September 3, 2021

Phonics on the Fridge

When I started teaching my kids to read, I had a one-page list of sounds. I put it on the refrigerator and used breakfast time to talk about phonics. 

It went something like this:

"This is the letter b (pointing or holding up a magnetic letter). It makes the sound /b/ as in boy. Can you find that letter on the cereal box?

Granted, I had been reading aloud to him since birth and pointing to words as I read them. We often discussed how the letters on the page told me what to say, so he was familiar with the concept of reading. 

Every morning we'd talk about letters and sounds and the words they make. That conversation would continue all day with new words he found in books, packages and toys. It was only a few months later that he was reading beginning books on his own, without any help. 

My other kids took more time and needed phonics games like those at Florida Center for Reading Research. My very favorite book was Games for Reading by Peggy Kaye. They also loved phonics workbooks from discount stores.

Now it's 25 years and a master's degree later, and I've recreated that phonics graphic to be more complete and organized. I've grouped like concepts together and color-coded them so you know which skills are typically taught in kindergarten, first grade and second grade. Third graders are expected to know enough phonics to move into word-level and sentence-level reading skills.

I hope you like it. I've started an Etsy shop to sell my downloads. To get 50% off Phonics on the Fridge, use this link and the discount will appear at checkout. 

Let me know what you think!

August 27, 2021

Homeschool Coaching

Homeschooling can be a lot of pressure. Afterall, you are the 24/7 caregiver and nurturer, plus the education director and provider. 

I can help you with planning curriculum, give you ideas for teaching, and be a soft shoulder to cry on when things get overwhelming. 

I've been there. 18 years of homeschooling. My three are now college graduates, pursuing their careers. 

When they graduated from homeschool, I didn't want to retire, so I went back to college to update my teaching certification and earned a master's degree in reading instruction (2016). I've taught in three different school districts, so I understand both sides of the education world. If you plan to send your children back to the school building, I can help you prepare for that. 

If you plan to homeschool through high school, I can help with that too. If you need advice on planning for college admissions, I can do that. 

Contact me at yarnsoftheheart [at] gmail [dot] com and we can set up an appointment. More info about that is here. 

Happy Homeschooling!

August 8, 2020

If you are a new homeschooler, welcome to the adventure!

It's August and schools are grappling with the question of starting the year with remote learning, face to face learning, or a mixture of the two. 

If you've decided to homeschool, taking on the responsibility of educating your children yourself, I hope you find my blog useful. I wrote this while I was homeschooling my three. 

Our homeschool existed from 1994-2012 and now they are graduated from college and pursuing their adult lives with passion. What more could a parent want?

Please fell free to comment or contact me with any question you might have. Welcome to the adventure! 

September 10, 2014

The Joy of Childhood and the Joy of Learning

Melissa posted this on Facebook today and I wanted to post it here as a reminder that when we homeschool, we have to keep the big picture in mind. What do you want your kids to say when they look back? My guiding principle was to "maintain the joy childhood and the joy of learning." She's 20 years old now:

A lot of Facebook posts are about how being a grown-up sucks, or how we all rushed to grow up and now regret it, etc. I feel very fortunate to say that I don't regret the pace at which I grew up, or feel like I missed out on anything. Quick shout out to my mom for homeschooling me, because I was able to explore the world and be a kid while everyone else was stuck in a classroom. So thanks ma, because of you I will forever be a kid and have an INSANE love of learning.

July 5, 2014

I just found this TED Talk from a 13 year old student who has been freed from public school to follow his interests and his learning style. Love it! Also, check out Sir Ken Robinson for more reasons why interest-led learning makes so much sense.

March 16, 2014

Peter in Corporate America

Peter and Missa last summer
My previous posts have been about my two girls, so now it's Peter's turn.

Now that my kids are adults, I don't want to write too much about their lives because, well, it's their lives and privacy matters. But Peter is cool with me talking about his homeschooling experience and how it has influenced his life out in the "real world."

He graduated from college in 2012 and spent his first year working at a job that paid the bills but was not what he wanted long-term. During that year, he taught himself computer programming, volunteered evenings at a small company to gain experience, and started interviewing for software development jobs. As it turns out, in this tech hungry world, you don't need a degree in computer science to land a job in the field, you just need to show you have what it takes.

After a few interviews last summer, one company offered him an incredible opportunity in downtown Chicago and he has been working there ever since. All I can say is WOW. Wow, Peter, wow.

He says being an unschooler has been his advantage. He learned how to learn, how to go after something from nothing and build it. He was tired of college telling him what to read and what to study. When he was free, he set his sights on a new career, researched what he needed to do and did it.

He has met one other unschooler at his new job, and this guy is not so positive about his experiences at home. Peter thinks it's because he didn't have as many chances to get out and explore like we did. I thought that was interesting. It is true, successful unschooling needs opportunities.

Imagine a child sitting in an empty room. There isn't much to explore or learn there, even though he is innately curious and intelligent. He needs a library and the whole outside world to explore and find what he loves. Then he needs experts to advise and teach what else he needs to know to build on the knowledge he has to keep growing and creating.

So, as moms at home, still in the middle of homeschooling, let me encourage you to relax as you watch and listen to your children. Take them to new places and see how they respond. Ask them what they wish they could do. Help them become their best selves. Let them become experts at what they love and to enter adulthood with a love for the process. This will increase everyone's joy (believe me!) and carry your children into the future with the confidence and skills they need to succeed.

For you moms with techie kids, Peter started here in learning programming: (Peter did the free version)

He says, "They work well together, so I recommend starting both of them and switching back and forth whenever you start to get frustrated/bored/confused." Spoken like a true unschooler.

February 4, 2014

Meg in Art School

Meg went to India the year she would have been a junior in college. When she came back, she realized she wanted to be an art student, and perhaps, eventually an art therapist. She had been in Family and Consumer Sciences, so that, along with psychology, are her minors.

She just loves art classes. It's a dream come true.

She drew this man from a picture. You can see a bit of the original taped to the side. Her skills have taken off with just a little bit of training. Drawing is relaxing and invigorating for her. She is happier than I have seen her in a long time.

January 20, 2014

One of my children is gay.

We parents love our children. No, we fall in love with them. From the moment they are born, we marvel at their tiny fingers and notice each new development as if it were a miracle. Sitting up, crawling, talking, walking, running, riding a bike, reading...all these things filled me with awe as I watched my children and helped them develop their talents.

One thing I didn't notice about one of my children was that she is gay. I didn't live in a world where gay people existed. I didn't know a single openly gay person, and I didn't think it was possible to be born gay.

But one day, when she was 18 years old and we were dropping her off at college, Missa asked to go on a walk and talk. She said she had been praying and trying not to be gay, but finally felt peace that it was OK. God still loved her and in fact, He had made her this way.

I hugged her and told her I didn't understand, but I wanted to learn, and I was happy that she still loved God and wanted to continue her relationship with Him.

I spent the next year in silence. I didn't tell a soul about this. Missa and I stayed close, texting almost everyday, and weekend visits were frequent, but we didn't talk about this part of her life. I was in shock. I was processing. I was hoping it would go away. She was very patient and kind to me.

After one year away, she moved back to our hometown and started going to college here. I continued to stay silent until I found a book that helped me tremendously. It's called Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate, by Justin Lee. His background and experiences were so similar to Missa's that I finally understood. My view on this topic has completely changed. I now see how a person can be gay and a Christian and that my views of the Bible passages were wrong.

Many people say it takes knowing a gay person to help us confront our long-held opinions. That's what happened to me. I never had to think about this issue because it wasn't part of my life. Little did I know I was raising a gentle, thoughtful, talented gay individual.

Missa has started a blog of her own, talking about her struggles to reconcile her faith and the reality of being gay, what she went through before she came out to us, and what she thinks now.  

I could kick myself for being so blind and so lazy, for not studying this issue for myself, and for using pat answers. She forgives me and we are still best friends.

For you parents NOT stuck in the mud on this issue, yay for you!! I don't talk about my faith much on this blog, but it's the main reason I didn't know what to do when Missa came out.  

I found these realizations to be the most helpful for me as I emerged from my year of silence:

1. People are born with a certain sexual orientation.
2. Homosexuality is not contagious or learned.
3. The Bible verses that seem to condemn homosexuality are not as clear as I had believed. Studying for myself using the tools on was very eye-opening.

If your kids are "testing the waters" by asking questions and they sense you are against homosexuality, they might retreat from you and have to handle this on their own. To be preemptive, read Torn, do your own Bible study, listen to your kids, and don't be afraid.

Another mom's story  
The Gay/Christian Network
Essay: A Mountain I'm Willing to Die On
Video: The Bible and Homosexuality by Matthew Vines 
Book: Bible, Gender, and Sexuality by James V. Brownson

October 8, 2013

To New Homeschoolers from an Old Timer

Suzy Homeschooler recently sent me some interview questions. I had a great time thinking through this stuff.

Here are the questions:

1- First tell us a bit about your yourself and your family. [For example:] How many years have you homeschooled? How many children do you have and what ages are they? How would you classify your teaching style? Has it changed since you first started homeschooling?
2- Despite its rising popularity, homeschoolers are still in the minority. How did you respond if/when family, friends, or even complete strangers would make negative comments?
3- Stay at home moms, both homeschooling and not, often feel lonely and isolated due to the long hours spent alone with small children. Did you ever struggle with this? And if so, what helped you through it the most?
4- As moms we wear many hats and homeschooling is a very time consuming matter. Did you ever struggle to take your "teacher hat" off and reconnect with your children or your husband or even yourself- away from homeschooling? What advice, if any, would you give to women regarding this balance?
5- During the difficult times in one's life, it can be easy to focus on the current situation rather than on the bigger picture. Many homeschooling moms feel defeated after a bad day. Looking back on your years homeschooing, was it worth it?
6- If you could say only one sentence to a new homeschooling mom, what would that sentence be?

July 14, 2013

The Parent's Role in Interest-Led Learning

I like to call our years of homeschooling "interest-led" because the curriculum was driven by what interested the kids. We didn't replicate a classroom in our living room, we just lived a life full of outings, books, and projects. If someone wanted to learn more or become an expert, we encouraged it! We provided the materials and resources to go as deeply as that child desired. Of course, there was the time Meg really wanted a pony, but our city backyard and tiny budget said no. These things happen.

Our homeschool was child-centered, but not Lord of the Flies. Mom and Dad ran the house, made sure the necessities of life were fulfilled (finish your to-do list) and provided the opportunities to discover interests. We loved to watch our kids in a new experience. Did they love it or hate it? Did they show aptitude or frustration?

I'll never forget Meg at the age of 10 with a paintbrush in hand, painting delicate roses, saying dreamily, "I feel like I'm in another world." I knew this was something she was born to do and that meant doing what we could to help her excel. Drawing kept her sane during her nine months in India, and this fall she starts classes for an art therapy major in college.

As we provided opportunities, we also did a little nudging. I kept a copy of The Core Knowledge Sequence to remind myself of topics to explore. I'd find colorful books at the library and stage them around the house, sort of like baiting the hook to see if they'd bite. At other times I was much more direct and held "classes," which they loved, because you see, being in class was novel, something they didn't do every day.

I also read to them everyday, usually at bedtime. My favorite tactic was to read historical fiction. Not only were they getting a good story, they were learning about famous people and time periods that would stick in their minds. I even attached a long strip of computer paper around the room to place people and events on a timeline.

During junior high and high school, I suggested we volunteer at a local historical site, complete with costumes and training in period skills. To them it was a fun family activity, a chance to dress up and pretend, but I knew they were learning how to be self-sufficient, how to cook over an open fire, and how to relate to an important time in American history. Eventually, Peter decided he really didn't like it, so he stopped. Missa was a little too young to participate on her own, but Meg loved it. She continued long after the rest of us lost interest.

That's the key. Provide the opportunity and let them stop and move on when they are ready, or let them dive in deeply. 

Children learn best when they are motivated from the inside, but unless we provide the experiences and the subject matter, they might never know what they love! And from that foundation of internal motivation, they can learn all they need to succeed.

February 12, 2013

What Really Matters in Homeschooling

If I had to boil home education down to just one necessity, it would be this: impart a love for learning. Think about it. If you love to do something, you give it a lot of time and you get pretty good at it. If our kids love learning, all we need to do is stand back and watch them go. Of course we need to be there to coach and encourage, but overall, the internal motivation fuels the learning. And when kids are doing what they love, they are happy and easier to live with too.

The key is to keep learning from being a chore. If you notice that your kids are starting to whine about your curriculum or a certain activity, change it. Find a different way to get that information across, or leave it for another day. Be willing to listen to your kids and take their preferences into account.

Another great way to foster a love for learning is to let them dive deeply into something they find interesting. If your child is into dinosaurs, let him become an expert. It's OK if he reads about dinosaurs 24 hours a day. Just think of all the science and history and reading skills he's developing. And as he talks to you about it, he's practicing his verbal skills and flexing his comprehension strategies of summarizing, visualizing, connecting and questioning.

Talking to your child about what she's interested in and what she's learning is an excellent way to build higher order thinking and communication skills.

My kids are now out of the house, and I'm glad to say they caught the learning bug. In fact, Peter (now a college graduate) has started a study/research/discussion group with his friends where they get together and talk about their recent intellectual interests, maybe even peer reviewing papers before they try to publish.

That's the goal--adults who keep on learning.

Homeschooling can seem very overwhelming, so keep it simple and keep the end in mind.

October 6, 2012

Overcoming the Fall Slump

It's October, and many new homeschoolers are wondering if it's worth it. If you are feeling like this is too hard, you are in over your head, and maybe sending them to school isn't such a bad idea, let me encourage you.

I homeschooled through sixteen Octobers. The excitement of starting off in late August, the new books, fresh ideas and enthusiasm usually wore off by October. Reality sets in. Can we keep this up? I always readjusted and rethought my priorites and then things would get better again.

Simple advice: Be willing to change.

Stop doing that curriculum. Stop having those expectations. What do your kids need now? Maybe a break is all you need. Think about year-round schooling. Some schools go for six weeks, then take two weeks off. I like that idea. You can adapt it to your homeschool without feeling guilty.

Hang in there, mom!

My next piece of simple advice: Don't give up.

As I look back on those years with my kids, I knew I was sacrificing. I knew I was saying no to myself and things I wanted to do, but I kept my eyes on the prize, the prize of three emotionally healthy, stable, intelligent adults. I knew that if I gave them a loving, nurturing environment in which they could develop their natural curiosity, they would not only be learning facts, they would be learning how to learn, how to find information and experts to answer their questions, all driven by their natural interests. I see the results now.  Peter has a job, an apartment, and is teaching himself computer programming. Meg is braving a third-world country, and Missa is working and going to college in the big city.

Now that I am in this phase of life, I am SO glad I gave those early years to my kids. That was their window of time. That was my chance to lay a strong foundation for them. And really, it wasn't all that self-sacrificing because now I am cashing in on the benefits. We all have great relationships with each other, they know how to solve their own problems, and they are on career paths that excite them. What more could a mom want?

September 30, 2012

Unschooling after College

Peter and Missa
Peter graduated from college in June, and now that it's September, I asked him if he was homesick for college. Does he wish he was starting school instead of heading off to work everyday? He said no, he's glad he is done with college and can get back to learning again. Ha! I asked him to explain and he said that he's glad he can choose what he wants to learn, at his own pace, and in his own way. Spoken like a true unschooler! He is currently learning computer programming. He's taking a course over the internet, one of those open source classes from Stanford, I think he said. He loves it and thinks maybe this is the career he wants to pursue.

Meg is still in India. I miss her and wish she would come home soon, but she is happy and feeling more at home there as she teaches English to children. Missa is into her first semester as a college freshman, living three hours away in her own apartment with a friend. I really miss our years together, but I am so proud of them and continue to marvel at their accomplishments, if only from afar.

August 15, 2012

A Practical Guide to Loving Homeschooling

Two years ago I put together this little beginning-of-the-year guide to homeschooling. I've added more and recent posts with the hope that it will help you get organized and prepare for another great year of learning at home!

This has to be...let's see...2001?

What Makes a Good Homeschool Parent?

Capturing Your Child's Heart

Don't Even Blink

Nurturing Your Child for Success

At the Heart of Homeschooling


Jump Starting an Interest-Led Education

A Look at Interest-Led Learning 

What does Interest-Led Learning Look Like for a Five-Year-Old?

Curious About Unschooling?

Rethinking Education

 How To...

Here's Meg around 2003.
If I Only had a Map (a simple guide to successful homeschooling)

The Bare Minimum  (what more do you need?)

Advice for First Year Homeschoolers 

Motivating Learners in Your Homeschool 

Bloom's Taxonomy: A Simple Roadmap to Learning

How I Keep Records in Our Home School

Should I Homeschool High School?

Intentional Unschooling 

How to Prepare a High School Transcript for Home Schoolers

Homeschooling and College Scholarships

How to Find the Right Books for Your Readers

Using Movies to Teach High School History

I have dozens of posts tagged "beginning homeschooling," but that can get overwhelming. I really need to get organized.

I love to take questions, so what would you like to know?

July 30, 2012

Choosing Books at the Right Level

Kids who struggle with reading need to be reassured. It's OK if reading doesn't come easily because everyone has things that are hard for them. Ask your child what does come easily...drawing? riding a bicycle? making people laugh? Help them see that they are valuable and talented in ways that are different from others and that's a good thing.

When it comes to choosing books, a struggling reader needs to feel successful (we all do!) in order to hang in there and keep trying, so don't expect him or her to read books at a frustration level, even if you think they should be at that level. Attitude, believing that you can do it, is at least half the battle in learning how to read.

Here is an easy way to find books at your child's reading level using
  1. Start here and click on Book Wizard.
  2. Type in the name of a book that your child can read and understand without much help. 
  3. When that book pops up, it will have a grade level and a link that says "Book Alike, find similar books." Click on that button. 
  4. Now you will see lots of book choices at that same level. 
  5. Make a list of what looks interesting and find them at the library.
If your child's reading level is 6th grade or below, check out this chart. Click on any number or letter in your child's reading level row and it will take you to a page of books at that level with some ways to filter books by subject and theme. This is important because you want to find books that also have interesting topics for your child. 

If you want to learn more about book levels and how to find just the right books for your children, you might like my post about lexiles.

Happy Reading!

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