Burning Gnome

Art, Technology, and Culture firmly planted in the Garden of Education

   Oct 22

A New Education Adventure

A while back, I wrote a post basically stating that decision to send your kids to school or not was so personal and based on specific family needs that it was unproductive to try to elevate one as a better choice. Last month, I got to put my money where my mouth was.

It started off the way it does for many homeschooled kids I know. My daughter, when faced with many of her friends starting Kindergarten, began to show interest in the idea herself. Her brothers went through similar phases, so I promptly did what I did before. I focused on our time together, increased field trips, and read her Learning All the Time every day. Except it didn’t work. She became increasingly insistent that we find her a school, to the point where she was starting to refuse all my attempts to fulfill the needs she was articulating, either through words or through actions. We have always maintained that each of our children is unique, and we would do whatever made sense for each of them. Until now, we had homeschooled them, each in a slightly different way to address their own distinct learning styles and interests. Now, one of them wanted something we had never done before.

As an educator, I have always kept my eye on what is happening in the schools around me. Partly I did this to be able to give educated advice when I am asked by other parents, partly because I find it interesting, and partly just in case we ever needed the information. The upside is this knowledge very quickly narrowed down the schools we would be interested in. We recently moved into what is considered a very good school district, which complicated the decision. As much as I wanted to support my local public school, I also knew it would not be a very good fit for our family’s values around education. A deep, honest, and thoughtful conversation with a friend of mine who teaches at the nearest public school confirmed the issues driving my hesitation. As parents and educators with a very specific view on how children learn best, we would struggle to align what we wanted for our daughter with how the system was required to perform. So, after careful consideration, we started looking at private schools.

In the private school community, there is great variation in approach and application. The word “progressive” is often flown like a banner on brochures and websites but I have found that there are only a handful of schools really doing the work that takes them outside conventional education. Of this handful, we looked at proximity, community, and pedagogy. This left us with three schools to tour. I always advise other parents not to overthink this process, and it was this advice I tried to follow. We were coming in after the school year had already started, and were well aware of the obstacles we might face. Perhaps our first choice would not have any room, the children were already making fast friends, how would we pay for tuition, and what would this do to our already established routine? There is no secret formula I used to get through this other than trust. Trust. We toured the schools, we knew immediately which school would fit our daughter the best, we applied, we (very luckily and happily) were accepted. This was the first year the K class at her school had an open spot after the school year had started, and we joyfully accepted that it must be destiny.

Our daughter did a trial day at the school and when I picked her up, she was full of such joy. “Let’s go home and decide if you would like to come here every day!” I said to her. “No!” she said, “I already decided I am coming back tomorrow and forever!” And she did.

One of the most powerful moments in this process was as we were sitting in the Head of School’s office, telling her about our daughter, our family, and what we believe about learning. We share a deep believe in learner centered, constructivist education and while we agree on approach, she asked us if, since we have been guiding our children’s education up until now, would any school be good enough? I loved that she asked us that. It shows a deep understanding of how committed educators are, and how it can impact the decisions we make. We told her that this was our daughter’s journey. Our job was to find the best place for her, the best community for us, and then let them do their work. We meant every word, and over the last month that our daughter has been in school I have seen her blossom in new ways. Not only have I had more time to work more closely with the boys and our daughter has gotten everything she ever wanted out of this new adventure, but we have gotten an amazing community that adds one more rich dimension to our lives.

If she ever decides to homeschool again, I will be ready and supportive, but I am so glad we trusted and believed that our daughter knew her path.




   Aug 08

The Homeschool Room, or as we call it, The Study

I have never really been into the idea of a homeschool room, or at least one that looks like a classroom. We tend to work and learn and explore all over the house and outside it too! The reality, though, is that I L-O-V-E the idea of having a dedicated space for books, supplies, games, and more. In our old house, everything was stored in the basement and we worked at the kitchen table. It functioned, but not well.

We recently moved into a new house that has a study/library off the living room, and I saw my chance. My kids love being in this room. It has amazing energy, is warm and cozy, and has a place for everything. I wanted to have a space that was useful, made their books and supplies easily accessible, and contained (to any amount possible) the celebrated messes that come with imagination and experimentation. Here is what we came up with:

The upper built in bookshelves hold all of our more adult books while the lower shelves hold kids books, maps, building materials and more. The kids art is displayed abundantly on the walls and on the shelves. The kids table is from Pottery Barn, as are the chairs, all of which I got for a great deal on eBay. The piano is a family heirloom. The rug is IKEA and is beautiful but inexpensive so if it gets glue stick on it, it not only washes well but doesn’t freak me out.

Another view of the room. You can see the table has a built in paper roll that the kids can pull over and draw directly on. It also has drawers that store stamps, stickers, staplers, and more. By the window is a little case that looks like a greenhouse. This is where the kids like to keep all their treasures: beautiful rocks, birds nests, sculptures, whatever they find precious is displayed with honor here. We have not unpacked our (Waldorf inspired) nature table materials yet, but that will also go here.

The closet is where I store pretty much everything else. Current lessons, related materials and books, puzzles, games, extra art supplies, kits, microscopes, the list goes on. It is a huge closet and I love that it all has a place and I can shut the door and not see it when I don’t want to. Not pictured is the dry erase board I pull out when needed and the small board with the days of the week in which I write our anticipated schedule for the week. I make sure to put a little star by things (like playdates) that could change, since two of my kids tend to be very disappointed when things they were counting on don’t happen.

Now, here is the sad part. I was just getting the room to where we were happy with it when we found out that our foundation contractors will need to rip open one of the walls in this room. That means I have to pack it all back up until the work is finished. The kids are so sad because they love it in here. Until then, everything we need for the Fall needs to go on this free bookshelf my mother gave me that I stuck in my living room:

As you can see, I have started organizing now, so I don’t have to do it all right before we begin lessons again in September, which is the same time construction starts. I will also have no kitchen, so really this is the least of our challenges! When the room is all put back together, I will have to do another post on what we learned and what we changed!

Hope this gives you some ideas about how a homeschooling room can really be a warm place that supports and encourages exploration and creativity!

Update: A friend asked me about my personal organization and I am happy to share. I saw this Desk Apprentice on another homeschoolers blog and thought it might be exactly what I needed. It was bigger than I expected, but it definitely does the job I needed it to do. It holds extra supplies, all the copies and materials for the entire session (we work in 6 week blocks), and my planner. There are simpler, cheaper versions than what I bought, but this year I tried a planner from LOLU Designs. Admittedly, while it had everything I needed and some things I don’t, I partly chose it because it was beautiful. If you are going to be using something every day, I think having it be aesthetically pleasing is just as important as having it function well. Plus, I got to support an independent artist. This was a step up for me from the cheap Target month view planner I had last year, but given our family’s new plan to be more structured, it has been invaluable. Finally, I got a big desk calendar from Target where I write work related appointments and deadlines. I also have a Google calendar online for both family and work, but I am the sort of person who has to also physically write it down. I am hoping this helps us all achieve our goals for this year!

This post is linked to the iHomeschool Network Blog Hop-  join the fun!

   Aug 08

The rites of passage we didn’t have, and the ones we did.

During this season there is always an online flurry of activity from parents whose children are graduating from one grade to another, starting a new stage of their education and the pride and joy of the parents is palpable. I understand feeling that sense of love and excitement over my children’s’ achievements and I wholeheartedly celebrate with my friends and family. Since we have always homeschooled, however, there are experiences my children have not had, that we as parents have not witnessed.

My oldest is technically entering middle school this year. There was no 5th grade graduation to attend, no tours of middle schools to debate and select, no sense that we were really moving into anything different than what we have always done. When I remarked on this to him, he mentioned that if it was important to me I could get him a graduation gift and make a fuss. Considerate of him. Still, this is momentous. He is moving into adolescence and into a stage of life where he is becoming more peer centric, autonomous, and private. It is a rite of passage.

My youngest would now be old enough to enter the school system as a Kindergartner this year. The problem is, she decided a year ago that she was a Kindergartner (fueled by the entrance of her best friend into K, no doubt) and has spent the last year rigorously learning to read and do math. It is useless for me to determine a grade for her. She is almost reading full books and is very close to starting math concepts that would be considered second grade. She also has an incredible amount of energy and personality, so it has come very easy to her to direct her own education. Still, she is entering the grade school years and the world is opening up to her in extraordinary new ways. It is a rite of passage.

I grew up attending a private Catholic school that ritualized every achievement. We had a ceremony and a mass for everything, so it is strange for me sometimes to miss those public moments of acknowledgement with my own kids. But we have found our own ways to celebrate rites of passage, just not the typical ones. We start every year with cake for breakfast and a personal gift from me to my children that symbolizes something special that I love about them and that is the way I present them. For example, this year Parker will get wooden and metal puzzles because I love how logical and strategic he is. Simon will receive a comic book drawing set to reflect his burgeoning art and storytelling skills. Lucy will get a magnetic alphabet tracer in cursive because she is “dying” to learn cursive. She says it is fancy and reminds her of Paris. I adore how she makes anything her own. We also end every year with a special day of their choosing, from sun-up to sun-down the answer is yes. Even within the year, holidays and not, we find ways to create rhythm and tradition. For me, it has been more about creating memories and celebrating our family’s adventure than focusing on an end goal. Because, really, there is no end. Learning, exploring, and achieving should be life long.

What has been most meaningful for us has been watching them grow into themselves as we move along this homeschooling journey. Not just the moment they learn to read, but the little moments of progress that gave them confidence and motivation. The 2 hours we spent talking about whether or not a country should keep nuclear weapons. The brainstorm we had around what acts of kindness we could achieve every week to give back to a world that needs every show of compassion we can give. Their first successful batch of cookies made entirely on their own. The love and interest they show in their great-grandmother and her life, especially during WWII in Italy. The interesting mix of awkwardness and excitement when we meet new friends and watching those relationship grow. Moving up a level in dance or Judo. Finally playing a song on the piano from start to finish that they worked for weeks on. The family meetings in which we discuss and determine what they want to focus on this week/month/year that are so clearly a reflection of children who are empowered to participate in their own learning and understand that they have the ability to create whoever they want to be.

Those larger public events make sense to me. They are a meaningful rite in a system in which the parents want and need to acknowledge the progress of their kids with the teachers who served as the guide. I think some homeschooling communities may do something like this as well, but I have not seen a lot of that here. We all decided we don’t really need a ceremony for those moments anyway, because each moment is it’s own little celebration. Each year has been such an incredible experience for us, both in our successes and in the things we decide to do differently moving forward. So there may be rites of passage we don’t have, but oh! the ones we did make it all worthwhile.

   Jun 19

Homeschool Planning Overhaul: Homeschooling while WAH

Helping one of my own kids while teaching at an Open Lab

When I started Curiosity Hacked, I had no idea that it would become what it is now. I also did not know at the time that it would become a full time job. In the beginning, it was fueled by my desire to see kids fulfill their visions in making and hacking in our community. I am grateful our mission has grown along with our programs, but it has changed our life at home drastically. This past year, as my work load increased, I had to find a way to cope. In many ways, it is because of the homeschool community that I could do what I have done. Other  families have helped out by carpooling or watching my children while I am in meetings or at conferences, many members of our community attend the programs I run, and the inspiration the homeschool community continuously gives me by thriving on the notion that there is a way beyond conformity and standardization is limitless.

This past year I have (ironically) hacked together a plan as we went along. I thought if I were more flexible and fluid, that everything would fall into place. Not so much. While our lessons got done, my children were annoyed by early phone calls and inconsistent schedules. They didn’t want to wait for me to “take care of two things” before we began. In terms of methodology, I suppose I am eclectic. I like to say I am a Holt unschooler, meaning I subscribe to Holt’s original intention of unschooling being education outside the school system that is learner centered, giving children as much freedom as the parent can comfortably bear. I think this point is important, because homeschooling (despite the assumptions) is not just about the child. It is also about the parent. When a parent takes the responsibility of their children’s education into their own hands, they become a part of the journey and therefore their needs become just as important. This means having time for their own passions, this means defining what homeschooling should look like for their family, and this means changing whatever needs to be changed to meet those needs. It was obvious that my children felt the struggle I was having between my work and our daily rhythm. We needed a change.

A few weeks ago, we wrapped up the last of the projects we were working on, took a little time off, and then had a family meeting. All three of my kids identified that they like having a consistent schedule in which to do their lessons, and that their lessons are valuable to them. The oldest two admitted that having me guide their studies was helpful, and allowed them to experience new knowledge that they probably would have never sought on their own. This meant a lot to me, not just because I love exploring new things with them but also because just a few years back, we were struggling with the difference in methodology between us and friends of ours who are radical unschoolers. Now, I have no problems with whatever another family chooses, and I explained simply that different families have different ways of homeschooling but they were enamored by the idea. So we tried it, and it did not fit our family. Cool, now we know. Not the direction we need to go in. But how to solve our problem? Well, we went through and chose the lessons and classes we would do next year: continue History Odyssey (Early Modern), Singapore Math (their words: it’s not the most exciting but it makes sense and gets the job done), restart Biology 2 (we started this REAL science last year but it seemed a bit much. They want to take another crack at it.), individual projects every 6 weeks (chosen by them), and involvement in our programs at Curiosity Hacked. The oldest wants to take Japanese, wrestling, and parkour, the middle wants to take parkour, tennis, piano, and creative writing classes, and the youngest want to continue with her Moving Beyond the Page curriculum and take parkour and dance. Everything we have chosen, with the exception of math, can be modified to their interests. For example, in History Odyssey, I throw out Story of the World and A Children’s History of the World to make it secular. Then I cross reference movies and documentaries, as well as the supplied book list, to make it fun and interesting since my boys are very visual. I even have them do some of the research to ensure that they are the navigators of their educational ship.

This solved the what, but we still needed to figure out the how. Once again, they had clear preferences but were also willing to listen to my needs. Above all, I needed them to know that they are, and will always be, my priority. That I am willing to put in clear boundaries so they do not resent my work, but that they also needed to respect the work I do. So, we agreed that I would block off time for lessons, classes, park days, and work. We also decided that we should start by a specific time, so if I wanted to check my email before lessons, I need to get up earlier and do that before the scheduled time. We also decided to move to a year round schedule of six weeks on, one week off, six weeks on, one month off. I originally saw this schedule mentioned on a forum, where it was linked to the original blog post. It seemed genius to me, allowing me to think in 6 week blocks with time to catch up or re-adjust in between. The way it works out is Sept-Nov with one week off in October, December off (useless month to try to do anything anyway), January-March with one week off in February, April off (great month to travel!), May-July with a week off in June, August off. This time next year, I will let you know how it went, but the kids ratified this plan unanimously so I have high hopes. We also put some new markers in place. We hung a weekly calendar in the study and every week we write lessons in black, classes in red, and things that are optional (like park day) in green. That way, the kids have a general idea of what our week looks like and they can participate in deciding how to spend their time. We also agreed that when I am working, I would shut the door to the office if I am on a conference call so they know not to interrupt me unless there is an emergency. We defined what emergency means. When the door is open, I am available for questions. In the end, it looks like becoming more structured with our time is what everyone feels may be the answer. What we do within those time frames is still quite flexible. This was hard for me to wrap my head around, because I like to go with the flow, but now I just feel relief and hope.

The final how in my plan is community- asking for help when I need it. Finding ways to carpool, finding volunteers to help at work, forming a support network of homeschooling mothers who run their own businesses, having a friend who is good at organizing help me create a sustainable system,  finding time for myself, creating balance that was missing this year. I am dedicated to my organization for the long term, and I am dedicated to homeschooling my kids for as long as they choose to. I spend every day mentoring kids and mentoring mentors on how to fulfill their own visions, so I take the idea of modeling what it means to reflect and adjust very seriously. I am hopeful this new take on our rhythm is just right, but if not, I can always change it. That is the beauty of homeschooling and running your own business in my eyes- you are creating the change you want to see in the world while defining what that means at the same time. What an amazing adventure to be on!

May your own homeschooling year be extraordinary!

This post has been linked to the 2014 Not Back to School Hop.  Join the fun!

8/16/14 Update:

Best laid plans and all. When you have your kids research their own education, they take it seriously! So our choices have changed from the above description. Here’s the final decision from the pack:

Parker (technically 6th grade):

History Odyssey (Early Modern), The Art of Problem Solving: Pre-Algebra (switched from Singapore for a more holistic approach to Maths with online support), Khan Academy for extra math support, Rosetta Stone Japanese, Economics, Judo, Drawing (classical college level course requested by him and taught by me), and CH Guild.

Simon (technically 4th grade):

History Odyssey (Early Modern), Beast Academy(switched from Singapore for a more holistic approach to Maths with online support), Khan Academy for extra math support, Economics, Creative Writing Class: Dragon Writers, Online Minecraft Mod Making Class, Judo, Piano and CH Guild.

Lucy (technically 1st-ish grade):

Moving Beyond the Page, PreHistory course (designed by me), Singapore Math (hoping Beast Academy comes out with their grade 2 this year so we can switch!) , art (with me), Ballet/Tap, Piano, CH Sparks.

The major change was our math program. It did not sit well with me that they found it something so boring that they just had to slog through it. Math is extraordinary, and I know too well what it is like to loathe it. I had heard great things about Beast Academy, and it seems to be a great fit for a kid like Simon who hates repetition, is attracted to the comic book/storytelling approach, and who thinks critically and expansively about problems. Simon also created an account on Khan Academy, a website he previously did not like, and miracles of miracles he enjoyed himself! Once Parker saw the new books, he was interested in seeing his other options as well. Beast Academy is a project of The Art of Problem Solving which, again, approaches math is an expansive, more critically thinking and problem assessment sort of way. They have a lot of online help and resources as well as classes (additional cost) which I will probably take advantage of once we get to the point where my math skills are no longer helpful. We are all excited about this new math adventure!

Also, Parker asked me for a classical, college level kind of drawing course to build his skills. I am so excited about doing this with him. Not only is is time for just me and him together, but drawing (in my opinion) is really the foundation of all art and I enjoy teaching it. I will post my syllabus soon, for anyone else who might like to give it a go!

Finally, our extra classes shifted a bit. The homeschool parkour class we have taken for over 2 years was cancelled so they boys decided to try Judo and they love it! We also found a new, gentler teacher for piano and while Parker does not want to continue, Lucy has picked it up enthusiastically and Simon has retained the incredible skill he has. Both kids like our new teacher, who is much more laid back and a better fit.

If anything, all of this serves as a reminder to be fluid and listen to your own instincts, as well as your children’s, on what will fulfill your goals and/or homeschool mission statement. We are always learning!




   Jun 17

The Learning Circle: Spring

Spring! The earth coming back to life, the days growing warmer, the light returning! What a beautiful time of year as we turn outwards again. During the spring, all our activities revolve around strength and vitality, abundance and color.

Bird mobiles


In March, I focus on the theme of caring. This is an excellent time to start a spring garden (assuming the last frost has past) and care for plants. I like to start from seed, so the children see the whole cycle of growth. We can also start to care for birds as they begin to nest, by building houses and shelters to protect their young. During March, there is often many festivals to celebrate as well. The Chinese Lantern Festival, Holi (the Hindu festival of spring), Ramadan, Purim, Ostara, and sometimes Easter all usually fall within the month of March, giving an excellent opportunity to explore new cultures and traditions. In fact, so infectious is spring fever, that you can find a celebration of it in pretty much any culture around the world!

Dyeing eggs with plant based colors


In April, there is an intense growth as everything points to the return of light and warmth. Much of the work we did in March is now evident- the plants are sprouting, the nests are being built. There is progress.  This gives us time to reflect on the magic of this season. Create fairy and gnome houses and gardens. Scour the forest for treasures. Dye silks and treasure bags with plant based colors. Read fairy tales and books that connect childhood to nature, like Tasha Tudor and Sibylle Von Olfers. If we want children to care for the earth, we must create an experience of love and magic with it first. Holidays such as Easter and Passover reflect the inherent mystery and blessings we feel during this time.


Fairy and Gnome Gardens





In May, the sun has returned and the earth is growing warm as we move towards the summer solstice. The rain and fertility of the spring has now produced an abundance that we can enjoy. This is the perfect time to process milk by making butter, cheese, and yogurt. It is also a great time to explore beekeeping. In Japan and Holland, the cherry blossom and tulip festivals celebrate the color and beauty of this month, and Beltane with it’s bonfires and maypoles is a joyful way to welcome the approaching summer.


Cherry Blossom painting

Using straws, ink, and tissue to create Japanese Cherry Blossom paintings


   Dec 21

The Learning Circle: Winter

Today is the Winter Solstice, and the beginning of the winter season! During the darkest time of the year, we find many celebrations of light, symbols of warmth, and gratitude for life. In many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, our activities are mostly indoor as the weather becomes cold and unpredictable. Still, there are many ways to incorporate nature into your daily rhythm.


In December, we take a break and focus on the holidays. Chanukah, Christmas, Yule/Solstice, Kwanzaa, Zagmuk (from Ancient Mesopotamia), Saturnalia (Ancient Rome), Soyal (Hopi), Las Posadas (Mexico) are all full of traditions, significance, and cultural meaning. We go to tree lightings and chorus concerts, we bake and make gifts. We make ornaments and wreaths. We play the Blowing Ships game. You can fill the entire month just exploring the traditions of all these festivals, which makes for a very rich month!

December Book recommendations: Lights of Winter by Heather Conrad, The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, The Nutcracker (Susan Jeffers does a beautiful version), The Night Before Christmas (we love the one illustrated by Christian Birmingham), The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson, Where Did They Hide My Presents: Silly Dilly Christmas Songs by Alan Katz, The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales From Around the World for Winter Solstice by Carolyn Edwards, Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis, The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie Depaola, When Winter Comes by Nancy Van Laan, Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, Chanukah Lights (pop up) by Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda.


Making fresh wreaths to decorate the house


In January, we focus on warming activities. One of the best ways to approach this idea is working with wool. Begin with raw wool, if you can, and show the kids how to clean and card the wool. You can get natural dyes (we buy them here) and make a rainbow of options. You don’t need a fancy spinning wheel to spin the wool into thread, so try this simple approach and make some yarn. Finally, work with the wool in a variety of ways: knitting, felting, and weaving. During this month, we also continue baking and making our own body products (like healing salve, chapstick, and elderberry cordial) that will last us the whole year. During this month, we also celebrate the Chinese New Year by making lanterns and attending festivals. Sometimes the Chinese New Year is in February, this year it begins January 31st and is the Year of the Horse. Every year my kids enjoy exploring the Chinese Zodiac!

January book recommendations: Weaving the Rainbow by George Ella Lyon,  The Goat in the Rug by Charles Blood, Knitting Nell by Julie Roth, Extra Yarn by Max Barnett, Green Gables Knits: Patterns for Kindred Spirits (includes patterns!) by Joanna Johnson, The Hat by Jan Brett, Organic Body Care Products by Stephanie Tourles (also check out the recipes online at Wellness Mama), The Dancing Dragon by Marcia Vaughan, Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin

Dim Sum to celebrate the Chinese New Year!


In February, we celebrate what is left of winter and begin to prepare for Spring. Working with willow (which is now bare and easily harvested) and wood to make toys and structures and working with clay to make bowls, insect nests, bird baths, and sculpture for the garden are all appropriate ways to get ready for warmer weather and are also what I call “heavy work.” These activities incorporate the whole body, which is wonderful for young ones who have been limited by the weather all season. We also spend a few days exploring Valentine’s Day and making traditional Victorian valentines with fancy paper and doilies. The history of Valentine’s Day is interesting, but my own children really get into studying the evolution of the Valentine’s themselves, from when they became popular in the 19th century until now.

February book recommendations: Great Book of Wooden Toys by Norman Marshall, Natural Wooden Toys by Erin Fruechtel-Dearing, The Kids N Clay Book by Kevin Nierman, Valentine’s Day is Here! (Fisher Price Little People), The Ballad of Valentine by Alison Jackson, Saint Valentine by Robert Sabuda, Victorian Keepsake: Select Impressions of Affection Regard from the Romantic Ninteenth Century by Allison Leopold (an adult book- but full of gorgeous examples to draw inspiration from!)

Using scraps from the CA winter woodland floor to make a fairy house.


Happy Winter!

   Sep 07

The Art of Death

This is a story I have been meaning to share:

A year ago we lost a friend. He was the father in a family within our community and his death was sudden and unexpected. Understandably, this opened a conversation in our house that was both difficult and necessary, and in the end yielded beauty and gratitude.

Our family has been somewhat blessed in this area. My children have not experienced the loss of anyone they are close to. The only losses my husband and I have endured recently are those of two of our grandmothers, and while their deaths were sad, both of them were nearly 100 and they had lived long full lives. Their deaths were expected. But to lose a friend, someone we had just gone camping with, was heartbreaking. Of course my older boys had many questions: why did he die? what happens after you die? what will happen to his kids? I tried to answer their questions as clearly and honestly as I could. But the truth is there is a part of this that I can never explain. Why him? Why did his two sweet boys and his loving wife have to lose him?  How are they bearing it? And how on earth could we bear it if something like this happened to us? I don’t know the answer to any of it.

What I did know is that I would support them any way I could. For the memorial, our friend’s son decided he would like to make tshirts with a quote on them from his father and because I am a printmaker, they called me and asked me to help. I can’t begin to describe how honored I was. There was no more meaningful way for me to contribute, for me to say goodbye, than like this.  The shirts would say “Be Awesome,” something our friend said often. It was his advice to the world: you choose how to move through life, so just be awesome. His son chose the design and I went to work.

The morning I began printing the t-shirts was cold and rainy. I set up my screen and ink on the table and organized the shirts. After a test run, I began working on the shirts I knew belonged to his family. I knew that this process would be emotional, but what I didn’t expect was that in all my concern about holding the emotional space for my kids, I hadn’t done my own work around it. And so I cried. I cried as I printed a shirt for his wife, and for his sister, and for his two sons who unfairly lost their dad too early. Then I began on the rest of the shirts for the memorial and as I pulled gain and again over the words “Be Awesome” I began to chant them in my head. Our friends legacy was clear: no matter what we just have to move on and be the best, do the best that we can.

And on the very last shirt, I pulled over those words one last time and in that moment the sun broke through the clouds and with brilliant light warmed the entire table. The words glowed brightly and I was at peace with all those questions I didn’t know the answer to. I didn’t need to know. Experiences like this are what matter. Choosing to “be awesome” while we are here is what matters. I am not a spiritual person but I felt that moment in every fiber of my being.

Even now, as I think of it a year later, I am filled with gratitude. I have no doubt that we have more losses to endure ahead, my hope is to remember the powerful grace of our friend and his family. Death is like art. It is an unfolding of experience and attempt until the soul is laid bare and vulnerable, and when you are finally laying there stripped, you understand. You are at peace. And you put yourself back together. Not in the same way, but in a way that is more worldly. More about love. More than yourself.

   Sep 03

The Learning Circle: Fall

The Autumn is a lovely time of year. The days get crisper, the light lowers, the colors change into hues of yellow, orange and reds. It is the celebration of the harvest and the preparation for winter, moving into the darkest part of the year. It is an excellent and appropriate time to focus on building and preserving with children. The activities, focus, and book recommendations below are meant to be a starting point- inspiration, if you will- for you to celebrate this gorgeous season and it’s rhythms in your own home.

Kneading and Baking the Bread




In September, the focus should be the Harvest. There are several related festivals this time of year (Lammas/Lughnasadh, Sukkot) that have their own unique traditions to draw upon. Take field trips to an orchard or farm, go to the forest and build shelters. Bake bread and make dehydrated apple rings. You can also start shrunken apple heads that you can use in October for decoration.



Book recommendations: The Little Red Hen, The Little Pot That Was Always Full (Norse), The Mysterious Guests: A Sukkot Story (Eric Kimmel), By the Light of the Harvest Moon (Harriet Ziefert), Apples Apples Apples (Nancy E Wallace), Ruby’s Falling Leaves (Max & Ruby)



In October, the theme shifts from the larger world, to the inner world. During this time, as the light starts to fade, explore the connection between the physical and spirit world. This does not have to be religious in any sense. We all contemplate what it means to be human, and our connection with those who have gone before us. Our stories are woven together, therefore, physically creating this symbolism through basket making, loom weaving, and even making spider web frames for the garden add to the richness of this theme. Trickster Tales and Spider Lore not only embody the human condition, but are often amusing and captivating, and easily tie in with weaving or building projects. During October, many people celebrate Halloween, Samhain, and Dia De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead/All Souls Day) which can include carving pumpkins, making treat bags, building altars for loved ones who have passed and decorating sugar skulls. Field Trips can include museums that have a collection of weaving and baskets (African, Asian, Latin American, and Textile Museums are good bets) as well as cultural centers (especially Mexican heritage organizations for Dia De Los Muertos). Also fun are pumpkin patches and corn mazes!

Dia De Los Muertos Mini Altars and Sugar Skulls

Book Recommendations: Ananse Stories (West Africa), There was An Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything (Linda Williams), It’s Pumpkin Time (Zoe Hall), Day of the Dead (Tony Johnston), Songs from the Loom: A Native American Girl Learns to Weave (Monty Roessel), Weaving the Rainbow (George Lyon), an infinite variety of books on Halloween!


Clay Diva Lamp for Diwali

In November, our intentions must shift to preparing for winter and the darkest time of the year. It is a time of gratitude and caring. Early in November is the Indian celebration of Diwali/Divali (Hindu Festival of Lights). It is a gorgeous, colorful way to honor the shortening of our days. Two wonderful Diwali traditions include making small clay Diva lamps and Rangoli Patterns (either on the path in front of your house, or glued to cardstock so they may be moved). This is also a good time to work with beeswax, making candles and sculptures, and caring for the birds by making feeders that will help sustain them throughout the winter. Finally, November circles should not be without a community potluck. We hold one ever year called “The Stone Soup Feast” (based on the book by the same same)to show our gratitude for one another. The kids decorate the table and bring a favorite side dish. In addition, every family brings a vegetable to put into our soup pot. We never know from year to year how exactly it will end up, but every year it is delicious. Traditionally, one sizable (so kids don’t choke) stone is put into the pot, delivering good luck to the one who ends up with it in their bowl. Our circle has modified this idea and (when the kids are not looking) put a stone in each bowl before adding the soup. In this way, they all receive the blessing. Finally, we always  make a Thankful Tree: cut a large tree trunk out of paper for the base and use silhouttes of each child’s hand as leaves. On the leaves, the kids can write the things they are grateful for and attach them to the tree.

Book recommendations: Stone Soup (Jon Muth), In November (Cynthia Rylant), Giving Thanks (Jonathan London), Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message (Chief Jake Swamp), The Story of Divaali (Verma Jatinder). Please not that there are many books on Thanksgiving itself, some secular and some religious. There will be plenty to choose from that fit your family’s values.


Happy Autumn!

   Aug 23

To School or Not to School…

That is the question.

At least, that is the most frequently asked question I get around this time every year. The question usually is phrased something like “I want to homeschool but I don’t know if I have it in me” or “I want to homeschool but my partner isn’t convinced” or “I am torn because we want to homeschool but we were accepted at the charter school that is impossible to get into and I would hate to give up that opportunity.”

I have never been subtle in my criticisms regarding the public school system, but there are plenty of great schools out there, with amazing teachers and parents who are working around the challenge of a test based, developmentally inappropriate, state mandated curriculum. There are also plenty of families who have to work, and homeschooling is not an option. My point is that these kids also thrive and are happy and educated. School is just as valid a choice as homeschooling.

So, my advice to the above questions?

“I want to homeschool but I don’t know if I have it in me”

What is more important is the belief that you have it in you to do whatever is best for your family. Only you know the answer to that. Inevitably, we find new parts of ourselves to help us through any choice we make. If you believe in homeschooling, and that the best way for your child to learn is in the freedom and flexibility of this choice, then you will find a way to do it. One of the most annoying assumptions for me about homeschooling is that we are with each other 24/7. We are not. My kids have classes and playdates and parkdays and frankly time where I tell them I need them to entertain themselves. What we don’t have is limits on our time, a rigid schedule, and the stress of PTA and homework and fitting in extra-curricular classes on top of that. Those are the warts I didn’t want to deal with. EVERYTHING HAS WARTS. Everyone has to choose what warts they are willing to deal with. Homeschooling has warts too. I have to pay attention to the balance in our house, making sure I have time for myself and my partner, which can be a challenge. I have to figure out how to meet their needs and work full time. I have to be an active part of my kids’ social life (not a wart) and sometimes make an effort to attend events I’d rather skip just so they have an opportunity to meet more friends (wart). So, write down you values, the things that are most important to you. And write down your warts, the things you would rather not deal with. Then see where you are. Whatever choice you make, you have it in you. And if you don’t, it can easily be changed.

“I want to homeschool but my partner isn’t convinced”

Well, homeschooling includes a fair amount of trust. Trusting yourself, trusting your kid(s), trusting your partner. Unfortunately, we live in a world that doesn’t support trust. We live in a fairly authoritarian society where we are expected to accept the guidance of experts. But you are the best expert on your family and your children and you must learn to trust, and so must your partner. I am fairly lucky that my partner has always been very supportive. He didn’t blink twice when I announced our children would not be going to school. But not all my friends are that lucky and have had to work through it. My suggestion is to sit down and talk about all the concerns and then research how to overcome them. Is he/she afraid your child won’t make friends? Show them all the support networks, classes, park days, etc available to you in your area. Is he/she worried your kids won’t learn? Figure out together what you feel they should know and make a plan together, including ways you both would feel comfortable assessing their knowledge. For some families, starting in a charter school where there are teachers to help guide your year is really helpful to easing a partner’s fears. In our family, we don’t belong to a charter but our kids document their work and every once in a while give us a presentation on what they have learned in the style of their choice (play, poem, art, game, interpretive dance, whatever). The number one way I have found to convert hesitant partners is to have them attend a major homeschool conference. Seeing the community come together and having the evidence of educated, socially adept kids right in front of you says more than words ever will. But a partner’s concerns should never be ignored and if he/she has serious concerns and reasons why they advocate for a school experience, it is important to consider and address those with compassion and reason. Usually I find that our partners just want to be heard, involved. And they should be.

“I am torn because we want to homeschool but we were accepted at the charter school that is impossible to get into and I would hate to give up that opportunity.”

Well, ok. So out of 350 applications for 20 Kindergarten spots, you got in. Congrats! The way I see it you have two choices: Try it and you can always leave if it doesn’t work out….or not. See the section above about trusting yourself to make the right decision for your family. You got in to the charter because of a luck of the draw, not because a magical education fairy placed you in the perfect place for your kid. Those exclusive schools have warts too. A friend of mine is in one now, and her son has been mercilessly bullied for the past year with very little support from the supposedly progressive staff. But some of them are rad and have a lot to offer. What would the experience offer you and your kids? What are the downsides? What values about childhood and education are supported by this school? Which ones would you have to give up (at school, not home)? My point is, there is no right answer. If you decide to give up your spot, you are not a fool. You just want something different. Plus, I hear it’s not as hard to get back into those schools as the grades progress, if you decide later on to try it. If you decide to try it, look at it as an adventure. One that you have control over, including whether or not to stay.

Education is one of the hardest choices we have to make as parents, because so much of that choice is wrapped up in our own experiences, fears, hopes, and dreams for their future. But we can only do our best, one moment at a time, and the best choice we can make is to trust ourselves and model adaptability for our children. Plus, kids are pretty resilient.

   Apr 13

A Letter on Home Education and Labels

Recently, there was a flurry of emails on a local Unschooling list regarding labels and structure. A friend of mine, who was homeschooled herself, wrote a beautiful response:

Some humbly submitted thoughts on recent debates and why we all deserve a pat on the back…

Back a long time ago, around the beginning of the current homeschooling movement, I was homeschooled all the way through high school. I did a little preschool and a little 2nd grade but that was it. My three younger siblings never went to school. We lived in ex suburban Massachusetts. Back then there were far fewer homeschoolers. There was a large contingent of religious homeschoolers and some secular ones. Among the secular ones, there was a mix of homeschoolers and people who identified or would be identified now as un schoolers. We were secular homeschoolers who used curriculum for a couple hours a day to cover basic subjects and got to follow our interests for vast amounts of the rest of our time. We had lots of friends who went to school and lived in our town and fewer friends who homeschooled but lived outside of town and thus a drive away. We went on field trips with religious homeschool groups and met with secular groups as well. Sitting around the sandbox in our backyard, my mom helped found the state secular homeschool association (which is still around!).

I didn’t think about it much before having kids, but once I had one it never occurred to me that they would go to school. So here I am with a kindergartener and a three year old, homeschooling myself. It’s been an interesting adventure to start seeing things from the moms perspective (all that glorious free time I had as a kid? My mom was working her tail off!).

A few years ago I decided to connect with the homeschool community in the Bay Area. I was amazed. There are so many groups and so many people! So many classes! Charter schools! The Internet! We eventually found this community at the local park days and have been going ever since (I’m the pregnant one with the two blond girls).

One of the interesting things to me is how far the homeschool community around here has shifted toward unschooling. Where are the Christian fundamentalist homeschoolers? (Ok, I suspect they are on the other side of the tunnel.)Where are the people using curriculum? I know some people in <local unschooling group> are less unschooling than using a hybrid approach but they seem to feel the need to whisper this confession. It’s obviously the stated intention of the group to be about unschooling, so there is nothing wrong with the bias in the group, I just find it interesting how things have changed in the wider homeschool community as well.

The truth is, the debate about structure vs no structure, homeschooling versus unschooling and all the other issues recently brought up on this list are the same issues my mom debated with her friends many years ago. I am not sure there is a perfect definition of un or homeschooling, nor a resolution to the questions of structure versus no structure or any of the other issues except in the context of individual and family decisions that evolve yearly/monthly/daily. It may sound strange coming from someone of my background, but while I believe passionately in homeschooling and do not suffer from the pervasive and understandable anxiety about “how it is all going to work out”, I don’t and wouldn’t want to label my style of homeschooling. Nor do I have a big philosophy about how to do things aside from working out what works for me and my kids over time.

From my perspective, all these debates about ways of homeschooling and methods (love/hate waldorf/montesorri/free range/no range/sit at desks/do math upside down in bed) if done respectfully, are wonderful and stimulating.


Please don’t forget that by not sending your kid to school and paying attention to their life and education, you are already doing something truly radical which will benefit them tremendously regardless of the label you put on it or the methods you use or even the amount of time you do it. The best part of homeschooling is that You (plural) Get To Decide what you are up to. So be gentle on your fellows and debate all you want but be sure to also give them major kudos for taking this step at all and for figuring out what is best for them. No matter what we do or who we are, the act of not sending kids to school should bring us together and make us extra supportive of each other. As moms, dads, families and kids, we are all pretty darn awesome!


PS To answer question number 2 (question number 1 is about “socialization”), all four of us chose to go to college and got in easily. I’m an acupuncturist on break to raise kids. One sister is the founder and principal of an alternative high school in New Orleans helping disadvantaged teens, the other is an assistant DA in NYC. My brother is studying advanced Arabic and civilian affairs after rising a few ranks in the army. Upon retiring from home schooling, my mother dusted off her law degree and is the director of a community/courtside mediation center. We all followed our dreams and appreciate our home school background.