From time to time people ask me how we homeschool, and I never know quite how to answer. It’s such a variety, and we go through cycles or seasons of how we do things. My inner philosophy stays the same, but the process changes as the kids grow or as we go through periods of different inspirations.

That being said, I think I have found a name for what we’ve instinctively been doing: Thomas Jefferson Education, or Leadership Education. It most closely describes my goals and values.

I’m not a fan of boxed curriculum. The thought of something telling me “here is 3rd grade!” and me following their plan makes me claustrophobic. I get stressed out even thinking about it. (How do they know what my kids are ready for or interested in? Isn’t that why we homeschool?!) So we piece things together here and there.

Right now, here are our pieces:

AWANA program at our church
Doodle Through the Bible
Copywork of Bible verses
Seeds Family Worship music
GA’s – missions

Math Lessons for a Living Education (Grace – level 3, Joy – level 1)
Living math (cooking, shopping, etc. in our everyday lives)
Random books (Sir Cumference series, Bedtime Math, etc.)

Language Arts
LOTS of reading – independent and read alouds – and discussion (and role playing in their free play)
Copywork – they pick up so much grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. from this!
Building Spelling Skills (not sure if we’re going to continue with this, looking at Natural Speller)
First Language Lessons (almost done with level 2, not continuing after)
Looking into the Good and the Beautiful when we finish First Language Lessons
Friday Freewrite journals, borrowed from BraveWriter
Oral storytelling, which I record and type up for them to illustrate

Weekly science class at a park
Interest-led reading and experiments

Trail Guide to Learning – Paths of Exploration
Liberty’s Kids – has led to SO MANY rabbit trails we’ve followed, including a trip to Philadelphia!
Interest-led reading

Activities (Grace – ballet, Joy – gymnastics)
Piano, self-guided for now
Ukelele, planning to get back into lessons but playing around right now
Kids choir at church (2-3 public performances a year)
Art materials always available


Input, Output.

I just read an article about rhythms in your day vs. schedules. (I can’t remember where I read it, or I would link to it.) It referred to the body’s natural breathing in and out, and taking breaks to recharge, or breathe in.

I’d like to take a moment here to admit that I have a problem.

I am a hoarder. An information hoarder. My brain looks like those episodes on TLC or whatever channel, where the person sleeps in between boxes because they can’t find their bed.

I am indecisive. So, instead of making decisions based on, “hey, this looks like a great fit,” I have to look at every other possibility out there to make sure it isn’t a good fit. Then I go with my first choice (which I knew was right, but had to double/triple check myself) and life moves right on along. Except for all that wasted time.

So this whole breathe in, breathe out article…

For me, it’s input vs. output. I used to write. I journaled. Dare I admit, I wrote quite a bit of poetry in my teen angst / early 20s years. I felt deeply. Now, I process. And my brain is becoming like an old computer with a slow processor that just can’t keep up with all that information it’s receiving. And I don’t feel anymore. Not the way I used to.

My worst habit: I check Facebook. I follow lots of homeschool bloggers on there, and photographers whose work I admire. I see an article someone posts, I click it, then I immediately click “open in Safari” so I can keep scrolling Facebook, until I come to another article and do the same thing. Then, later, I go through and read the articles and pin the ones I find useful to Pinterest.

Not a lot wrong with that. I don’t spend an excessive amount of time on there. (I don’t think, maybe I do.) But when I’m bored, I input. I used to draw, write, create, daydream, output. I don’t do those things anymore. It’s all input. I’m not even sure what my opinions are on the articles I read, because before I can think about it I’m reading a different article.

I have no idea why or how this happens. It just does.

I’m not one of those people who pretend-to-have-it-all-together-while-everything-is-actually-falling-apart. I know I don’t have it all together, and I’m ok with where I am. It’s not falling apart. It’s not perfect. It’s all good with me. I don’t need to change a single thing about myself, or what I’m doing. I know this. I’ve known it most of my life. I’m pretty confident in that.

So why am I reading all these articles about what else I can be doing? Most of the time I read the ones I already identify with the most (so, a total waste of time because I already know this information) or I read the ones that give me ideas about things I could be doing (which I don’t have time to do because we’re already doing quite a bit around here that we enjoy and want to keep doing the way we’re doing).

My husband has made fun of me since the first time we went clothes shopping together. I think we were in high school, so this is apparently a trait I developed early on. I usually walk into a store, pick up a few things, carry them around while looking at other things, then hang them back where I got them and leave. It became a running joke early on in our relationship, when I would tell him I needed to go shopping (which I hate and rarely do) he would reply with, “you mean carry stuff around a while and then leave with nothing?” Yep. Pretty much.

I’m doing the same thing to my brain.

More output. Less input. Starting now.

A new rhythm.

We’ve finally found our groove! I’m still learning to separate the homeschool-in-my-head from actual reality, but I think we’re close! (In my dream world, we’d attend a Sudbury Valley type school, but at home, which will never actually happen.)

Anyway, my husband is a fan of curriculum, but he isn’t here all day teaching them. I’m more child-led / unschool brained, but understand his points of why he likes curriculum. So we’ve found a hybrid that eases both our minds, and still lets the kids be in charge of their own education. Here’s what our days currently look like…

Breakfast / Morning Basket
Our morning basket includes:
– The girls’ AWANA books. Grace copies the verse(s) she’s learning into her writing journal and we say them together. I read Joy’s story and verse to her and then she works on her handwriting on a dry erase tracing mat.
– Grace’s Math Journal, I print out mini books or other free printables I find online or at Teachers Pay Teachers and we tape them in.
– Spelling work. I picked up a first grade spelling book at a yard sale for maybe $1 and we’ve been using it.
– Nature Journals.
– Sketch Pads.

After breakfast and morning work the girls play. Usually legos, some sort of pretending (dress up, cooking in the play kitchen, etc.) or we go outside and explore.

Lunch / Math and Phonics
After lunch Grace works on her math (Rod & Staff Grade 1, though we still use the Spielgaben and Khan Academy – maybe I haven’t really found a groove for math yet, but we’re getting there!) then we move to the couch for phonics and reading.

After reading they play some more. Outdoor play almost always morphs into some kind of science lesson. (Like finding three swallowtail caterpillars on our parsley that we brought inside to observe. We just released two of the butterflies and are waiting on the third to emerge from its chrysalis.) We also have a geography station in our play area inside that they sometimes utilize, but geography and history usually weaves itself through whatever interest Grace has. Somewhere in there we practice piano.

Most days vary in what’s going on around here, but I’m trying to stick to a routine. Not a schedule, I can’t do those. But after meals is working for us, because we’re already seated together and it seems to create a natural flow. I’ve learned too much of a schedule makes everyone frustrated, and my goal at this stage is for them to love learning. I don’t care what they learn, as long as they learn to learn and keep the wonder going. They are both so curious we don’t have much of a problem with that so far.

Goings on.

Once again, I am behind on the blogging. Sigh.

I used to keep a journal, as a kid into teens into young adult, and at some point I stopped writing. I’m trying to get back to that, pen and paper. But I don’t want to lose this method of record keeping in the process. I’ll update what’s been going on ASAP! We had a unit on penguins / Antarctica, which led us to Australia (since Grace’s favorite penguins were Fairy Penguins, which live in Australia), and now we’ve moved into a spring nature study. Both girls are obsessed with identifying every bird nest we find in our yard (so far three robins, a mourning dove, and what we think is a brown thrasher) and planning and planting our garden.

Somewhere in all this, my dad was diagnosed with dementia / Alzheimer’s. So I’ve been wrestling with that. One of our older girls is graduating high school. I had another round of school portraits to photograph and fulfill parent orders. There is just a lot going on!

I attended my first homeschool convention with a friend and we had a great time and brought home tons of information that I have yet to find time to sort through. I’ve been planning and replanning for next year, and thinking ahead beyond that. Grace is going to continue at her cottage school next year two days a week for first grade, so we’re going to do another child-led unit study year, with a possible math curriculum thrown in. For second grade I’m leaning toward Memoria Press and the Classical method, which I’m sure I’ll adapt and possibly merge with some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas. We’ll always be a mix around here. I’m not good at following a set plan. And I’m ok with that!

Inventors Unit

Grace asked for a sketchbook so she could draw and write down her inventions. Of course I found one immediately and she got to work. Here is my favorite that she came up with, a flying house. She spent a very long time explaining to me how it works.


This led me to a unit on inventors. In hindsight, it may not have been the best idea because she stopped coming up with her own inventions once she started learning about inventions that already exist. But I have a feeling she’ll come back to the journal and start inventing again in no time.

I started off by asking them what was God-made and what was man-made, or nature vs. inventions that someone came up with. We played with Tinker Toys quite a bit during this unit, and of course watched the movie Mr. Peabody and Sherman. (One of their favorites!)




And no unit on inventors is complete without a box of random recyclables, odds and ends to turn into treasures.

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Grace wanted the inventor box all to herself, so Joy got to build with marshmallows and toothpicks. Most of the marshmallows ended up in her belly.

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We worked in a little bit of hands-on math, and some spelling / fine motor / math combination work.


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Oh, and we had a day of snow!

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Grace also decided she wanted to sort her perler beads by color. This project is still going on. Why do we own so many perler beads? Sigh. (She actually said to me, “this is the best craft project we’ve done in a long time!” She likes to be organized.)


Grace and I also got to see Wild Kratts Live with some friends! Oh this was great! (And sort of ties into our inventor unit, since they come up with creature discs. Right?!) We didn’t know about the show until tickets had been on sale a while, so our seats were literally in the very top row! That didn’t stop Grace from shouting out answers as loud as possible. If Wild Kratts come near you and you’re a fan, I would definitely recommend going.



What phonics time looks like around here – me in a chair with two people on my lap while the oldest one reads.


I really prefer our Spielgaben set for math (it’s so hands-on, and they learn practical uses for things as we go) but this Khan Academy app was free and has TONS of lessons on it, so I thought we’d give it a try. Grace asks to play her “math game” all the time – it keeps track of progress, and you can earn points and badges as you go. It isn’t our primary math curriculum, but it’s good practice when she wants to “play” on the iPad. I’m not about to tell her it’s homework.



We also had some fun with our Snap Circuit Jr. set! Grace loves building with this and watching things work.


My husband, the civil engineer (in his plaid pajama pants) got in on the fun and had Grace find things around the house to see what was a conductor – spoon, aluminum foil, check. PVC pipe and a shoe, nope! She loved this.



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One of our favorite activities is playing with Magna-Tiles on our (sad little) light box. Grace got this out all on her own, and Joy played some too but I don’t think I snapped many pics of this.


And back to the Snap Circuits – these really are great!


We also taught the kids a very modified way to play Yahtzee. Grace kept score. They loved this also and we have played quite a few times in the last couple of weeks.



And of course we utilized the library. Here are the books we borrowed – some of them were just too big for the girls, but we still enjoyed looking at the pictures. I’m putting a star next to our favorites, and two stars next our VERY favorites, which were probably read five times a day over these two weeks.

Book list:

Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares by Frank Murphy
Electrical Wizard by Elizabeth Rusch
Who Were the Wright Brothers?
George Washington Carver by Gene Adair
Ferris Wheel! by Dani Sneed
Thomas Edison: National Geographic Kids
Who Was Leonardo da Vinci? by Roberta Edwards
Always Inventing by Frank Murphy
What Makes the Light Bright, Thomas Edison by Melvin and Gilda Berger
*Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully
*Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet
The Boy who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman
If I Built a House by Chris van Dusen
**The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett
**Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen
Always Inventing by Tom L. Matthews
**How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers by Mordicai Gerstein
On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
What’s the Big Idea? by Helaine Becker
How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by Rosalyn Schanzer
Girls Think of Everything by Catherine Thimmesh
*Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
**Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming
Now & Ben by Gene Barretta
The Wright Brothers by Russell Freedman
First to Fly by Peter Busby

And now we’re on to penguins and Antarctica!

The Mitten: Day 3

I’m going to go ahead and apologize for the fact that I’m a photographer and these pictures are terrible. If you don’t know me in person you are probably doubting that I’m actually a photographer!

Moving on…

The other day Grace gave me LOTS of homework. Here are a few examples of things she came up with on her own for me to do:

She drew snowballs, asked me to count them and then circle the largest number and X out the smallest number.



We made some play dough with glitter in it to look like snow. The girls have brought it out every day (even over the weekend) and love setting up scenes in it!

I’ll link back as soon as I remember where I found this printable – but we did some sequencing with The Mitten in this little book. Lots of coloring, cut and paste and writing along with putting things in the correct order! The girls loved this. 





Grace copied her bible verse again (You shall love your neighbor as yourself) and then made a pattern with blue and purple snowflakes in her math journal.

And as much as I dislike (okay, hate) math, I love our math journal. I find things online or make up prompts, print them on mailing labels and stick them on the top of the page. We’re still playing and learning with our Spielgaben set, but we do the journals every day Grace is home for school, and also continue our calendar binder. I never thought math would be my favorite subject, but right now it is, possibly because it ties in with other things – sequencing with The Mitten, play/art with Spielgaben, etc.

Grace has also taken off with weaving. I’ll have to remember to snap a photo of that. I love that she loves yarn! Yay!

The Mitten: Day 2

We started out the day with a clip and count game that the girls loved! They took turns choosing which section to count and clip, then Grace made up her own game where you had to choose the clothespin first and guess where it went without counting. (Joy was allowed to count, but Grace and I had to guess.)



Then we settled in with our phonics lesson from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. Grace read every word on her own! 

Grace loves worksheets. I found this mitten themed printable which she did on her own, and then she wrote the numbers and words in her math journal.


Joy was working puzzles and looking at our Tell Me A Story cards while Grace worked on journals.

I taped a photo in Grace’s writing journal and here is the story she came up with – she has stopped asking me for help spelling words. Love it! (There was a rabbit. The rabbit was very hungry. The rabbit saw a carrot.)


Grace didn’t want to miss out on the story cards, and they fit with our woodland theme, so she got to make up some stories too.

Then we pulled out the small world play. I put our forest/woodland animals in a basket with a  mitten and placed it on the table. Joy immediately got to work putting as many animals inside the mitten as she could.

While Grace got busy setting up a tiny scene. 

Then Grace decided the animals should hibernate under the basket.

I had intended to make play dough but was missing an ingredient, so we got out the store-bought container. Joy made animals tracks…
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While Grace once again got to work setting up a scene, and then photographing it.


Naturally the girls then got out their wood pieces and started incorporating it into their play. This small basket of forest animals spiraled quickly into an hour-long play session! In fact I had to ask them to clean it up before they grew tired of it so we weren’t late for a playdate! They kept asking for more play dough so we will be making that tomorrow and getting this back out. 

Here is our reading list this week:
The Mitten by Jan Brett
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Own Moon by Jane Yolen
Forest Explorer: A Life-Size Field Guide
Rabbit’s Gift by George Shannon
Annie and the Wild Animals by Jan Brett
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
The Hat by Jan Brett
Fawn at Woodland Way by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick
The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett
A Good Day by Kevin Henkes
Oh What a Surprise by Suzanne Bloom

Monday, Monday.

I’ll be honest, most Mondays around my house feel like this:

At least we’re allowed to leave the house. But we usually don’t.

Yesterday my kids slept until 9:30 (yes, NINE THIRTY!!!!) which means I also slept until 9:30. I am not a morning person, and I’m not sure if it’s in my kids’ DNA or if I’ve trained them to also hate waking up. But we usually wake, plop on the couch in front of an (educational) tv show to eat breakfast and don’t talk to each other until we’re more friendly. It’s really best for everyone’s sanity.

Monday is housework day. I tend to ignore everything all weekend and then realize I can’t walk through my house on Monday morning. I do a few loads of laundry and sort straight from the dryer throughout the week, and then Monday comes. I typically do four loads of laundry in the morning/early afternoon, and work lessons in between. Grace has piano lessons right up the street not long after lunch, so when we get home we fold all the laundry and clean the bedrooms. This job was especially exciting this week since I had ignored their bedrooms since before Christmas. The new things they decided to hoard for themselves instead of putting on a common shelf to share had piled up. (And really, Grace? Do you have to keep the stocking stuffer Frozen Band-Aids in your room instead of in the first aid box? Sigh.)

But her room doesn’t look like this anymore:


Grace has started a cottage school two days a week. She was begging for school, and as a photographer my busiest season is September-December. I was growing weary of staying up until 3am to get work done. It’s working for us so far. It’s not labeled as a “Montessori” school, but most of their approaches are almost identical to what we’ve been doing at home and her teacher is fantastic. She’s in a primary class, K-1 together, with maybe 15 kids in it. They group them by ability rather than age for small group reading, which is also great. It’s Christian-based and surrounded by nature.

With the cottage school, our themes/unit studies are spread out over two weeks now at home. We read The Mitten over the weekend, and are using that as our current theme. Yesterday we read a lot of library books that go with the theme (and a couple other Jan Brett books, which the kids noticed right away have the same format as The Mitten with the foreshadowing on the illustrations on the outside edge of the pages) and I’m pulling together activities now.

We had neglected our phonics book since Grace took off reading so well, but are back at it. Actually, Christmas Day we picked it back up when Grace got in bed and begged to do her “reading book” at 8pm. Homeschool doesn’t take breaks people.

I also made a point to plan out her writing and math journal. Yesterday’s writing journal was copy work of the verse “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” since the animals in The Mitten would surely have eaten each other in real life and they were so neighborly in The Mitten, letting everyone squeeze in there.


The math journal was just a quick subtraction problem: I had 6 mittens. I lost 4. How many mittens do I have left?


While Grace was working on her journals, Joy was busy on a Christmas gift I picked up at TJ Maxx for a few bucks – Melissa & Doug’s Tape Activity Book. (And yes, I did let her have scissors again even though she cut her own hair a couple of weeks ago.)



Oh, and yesterday was our 100th day of school! I’m not sure why I’m writing those down, because these kids want to learn everyday. But Grace seemed to be excited about it.


I am just as excited to get back into our routine, however relaxed it is.


I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but I did do some self-analysis these last few weeks and came to some realizations I’m sure I will tackle on here in the near future.

I have also realized that since most of our homeschool is hands-on, I don’t really have a formal record of what we’re doing around here day-to-day, so I’m committing to write on this blog way more often. (Which is also part of the self-betterment, I also just love to write and need to revive that outlet for my sanity.)

My children have just brought out our Usborne Book of Everyday Words in Spanish and are begging to read it, but tonight I’m planning to start a brief daily summary of what goes on here in a typical day. I didn’t think we had a routine, but this morning I realized that we do. 🙂


Wow it has been a while since my last post! We are still homeschooling, still loving it.

It has been a busy season around here. I’m an on-location photographer (don’t have a studio) so fall is my busiest time of year with family and senior photos. I also do school portraits for our church’s preschool – over 150 kids! – and a local cottage school. We also took a vacation in there somewhere, and Joy turned three. In fact, here’s a photo or two from her birthday breakfast inside Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World:


We are still doing phonics, reading and math everyday, with some history and science thrown in depending on the girls’ interests. Grace is still loving all things bug / garden – we watched a praying mantis devour a stinkbug on our deck just last week. (Gross, but fascinating.)

I am hoping to have more regular updates now that things are starting to slow down. And I am being much more intentional about keeping things slow.