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!

July 15, 2012

Parenting from Afar

Homeschooling invades your personal space...all day long...every day. If you want to homeschool, you must not mind having your kids around that much, and most of us would probably say we like it.

The Fam about 10 years ago, including Missa's friend Spot
So what's it like to finally have your kids move out of the house and begin their adult lives? Culture shock. Extreme culture shock. But I've been working on easing the transition since 2008 when Peter moved away to college. For one, I started this blog in an attempt to capture all the memories and all the lessons I've learned. I also started graduate school to get my teaching certificate up to date and hopefully add a masters degree. That's been keeping me busy and giving me a new focus.

Missa (18), Meg (20), Peter (22), June 2012
Meg moving to India has been harder than I expected. She's been gone almost a month, and we try to communicate every day. Hearing her struggles and not being able to do much about it has been hard. But I do thank God for the Internet. At least we can talk through things in real time. I remember spending three weeks in Hong Kong in the mid 1980s, and it was basically a communication blackout. I feel old saying this, but my, how times have changed! We've even figured out how to use Google+ and get everyone's face online talking at once!

She passed out in the market one day, and that really scared me. She was with a friend who caught her and got her home, but that was a particularly trying time for Ole Mom. Then there was the night she didn't get online as usual, and this led to a very long day for me, waiting to hear from her in the evening (which is her morning). She's starting to feel more comfortable over there, and I'm starting to relax about her being there.

Missa (who moved to Chicagoland this summer) texts me every day. Peter, on the other hand, doesn't communicate as often, but he's a boy, right? I'm glad to say that even though we're moving into this new stage of life, we are all still heart...if not in square footage.

July 9, 2012

How to Find the Right Books for Your Readers

If you have a reluctant or struggling reader at your house, there are probably two things going on:
  1. He hasn't found a book he's interested in.
  2. He hasn't found an interesting book at his reading level.
Interest plus reading level. That's the equation that leads to engaged reading. And once your child is engaged, he or she will feel more confident, will learn new things, and the positive momentum just keeps going, gathering reading ability as it rolls.

I've never been a big fan of reading levels. It just sounds too much like grade level, and I'm all about keeping kids away from being labeled or categorized. But there is a lot to be said about finding the right match between readers and books.

If a text is too hard, no matter how interested you might be, you'll give up and not read it. It's like being drawn to the front cover of a book only to find it's written in a foreign language. Not much enjoyment there.

Some kids are great at the Goldilocks method of choosing books.  They start to read and, argh! too hard. Get another one, yuck, too easy. Get another one, ah, just right! But other kids give up too quickly. That's when mom or dad have to put on their reading teacher hats and find those "just right books" that will hopefully hook the reader before he knows it.

Here's How to Do It

I'm going to walk you through an easy way to find a bunch of books that combines your child's reading level with his interests.

Go to At the top of the page is a quick search. Enter the name of a book that your child can read with hardly any mistakes (99% accuracy). This will give you his lexile level (sorry I keep using a masculine pronoun. I know girls need this too).

The lexile of that book is a number followed by the letter L. A lexile is a measurement of text difficulty that is determined by sentence length and word frequency. Nothing about age-appropriateness. That's for you to determine.  

Let's say you entered the book Frindle. The lexile for Frindle is 830. Now look to the right sidebar. Follow the sequence you see in the picture below.

  1.  Set the sliding "Lexile Filter" to 100 points below and 50 lexiles above your book's lexile (in this case our book lexile is 830, and looks like I could have set the upper level even higher. Oh well.).
  2. Remove the name of your book so it all looks blank like I have in the picture.
  3. If your child is 6th grade age or above, check HL (High-Low). This means "high interest, lower level." These books are intended for older kids who don't want to be reading "baby" books. 
  4. Scroll down just a little and hit "update." That should give you a bunch of books to choose from. 
  5. Extra credit: Write down or memorize the original book's lexile, then hit "change" near the top.  Type in the lexile number in the "Lexile Measure" box and hit "submit." This will take you to a page of interests you can select. Then hit "submit" and see what happens.
You can read book descriptions there, and go to to "look inside," and check for reviews. Surely you'll find something to entice your reluctant reader.

I think I'll do a few posts about book levels this month. There's just so much to say!

(top photo credit)

July 7, 2012

Getting Used to an Empty Nest

June was a whirlwind with Missa moving to the Chicago area, Peter graduating, and Meg moving to India. Once the dust settled, I looked at my husband and said, "It's so weird living here by ourselves!" I started following him around and calling him "Roomie."

It's weird, but I'm getting used to it. It helps that Missa texts me good morning and good night every day, and I usually get to talk to Meg once a day on Google Chat (and video is free through that too!).

The upside is that my phone charger stays were I put it, a pan of brownies lasts longer than a day, and there aren't 10 pairs of shoes at the door!! Yes, we only had one child living here the past couple years, but for some reason, her shoes never made it upstairs. And her friends would leave shoes (and eat brownies). Anyway, you get the idea.

The house actually stays picked up from day to day, a feat I never thought I would accomplish. But you know, these sorts of things aren't important at all, just a nice little perk to graduating from homeschooling.

I'm glad to have my reading teacher practicum this summer. I have one 7th grade girl who is a couple grade levels behind in her reading ability, so I meet with her three times a week, give her diagnostic tests and prepare lessons. I just love it, and it's getting me over the goodbye hump.

June 26, 2012

Meg is in India!

Saying goodbye at the airport last week. I look happy here, but I cried all the way home.
My second child is taking a year off of college to follow a dream. Since she was a little girl she's wanted to go to India and help the children there. Now's her chance. She will be teaching English and music to underprivileged children in North India. She arrived last week, school starts this week, so there is a lot going on in her life right now.

She started a blog called A NutMeg Narrative to chronicle this adventure. She even has a short video of her new home.

Meg had a hard time learning to read when she was young, so I think it's ironic, poetic, even victorious that she's going to be a teacher!

June 21, 2012

It's Official

 June 9, 2012: Thousands of people on the University of Chicago quad, but only one stood out to me.

Congratulations Peter! Graduating with honors. It was a very emotional day. Pride, nostalgia, and a bittersweet realization that life is changing for all of us. A couple of people I don't even know told me, "Congratulations," and I nearly burst out crying.

Mr. Alum has a job too, working as a legal assistant or something of the sort for a law firm in Chicago. He's using this time to decide what he really wants to do with his life. 

May 18, 2012

Graduation Time...sigh

The problem with homeschooling and attachment parenting is that you get attached to your kids. I started this blog four years ago when Peter (our oldest) graduated from high school. Now he's about to graduate from college and Missa (our youngest) is about to head out the door. That's the last one. After Missa moves to college, all my children will live somewhere else. I've been pretty brave about the whole thing, but last night I cried my little heart out.

But this is what parenting is all about, right? You love them like crazy, try to give them the best, most stable childhood possible, then they become mature, confident young adults, ready to tackle life. Bye, Mom and Dad! Thanks for everything! Yes, that's the goal. But it sucks. I forgot that I was growing up too, that at some point I'd graduate from child-rearing. Even though I started back to college last summer, doing all sorts of independent, grown-up things, I forgot that the days of kids running in and out of the house were numbered. Running out. With all their stuff. Waving goodbye.

But, hey, my kids are pretty attached to me too, so I know they'll come back and we'll keep in touch. Missa says she'll text me everyday, and we plan to all live in the same town eventually. The girls want me to homeschool their kids (ha!) and Peter talks about being in a homeschooling co-op someday.  It will all be OK. It's just graduation transition time. Talking it through helps. A little.

Peter is graduating with honors from the University of Chicago, and we are very proud of him. He called today to say he just finished the oral defense of his BA paper and got an A which means he'll graduate with honors from his department as well as from the overall college. Go Peter!

Meg has finished two years of college and has done very well. Next year she is taking a year off to teach English in India. She is thrilled! It's a school for underprivileged children, and along with English, she'll teach music. This is a dream-come-true for her, so I'm happy but nervous at the same time.
Missa is heading to the Chicago area to study criminal justice. She's been an intern with our local police department this past semester and is looking forward to learning more about that field. Last night we attended her final high school choir concert. They gave all the seniors a gift and read their "advice to underclassmen." Here was Missa's: "Be nice to everyone because you don't know who might end up being famous or a member of the mafia." Everyone laughed. Classic Missa.

So, this weekend we have a little open house to honor Missa, and in three weeks we attend Peter's graduation. Then a couple weeks after that we take Meg to the airport to fly off to India. It's a good thing I have a class this summer to keep me busy after all these goodbyes.  

February 4, 2012

Reading to Your Kids

I am a month into my third semester of graduate school. I just love it. The best part is finding out that interest-led learning is really the ideal. Teachers try to tap into kids' interests and build motivation for learning, but it can be hard when there are so many other things they have to do--like standardized testing.

One of my teachers said a very interesting thing last week. She said the best reading program is to get a boatload of good books and read, read, read! I thought that was great advice for homeschoolers who have the time to actually do it. :)

So, when you read to your kids--and all ages like to hear a good book--talk about what you are thinking as you read. Kids learn a lot about how to understand what's going on by getting a peek at your thinking process. But be balanced about it. Sometimes my kids would complain that I was breaking up the flow of the story too much. Just gauge their reaction and keep it fun.

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