The question: does your homeschool nurture or kill creativity?
A mother of a six-year-old girl wrote to Julie at to detail her experience with homeschooling. The part that struck me--and that I direct you to here--describes the process of working on a fairytale project with her daughter. She does well at showing the writing process, the goals fixed on nurturing her child's voice and building her confidence rather than insisting on correctness. You can find the description here in the fourth paragraph which begins, "I told her we were going to do...."

I have an idea, and I need a small group of students
in grades 7 to 9 to help me make it a reality.

With my Weebly site, I have the capacity to add classrooms in which students build their own password-protected sites. Ideas abound in my head for how to use this tool with homeschoolers, but I need to flesh them out with real students. Do you have any around your house who are willing?

For this test group, I would like to gather students who
  1. want to build a simple Weebly site.
  2. are willing to participate in a writing community by posting their pieces for review, and commenting on pieces posted by other students.
  3. are flexible and patient, willing to experiment as we seek to figure out what will work best in this forum.

Clearly I will benefit, but students will benefit as well.
  1. They will diffuse the winter blues with a unique project.
  2. They will have a place to display their creativity as they build a site and share their writing.
  3. They will be a part of a small community of students wanting to grow as writers.
  4. They will have a real audience for their writing, giving them purpose for the process.
  5. They will have a qualified teacher giving them guidance and feedback.

The commitment is short: four weeks, from January 6-31, 2014.

It is inexpensive: $35 for the month.

The workload is reasonable. Students will set up a simple site with a Home page and an About Me page. They will go through the writing process for a minimum of two pieces, submitting their drafts by specified deadlines so that their peers and I can give them suggestions for revision. They will also offer revision comments to their peers. Other assignments may be added to make the experience as beneficial as possible, although they will be completed as the student desires.

Space is limited to ten students.

Registration deadline is December 18. Register here.
Short writing exercises and stand-alone assignments have their place, but when I am looking to foster increased motivation, I daydream about projects. What projects can I suggest that will hook and keep a kid's attention?

Ones that have worked well for me so far are...

Magazines: I love this one because students are free to follow their creativity. You can find an explanation here.

Portfolders (aka lapbooks) - Portfolders kept our family busy for years. You can read why I like them so much and take a peek into some of ours here.

Notebooks - When we were ready to venture beyond portfolders, we headed to notebooks. I show some of them here.

Pen Pal Project - I tried this idea with a group of eighth graders. You can read more about it here.

Coil or spiral bound book - What's better: to have a bunch of writing pieces spread here and there or to have the best ones bound together in a book?  I think the latter. See a post here.

Blog - When my girls were young writers, the four of us started a blog.  It gave them a reason to write and an audience outside of our home. It's old, but it's here. For an AP History class, my oldest daughter made blogs for Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Adams. So many possibilities!

If you're noticing your students plodding through their work, the vision for learning lost, introduce a project centered on a subject they love.

See if the sparkle returns.
Now that my oldest daughter is in college and my youngest is leaning toward high school, I find myself reflecting on our homeschooling years, specifically the goals that motivated my choices during each stage. Here is my list so far.
My Goals for the Elementary Years
  • Solidify the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic.
  • Breadth
  • Flexibility
  • Integrate subjects (i.e. science, history) with reading and writing.
  • Develop/capitalize on the love of learning.
  • Build a literate environment in the home.
  • Make learning a lifestyle.
  • Read aloud often.
  • Living books
  • Projects
  • Exploration
  • Field trips
  • Limited out-of-the-home commitments
  • Engaging, not tedious
  • Develop an ear for Spanish.
  • Learn to type.
  • Learn to read music.
  • Build a strong foundation.
My Goals for the Middle School Years
  • Increase responsibility and independence.
  • Increase the expectations for writing.
  • Deadlines and time management
  • Stretch reading skills. Nudge toward classic literature.
  • Continue to read aloud.
  • Begin taking outside classes to learn from other teachers.
  • Study Spanish.
My Goals for the High School Years
  • Independence
  • Depth
  • Develop ability to manage time and meet deadlines, preparing for college or work.
  • Lots of classics
  • Learn from other people, primarily through AP classes.
  • Prepare for the SAT. (Take it multiple times.)
  • Volunteer and work outside the home.
  • Study Spanish.
My Goals for All of the Years
  • Know and love Jesus.
  • Serve others.
  • Prepare for the next stage, keeping the end goal in sight.
  • Expect excellence (not perfection) always.
  • Discover strengths and weaknesses. Exercise both.
  • Strong work ethic
  • Responsibility
  • Commitment
  • Learn how to learn; strong study habits
  • Well-rounded kids
The End
When our children are finished with high school, they may not choose to pursue a college education, but  they will be prepared for it--or any other direction God leads them.
Once upon a time I was a teacher in an eighth grade classroom.

One year a shy girl with illegible handwriting sat in the front desk. She had joined our private Christian school after homeschooling didn’t work for her.

“Sheesh.  Couldn’t the mom even teach the kid handwriting?”

A boy was supposed to be in my class the next year. His sister had been a cherished student; his dad, a colleague. The family decided to homeschool him instead.

“Oh, please; how can parents be so arrogant to think they can be the sole teachers? The mom isn’t even trained!”

After school one day, a bubbly girl, who planned to be homeschooled in high school, babbled on about the successes of homeschoolers, audaciously claiming that colleges pursue them.

“How ignorant! What a silly girl.”

Fast forward several years, soon after my first daughter was born. The details are sketchy, but somehow my husband and I ended up in a lively conversation with my family. He said something positive about homeschooling, insinuating that we might do it someday. I was horrified.

“Me? I will never homeschool.”

Then he did it. I remember standing in my daughters’ room—now we had two girls—next to the bunk beds. He asked me to consider homeschooling. Why there, I do not remember.

I laughed. I said I couldn’t do it. I said I would have to take my foot out of my mouth after all the things I had said about homeschoolers.

But I also agreed to pray about it.

I prayed and I looked for books. I requested a catalog from Bob Jones, the only name I knew associated with homeschooling.

Then some new families began attending our church: homeschooling families. I watched these kids in the youth group, amazed at their maturity, their respect for adults. I decided that if homeschooling could turn out kids like that, I wanted to do it, so I prayed and searched for resources with more resolve, even spending time with one of the mothers, asking her for any help she could give. (And she wasn’t a trained teacher. Gasp!) Foot removal had begun.

A short time later, a family organization offered Debra Bell’s The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling in exchange for a donation. My donation got me more than a book; it got me a mentor. I scoured and marked Debra’s book, eventually researching the list of websites in the back, trying to find the curriculum that best fit me.

Meanwhile, I continued to be the mommy I loved to be, reading piles and piles of books to my girls, visiting the library, doing crafts, playing, drawing, teaching my oldest to read, and including them in almost everything I did. I was giving my girls the richest childhood I could, having no idea that I was already homeschooling.

Eventually, I got to Five in a Row on Bell’s list. A perfect match for four-year-old Michaiah and me. We read the same picture book every day for a week. We did short lessons inspired by the book, one day studying the art, another day the language arts, a third day, the science, etc. It was gentle but rich. Michaiah loved it, so much so that I had to let her know that we needed a break on the weekends.

Oh, but kindergarten was coming. I needed to put on my teacher hat and get serious. It was time for real school.

Once again, I researched, looking for curricula I liked, this time in each subject area.  I found what I wanted, ordered all I needed, and prepared to begin.

It wasn’t long before the eager little learner and her mommy began to wilt. Learning wasn’t as much fun anymore. Before this grand experiment, we would read a chapter book from start to finish, if we chose. Now we were supposed to read a certain number of pages, do a simple activity, and quit that subject for the day. Since I was playing teacher, that was okay with me, until I’d hear Michaiah say, “Read more.  Keep going.  I want to find out what happens next.”

I don’t know how long I tried making school work, but I didn’t like the thought of losing my precocious student to boredom or frustration. I decided to return to what had worked before, pulling out Five in a Row once again. This time, I planned unit studies around Five in a Row books, adding many hands-on activities and portfolder projects to our day. We found our niche!

At first it was scary to tell people we were homeschooling. I didn’t have grand answers for the wary questions, especially about socialization, the one question that intimidated me more than any other. I deflected, saying, “We’re taking it a year at a time.” With each passing year, though, my roots of conviction deepened, giving me confidence that we were doing what was right for our family.

Now, with our oldest daughter successfully navigating life and academics at a state university, I am in awe of all God did to lead us. He truly provided all we needed to prepare her for the rest of her life.

And those crazies in my classroom? Now that I’m one of them, they don’t seem quite so crazy anymore!
Here's a quick children's lit. quiz. I'm going to name some main characters; you're going to name their author.


Murdley Gurdson
Princess Penelope
Wodney Wat

Okay. What's your answer?

Did you say Helen Lester?  Ding. Ding. Ding. You are correct!

Lester also has a book about herself. In Author: A True Story, she tells the good and the bad of becoming an author. Your young writers will see an experienced writer facing rejection, persevering, practicing, using the writing process, being frustrated, being inspired.

They will see that they are much like Helen (well, except that they don't receive royalties for their work). Knowing that they are not alone may make a very difficult process just a tad easier to bear.

If you're not familiar with Murdley and the rest of the characters I mentioned, go to E/Lester on your next visit to the library and fill your bag with Lester's books. They are the kind you won't mind reading for the 20th time.
 Do you want books to help your students...
                        ...learn the elements of literary analysis?
               different genres?
                        ...improve their reading and writing skills?

I recommend Nancy Loewen's Writer's Toolbox series.  So far, there are nine:
  • Action! Writing Your Own Play
  • It’s All About You: Writing Your Own Journal
  • Just the Facts: Writing Your Own Research Report
  • Make Me Giggle: Writing Your Own Silly Story
  • Once Upon a Time: Writing Your Own Fairy Tale
  • Share a Scare: Writing Your Own Scary Story
  • Show Me a Story: Writing Your Own Picture Book
  • Sincerely Yours: Writing Your Own Letter
  • Words, Wit, and Wonder: Writing Your Own Poem

These books accomplish a lot. First, many of them include a stand-alone story. In Once Upon a Time, for instance, Loewen retells "Little Red Riding Hood."  The story can be read and enjoyed all by itself. But then she adds blocks to most pages which explain the tools necessary for that particular genre. Again, in Once Upon a Time, Loewen shows that fairy tales need setting, characters, plot, dialogue, warnings, magic, greed, tricks, secret, repetition, mistakes, problem-solving, and a pleasing end. Phew! That sounds like an overwhelming list, but she keeps the descriptions brief, and she positions the story, so that it illustrates each tool she is explaining.

At the end of the books, she reviews the tools, gives "Getting Started Exercises," shares "Writing Tips," and directs readers to a Fact Hound site which lists related books and websites.

There's no lack of nourishment for your language arts menu here. Focus on one book a month or intersperse a few of them with the other language arts activities you are doing. Whatever you choose, I'm pretty sure you'll leave the table satisfied.

For an additional idea, see the assignment in Inspiration.
A friend sent me this link. (Thanks, Cynthia!) Be encouraged as you set your goals for the new year!
If you're anything like me, you're on the lookout for perfect people. Well, in your head you know there has been no one perfect but Jesus to walk this earth, but your heart tells you that some people, particularly women, get awfully close. You read their books, or hear them speak, or observe them from afar at church.  And what you see doesn't look anything at all like what you live.

Look at her. She glows when her husband speaks. With her children she is patient and creative. She is fashionable and beautiful and never seems to have a hair out of place. God has given her purpose, He's even given her a platform to share her wisdom, and she is serving Him with joy.

Then you look at yourself. You see the ring around the toilet. You remember wanting to ring your kid's neck this morning. Your head rings with more doubt and insecurities than you think you can bear. As you think of her, your head bows lower.

I don't know about you, but it's dangerous for me to read too many books or blogs because what begins as an attempt to collect ideas can end up throwing me into a pit of condemnation. Because I can't see the full picture of these women's lives, I assume they are doing everything (or nearly everything) right.  Me?  Not even close.

You've probably already figured it out, but Mrs. Perfect is not writing the posts on this site.  I have convictions and ideas to share--as do you--because God has been a faithful teacher He has generously given me gifts for the good of His people--as He has you. These convictions, ideas, and gifts are what ooze through each post. But if they show anything about me, it's only one-dimensional. They don't announce the other dimensions that are just as true--like that I'm hesitant to cook for people outside my family and that sometimes my kids are hesitant to eat what I cook, that I can't think fast, that I am ignorant about many things.

I still wrestle with insecurities. I hear the critic squawking in my head, telling me I can't. I write a post, only to wonder if I'm telling readers what they already know. I mean, if I know it, everyone else does, too, right? I grapple with the irony that I am a writing teacher who isn't much of a writer.

If this site encourages you to truly enjoy learning with your kids, I will be most happy. If, as more women stumble onto the posts here, a conversation develops and we can learn together as peers, I will be ecstatic. Never do I want you to leave this site feeling discouraged or condemned.

Our strengths and weaknesses are different, but we all have something in common: we need God to lead us to tomorrow and beyond, for without Him we can do nothing.

May God bless you as you follow Him.


From Mary DeMuth on Inferiority:

A blog is not a proper medium
For a heart splayed here
But I feel it still
This insidious beast
Strangling my voice
Stammering my speech
Holstering what little reserve left
And carelessly shooting my will to the stars


I see others superior
And me beneath them
So very very far below
A submarine me looks up
Through warbled waters
At their staid massiveness
Their casual assurance
Their wit and intelligence

You stoop, dear Lord, to earth
Not once
But twice (Click to tweet)
Once to fit my shoes to your sacred feet
Twice to lift me from the dust
And set my feet on a rock
The kind of rock making
Us all the same

So when I cower beneath
Another’s magnificence
I’m forgetting the stoop,
The shoes,
The lifting,
The rock my toes wiggle upon
And I’m forgetting all You’ve done
To set me free
From my own insecurity
And the tyranny of others’ betterness.

Forgive me.
Yes, forgive me.