College Prep


Photo from Fit Tip Daily

In last week’s post, I touched briefly on transcripts and preparing for universities.  A number of sites go into detail about transcripts, forms, and requirements by state. What I wish to focus on is how we’re preparing Daughter for her potential foray into Running Start, which begins by taking the Compass test.


In Washington state, Running Start allows students of junior and senior high school level to take college courses at any community college tuition free, so long as they are able to pass the ACT Compass test and maintain a 2.0 for the (up to) two year duration.  If a student completes a full two years, they graduate with both a high school diploma and an Associates degree (Arts or Sciences depending on the student’s choices).

This not only gives the students a boost and offers them great opportunities for transferring to four year universities or heading out to explore other avenues of life (e.g. starting a career, volunteering, taking a one year walkabout, etc.), but also significantly reduces the cost of completing a four year degree.  I took Running Start, and though I didn’t complete either my Associates or Bachelors right away, it both offered me a chance to flourish in an environment more challenging and supportive than my high school, and it brought me to my significantly lower student loans to pay off (around $5,000 thanks to scholarships and only two years at uni).

Also to note, Washington State requires homeschoolers test their students once a year, either with a standardized test with proctor of their choosing, or with a one-on-one evaluation.  The Compass test counts as our annual test.

So, here’s our plan for preparing Daughter for the rigors and expectations of community college life.  Keep in mind, these are lessons we’re giving her to strengthen areas she finds most challenging.  If you’re planning to teach strategies for entering college, whether early in a similar program or post-graduation in high school, please tailor them according to the needs of your children.

This is a long post, so the sections, in case you wish to skip ahead are Discussions, Practice, and The Plan.


How Running Start Works
College Expectations and Consequences
Comparisons between accessible community colleges
Importance of Calculus*

I won’t call these lectures, but sometimes they feel like it, as my daughter’s eyes glaze over.  I broke each of these into different discussions so it didn’t overwhelm her; I wanted her to retain most of the information and that wasn’t going to happen by throwing it all at her at once.  She does participate and ask questions when we stop to breathe, but sometimes it feels like she changes her mind about wanting to go to college every other day.  One day passion, the next day ambivalence or downright resentment.

We chalk it up to the teen brain and move forward, as these discussions, while initially set aside as one-on-one time, are on-going through our process each week.  (I’ll post more on the teen brain at a later date.)

These discussions involve sitting down for twenty or thirty minutes and chatting about each topic.  I actually have the lists in this post on a Drive document and refer to them as we’re talking.  I’ve already mentioned how Running Start works, but if you’ve never been in a community college or university, the expectations are those given adults, not children.  While there’s a great deal of freedom of choice and movement around a college campus compared to formal high schools, it comes with the same responsibilities of having said freedoms.

It’s incumbent upon every student, whether 16 or 65 to keep track of required credits, keep a balanced course load relevant to one’s experience, know what prerequisites are most needed, and how to manage one’s time both in and outside of the classroom.  Since time management and organization are my daughter’s two greatest banes, my partner and I are working to support her growth in these areas.  After all, if she does poorly in Running Start, those grades remain on her transcripts indefinitely and affect her future college GPA.  Having realistic expectations and consequences described ahead of time allow her to go into this program fully informed.

We spoke about what a reasonable course load would be for a first time student.  I told her since her Composition 1 & 2 classes would be prerequisites for almost everything else, she should start with one of them first.  If possible, I added she should try to get in to the beginning Japanese course, since she wishes to travel to, and possibly study or live in, Japan.  I told her it can be hard as a Freshman to get the first choice language, but if she can, she should.  (We checked both community colleges on our bus lines to see if either of them had Japanese, they had both, which means we do still need to have the comparison check, which will include course listings, programs, student reviews, bus schedules, and more, community support, and more).

Since students need to be taking a full course load each quarter, Composition and Japanese (or a different language) would already be taxing in terms of reading, writing, and memorizing.  I suggested she add an elective her first quarter in something that supports her dreams, such as an art class, or similar.  She may still have studio time or sketchbook homework to complete outside of class, but it wouldn’t be in the same vein as the other two and would make her happy and not feel like work.

*This one is entirely on my partner.  While I can talk about how wonderful Calculus is if you’re entering the sciences or you’re an amateur physicist trying to understand the universe, I’ve yet to find myself needing Calculus as a writer, mother, anthropologist, community organizer, housekeeper, personal chef, model, artist, performer, etc.  Algebra and Geometry, on the other hand, now THEY’RE important to have a solid grasp of in daily life no matter your profession or interests.  Thus, we’re leaving this discussion entirely up to him, because he thinks she should take it in case she decides she wants to explore a different path than she’s already expressed wanting to take.  He wants her to have options. I get it.  I do.  But try convincing a 15 year old of that.


Essay writing
Time management
Test taking
Compass Test practice

image-1408610570285Each of these skill sets are necessary to support her learning.  While both of us have tried to teach her note taking and time management skills, she continues to struggle with them.  We’re going back to some basics we went over back in middle school.  How to take effective notes, various methods of taking notes, and trying each of them in turn to see what helps her best.  We even discovered a Japanese method of making best use of notes, which we thought she’d like.  We have a tall stack of composition books now, and she’s using one for math, one for essays, and another for note taking while reading.

Time management is trickier.  I’m still playing around with ideas for how to help her, because most of my personal tricks rely on a certain awareness of time passing, which she really doesn’t have.  I don’t think she ever had it, but neither does her father.  It’s a fact, not a judgment, yet she still needs to find a way to work at some base level of skill or she’ll never make a deadline on an assignment.  I’m playing with calendars — either helping her establish an effective use of the calendar on her phone, or getting her a small day planner she can carry in her satchel.  I’ve even started a Pinterest board just to help me keep track of ideas for supporting her.  Ok, so it’s mostly filled with humorous memes, but there are good, serious ideas in there as well.

Essay writing is an entirely too lengthy topic to discuss in this post, but I’m using an idea from a formal educator’s pin on Pinterest.  It involves using a single composition book at a time to hold all of the reading notes, brainstorming questions, outlines, and essay drafts in one.  With a specific organization laid out on the first couple of pages, she can work on building her ideas, asking questions, drawing up an outline, and writing out her essay, with space for reflection and revision along the way.  Why hadn’t we done this sooner?

I’ve got a number of reasons, but it comes down to a long-term struggle with communication she’s had since her traumatic third grade year at a private school.  Instead of pushing her to write essays in the past, we’ve worked more on getting her to think through her ideas and be able to discuss them, and now, I’m able to say to her, “an essay is simply a discussion with a really good listener at the other end.”  She’s starting to get it, but there’s a lot of hand holding as she builds confidence.  If only essays were like fanfiction, we’d be golden.

The final portion of this list: test taking and Compass test practice are intertwined.  She’s familiar with test taking skills.  My best friend says it every summer when we go to get our kids tested, “Tests don’t tell you how smart you are, they just tell you how good you are at taking tests.”  In general education, this is a fair assessment in my view.  Timed tests are especially stressful for kids with social anxiety, like my daughter.  We’ve given her tools and tricks to use to get through them with ease and panache.  She’s done quite well on multiple choice tests, but the essays might stump her, so we’re working on that (see above).

The Compass test only tests reading comprehension, essay writing (mostly correcting grammatical and spelling errors), and mathematics, although this latter subject is only used for placement.  Maths are not seen as necessary to access Running Start, only the scores for the reading and writing are used for that purpose.  Her mathematics score, though, will determine whether she’s at, above, or below college algebra level.  If she’s below college level math, she’ll be required to take remedial courses at our expense until she’s brought up to snuff.  My partner doesn’t want that to happen, so he’s plodding away through Algebra, Geometry, Trig, Pre-Calculus, and all the other high school maths some of us love and others hate (or like me, have mixed feelings about: Hooray, Algebra!  Bah, Geometry!  Huzzah, Quantum Physics!  Suck it, Proofs!).


Our ultimate goal: get our daughter the best opportunities available to advance her education and help her reach her personal goals (that will hopefully lead to a happy, responsible adult).

To do this, we’re having our discussions, working on our practice, and getting ready for the Compass test.

Both colleges have a recommended Running Start information session, and allow students to take the test once every thirty days for $17 a test.  Not too bad, and it gives her a chance to try, fail, and try again long before deadline, which means a successful test into Running Start by May for 2016’s fall quarter.

She’ll be using practice tests we found online and those provided by the colleges to give her an idea of what she’ll be facing. Any information that’s completely foreign to her, we’ll help her learn. Any skills she’s flagging on, we’ll help her brush up on them.  She’ll take one test in January or February to see where she falls.  If she fails the first one, we’ll practice more in the areas she struggled with, and try again in a couple of months.

Though I know she’s academically ready for much of this test, I’m not convinced of its efficacy in determining her real abilities and obstacles.  Nevertheless, she’ll be trying, and if she succeeds, she’ll enter Running Start next fall.  Should she prove unable to pass the test, we’ll be able to acknowledge a need for more study at home until she’s ready to try again.

No matter what the outcome of the test, I’m still not sure I am ready for my darling girl to be a college student.  It’s difficult enough having her be able to look over my head without standing on her tippy toes!  But this is what parenting’s about.  Making a new life, giving it love, teaching it skills, and hoping it will blossom in the ways it will.  My ex gave me a child; I’m working on giving the world a compassionate, responsible adult.  And boy is it a lot of fun, exasperating work.



Integrated Homeschooling, Part II

This post is a continuation of the entry posted a couple of weeks ago.  I know it’s a long one, but bear with me. If you want to scroll down to your favorite subject, the topics on this page are: Civics/History, Technology/Engineering, Movement, Artisanal Crafts, and Domestic Skills


Oh me, oh my!  History!  I’ve expounded on the virtues of Crash Course history playlists, and I’ve certainly mentioned books like Cultural Literacy and Lies My Teacher Told Me, but there’s so much more to it than that. In our home, we use the book baskets method for exploration of non-fiction topics including specific points in history, but we also start with a broader approach to history itself.  With Daughter (as we will with Son), we began with the known development of life on the planet, from strong hypotheses about the origins of life through complex lifeforms like dinosaurs, terror birds, and primates, with brief overviews using age-appropriate books, videos, maps, and trips to museums to explore evolutionary developments over the last several million years. (My archaeology and bio-anth books from university helped as part of this exploration.)

Once we established an understanding of Earth history, which is as much science as history*, we explored the beginnings of recorded human history.  No, we didn’t start with the Classics from Greco-Roman philosophers and societies.  We started with oral tradition and traditional stories, myths and how they apply to culture, and some human groups who chose to settle and why.  We talked about Gobekli Tepe and the archaeological discussion as to whether some groups of humans settled because of agriculture and then began establishing religion, or if religious beliefs were the driving force to settle and develop agriculture.  It was at this point, I started a binder for articles and short essays about history, offered in chronological order of known cultures.

Truth be told, I haven’t added much to it, because we’ve been all over the place on history lately.  But it has a timeline in it several pages long, onto which each learned bit of information can be added as we go. Also, we start talking about how civilizations were formed, societal structures both in the past and present, ways that they’ve worked and failed.  We’ve always tried to follow a mostly chronological path, so we can examine contemporary civilizations and how they affected one another.  My daughter has studied about ancient Kemet, Sumer, Babylon, Rome, Grecian city-states, Picts, Mongols, early Chin, Aztec, Mayan, Olmec, etc. before moving on to later points in human history where written accounts became more prolific, at least from one side of the story.

History, as we’ve discovered, isn’t just written by the victors.  Just look at the creation myth from Fertile Crescent religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) about “Cain and Abel.” As pointed out in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn; if we read it carefully, one would suspect Cain is an allegory for agricultural civilizations and Abel is its hunter-gatherer allegory as seen by the hunter-gatherers (or at least nomadic herders). More reliable recorded accounts beyond books of myth show here and there the views of the oppressed, the enslaved, and the rebels willing to sneak in their stories as well.

In the process of learning about history, we study civics as well.  How civilizations come to be run by governments, different types of governing, and the rules by which modern nations live and operate.

*History is so intertwined in everything we do, it can be difficult to separate it from science, art, technology, culture, mythology, etc. History is the interwoven stories of the humans that came before us leading to the present moment.  We might not always remember the dates of battles or the reigns of kings, but we are always learning more about humans and how different and similar we are, regardless of our self-imposed boundaries.  More importantly, as our children grow, they’re learning how to recognize patterns from the past and make choices that will affect the outcome of our collective future.


I’d like to say we do a lot in this area, because I keep saying I ought to have been an engineer (I’m the handy one in the house), but mostly this topic involves using the computer well, knowing shortcuts and how to search for information on the internet. We talk about web safety and basic mechanics.  My partner is a software architect and has spent time teaching my daughter a bit of code (actually, my daughter’s father and godfather also have given her lessons in this).

I wish we constructed more things together, and maybe we will as my son grows.  For a short while, my daughter was obsessed robots and Da Vinci machines and Tesla.  And then she wasn’t.  So we have lots of kits and books in the garage that her little brother may want, and I sometimes sneak up to my room late at night and play with.

When it comes to engineering, I think everyone should at least read through The Way Things Work for a basic understanding of objects in our world. As part of his winter solstice gifts this year, I’m working on a busy board and a play kitchen for my son. The busy board will have hinges, locks, chains, springs, and more drilled into a piece of wood for him to explore. (I’ll post pictures when they’re done.) Soon, we’ll be teaching the young woman of our house to change a tire, check her oil, and other basic car maintenance, but she still has some significant work to do on bicycle repair.


A mother and child dancing in their living room. Not us, but a good illustration of how we move in our house.

We don’t call it exercise because we’re not always organized in a routine.  We don’t call it exercise because there are dreary connotations to the word.  We call it movement.  At home, we practice yoga, have regular dance parties in the living room, plank, and do our (just the adults here) physical therapy.  At least three times a week, we go for walks around the neighborhood, and we go to parks, on field trips, head to the local pool for open or family swims.  My daughter takes Aikido and ballroom lessons, and my son has toddler gymnastics (ballet/gym starts when he’s 3).

The important part is we find time to move every day.  Physical activity isn’t just good for our bodies, it’s amazing for our brains.  It improves blood flow, oxygen levels to the brain, and helps with both focus and regulating sleep.  I also find for the restless child, having them run laps around the living room or yard helps them come back to focus for studying later.  My friend’s son with attention issues responds very well to the “run laps” or “practice kata” requests, and is able to sit and study well afterward.

Oh, and though it embarrasses the teenager, I’m a huge fan of dance walking in public places:


From baking bread to carpentry to crocheting, we’ll try just about anything in this house.

Though it’s embarrassing to admit, I’m terrified of power tools courtesy of too many films with mutilated shop class teachers, so I’m a fan of hand saws, sandpaper, hammers, and other manual tools. I do have a cordless electric drill, but frankly there’s too much to do that can’t be done easily without one. We haven’t built much as a family, but what we have (garden boxes, birdhouse, fixed chairs, etc.) makes me proud.

Our arts and crafts armoire is full to the gills with supplies for almost any craft imaginable. I manage to keep a strict policy about yarn: once the bin is crammed full, we have to start knitting or crocheting or doll crafting before we can buy more.

While cooking is also adomestic skill, cooking well is an art and with practice, even the simplest recipe can be turned into a divine meal. We have a bookcase dedicated to cookbooks, and I love to read them — not just the recipes, but the stories and quips between them. Though daughter isn’t a fan of cooking, son is turning into a decent sous chef.


Everyone has chores, and I believe learning how to manage one’s home is just as important to developing into a functioning adult as learning to read, write, and do complex calculations.

In our current economy, it’s often necessary for young people to live with roommates for extended periods of time. Getting along means more than being polite; huge upsets can erupt about not washing dishes well or leaving laundry in the dryer for more than a day.

So, as the kids grow, I give them chores appropriate to their ages and abilities.  I’ve also insisted my daughter practice at the other parts of adult lifeless think to teach: balancing a checkbook or budget sheet, making doctor’s appointments, creating meal plans, finding a balance for one’s time, etc.  Soon, we’ll be looking at job applications, talking about how to write a résumé and handle oneself in an interview, and filling out college applications.

In addition to cooking and cleaning, I believe it vital to include gardening in domestic skills. I may not be a great gardener, but every year I keep trying, and little by little I’m getting better, and in the process, I share my mistakes and successes with my children. Being able to grow our own produce (and hopefully soon, raise ducks for eggs) is a part of a richer, more sustainable way of life. Now, I just need to learn to can the foods I’m trying to grow!

Domestic skills aren’t gendered in our house, nor do I think they should be. As I’ve posted before, I believe everyone should have a broad range of skills, as the following quotation says:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

Integrated Unschooling, Part I

As promised from a post two weeks ago, here’s how we put it all together:

Our homeschool is a blend of Classical ideals, Unschooling freedom, and Montessori wisdom.  The older each child gets, the more freedom of choice they have in both selection of topics for learning, and the responsibility of taking their learning in hand.  While I have my own ideas of what a person ought to know, the end goal of our homeschooling journey for each child is to become a well-rounded, responsible adult who has a sense of their identity, a passion, and the tools necessary to follow that passion.  (I also insist they be kind, giving, and work toward patience with themselves and others.)

Home Spun Juggling Comic

In the early years, things are more structured when learning in that I often chose the topic of study, set out the materials, and guide in the ways one uses those materials.  This is especially true in practical skills (e.g. tying shoes, pouring from a pitcher, etc.) and less so in artistic or scientific explorations (e.g. watercolor painting, nature study).


Cuisinaire rods to the rescue!

By age seven, I believe it best to incorporate more mathematics in the physical form of helping cook, measure, etc. (if the child isn’t already) to teach about weight, volume, fractions and more, and help in other practical matters like measuring a piece of furniture or estimating distance for a game.  Counting and skip counting games are fun with food or toys or just while walking (or skipping). Once this is picked up, I’m a huge fan of introducing a transitional practical object like cuisinaire rods before attempting to dive into the abstract aspects of maths: formulas, written numerals, etc.

Any time you take on a project that involves math, make certain your child is helping you solve those equations. Need to measure a bookshelf to see if it will fit in an area of a room?  Need to bake a cake and measure out ingredients?  Need to figure out your 20% tip on a meal?  Ask your child to give a hand and see if you get the same answer.  All math up through Algebra has practical applications throughout life, no matter what field of study your child pursues in adolescence and adulthood.

Our favorite online resources include Khan Academy, Doodling in Math Class, and _____.

As for the upper level mathematics like Physics, Calculus, and Linear Algebra? They’re good subjects to touch on, even if you don’t have a math genius living in your home.  While my partner takes on the role of teacher for upper level maths and physics (and he’s a lecturer, gods help us), I was blessed with a keen mathematical brain; though I chose not to continue beyond analysis and pre-Calculus, I know I have a knack for it if I want to pursue it later.  Not everyone, though is so blessed, as I’ve heard many times.

Khan Academy is one way to help your child explore higher maths you’re not comfortable teaching, but there are plenty of books out there.  The key is finding what works for your child. Also, talking to college and university professors, while sometimes unnerving to us introverts, can help in establishing a good game plan for selecting curricula appropriate for your child’s level of learning (once they reach high school materials).


English is a looser subject (and as a writer, close to my heart).  Any time we read to a child, they read to themselves, or explore words in any capacity, they’re learning spelling, grammar, diction, etc. Whether my children are reading their assigned fiction or delving through a non-fiction book on a topic that interests them, they’ll be coming across new vocabulary, being exposed to new ideas and perspectives, and offered a variety of writing styles to compare or learn from.

I’ve written extensively about the Reading Selections literary analysis group I ran for a few years, which contained short stories, essays, transcribed speeches, poetry, news, and more, often on a theme.  Each month, I gave my kids about five to ten readings to read through (twice), think about, and come up with a project to represent one or more of the pieces.  One year, I focused heavily on essays, and taught different essay writing styles, and another year, we looked at poetry styles.  I’ve held impromptu spelling bees using grade-specific vocabulary from a variety of online sources, keep a number of grammar books around (including both Elements of Style by Strunk & White, Eats, Shoots, & Leaves, and Spunk and Biteplus a few of the best grammar and formatting books I picked up in colleges.

Grammar Binder for homeschooling. Warning: Humor within

Grammar Binder for homeschooling. Warning: Humor within

Then there’s the BINDER.  It isn’t very full, but I made it so we can keep adding to it. It currently holds five divided sections: Structure, Punctuation, Abbreviations, Spelling, Other Rules, and each section holds print outs of humorous online grammar guides meant to help anyone remember dry rules.  I printed pages from The Oatmeal, Bob the Angry Flower, and Hyperbole and a Half to name a few. Ultimately, if your child is reading voraciously in any subject and in any form, s/he’s going to pick up on grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, vocabulary, and more.  Just make sure you offer a variety of excellent forms of writing, not just the latest pulp, and this includes the best comics and graphic novels.  Exposure to diversity, like many things in life, is key here.

Oh, and another quick note: if you can convince them it’s fun, get your kids to learn Latin and Greek by middle school.  If they resist, then check out books that explain Latin and Greek roots in English so they at least can start seeing the connections between older languages and modern ones, and help figure out what new vocabulary means without a dictionary.  Both languages helped contribute to modern English, though as we all know:


The first thing we do: get outside. We go for hikes or explore our backyard.  We head to parks and nature preserves and conservatories. We go to the Pacific Science Center and MOHAI and other wonderful places of learning.

Example of a Nature Journal

Nature walks with science journals, camera phones, and binoculars. Geocaching for kids who are interested. Hiking through local trails, spending time at local beaches, and taking trips to national forests.  Binoculars are not only good for taking in sights with gorgeous views or birdwatching, they’re also far more useful for astronomy for amateurs (or so says my step-dad who’s an avid amateur astronomer … of course, he has access to a huge observatory in Germany and has to hang from the telescope like Tarzan to move it to where he wants it).

We use plant and tree guides, herbalism books, sustainable farming books, used books on biology and chemistry from local university bookstores and the library, science kits, science experiments at home books, and more.

BBC Connections with James Burke

While we like reading about the sciences in books and watching videos about science and technology (Oh, Connections how we love thee), science, like art, requires getting your hands dirty.  There’s a reason college science courses have labs — even online classes have field trips and meetings occasionally to get students participating in science.  It’s the best way to learn anything, but with subjects like sciences, arts, writing, and technology, it’s actually exploring in a hands-on way that’ll stay with a child forever.  And the sciences, arts, and history go so well together, we often blend them in our studies.  A nature study can turn into an art project, an art project can use scientific principles, and both relate to the history and development of ideas over time.  It’s all integrated (there’s math and writing in there, too, but honestly, they’re in almost everything we do in homeschooling because they’re intrinsic to human culture and life: they’re both languages).


This is nothing compared to the contents of the yarn box.

Since both my daughter and I are rather creative individuals, art seeps into almost everything.  Her Reading Selections projects were often full of drawings, paintings, collages, 3D objects, etc. Discussions about science lead to design principles and the artistry of scientific masters.  Our house is filled to the brim with drawing and colored pencils, crayons, pastels, watercolors, acrylic paints, oil paints, soy paints, construction paper, scissors, yarn, fabric, and so on.  I’ve had to install policies about what supplies we can bring into the house depending on how much we’ve actually used (my own moratorium on yarn simply can’t be denied because there’s no room left in the yarn box for more … until I actually knit something).

30,000 Years of Art, a hefty tome of human art through history

We also have art books, art history books, photography books, how to guides, comics, graphic novels, manga, and more art prints than we have wall space to hang it.

And it’s not just visual arts filling our house.  We have a section of the living room I call the “Creative Suite.”  It’s full of music books, an upright piano, and an overflowing box of percussion instruments.  We had string instruments as well: 3 guitars (two classical, one electric) and a Celtic harp until someone entered our home and stole them away (it wouldn’t be such a huge deal, except one of the guitars was my mother’s since she was 16 and filled with all her professional and family negatives).  We play instruments, hold drum circles, sing, dance, and play piano.

I did mention dance, right?  Because I was a dancer.  For eight years, the last three of them spent as a student choreographer.  It was my life.  30 hours of practice or more a week for three years.  Though I wasn’t able to continue at my former pace or pursue the dream I had of becoming a professional choreographer, my love of dance has continued and been passed on to my children.  My son comes up with funny little dances, and my daughter is taking ballroom lessons at her request.

We also do film critiques, watch films from the classics to documentaries to the B-movies that give us belly laughs.  We watch videos from artists around the world, whether performance artists, musicians, dancers, or something else entirely.  It’s drawn in, absorbed, and used as inspiration to create our own art.  I teach my children Neil Gaiman’s guiding words, “Make good art.”

Isadora Duncan dancing on the waves

[More to come in a few weeks.  Thanks for reading thus far.]

Various Homeschooling Resources

This is just a quick list of some recently discovered resources:


8 100-Year-Old Tips for Writing About Controversial Topics is a short list of quotes by G. K. Chesterton with a lesson summary of what to take from his words, as interpreted by the article’s author, Brad Shorr.  The list is simple, but poignant, and still relevant to today’s writers, especially in an age where blogs and social media networks provide the greatest forums for discussing controversial topics.  The tips are (see article for original quotes):

1. Humor

2. Penetrating Insight

3. Reframing the Issue

4. Uplifting Point of View

5. Finding the Center

6. Putting Opponents in a Positive Light

7. Identifying Yourself with Your Opponents

8. Focusing on the Big Picture’s How to Teach Writing: 7 Steps for Elaboration is a succinct list of methods to help you or your children increase their descriptive narratives in creative writing.


On the Seattle Homeschooling Group Facebook page, a discussion came up about Biology resources online.  Included in the discussion were the two following links:

Biology Corner, which offers worksheets, online labs, and even course materials for various levels of Biology.

ASU School of Life Sciences’ “Ask a Biologist” offers free printable biology coloring pages good for elementary and middle school students (some are more detailed and intricate than others), which can pair well with any of the lower-level course materials from Biology Corner.

I’m still on the hunt for comparable sites to assist my daughter in exploring Chemistry, which is her preferred form of science at present, though she’s already discovered that to go very far in the subject (beyond atoms, molecules, and the table of elements), she needs to improve her understanding of higher levels of math than she’s yet achieved.  My math-obsessed partner has taken over much of that portion of her education to help give her a boost, and we’re moving her into Algebra now.


I stumbled across Storm the Castle a couple of months ago, set it aside, and hadn’t spent much time looking through it precisely because it offered so much!  From tutorials on bee-keeping to sword-making to classic guitar to yes, even writing help, it boasts a wealth of eclectic interests and the means to put one’s creative ideas into practice.

You can find these and other great resources at the Willow & Birch Pinterest page and my Homeschooling tag on Delicious, links to both available always on the right hand sidebar.

Geometry, Design, and Pasta

Fiori-shaped pasta by Barilla. Approximately 0...

Fiori-shaped pasta by Barilla. Approximately 0.5″ in diameter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to a friend, we came across the CBS short video clip Geometry and Pasta about two authors — one an architect, the other, a chef — each wrote books about pasta from a mathematical perspective.  The former, George Legendre, cataloged over 200 types of pasta in his book, Pasta by Design, showing the mathematics of form behind the function, in part as an inspiration for other designers looking for more unique shapes in their architecture, though another part I believe has more to do with his love of mathematics. Meanwhile, chef Jacob Kennedy’s recipes and historical knowledge of noodles paired with hints of geometry in Caz Hildebrand’s drawings, come together in The Geometry of Pasta.  This book looks both informative and drool-worthy, but focuses more on the food’s function because of its design.

For someone like myself who is equally fascinated by architectural design and historical cooking, these books are tempting.  As a homeschooler, I can see them being the inspiration for my child(ren) to explore culinary arts, history, math, and design all at once in an integrated form.  An exploration that could be hands on and delicious!

Dynamic Diagram of the Solar System

The Little One's Due Date

The Little One’s due date using the dynamic diagram.

This dynamic, moving model of our solar system is incredibly elegant and allows for a great many options including phase of the moon on a given day, going forward or backward in time, selection of a specific date, and placement of the major constellations related to astrology for those who wish to see the relationships between astrology, the ancient divination tool, which is a precursor to today’s science, and astronomy.

As I’ve said before, one doesn’t need to put faith into astrology to appreciate the historical contributions it made to modern day astronomy.  It took us several thousand years of celestial observation and questioning to come to the point we’re at now, and I wish I could see what the next several thousand years might show us about our universe as we continue to strive to understand it.

OMNI Magazine — Free Online!

Those who remember OMNI Magazine, a science and sci-fi publication that spanned two decades, you’ll be happy to know you can find the full archives online at to share with your children as they explore not just science, but recent history and can explore the development of the last decades of innovation, as well as some incredible science-fiction shorts!

Edwin the Super Duper Otter

English: A pair of otters.

English: A pair of otters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seattle Aquarium just published an ebook available for free either for your ereader or as a .pdf.  As a fan of otters, this is an especially adorable book dealing with self-doubt, and includes both charming illustrations and real life video clips from the animals at the aquarium.

Check out Edwin the Super Duper Otter and download learning materials for free!  ^_^


Mmm . . . now I’m hungry for a cake made of sea urchin, clams, and crab.  Nom!

More Free Online Courses

Educación, más que 9 letras y un acento

“A people without education is a people easy to fool.” (Photo credit: jpazkual)

I’ve been a big fan of Khan Academy‘s free online lessons in mathematics, sciences, and a growing body of liberal arts (including Vi Hart’s “Doodling in Math Class” courses).   My best friend recently sent me links to two more sites:

Udacity is a site providing free courses in math, sciences, and programming, while Code Academy focuses entirely on computer programming languages, getting online students working in the chosen code from the outset.

And while I continue to appreciate (and even use these sites), I’ve been longing to find online liberal arts courses as well, especially history, art, architecture, and music theory/practice.  My boyfriend found a site with a long list of available online courses, some as videos, some as audio files, and others with a multimedia mix.  Open Culture provides a list of 500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.  It includes archaeology, architecture, philosophy, ethics, etc.  A few of the classes I’d seen before (e.g. MIT’s Open Course Ware classes have a greater diversity than one might expect, and includes a Building with the Landscape class my daughter and I want to learn from together to help us build a miniature hobbit house for our garden), but most of them are new to me, and come from schools such as Oxford, Yale, Harvard, MIT, and UC Berkeley.  There’s even a series of free music courses provided by Berklee College of Music.

Considering my daughter’s now becoming interested in, and is showing maturity enough to handle, specialized courses in topics for which I have limited knowledge, this is a great opportunity for us both to learn shared interests together, and to explore individual interests separately.  For example, we might take a language, architecture, or music theory course together, but you can bet she’ll be more interested in biochemistry and cryptography, while I’ll want to dive into mechanical engineering and linguistics.

With these courses, we can explore complex lessons at our own pace, choosing to take one class a season, or three or four at once.  It also lets us discover whether we’re willing to commit to lengthy study in a given field without wasting thousands of dollars on tuition to figure it out.  These are resources that, when combined with books and discussion groups, can give a rewarding educational experience honoring the notion that every individual learns at a different pace, and can be interested and capable of learning any subject at any age.

A Free Resource: Crash Course

I just discovered another great educational resource (free!) on YouTube.  While I don’t want all of our lessons to be based in digital or video, I know supplemental multimedia really help my daughter better understand a concept.  It’s just the way her visual-kinesthetic mind works: if it has pictures or involves touch, we’re good.


Crash Course is a clever, informative, silly, and sometimes a bit naughty* growing collection of educational videos across two series: one is led by Hank Green and presents concepts in Biology, and the other is World History, as explained by John Green.  In case their last names and shared good looks weren’t clue enough, they’re a pair of witty, knowledgeable brothers.  They’re also known for their other vlog works: Brotherhood 2.0 and the VlogBrothers (including Truth or Fail).

I’ve only watched the first video of each series, but I’m already a huge fan.  I can’t wait to start showing these to my daughter tomorrow, and determine how we best want to incorporate them into her current education!  Even better, the first World History video ties in with her on-going ancient civilization work, AND it talks about the start of agriculture, which ties in with our gardening and my farming research.

Let me know if these videos are already part of your experience, and how you use them, or if you’re new to them like we are, what your thoughts are.


*By “naughty”, I’m referring to the slight hint at sexual activity in the first Biology video, titled, “That’s Why Carbon is a Tramp“.  While this is no problem for my family, I know there are some families who aren’t yet ready to share the details about sex and/or human reproduction with their children.