. Of course we added glitter. We almost always add glitter, especially at Christmastime. Glitter and/or sprinkles.

These look really good from all angles, and especially lovely in front of the tree lights. Because of the fragile ornaments, I did most of the actual work. But the kids picked their own flags and were right there in the way while we made these. All four ornaments took only about 20 minutes total.


Sister-Bug chose Brazil. We studied Brazil in September and October and she loves all things Brazillian right now.

Brother-Bug chose Thailand. He wanted Japan, but the Japanese flag would have looked kind of like just a red dot…so he went for Thailand. We haven't had a Thai unit yet, but my mom and her sweetie have travelled in Thailand a lot, so we love it for that.

I picked Hungary for Toddler-Bug. He was asleep (because I wouldn't do a glass ornament project with an active and wakeful toddler). Papa-Bug has roots in Hungary and it seemed like fun. It was really hard to choose – so many good flags out there.

Finally, for Papa-Bug and me, I went with South Africa. Because Nelson Mandela. And wanting the best global representation I could get in four flags.

So that's our ornament of the year. They are glowing and beautiful on the tree. Another memory preserved to cherish.

And now I must be off. Brother-Bug is performing in our local Nutcracker tonight. I have to get my Little Angel (for that is what he is onstage) fed and rested and ready to go. It's going to be a big night.

Happy Tree Trimming.









Choosing Scouts

It all started with Sister-Bug. She’s super social. She’s very much “all girls- all the time”. Papa-Bug and I realized that she would do really well in Girl Scouts. We looked into the organization and felt like it was good, forward thinking, very accepting, and something we could support. In a wonderful coincidence, a friend of Brother-Bug’s needed some younger Scout members in her troop. We explained the concepts of Scouts to Sister-Bug. She was all in. We bought the tunic and patches.

She had a great investiture (that’s a big word for a kid to say…and I love hearing her try to say it) and was so proud of herself. Brother-Bug looked on. And later told us he wanted to do some scouts. The uniform…the patches… It was all so alluring.


But… … Boy Scouts? Cub Scouts?

Now, my dad was an Eagle, so I had heard good things about scouts while I was growing up. But the politics. The anti-gay, “morally straight” yuckiness of it all. We explained to Brother-Bug that the Boy Scouts had some politics we really, really didn’t agree with. He was on the fence. He knows that our politics are important to us and of course he wants to please us. But he also was really interested in Scouts. What to do?

I started calling around, asking people I knew about Scouts in the area and what they would do with my quirky son and his outspoken, justice-oriented parents. I couldn’t find any alternative scouting groups like Campfire Kids or Spiral Scouts. The nature schools were all really expensive. I kept coming back to Cub Scouts as the only viable option at the present time.

This spurred a number of great discussions in our family. We’ve talked about how my politics, and Papa-Bug’s politics, and Brother-Bugs politics aren’t all the same – and they shouldn’t be. We should question and explore and disagree and discuss. If he’s okay with Scouts, then that is ultimately his choice. We’ve talked about the power of the boycott and why boycotting Boy Scouts until they change their ways might be one choice to make, but also how we can sometimes change organizations because we are a part of them and that kind of internal shifting that also can happen. Both are good options.

Ultimately what we want to do as parents is help our kids follow their dreams and desires with awareness. Shutting down something our child is interested in, simply because it makes us uncomfortable isn’t fair to that child. Our job is to keep them safe and thriving. And what they learn from us and our responses to events and decisions in their lives…that’s going to matter much more than many other details that touch their days.

So we kept looking.

Brother-Bug and I visited one area group. It wasn’t a good fit. The leader looked at me like I was turning plaid when I asked how her group felt about bullying, queer kids, and gender creative kids (and I hadn’t even mentioned queer Scout leaders or cultural appropriation yet!). I left worried about both meeting Brother-Bug’s desires and also finding him a safe space. He left happy that there had been ice cream, and still on the fence.

While I was at that meeting, Papa-Bug opened up a discussion about Scouts on his Facebook wall. It was interesting, and I was able to connect with some adult Scouts from the area who know our family well enough to know what kind of a group we need. They put me in touch with other leaders who are open minded and accepting of the quirky people. I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking with many pack leaders. I was moved by the number of good and kind people who reached out to my family to help us and to make sure we felt supported. The larger group politics may be out of sync with my reality, but the local groups I talked to are very open, and many of them are working hard to change those politics.

Finally we found a pack. We bought the shirt and the patches (and let me tell you – with two kids in scouts it is so good I am handy with a needle). It’s not a perfect pack. Boy Scouts still has a long way to go and a lot of challenges to face. But I am confident that my child will be safe and treated with respect. And the look on Brother-Bug’s face when he called my dad to tell him he had found a Cub Scout Pack made it all worth it. He felt so good, so proud of himself.


Of all the “moms” on the list, I never thought I would find myself a “scout mom”. It’s been an interesting journey to start, and I’m sure it will keep on challenging me in ways that I don’t expect. But here we are with two kids in scouts, and I’d better stop writing and go finish sewing on their patches.

Reason Four – Getting Out or Staying In

Returning to the “reasons we homeschool”… another installment in my sporadic series about why we choose homeschooling. Today, I have a moment and one is right in front of me. It’s an early fall rainy day, the first really rainy day and still a little warm, so I sent the kids outside to play in the rain. I left their math work for another day. And that brings us to our fourth reason to homeschool:

Reason Four: Getting Out or Staying In

If it is the first sunny day in a while, an especially rainy day, we had a late night, we will be having a late night, it is a birthday or other event, it snowed, if the chanterelles are ripe, if we end to can peaches, if someone is sick… We change our day and it isn’t an issue. No absences. Rarely do we need emergency child care. No gazing out the window at the playground, wistful on that first spring-ish day.

A could of winters past, we had assorted illnesses for eight weeks. It was exhausting, but school didn’t really suffer. We didn’t take “sick days” often. When we were too sick to do our schoolwork, I found related movies and audible books for the sick kids and we cuddled and learned that way. We changed our school plan and learned about the immune system. We learned a lot about what herbs we could use to help ourselves heal. We didn’t go out often and I think the extended days of mellow time gave us the strength we needed to get to ballet or science group when we could.

Had we been in school, Brother-Bug would have used up all his “sick days” and been in elementary peril for too many absences. If I were employed, that eight week stretch would have emptied both parental sick day savings, and we could have been in employment peril. We might have had to shell out dollars for baby sitters, if we could have found people to stay with our plaguey children.

So we stay in when we need to. Or, even better, we drop our books and head to the woods and fields just because we want to. We ditch writing practice for an adventure to the science museum. We ignore math work for the magic (and math) of turning apples to sauce for the next year. We get out in all weathers. Or we stay in because we just need to stay in. One memorable day, when Brother-Bug was a preschooler, neither of us was feeling up to facing the day. We stayed in bed all day together, escaping for lunch, and we read Where The Sidewalk Ends from cover to cover. Of course that was when there was only one kid…

But the reasoning remains the same. We have plenty of non-negotiable in our days. There are more and more as we grow older. Now is the moment for these kids of mine. Now they can still drop everything just to watch clouds change or pick strawberries or catch snowflakes or finish a whole book in a day (and start another). Much like our second reason – School Scheduled Around Life – we want to get as much as we can out of our life with these magical kids, and we want them to learn how to do that too.

Here it is, almost Mushroom Season. Learning happens everywhere, all the time. Structure is important. Learning the essentials is, well, essential. But more than math or reading or writing, I want them to learn to live fully and to know when to stop and stay in if you can…or drop everything because the ripe chanterelles are calling.

Reason One: A Hot Cup of Tea

Reason Two: School Scheduled Around Life

Reason Three: Play Happens


Today we made catapults, using the instructions I found at Irresistable Ideas for Play Based Learning. It took about 10 minutes total to make these. I'm writing this an hour later and they are still deeply involved with their catapults projects.

I pre-glued the bottle caps with heavy-duty glue. All they had to do was hot glue the clothespin and the craft stick. Brother-Bug was able to do his own. I did Toddler-Bug's and helped Sister-Bug with hers. Them we got out the pom-poms.

Even the toddler figured out how to do his own catapult and had So Much Fun being like the big kids.

Sister-Bug played with marking where each pom-pom fell with a piece of masking tape. Brother-Bug worked on getting his pom-poms in a bin – which was way harder than he initially imagined it would be.

He also figured out that the action of the catapult and pom-pom was like Angry Birds. Once he figured that out, it became even more fun.

So right there we have math, science, and motor skills for all ages. And they're still having fun.


Coming Up for 2014-2015

What are we doing for the new school year? Are we using curriculum? What is the plan? Some people have been asking me these questions, so here is what our family is doing to create some structure in our crazy learning chaos.

*I’m keeping in mind that my best laid plans may be completely scrapped if we discover something more alluring. Perhaps we set out to study…worms but instead we get really interested in why grass grows and we leave our worm project in the dirt. I don’t know. I made that up. One of the things we love about homeschooling is grabbing those interests and opportunities, and the flexibility to follow our own interests.

1) I signed up for a monthly subscription to Little Passports. We haven’t gotten our first country yet, but I am really excited. My hope is that it will give some external structure that I can lean on, and also add to. Already I have several related projects in place for each country – make a meal, make peg dolls in the traditional clothes of that country, etcetera.

2) We are going to be using the online Muzzy language program to develop our French skills. I was about to buy a subscription, and then I learned that our library has it available to patrons for free! Score!

3) Brother-Bug is going to work hard on his hand writing. I’ve been using this worksheet maker, but he is doing better this year copying from me. He dictates what he wants to write, I write it out clearly, and he copies that down. Just the mechanics of writing are a huge challenge for him, so I’m not too worried about the spelling or grammar yet. We will get to those later in the year once he writes more fluidly. I got great writing prompts from Dianna Kennedy that will help provide some inspiration as well! Sister-Bug is also learning basic writing – at her own insistence. I made her a wipe-off writing book to save paper in these early writing days. A post with how to do that is coming soon.

4) Math is fun! We will incorporate math games into our days, and we always do “Bedtime Math” over our lunch. I keep the app on my phone and we do the problems while we eat. I love that app. We will also be using Everyday Math and some Kahn Academy to fill it out. Right now Brother-Bug is working on creating his own number stories (math and writing all-in-one!). Sister-Bug will do some official math work, but most of her math is still play. So we will play with measuring, play with stacking, play with rocks and beans and ???

5) Sister-Bug is determined to learn how to read. She wants it. She’s sick of having to ask us to read to her. We will be playing with Starfall, and lots of reading time with easy readers from the library. Brother-Bug is going to be learning about reading and reporting. We just discovered the website Bookopolis – a social site for elementary level readers. He’s excited about that and I am hopeful it makes report writing a little more fun for him.

5) Ballet is back for both kids, and Sister-Bug is starting Girl Scouts! Brother-Bug might get involved in a chess club or something similar. He’s not sure. He needs less social activities than Sister-Bug, so I know he will figure out what is right for him. Undoubtably there will be something with our homeschool friends as well, but we have yet to see how that manifests and what form it takes.

6) Toddler-Bug…well…he’s getting into EVERYTHING. He’s the big challenge this year – how to keep up with him, help the big kids, get one-on-one time with each learner, and wash the crayon/marker/yogurt/glue off all the surfaces. I’ve been collecting ideas for entertaining toddlers, and I really need to up my arsenal. Hopefully I will be sharing some of those ideas with you in a later post.


Other goals I have involve more hiking, and exploring some of the amazing museums and other attractions the Willamette Valley has to offer. And there will be plenty of going with the flow, game days, pajama days, fun field trips, and goodness knows what else. It’s a new school year. We are jumping in with both feet.



Teaching Princesses

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I’ve written about princesses before. I care a lot about the messages I send my kids and that they receive. I care a lot about supporting their interests. Before my three little individuals showed up to challenge everything I once believed about parenting, I had some pretty opinionated opinions about things like parenting. How quickly those were all stripped from me.

One of my ideals had to do with princesses and helping any daughter I had avoid the princess trap – I would never allow those misshapen Disney harlots into our house! But of course, never say never. As luck would have it, my darling son introduced us to the Disney princess phenomenon and his small sister took up that pantheon of goddesses with Enthusiasm. So it goes.

Kids bring their own agenda to the table and it is our job to help them learn about the world through their interests. Hopefully I can use their interests to teach them good lessons about being good people.

Princesses are not inherently evil. What we teach our girls, or let them passively absorb, about Princesses is pretty sinister. But we can choose what we want to direct our kids’ attention to when we interact with the Princess story. We do not need to be stuck in the “classic” messages in this image.


Images like this, that perpetuate the idea that Princesses are somehow inherantly damaging to our daughters make me angry. Because it seems like everyone has missed the lessons that are available. So let’s break it down, one at a time.

Snow White

The prince doesn’t protect Snow White. He saves her, but he’s actually not there when she needs protection. She runs into the woods and learns to support herself by trading her skills (housekeeping – a seriously valuable skill set that everyone should have) with those who can benefit from them. She is cheerful in the face of adversity and makes the best of a horrible situation. That’s pretty cool.


When she finally realizes that her mariageability is her only asset and that the law governing her is unfair, she runs away. She rejects the premise that she is only a bride. She adventures and fights with Aladdin and at the end of the movie, her courage gets an archaic law changed.


The only person absolutely obsessing over Belle being the most beautiful is the villain Gaston. And he falls from a turret. Of course Belle is beautiful. It’s the title of the story. But she’s also brave – rescuing her father at her own peril. She’s compassionate – caring for Beast when he is injured. She’s a rebel and doesn’t care about other’s narrow judgements – reading and learning when women are clearly not encouraged to do so. These things are all a part of what is inside Belle’s heart. Just as Belle learns to look deeper than the Beast’s appearance, everyone in the story can look past Belle’s appearance and see what a clever, brave, and loving person she is. Everyone except Gaston, of course.


Like Snow White, Cinderella faces up to an awful life with dignity and courtesy and kindness. She finds joy where she can. She takes good care of those around her. Sure, she goes to the ball and the Prince falls in love with her. I know it is totally far-fetched. But so often good things happen to people who look for the good in all situations – if only because they can frame their situation positively. It takes a strong person to stay positive the way Cinderella does.


She always wants to go to explore the land. The whole first part of the movie is about her fascination with this other place and her burning desire to visit it. Prince Eric is her catalyst (and a pretty appropriate one for a teenage girl). She gives up her home, her family, and her voice to follow her dream. That is so brave. That is so strong. She wants this adventure so badly that she makes great personal sacrifices to achieve it.

Sleeping Beauty

She’s been my Everest on this one. Mostly because she’s asleep for most of the movie (NOT dead – sorry people, but sleeping and dead are really different things). She’s never in a bad situation that she is aware of. She sleeps through the scary bits. She’s kind of a blank. BUT, while the Prince rescues her with the kiss, he’s not the real hero. The real hero are three middle-aged fairies. It’s the three good fairies who protect her in the woods. They help the prince all along his quest and provide him with the weapons and tools he needs to succeed. Not only that, but as Maleficent chases them across castle, the three fairies turn Maelficent’s weapons (boulders, arrows, etc.) to flowers and bubbles. They do everything they can to save their darling girl and support the Prince on his quest and they never resort to violence. Three middle aged ladies. Awesome.


So that’s what I teach my Princess-loving daughter about her heroines. These girls are brave, determined, compassionate, resourceful, and oh-so-strong.

The creators of Princess Magic are listening to our desire for awesome characters for our girls to adore. Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Elsa, and Anna are all kick-ass young women who take their adventures and destinies into their own hands. Obviously the tide is turning.

There is still a tremendous amount of work to do with body images (and eye size – what is up with the gigantic creepy eyes?). But we can turn the tide and stop teaching our girls that the lessons learned from Princesses are bad. We as adults are just as guilty of perpetuating the negative Princess story as Disney when all we see or show to our daughters is what is on the surface. When we judge these girls only by their beauty (she’s a Disney Princess…she must be brainless/only interested in marriage/every other negative stereotype) we fail our daughters. We teach them exactly what we fear Princesses are teaching them. That the surface appearance is what matters. We can dig deeper. We can actively give them another story as they play and learn. As we watch these movies with them we can applaud the heroic actions of these girls and play that their dolls are scaling mountains or whacking each other with frying pans.

Princesses are powerful, as I have written about here. As parents we need to choose if we want to perpetuate the story of the helpless princess or tell the other story that is below the glittery surface. I’m not going to judge a book by it’s cover, nor a princess by her ball-gown. My kids deserve to have their heroes and heroines supported and understood and celebrated.

And for full disclosure, my favorite princesses are Belle & Tiana. Who are yours? (I know you have them…)