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Fall 2015 – Book Club, NASA, Shakespeare and more!

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It seems like I am always playing catch-up, especially when it comes to blogging. I’ve pretty much accepted it, but I always feel guilty when I finally get around to updating. It’s not intentional; I usually start a new post draft for everything I want to write about, only to end up with a bunch of stuff that I decide to condense into one post (like this one) because so much time has passed and making individual posts gets to be a daunting task. One sort-of good thing about the last few months is that I’ve been trying to be more ‘in the moment’ rather than behind the camera, so I don’t have as many pictures of things we’ve been doing as I normally would. As great as I think being part of the moment is, I’ve come to the decision that I regret not having the pictures to preserve the memory, so I’m going back to my normal photo-documenting because that makes me happier. I’d like to say that I ‘learned something’ from this experience, but I don’t think I was ‘addicted to the camera’ in the first place, which is what articles of that kind were targeting. In any case lack of photo evidence does not a clearer schedule make, so let there be words!!

Such is the life of a busy mom, right?
In any case, here’s a snapshot of our life over the last few months:

Once again, our local library system is hosting a book club for homeschoolers. And, once again, after a very strong start, our schedules never manage to sync up with the book club schedule. <sigh> I LOVE the book club format, I really do. I love that our library, and especially our fantastic Librarian, make the effort to host the book club each month for our homeschoolers, and it pains me that we’re never quite able to make it work for us. That said, I snagged a group shot from the introductory meeting in September, which of course I am posting in November, because #reasons (#excuses).


There are actually two clubs; one for kids 5-12, and one for 12+, which is awesome since my kids would hardly sit still for another rendition of ‘Goodnight, Moon’. The meeting format for the older kids involves a list of open questions so the kids can share their thoughts and ideas about the books they chose to read. It’s nice to have that variety, rather than limiting the discussion to a single book, but the format took some getting used to, I’ll admit. After the discussion, there’s usually a game and snacks. The first meeting we did an index card ‘getting to know you’ game. Each card held a topic that you were supposed to fill out; things like: top 5 books, 4 musicians, 4 words that describe me, 4 things I like to do… things like that. Then, it 11058577_10153076466066404_3812504784520512969_nwas trivia time with prizes. PeaGreen points out as I am writing this that he won the most M&Ms that day.

We’re doing the ‘choice of books’ format again this year, rather than the standard single book format, and in addition to the books she chooses for the month the kids can choose any book that’s considered ‘classical literature’, or pick a book from the College Board Reading List, which give them plenty of options. For the first month, the kids chose Treasure Island, which we’re currently reading (since we fell behind). November’s option will be 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – we’re working on Literature, too, so this is a great way to cover both. Treasure Island, is, of course, a classic and filled with swashbuckling adventure. One of my favorite adaptations is Disney’s Treasure Planet, but it’s really quite different, so a comparison will be fun. One of the cool things about reading classics is that the book is available online, through Project Gutenberg, and there are options for study guides and teacher’s guides online. has a Teacher’s Guide for Treasure Island, and Tears of Joy Theater offers a guide for 20,000 Leagues.

We also hit our local JumpingWorldUSA, which is a pretty awesome place. I grew up with a big rectangular trampoline, and my kids had a round one when they were little, but nothing compares to a ROOM full of trampolines – floors made of bounce!! Our JW also has a dodge ball court, which is super cool. The kids always end up sweaty and tired when we leave.


Our homeschool group’s teen social for October was at a local comic book shop, the Book Stan. They set up, and brought in some people to teach the kids how to play Magic: the Gathering, which I thought was pretty cool. The kids have collectively taken to calling it ‘nerd cards’, which I find both funny and appropriate. I got to bee the ‘cool mom’ for a half second, because I used to play and still have a collection of cards from way back in the 90’s (that my kids still can’t have). Their collections quickly surpassed mine though and they’re the experts on ‘nerd cards’ now. In addition to playing cards that they’re collecting, the boys both play Hearthstone, which is an online card game similar (in some ways) to M:tG.

Our homeschool group put together a Shakespeare Party in October, too. The kids made paper dolls with the intent of acting out a play, but that got tossed in favor of using the Shakespeare Insult Kit to come up with inventive and bawdy insults to roast each other. Fun was had by all, but I think next time we’ll have to come up with a more organized plan and maybe get a little more actual learning in. We did have some printable paper dolls and a Globe Theater (and don’t you dare laugh at my little theater – those suckers are harder than they look to put together!!)




Moving on…

October is also when NASA and the Johnson Space Center host their annual Homeschool Day, which is ALWAYS awesome. We had an action-packed day, with classes from 9AM to 3PM. The kids worked on several really cool projects; they built an app for a smartphone, programmed a robot to compete in a mission with other robots, and got to design and 3D-print a keychain with their initials in Morse code. Between classes, we sat in on a STEM presentation, and LBB went through the ‘missions’ in the center of the Space Center’s visitor area. Of all the homeschool day programs, NASA’s is one of the best for kids in middle/high school.



We also had the opportunity to tour our local college campus and spend the day checking out college life.


sertino's social

In November, we had another teen social – this time at a local coffee shop for nerd cards and hanging out like the college klids do. We have a couple of coffeeshops that are the gathering place for teens and various groups in our area. Our local Secular HUmanist group meets here, and NaNoWriMo’s local group as well. It’s a comfy spot with free wifi and the best coffee… what’s not to love?

Other than that, it’s pretty much the same old routine around here. Lately, it feels like we’re just consumed with pre-algebra (which I still hate but am learning to appreciate… begrudgingly). Math continues to be the bane of my very existence. As a homeschooling parent who has issues with certain subjects, it’s really difficult to be conscious of how my attitude towards those subjects can affect my kids’ learning. Math and I just don’t mesh, but so much of that is instinctive, and based in perceived insufficiency that comes from years of poor teaching/poor learning in school. As I go through the lessons to prepare, I have consistently found that, while math is still not my strongest instinctive subject, it’s not anywhere near as difficult or incomprehensible as it’s always seemed in my mind.

I did find a pretty cool project for science – Element Brochures. The boys are still working on their first set, but I made a template that you can use if you’d like to create your own.

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We just had our speech class this month (no pictures), and we’re getting ready for our Thanksgiving Food Drive next week with our homeschool group.

I do have a request for my lovely readers. Yesterday morning, a very dear friend of mine lost her house and everything in it in a fire. She and her partner and their two little girls are currently homeless, relying on the generosity of friends and family for all of their needs right now. Unfortunately, they were not insured, and so getting back on their feet will be a struggle. We’ve created a GoFundMe account for them to help. If you’re in a position to donate, even a dollar, every bit helps. Thank you!! <3

Happy Thanksgiving!! :)  (I know it’s a little early, but who knows when I’ll update next, LOL)


Secular Culture’s Attack on Christian Homeschooling

Homeschool World/Practical Homeschooling has an image with a quote, ‘Secular culture is trying to remake homeschooling in its own image. Time to get back to Christian homeschooling!’ I have to admit that it caught me unawares; I recognize that some factions of the Christian sphere like to project the notion that they’re constantly under attack and being persecuted by silly little things like ‘equality’ and ‘civil liberty’, but I hadn’t realized that secular homeschoolers were trying to oust Christian homeschoolers from the scene entirely. I was under the (apparently, grossly mistaken) impression that secular homeschoolers were attempting, with best foot forward, to eek out a small place for themselves within the predominantly faith-based homeschooling world – and not even a separate, ‘atheists only’ (or whatever equally ridiculous segregated dynamic) space, but just to be allowed on the homeschool scene at all.

I’ll admit that much of my commentary on this topic is sarcastic, partially because it baffles me that anyone actually feels this way. I fail to see how this is even a legitimate complaint, but I digress. If you’re offended by my sarcasm, please feel free to refer to the author’s notes in my sidebar for available options for remedying that. The article goes on to state:

In some of the new “secular” homeschooling titles that are beginning to show up, the immense influence of Christianity on the modern homeschool movement is largely ignored. It would be fine if these books were honest enough to challenge the Christian influence in homeschooling, or even attempt to discredit it, but they simply ignore it. No one should be surprised by this – it’s certainly a publisher’s or author’s prerogative to include or
exclude whatever they want. However, we should be concerned.secular

I’m confused about what sort of challenge these people want. Most homeschool material is curriculum and doesn’t cover the history of education and how homeschooling really got its groove on. If you want to look into the history of home education, specifically, then yes, I’d probably agree that Christian homeschoolers had a lot to do with either challenging state laws that made homeschooling illegal or helping to clarify where the law was vague or didn’t address it at all. I just don’t understand what obligation anyone could possibly have to the original (Christian?) political activists from years ago, or what challenge they’re after. No one, to my knowledge, is denying that Christian activists paved the way for homeschooling to become more mainstream. But I don’t go around thanking the descendants of the Revolutionary War for establishing American’s independence (although I could – <looks in mirror> Thank you, Heather, for your ancestor’s service. Why, you’re most welcome, Heather! Cheers!!)  And just who is it sitting around wanting acknowledgement – those who fought those battles likely have grand or great-grandchildren by now – haven’t they moved on to bigger and better things?? I just don’t get it.

And what does that even mean, ‘remake homeschooling in its own image’. Do they mean ‘secular’? Because that doesn’t mean ‘anti-Christian’. Literally, the definition of secular is: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. You know, like school/education… which can have a spiritual or religious component, but is not, in and of itself, a religious activity. I would love for one of these alarmist articles to use the word ‘secular’ correctly just once! Lots of things are secular – baths…baths are secular. So is mowing the lawn and feeding the cat. Secular doesn’t mean ‘bad’, nor does it mean that you are in any way prohibited from bathing in Holy Water, or asking the Lord’s blessings upon your lawnmower or praying over your cat’s Tuna Delight. It just means that they’re mundane things; not inherently spiritual. And that’s perfectly fine.

But to say that they are an ignored population or imply that they are in any way under attack, is baffling. In my city and surrounding area, for example, at one point there were thirteen homeschooling groups/co-ops. Of those only ONE was secular/inclusive. I also am part of a Texas-wide secular homeschooling group, and there are places where there is an active homeschooling community but only one family that isn’t faith-based for a hundred miles or more. I hardly think that by any stretch of the imagination, the Christian population of homeschoolers is in any way under-served. Not to mention that it’s pretty presumptuous to assume that all homeschoolers are Christian (or white, or mom is the primary teacher, or that the students are her own children – assumptions are bad, m’kay?). Homeschooling has attracted so many more types of people and families since the early days.

The article continues:

Potential or new homeschoolers who pick up the latest secular tome claiming to be the greatest ever guide to homeschooling will receive a distorted picture of the movement that overlooks the enormous impact and influence of Christian culture on homeschooling. Many new and veteran homeschoolers will pick up these books because they have “homeschooling” in the title, and may undiscerningly recommend them to others, tacitly endorsing the secularized viewpoint of these publications. Large bookstore chains will carry these books, often to the exclusion of books published by Christian publishers and authors, throwing the weight of their reputation behind this new and more “PC” brand of homeschooling. This could, potentially, influence public opinion, and even legislation.

The reality, of course, is that this is business as usual in our culture. But the net effect of this in a decade could be the co-opting of the national homeschool movement by secularists. Christian homeschooling would not go away, but in the new institutionalized, culturally acceptable form, it would likely be marginalized.

Again, unless you’re specifically looking into the history of homeschooling, most ‘homeschooling 101’ manuals don’t cover the start of the homeschooling movement. Even if they did, homeschooling has changed so much since the ’70s and ’80s – even the ’90s for that matter. It’s hard enough keeping up with the legal requirements year to year – who has time, and it it even necessary to read up on how homeschooling became a thing? If you’re interested in it – sure; but I’d be willing to bet most people don’t care. Even when I started homeschooling my own kids, researcher that I am, I don’t recall ever feeling like I needed to delve into the history of homeschooling; all I really needed to know about homeschooling was: is it legal? what do I have to do? how do we get started? Short of knowing that the case that made it legal in Texas was TEA v. Leeper 1991, I have literally not looked any deeper into the history of homeschooling than that.

Do Christian homeschoolers get a nod of thanks for the work they did to legalize homeschooling? Sure; maybe. But Christian homeschoolers, despite making up the majority of the homeschooling population overall, aren’t the only ones out there. Their presence is obvious; their impact and influence over the materials isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Take a trip to any homeschool store or convention, and the stacks are overflowing with Christian-based materials – I can’t even say ‘faith-based’ because the overwhelming majority of the material out there is Christian-influenced. So color me very confused when I ask what in the name of Merlin these people are even talking about. Most of us who prefer a secular curriculum have to look long and hard to find resources; and if you’re looking for resources within a particular style of homeschooling (like Charlotte Mason), essentially your only option is to ‘secularize’ a Christian resource.

Of course companies have started capitalizing on homeschool culture, and thank goodness they did or we’d all be trying to adapt other resources still (which sucks). My siblings and I were homeschooled in the early/mid ’90s, and my cousins were homeschooled throughout (so from roughly 1982-1998-ish). I remember my aunt sharing resources with my mom, but most were classroom-designed materials that were adapted for homeschool use. Nowadays, there are myriad resources that start out for homeschool use.  Most are Christian-based, but more and more come out every year that are secular, which is awesome! That doesn’t mean that Christian resources will go away. I dare say that most secular homeschoolers look at some of the models of Christian homeschooling and shudder – their goal being to move in as far opposite a direction from that model as possible. Even some mainstream curriculum options are often shunned by some Christian homeschoolers because it’s based on a 6,000 year old Earth model rather than based in fact. While I disagree with that, personally, I recognize that it is your right to use those materials if you choose to, and I’m not out campaigning for laws to restrict their use. I think it’s a fair application of ‘live and let live’.

Obvious disclaimer is obvious… there are a great many – the majority, even – Christian homeschoolers out there who want nothing to do with this kind of crazy-pants fanaticism. I recognize that the worldview perpetuated by the image that set this post off is a small, but unfortunately vocal, population of faith-based homeschoolers, and that this stereotype is just as damaging to the overall perception of Christianity as terrorists are to Islam and Muslim people and culture. I think most people get that. It certainly isn’t the responsibility of the normal/average Christian to dispel these kinds of perceptions, and I don’t expect the average/normal Christian homeschooler to do that. I can only ever speak from my own experience, and over the last decade, I feel like homeschoolers that aren’t faith-based have finally started to make themselves known. Homeschooling is SO MUCH MORE ACCESSIBLE now, and that is amazing. There are all kinds of people homeschooling – working moms, stay at home dads, single parents, parents who work/school cooperatively with other families, virtual-schoolers, unschoolers, straight parents, queer parents, non-traditional families, faith-based homeschoolers, Christians who use secular resources, and literally every other niche dynamic I can think of… it’s incredible and wonderful and diverse and I am happy to be part of it… and it bothers me that there are still people who want to take that away because it’s not exactly ‘their’ perception of Right™.

Y’all go out and play nice! Follow Jesus’ example of ‘How to be a Compassionate Adult in 1 Easy Step’ (spoiler: Step 1: Don’t be a dick.).

Just food for thought.

The Homeschooling Spectrum

10526176_10152691965351404_1599779552232524066_n If you’re new to homeschooling, you may not realize just how diverse the concept of ‘homeschooling’ can be. This graphic has been popping up on homeschooling boards fairly often lately, and I wanted to share it and talk a bit about it, because I think it is a relatively decent simple breakdown of what homeschooling might look like for individual families.

No two homeschooling families will look exactly alike, even if they’re using the same materials. That whole concept is kind of weird, because schools do look very similar, no matter where you’re at geographically, or what age your kids are, or what materials they’re using. In fact, even with completely different materials, ‘school’ in a brick-and-mortar school often looks practically identical to another B&M school. This generalization excludes ‘alternative’ schools like Montessori, Waldorf and others, which are based in different educational philosophies (in fact, many homeschooling families base their methods on similar concepts), but overall, ‘public’ schools look very, very similar.

I’ve been wanting to talk about the difference between homeschooling and ‘school at home’, which is the Red section on the chart, and encompasses things like ‘virtual academies’ that are hosted by states or local ISDs. I may rustle some feathers for saying this, but if you’re Red, then you’re not really ‘homeschooling’. Hear me out – what I mean by that is that you’re missing out on the entire point of being outside the B&M structure of/and traditional education model. Yes, you might be at home, but you’re still dealing with much of the same stress and hassle of B&M schooling, and getting none of the freedom and enjoyment of ‘real’ homeschooling. Not to mention that in some ways, you’re still buying into the ideas that traditional education have drilled into our culture (like testing and grades and grade-levels, rather than focusing on mastery before progressing).

Having said that, Red isn’t all bad. Red has its place in the homeschooling spectrum, and isn’t without advantages. Red can be a necessary stepping stone towards ideas that more fully encompass what homeschooling can really be like. Red is safe, and provides a lot of structure and reassurance for newbie homeschoolers who are hesitant to take the leap into full-on homeschooling. Red is awesome for kids who need to be outside of the classroom but have parents who genuinely don’t want to homeschool, and for kids who just need a lot of structure. Red is a good option for families who live in areas where there is a lack of support for homeschooling in general. Red is also great for families who encounter a lot of opposition from extended family or friends, or for those who know their own strengths and weaknesses, and despite a genuine desire to be otherwise, know that without such a strict outside structure they would end up ‘not schooling’. And then there are some families who choose Red because that’s what they’re comfortable with, and that’s cool, too.

Orange is pretty similar to Red; I don’t see a lot of difference between the two, really. Maybe the difference is more a mental shift than a visible one. That’s actually a pretty big deal. That’s the first step towards stepping outside the box. Even if it doesn’t show in your day-to-day schooling interactions with your kids, that switch in thinking is key if you want to move into a different color. It can be as simple as switching to a 4 day school week, or starting at 10AM instead of 8. Small steps, but important ones!

Yellow is pretty much the middle. Yellow is still parent-led, which is great for young children who are coming out of B&M schools who are used to a lot of direction, or for children who started out in Indigo or Purple and Mom feels like it’s time to add some structure. Yellow is great for socially active homeschool group participation, and for control-freak parents (like me). We started out in Yellow, and it was a really good place for us when we were there. Yellow requires a bit more parental prep, because you’re not necessarily using a boxed curriculum – you may be researching different resources to use for different subjects, and it takes time to plan. But overall, Yellow is a nice ‘middle of the road’ option.

Green and blue kind of go together in my mind, probably because that’s where we are now. We do a lot of field trips, some project-based learning, a lot of note/lap-booking, and still use some structured curriculum. But we also have more child-led learning (interest-based) than we used to because since my kids are older now, we’re tailoring to career paths and personal interests. We have a lot of flexibility with scheduling, and I trust my kids to do what they need to. For us, this was a system of more parental control, lessened as their responsibility grows. It might look much different for another family.

Indigo and Purple also merge together for me, but that’s very likely because I don’t have a lot of experience with them and have a hard time differentiating between the two. I’ve seen Indigo and Purple very well done, and I’ve seen it as an excuse for no schooling at all. I’m sure that colors my perception of child-led learning (or delight-led) and unschooling (which is what those colors represent) in practice, but I know that it can be a very good option for some kids/families. I’m Unschooled. Yes, I can Write is a blog that I’ve been following for years, and she’s a great example (and advocate) of unschooling as a successful model of education. I also have a couple of friends who successfully employed unschooling, and have seen it work (for both young children and teens/young adults).

I absolutely don’t want to give the impression that the chart is a ladder of sorts that people work their way from Red to Violet – it’s not about that at all. But stepping outside of the Red zone, even into Orange or Yellow, is so liberating! I’m sure people who are in the indigo/violet area would say the same thing to someone like me; it’s all about perspective!

Like I said, we started out in yellow, and have moved into the green/blue area. I am deeply attracted to indigo & violet, but feel equally like I know that they just won’t work for us and am afraid/lack faith or trust in the process. I generally need more structure than that, and I feel like my kids need more direction than those areas provide. I fully reserve the right to change my mind about that, but that’s how I feel right now. The truth is, green/blue is comfortable to me. I don’t feel the need to change it, because it works for us. We still get a ‘backbone’ for things to hinge on, but we also have a lot of freedom. And with my unpredictable work schedule, green/blue lets me work without feeling like I am sacrificing school in the process.

Ultimately, it’s up to each family to figure out where they fall in the spectrum (or, for that matter, if they want to let something like ‘the spectrum’ define them). Many families start out in one color and move to another, either gradually or by circumstance or by deliberate choice. Some families move down the spectrum, while others move up it. Homeschooling is such an individual thing – some families use one method with one kid and another method with their other child(ren).

However you choose to homeschool, make the most of it! Spend time with your kids, stop and see the sights in your town that you have never had time for… make the most out of the time you have with them. It goes by *so* fast! Enjoy it.







Fall Update


The last couple of weeks, I’ve made some changes to how I am assigning the boys their work. We’ve tried using various methods (workboxes, STARS journals, various binders and lists, to name a few), but nothing has really stuck. Partially, I think I was pushing too hard for too much independence before they were ready, but now that they’re older, we’re trying some more self-paced scheduling.

Last week, I printed their assignments and gave the pages to the boys and allowed them to work at their own pace. Loverly Husband was off Friday (home DIY-ness related), so the understanding was that if they got all their work accomplished for the week before Friday, they could have Friday off. While they didn’t quite hit that goal, overall, this method was successful, so we’re trying it again this week.

I usually plan 3-4 weeks at a time, but having them knowing what’s on the schedule for the week is nice. In the past, LBB especially, has gotten overwhelmed with seeing everything laid out, but he’s able to focus on one day at a time and work neatly with the week’s schedule (thank goodness!!) – that’s an ADHD/anxiety success!

In other news, we’ve been busy with our homeschool group – the Houston Children’s Museum held their homeschool day a couple of weeks ago, and we had a great time! They have this child-sized city called ‘Kidtropolis‘ that has samples of real life – all kinds of jobs, including: a TV station, a postal service, a bank, a grocery store, city hall, police/fire/EMS, restaurant, vet – the kids can ‘work’ and get ‘paid’, make deposits at the bank, ‘buy’ things at the store, change jobs… it’s really neat. This was the first time that either of my kids really made an effort to experience it. LBB started working in the restaurant, and was eventually promoted to manager. It was fun watching him ‘work’ with all the other kids.

We also dabbled in some folk art while out at the park. The kids used glue and paints to faux-batik pillowcases. PeaGreen was pretty happy with his rendition of Link from Legend of Zelda, while LBB was less enthused about the entire project. Still, he managed a decent representation of the Destiny logo.


We’ve been using Khan Academy for math, and after some initial trepidation, we’ve established a routine with it and it’s working well. Basically, the boys are ‘learning’ each new concept by watching the video. Then working through the ‘practice’ sessions, and then competing each section with a ‘mastery challenge’. Questions and concepts do come back up even though they’ve mastered them, so it’s keeping skills in the rotation, which is nice. The boys are spending about 5 hours per week on math, which is good at this stage. It was taking them a bit longer, but they’ve gotten the hang of doing it this way now, and it’s nice. I love that I am not having to ‘teach’ it – when they get stuck, we watch the video together (because I am often just as lost as they are), so we talk it out and work through the problems together, then they continue working on their own.

I think that having such a central subject taken off of my plate has helped me get a handle on things. I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed with middle school curriculum – math is so not my area of expertise, so being able to pass that off to more qualified ‘teachers’ is awesome. Plus, I think that it’s helped the boys be more independent and not rely so much on me.



Last but not least, this is the boys’ new bathroom! Loverly Husband spent this weekend ripping out the floor and walls and replacing everything from sub-flooring to fixtures. We had bathroom wallboard in there, but it wasn’t sealed very well, so water has been seeping behind it, and rotted out the floor and a lot of the wood underneath the wallboard. It was totally nasty in there. But thanks to all his hard work, it looks great! We bought a new shower curtain and will be painting soon and it will be all done. I absolutely could not be happier that the floor and bathtub surround are done though.







We Read Banned Books Here


Banned Books Week is coming up fast!! To celebrate, we’re reading banned books (and watching films based on banned books). We’re talking about censorship – what that means, what potential good vs. harm it does to society, and more. I made ‘Banned Books stickers to wear and gave some to the kids to pass out when we are about town. (I just printed the pictures and ran them through a sticker maker. – I don’t get paid to hawk their product; I’ve just had it for years and I love it!)

So why do I like banned books week? Well, part of it is rebellion, pure and simple. Tell kids that something is banned, and it immediately piques their interest. They want to know ‘why’, and so they read. I think that banned books week is probably one of the most ingenious ways to get those ideas out there, into the hands and minds of the young – tell them they can’t have it, and they’ll be all over it. This concept is so effective that I wonder sometimes if the banned books thing was created for that exact reason. Either way, I enjoy the concept and am happy to promote it!

I was preparing for this week, and this post and found the top ten most challenged list for last year – I had no idea that Captain Underpants books were the most challenged in 2013. That seems a little absurd to me. Captain Underpants isn’t my personal favorite, but harmful? Probably in the same way that watching Wile E. Coyote repeatedly attempt to murder the Roadrunner was for us. Aren’t we all scarred from that?

For a list of ‘frequently challenged books’, click here.

Hunger Games also came up in the top ten. I kinda-sorta can see why that one might come up, but overall, I think it opens much more of an opportunity for discussion than anything else. I sort of equate a lot of the YA books that have come out (or gotten popular) lately on the same lines – The Giver, Divergence, Hunger Games… they’re all about a dystopian society somewhere in the future. They’re about coming of age in a world where your decisions determine your future in a way that we don’t have to deal with in our reality.

I actually really like these types of books. I know there’s a big deal about adults and YA fiction, but I think those detractors are annoying. YA has come out with some pretty interesting stuff in the last few years! I like storylines, especially as a parent/teacher, that give kids more credit that they get in real life for being intelligent, brave, and capable. Their energy and enthusiasm is an asset that our society doesn’t seem to have a place for very often. It’s really no wonder that the most popular books feature situations where the choice(s) of a few young people affect the whole of their societies.

Scenarios like that, especially in book form where you immerse yourself in the story, that help you get into your child’s brain and see what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling. I think that’s important, especially with the constant discussion and worry over the parent/child generation gap that the media is constantly warning us of. I experienced a sense of disconnect from my parents in my teen years, and it makes me wonder how much of it is normal; the pulling away from family to establish a personal identity, and how much of it was truly a lack of communication/understanding. I don’t know how much of it is avoidable, but I want to give it my best to lessen the impact.

So what are your favorite banned books? Are you planning on doing anything with your kids for BBW?



Sex-Positive Sex Education

 So here’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. With two pre-teen boys in the house, I think it’s a good idea to check in with them periodically to see what they’re thinking and going through, and to reiterate our family’s position and expectations on various topics with them. As they get older the topics of puberty, sex, and related issues come up, and if they don’t then I feel like it’s my responsibility to bring those topics up with them.

Sex is by no means a ‘new’ topic for my children; I’ve been a breastfeeding counselor and worked as a birth doula for a many years, so they’ve had access to age-appropriate information about the birds and bees all along. When they were old enough to start asking questions, we always answered factually, but let them guide the depth of the conversation. We started with simple, factual answers, using proper names for body parts and terms – no ‘cutesy’ stuff that might muddy the waters – because I feel that information is good for them. It also normalizes those conversations that have the potential to become ‘uncomfortable’ if you wait until kids are old enough for body-awareness and self-consciousness issues to come up. Not to say that it erases it completely, but open communication as a staple of family life is important, IMO.

Once we started homeschooling, we added in a more ‘formal’ health class, which included use of the FLASH curriculum. We’ve gone through it once already, and will be covering it again this year, with added material from Planned Parenthood and other websites (most of which are linked in various place throughout this post). I’ve bought the boys several of the ‘growing up’ and ‘about my body’ books for them to read through at their leisure, and added some kid-friendly health websites to their computer desktops so they can research on their own. We also worked through a lapbook on puberty and sex that I made (which will be posted eventually). We’ve even tackled conversations about having sex for the first time, proper use of condoms, and what kinds of things they would want to do afterwards (like condom disposal and washing up). They’ve never been restricted as far as information goes pertaining to what they ask about, and I’d not have it any other way.

The approach we take is called ‘sex-positive’ sex education. It’s talks about sex as a normal, natural, pleasurable experience. It’s open and honest communication, without the tinge of embarrassment, guilt and shame that often accompanies the topic of sex.

It’s pretty much the polar opposite of what’s ‘allowed’ to be taught in Texas schools, which uses shame and religious oppression in a failing attempt to reduce teen pregnancy and transmission of STDs by promoting ‘abstinence only’ education. I won’t go into how ineffective that method is; the fact that Texas is among the highest in the USA for teen (and even pre-teen) pregnancy (5th, actually), and first in the US for repeat teen pregnancy speaks for itself. If their goal is kids having kids, then I say, ‘Well done!’

Additionally, for many in the religious set, children are often coerced into entering verbal contracts with their parents, peer groups and/or youth pastors to remain ‘pure’ until marriage. This trend of tying a child’s self-worth to their sexual status is disturbing at best; abusive and creepy at worst. For something that’s a natural biological process, supposedly instilled in us by the Creator, to be so vehemently linked to sin and corruption and impurity just begs for sexual dysfunction later in life.  I really love that quote by Bertrand Russell. It states exactly how I feel about ‘biblical morality’.

Before I go much farther, let me address something (because I KNOW this will come up). I am, in no way, advocating that persons under the age of consent (in Texas, see: Texas Penal Code Section 21.11) engage in any type of sexual activity. What I AM addressing is that I believe that all children, including yours, have the right to know what will happen, or is happening, to their body at the onset of and during puberty, and that they have the right to know that masturbation and sex are normal, biological functions, and that their self-worth is in no way related to their virgin status. I believe that they are entitled to factual information, free from constraints put in place by a puritanical history with no medical or scientific basis. Furthermore, I believe that all children, especially those near or undergoing puberty, should have enough knowledge about sex and sex acts to protect themselves and their partner(s) should they find themselves in a situation where such knowledge is critical.

So what level of education is appropriate for pre-teens?

Well, that depends on a lot of things, including but not limited to: your personal beliefs and stance; your child’s maturity level (both mental/emotional as well as physical – meaning that if your child is physically more mature, then s/he probably needs at least some of the information even if you aren’t sure if s/he’s emotionally or mentally ready for the full picture); your environment and his/her associates – is s/he likely to get this information from peers, and if so, is that where you want your child’s support to come from? (not that that’s inherently a bad thing, but you do want to ensure that the information s/he’s getting is factual, and you still want that open line of communication with your kid).

For my children, this includes more detailed information as they get older, including the idea that sex is pleasurable, normal and healthy for adults to engage in. We’ve talked about appropriate speech in company – with friends vs. in mixed company (either girls or adults), being conscious of who else is around them (younger children).

At this age, consent is an important topic. They need to understand what consent is, and what it isn’t. How is consent conveyed? How can signals be misinterpreted? How do you voice your consent? How do you express dissent? Consent is important for them to understand, not only for themselves, to know if they’re being coerced or taken advantage of, but also so they can identify consent in their partners. I believe that consent starts from a very early age. Helping children own their bodies is a key factor in developing the confidence to voice dissent when it matters. The GoodMenProject has a great article that can help parents develop good communication habits that help children understand consent from a young age.

Pre-teens and teens also need to know what qualifies as ‘sexual contact’. This is where a lot of parents get sorta squidgy. Who likes talking about sex acts with their kids? Our parents never had to do that… which is probably an ideal example of why we should talk to our kids about sex acts. If you’re super uncomfortable talking about it, at least direct your kids to something appropriate, like PlannedParenthood’s What is Sex? article. Once they know what sex is, then talks about being ready and protection – for your child, and for his or her partner – can begin. Along with talks about sex, talks about drugs and alcohol, ‘partying’ and what to do if/when they get into a situation where they need help are natural progressions. It’s equally important to talk about being victimized, and to make sure your children know that if they are assaulted, it’s not their fault. EVER. Talk about ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘victim-blaming’. Talk about ‘rape culture’, and about how they can be advocates. Talk, talk, TALK!

And if you agree that information is important for kids, it’s absolutely crucial if your child is gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, bisexual, asexual or falls in any way outside of the mainstream. LGBTQ kids have all of the same pressures that other kids face, as well as the unique issues that falling outside the mainstream brings. The Trevor Project is a great place to learn about how being LGBTQ affects a child, how to deal with your own thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, how you can help them, especially if you think your child might be suicidal. There are websites devoted to helping parents talk to their LGBTQ child, and others that can help parents understand and support their child. Even if your child is straight, help him/her be an ally. Talking with him/her about gender and sexual orientation is important. Because of how society views sex and gender, including promoting homophobia, sexism, and transphobia by not talking about it, it’s important that children are taught that these characteristics are no more exclusionary than skin, hair or eye color – just another variation of ‘normal’ that makes our world such a  grand, diverse, beautiful place to live in.

Armed with this information, how do we keep them safe? I think that information is the first string of safety precautions. The more open and communicative your family is, the fewer things get ‘stuffed’. Most kids have smart phones, and there are apps that are specifically designed to help them, like the Circle of 6 app, and the Life 360 app. Others, like the bSafe app, even have a feature that will allow you to program an automatic alarm that will trigger if you have not checked in with your friends or family in time.

You might be asking, ‘ How do we keep them from experimenting? How do you keep them from having sex?’

Honestly? The truth is… you can’t. You can, of course, communicate and express your desires for your children. You can let them know what your feelings are as far as sexual relationships go, and what your expectations for them are. Even the dreaded Planned Parenthood has discussion topics and suggested conversation responses to help parents help their teens delay having sex. But I don’t know of any people who wanted to have sex who didn’t because of an external expectations placed on them. Having an open and honestly communicative relationship helps though.

Given the option, I would prefer my children not have sex until they were in a committed relationship and were old enough to accept and responsibly handle the consequences of a sexual relationship. But another hard truth is that my kids’ sexuality belongs to THEM. Not me. It’s not up to me to dictate to them, once they’ve reached the age of consent, what is right for them. But I can influence their choices, and I would *always* rather them have protected sex (and sexual experimentation) than unprotected sex.



Timelines and Art Notebooks for History

One of the fun things that many homeschoolers do in conjunction with learning history is to create a timeline of events as the kids learn. There are a hundred different methods for creating a timeline, from a notebook or binder system, to a wall-based system, to a scroll system (which is what we’ve been using for the last few years).

Last year, we started keeping a history notebook. The kids worked on that together with their lapbook. We are using Story of the World, and several bloggers have made coordinating lapbooks that cover books 1-3. We’ll start book 4 later this year, and I’d like to transition fully to notebooking, rather than lapbooking for this last book. If you’ve never worked on a lapbook or a notebook, the concepts are pretty similar. I like to think of lapbooking as a little more ‘directed’, while notebooking is a little more student-led, but lapbooking can be student-led as well. It’s really up to you as to how you use and/or combine the two methods.

We’ve been working on taking notes in various subjects, and I’ve been requiring that the boys write more from their own perspective, rather than being told what to write. With our new school year on the horizon, I’ve been searching through my history & geography pins on Pinterest and seeing what I’ve pinned that will help me help the boys make notebooks that they will want to read through later.

One pin on Interactive Notebooks has several really good tips for creating lasting work. The site is geared towards younger students, but even with boys in middle school, the tips are just as relevant. As I mentioned before in my middle school lesson planning post, we’ve been using ‘mind-mapping’ to take notes, which combines color and pictures with words and related ‘branches’ arcing out from a center, or main, point. I have one child that likes this method of note-taking, and one that prefers a linear (traditional) style – but both ways have merit.

I also am a big (BIG – HUGE) fan of art journals, and art notebooks. I’ve been toying with the idea of helping the kids work on art notebooks for history. Combining maps (geography) and art in this way would make a great project. Printed pictures, colored pencils layered with notebooking (journaling and notes) would make a keepsake that can be referred to in later years as both an art piece and an educational review.

Something like this (pictured – not ours!!) would be ideal. That’s not history (art history, maybe??), but that’s similar to what I envision the kids’ notebooks looking like in this process. It probably will require more preparation on my part, as far as printing pictures and graphics to use, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.

Currently, we’re in Russia, with Peter the Great. There are several battles and movements of the army that would make for great visual aids in a notebook like this.

This would be another way to mark your timeline if you work through history chronologically. Keeping up the notebooks will keep your timeline in order. I am looking forward to getting started with this idea with my kids!

If you art/notebook, I’d love to hear from you, and see how it works and looks for your students.



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