Make Way for Breaks: Scheduling around Chronic Illness

Ah the beloved break. Spring Break, Winter Break…Summer vacation. Many of my favorite childhood memories are inextricably linked with the nostalgia of school breaks. A nostalgia that I do not want my children to miss out on even though we have the freedom to break away from the school schedules that accompany them. I love the idea of traditions that make their home within a specific break. The feeling of adventure as you look forward to days or weeks of unscheduled freedom, which is why I schedule my entire year around such breaks.


I absolutely love that as a homeschooler I can control how we set up those breaks and how often we get to have them. I love being able to plan special breaks around family birthdays or events happening in our life. The children love knowing that if one week has been especially hard on us, there is always the option of having a slower week soon after. However, there’s another reason I love being able to schedule breaks whenever I need them at this season of my life. Quite frankly, my health demands it.

My body physically demands some kind of reprieve from the responsibilities that go along with being a homeschooler. I just cannot do it all, all of the time. It is too much for me. Trying to homeschool, keep house, volunteer, be a wife, a writer, feed my creative hungers and intellectual curiosities all while fighting my own body and it’s limitations absolutely requires that I prioritize my time. For me it is a constant battle between the chronic fatigue and body pains of fibromyalgia, the eye fatigue, headaches and migraines of IIH and the debilitating effects of seasonal depression that absolutely demand that I listen to my body and be proactive rather than reactive.

Reactions mean days in bed with no ability to meet the needs of myself, let alone my children. Which  I feel is not fair to them or my husband, who is wonderful enough to pick up my share as well as his own during those rough patches. That is not the kind of mother or wife I want to be, my own personal expectations are far too high for that. So instead of reacting to piss poor planning, I actively schedule and prioritize my time, knowing my limits and abiding by them. Knowing that I need a certain number of down days per week and not over scheduling my time. Knowing that certain situations, lightings or atmospheres trigger headaches. Knowing all of these things and above all, planning for them- which is especially hard when you also enjoy being spontaneous and adventurous.


First things first. My first step in planning out my time is to plan out a rough yearly schedule based on the times of year that work with me and not against me. We choose to school year round in order to best accommodate my needs in this regards.

For us this looks like a year round schedule that is broken up into six terms. These terms are very loosely based and can last anywhere from six to eight weeks. At around six weeks I evaluate our current mood and condition; if all is well we go ahead for two more weeks, if not then we stop and take a week off. This way we don’t overdo things trying to just push through. However, unlike most term based schedules I make one slight distinction – we have what I call our Holiday Term and Summer Vacation built into the term system.

Our school year looks like this:

Term 1: July &August

Term 2: Sept &Oct

Term 3: Nov &Dec- Holiday term

Term 4: Jan & Feb

Term 5: Mar &Apr

Term 6: May & June – Summer Vacation

During the four regular terms we do the vast majority of our studying, we take field trips, go to plays or performances and take part in local classes. The short breaks between terms allow for little reprieves that are just right for clearing our minds from time to time. On the other hand, the two  middle terms are our big breaks. Rather than me preparing everything and laying everything out we go with what feels interesting. We follow passions and build our independent study ability because my children love learning so much that they just don’t stop, even if I tell them that we are on vacation. I still record our progress during this time but I don’t set up any requirements. I don’t ask the children to do math or copy work, we don’t read off of our scheduled readings. We do check out science books at the library (usually because someone wants to know how something works), we do go to museums, create art, watch documentaries…all things that I record through pictures, receipts and end products but any thing that happens during this time is occurring spontaneously and is done out of pure curiosity or desire.

As much as the kids love all these breaks, the best part about this schedule is that it allows me time during my hardest months to move into survival mode without affecting our overall year.

November and December are very hard months for me. My mind has a horrible time adjusting to the light changes, and the weather changes affect how my body moves as well. During these months I just cannot keep up with everything so instead I plan for my focus to shift away from schooling to things like dishes, laundry, and meals. I know that I can spend the time with my children baking and reading without worrying that I have enough written down for the reviews. The children also love the freedom to enjoy the first snows and the changes of the seasons outside without worrying about written math lessons. In addition, because it coincides with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Three Kings Day this break allows us to focus on traditions and joyful holiday fun rather than finishing up a test.

On the flip side of this May and June are my best months. The weather is perfect for spending the entire day outside. Gardens can be planted. Nearby nature preserves are full of life waiting to be explored. Most schools aren’t out yet so it is also a perfect time for a family vacation or special outings. We love having the freedom to use these months (and my extra energy) doing the things that are harder to do the rest of the year without thought to school. It also works out nicely that our last few weeks of summer vacation perfectly coincide with the schools release so that we can have fun with cousins as well.


Now that my year is planned out (roughly), I move my focus on to my weeks and terms. Before this year my terms were based entirely on our interests at that time. I would ask the children what they were interested in and then we would explore those things together- taking every rabbit trail along the way. However, because this year is so different I’ll keep it short and sweet. First of all, because I am following a Charlotte Mason education this year, this part of my planning process is very specific to this style. I have my list of subjects and my topics within each subject for each child that I want to complete over the year. I then break that list into the four terms that I have going on during the year. Because I know that each term can last from six to eight weeks I plan for eight weeks from the get go knowing ahead of time that we may be starting the next term picking up at the unfinished end of the last one. As for subject matter…well that is a whole other post and one that relies heavily on mixing and matching what works for us based on established resources like Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason, Charlotte Mason Help, A Modern Charlotte Mason, Sabbath Mood, A Delectable Education, and AfterThoughts. This year I spent about a month preparing for our upcoming year but even then I only prepared down to the weekly level of each term. I stop my lesson plans at the week level specifically because I know that each week will require a different rhythm to best fit my health at that time.



So, moving onto the how. How do I plan ahead regarding my day to day when I also know that I am no good at keeping schedules and when I have to plan ahead for any possible unknown flare ups? For me, it means multiple open plans. I never have just one schedule or routine, instead I have a cycle of options that fit together making up the perfect week or term or year.

For this year these are the options for my days.

  1. The out of the house day, Full Day: Basically these are the days when we leave the house. We wake up earlier than usual, we need to have planned meals for the day, outing bags need to be packed the night before, weather needs to be checked… this also means that no other schooling will occur, dinner needs to be easy and tomorrow needs to be at home because this kind of day is exhausting, for all of us.
  2. The out of the house day, part day: These are the days that include some kind of outing that is close to home and less than 3 hours long, including driving time. Piano lessons, Art class, Science class, Playdates, Nature Study, Library trips… all of these options are part of our school day and the rest of our day flows around them. Readings, math and copy work still happen although when they happen depends greatly on the schedules required by outside forces such as other people, open/close times, weather issues, etc…
  3. The home school day: This is a typical homeschool day and normally only lasts 3 hours. We wake up when we wake up and follow a basic routine, which often look like this: breakfast, readings together, math and copy work, lunch, tea time, outside time, free afternoons, tidy up, dinner and family time.
  4. The home chore day: These are the days when I just can’t stand the mess any longer and I need to deep clean. We still do math, copy work and about half of our regular readings but the focus is on our house… these days usually precede house guests and are the reason my children ask who is coming to visit when they see me pull out the cleaning supplies.
  5. The lazy day (I name this with a warm, fuzzy attachment to the term lazy, not at all a negative one): When we have had a particularly harrowing week or weekend we throw one of these days in (usually on Monday or Friday) just to help us refresh. These are usually an anything goes kind of day and we rarely get dressed on them. You will often find mommy in yoga pants, the middle girls in tee’s n shorts (regardless of the weather outside), Itty bitty running through the halls in underwear (her preferred mode of dress) and Little Man is usually in pj bottoms with a tank top (he would also prefer to be in underwear alone but alas being the only boy in a house full of girls requires that he be clothed at lest marginally). You will almost always see a slew of art supplies scattered across our living room, a stack of books beside a crumb filled tea set and more than one electronic device huddled with a blanket. Mommy’s nose is most likely firmly stuck in the pages of a book for a good portion of the day. These are our favorite days.

Mixing and matching these different kinds of days into a week , month or term allow us to focus on the atmosphere of our learning. The flow we had as unschoolers stays intact even if I now have readings or assignments that we want to finish within a specific week. I try to have at least two #3 days and no more than one #1 or #5 days per week. Most weeks we have three #2 days and two #3 days and occasionally we will have a full week of #3 days, these, though not often enough, are often what I feel are my most productive weeks.


While certain aspects of this plan are specific to CM, it has not always been. This is the same plan that I used when I unschooled. The only difference between this schedule and our unschooling one was that our homeschool days were entirely child led and sometimes looked similar to our lazy days. I didn’t come by way of this over night either. Over the years I found our rhythm. There were seasons where I pushed too hard and crashed shortly after. There were times when I over scheduled our weeks and sometimes months, leading to an in ability to get out of bed. If you look through my past posts its easy to see where depression took over, where fatigue left me empty, where I just couldn’t handle the day to day of life. Every one of those hard or dark times was taken into consideration when I built this schedule over the last three years.

Last year was my first full year without a complete burnout. For me that means I found what worked. What worked was this. As of now this is the way that I can schedule things in the most productive way while also being aware of my own limitations. This is how I get everything to fit without burning myself out. I have to create blank spaces in our year. I have to schedule in room for wiggling. To put it in a nutshell, scheduling for me, is all about how I Make Way for Breaks.


Back to School #5: How I Make this Unschooling Charlotte Mason Legal

Welcome Back to School: “How I Make this Unschooling Charlotte Mason Legal!”

It’s been quite a while since I sat at the keys of my computer, but Life has been crazy! We have turned back into single car family, the kids got sick, I started teaching Sunday School and I’ve been engrossed in writing my first fantasy novel (scary/crazy/wonderful all in one!). Also, I really needed time to fill in some of the blanks in our planner (I probably could have used last years but its trapped inside of a box from our move to the Apartment) so that I could show how this all works for me.

Before I dive in to the whole process let me make a quick disclaimer or two:

I live in Anne Arundle County Maryland and have only ever worked with this county. Please tweak anything I write or use to fit the requirements of your county and or State or even just your preferences. Please research the regulations for your state to make sure that you are complying to them. This is just a general guide of what works for me.

Disclaimer 2: This is my second year in this state, I am NOT an EXPERT, nor am I claiming to be. I was praised highly by the three reviewers I met at different times regarding how I set this up. Several people who were interested in how I record our daily activities for legal purposes really liked how I put this together and so I am sharing this as an Idea for anyone who may want to try it out. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

#1 Know the Rules and Regulations of your County and State.

In order to make this all legal in my state I have to prove that I am providing “regular and thorough instruction” in the main subjects taught at a school. The ones listed for Maryland are “English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education.” I do not lesson plan. I do not create a Scope and Sequence. I do not follow a curriculum. I follow my children’s interests, read, explore and generally learn through life… which you can imagine does not provide a whole lot of proof of “regular and thorough” instruction.

When I started this journey I FREAKED out while trying to prepare for my first review!! There are two required a year and some prefer to go via an umbrella school which will help you go through the process for a fee but we don’t have extra money so we do our reviews through the county because its free.Mid freak out I called one of the veteran homeschoolers from church (who reassured me that I was fine), read through every blog I could find (not much help), searched high and low for any paper proof that my son had actually learned what I claimed he did (not too much was still in pristine condition). I even went so far as to have him take a few math and language arts placement tests (which I despise…but I was desperate) to prove to the reviewer that he did in fact know how to read and do grade level math.

All of it in vain.

I brought my son in (not because I needed to, he just wanted to come along) and he wowed our reviewer as he chatted to her answering questions about the subject matter before I could. I showed the reviewer my planner, some photos from our iPad and an excel file. I did not even get to the papers and tests before she started singing my praises and told me that I had enough. Before siting down with her I had a mini meltdown in the lobby of our county library as I watched other moms walking in with SUITCASES and CHRISTMAS TOTES filled with curriculum to show off…I had an iPad and an expandable file folder, there was no way I could compete!

The reviewer let me in on a secret that day … boxes of curriculum does not always mean a well educated child.

I asked her what her and the other reviewers (usually retired teachers) looked at so that I could prepare for future reviews.

Her answer was simple.

A schedule, even if its loose .

A variety of subject matter.


#2 The Schedule (“Regular” Instruction)

Having a schedule is NOT mandated, overtly, in the state guidelines and many of the other homeschoolers I had talked to were irate at the idea that they would ask for a schedule when it is not mandated by law. Here is the thing though, as explained by our reviewers, a schedule is the easiest way to show the “regular” part of the “regular and thorough instruction” as mandated by the laws. Personally, I prefer to show a loose schedule rather than hundreds of dated pieces of paper so I will continue to have schedules as a part of my review prep.

 (Be kind with these photos: I am not a photographer and these were taken with my iPhone while my two year old jumped on the couch…spilling yogurt in the process on said couch… ah life!)


This is my current planner. Last year I bought a generic weekly planner at Target but the daily sections were pretty small and I was adding another student so I created a planner of my own using a large sketch book from an art supply store (I think it was Micheals but it may have been Joann’s), a ruler and markers.

On the First Page of the Binder I wrote out the calendar for the year . It’s not perfect and I could have printed one out to paste into place, but I didn’t. After making this page I decided I really needed to use a ruler. Wow those are some wonky squares!


I separated the months into quarters because it is easier for me to keep track of all the changes this way. I was also told that it makes me look very official and organized…which is a plus that I was not relying on.


The next page is a break down of scheduled vacations and Holidays. This is more so that I can have it written in one place. Each vacation is based off of a general time frame when we like to do a family vacation (or staycation) and each day off is based off a holiday we celebrate or a family members birthday. If we need more time off we take it…but here is the thing, when your living and learning daily though every day experiences then everyday is a school day.

This is really purely for review purposes.


Here is where we have our very loose weekly schedule, which has already changed dramatically since we lost the use of one of our second car… see, loose interpretation at work!


Or not?

Followed by our very loose daily Schedule, which as stated before is just a loose guide, it will change from day to day but generally we try to keep a rhythm that looks kind of like this.


What happened to my ruler?

#3 Varied Subject Matter (Thorough instruction in the main areas of study)

For this section I will focus on how I prove “thorough” instruction in English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education. I will go through it step by step but its easiest to think of it as reverse engineering for unit studies. I take what we do each day and then link the activities up into units after the fact.

The first part of this varied instruction is the list of things my children want to learn within the school year. As stated before, I find it easiest to work in Quarters, It helps us keep our focus and reassess regularly.

Each child has a page in the planner dedicated to their goals, broken up by quarter.



After each child’s personal goals page is our yearly planner.

Every night, or once a week depending on the week, I fill in what my children have done during that day. Some days I am very vague, others quite detailed. I color code the entries so that I know who did what. Green is my son (his favorite Color), purple/red is for my daughter (purple is her favorite but the marker died on me and so I switched to red) and blue is for activities we do together as a family. I will add other colors as amy other two get old enough and I will probably change how wide I make my days to fit all four…if we still live in this state by then.

If the activity is easily separated into a subject, I simply write down the activity. If the activity requires explanation, than I list out subjects and why it fits. For example, we go to Kinder Farm Park several times a month, however what we talk about, who we encounter, what books we may read under the shade of a tree adjacent to the chicken coop or what rabbit trail this adventure may spur will change with each visit and so I list the topics covered while there.

I also list activities normally associated with play, cartoon shows and video games my children engage with…even if they’re not overtly educational. For example, I have here pretend play and legos. When my children play pretend they are creating worlds (setting), creating alternate personalities (characters, antagonists, protagonists), acting out stories (beginning, plot, end) and often times they are incorporating what they have learned (summarization, narration, gathering thoughts). When my children play with legos or blocks they are testing the rules of physics, they are practicing physical science, they are budding engineers trying to solve problems. A morning filled with intense pretend play and lego building is morning filled with language arts, social studies, math and science. When my son pulls out the iPad to check on Boom Beach, Samurai Siege, Hay day, Dragon story and Vikings Gone Wild, he is doing economics (collecting money for goods or services), social studies (warfare, societal structures, rural vs urban, Vikings, Samurai/Ninja, WWII), math (I challenge him with calculating his total earnings before the computer, sequencing, cause and effect) and these games often lead to rabbit trails in other subjects as well (how did different people use archery in the past? Why would there be a need for landing vehicles = DDAY study). Same goes for cartoons. When my children watch Peep in the Big Wide World they start asking questions (or I do and they have fun finding answers), they use what they are learning about animals and then use that information when we go to the park (is it true that ducks are purple turned into a whole waterfowl study!). I record it all like this. Mostly because I will forget that conversation in a week or two, even if the kiddos don’t.




At the end of the quarter, I will all of these notes and add them into an excel sheet.

Unschooling Records 2013-2014 2013-2014 Unit Study

This is last years excel sheet. Basically, I reverse engineer a unit study approach based on everything we do. The first column is used for the Unit Study and its break down and each following column is a subject. The Subject columns are only big enough for an x and I simply x off any subject that may fit.

For example: This is a small portion of the Physics Study from last year.

                                             Social Studies Arts Field Trips Science Math English For. Lan. Health

 Physics (on going)

Isacc Newton                                X                                           X                     X

Bashers Physics                                                                         X

Nova: Computer and Fractals       X               X                          X

Blocks                                                            X                           X

Beyblades                                                                                   X

What if the Moon Didn’t Exist:BBC X            X                           X

In addition to the planner and excel sheet, I also have a simple composition note where we keep anything written that is not from a workbook. Yes, we have workbooks strewn about the house along with coloring books and I offer them as one of MANY options to choose. One of my children actually enjoys them and so chooses to do a page or so in them almost daily. None are full curriculums, most were found on clearance or in a dollar bin at bookstores, Target or Walmart. Having a composition book to keep all written examples, helps keep everything in a central location when it is time for reviews. One composition book is enough for the written examples for two quarters.

We also have Nature Journals that the children created so that they can record their observations when out and about, but I don’t even bring those to the reviews, it’s just something they have for themselves as memories (one booklet has lasted almost two years now so its not like they are adding to them daily or even weekly).

It is not a difficult way of recording.

It is not time consuming (Ive been told that some use Evernote and other online venues for similar purposes – I personally prefer having a hard copy of what we do, which is why I do it this way).

This does require some creativity and an entirely new look at how education can be described. It is not always easy to see how your child’s obsession with Barbies, Ninjago or Beyblades can be construed as school but it can and is learning if you change your perspective.

#4 Passion

Most Parents are passionate about their children.

Whether they are in a brick and mortar school or not. Being passionate about their education means being an active participant in the process…no matter what part of the process you are a part of.

Teachers are also, usually, very passionate about their students.

They spend inordinate amounts of time and money, that they do not get paid for, trying their best to educate other peoples children. Unfortunately, they have been getting a lot of flack and while there are those who may not be up to snuff (as there are in every profession, even parent hood) it is not by any means the majority.

As homeschoolers we choose to embody both passions.

The passion of a teacher as well as the passion of a parent. No matter what style you choose to use in the education of your child the goal is still the same. To have a well rounded, productive member of society. Sure there are other goals as well depending of your faith and creed but the basic goal is the same. This is what we strive for.

Unschooling is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. It requires constant mentoring and guiding (even if it looks hands off). The Charlotte Mason way is filled with living studies in multiple areas with lots of reading, writing and exploration. At first glance they may look they are counter intuitive but they are not. They both respect the wholeness of the child as a person. My passion for education is what binds too seemingly different philosophies together and makes it come alive.

Will I freak out again right before my reviews? Possibly.

Will I get through it? Definitely, because I’m passionate about my kiddos and their learning… and the proof is apparent in them.

Back to School #4: A Day and Week in Action

O-hayou Gozaimasu!

That’s pronounced ohiyo goyzaimas and it means Good Morning in Japanese… wanna know how my kiddos learned that?

Watching Anime with subtitles.


Welcome to Part 3 of my 5 Part Back to School series where we look at how a normal day and week work in our house.

Our Weekly Schedule

Our Weekly Schedule

Here is our formal schedule for our informal school week. Seems kind of counterproductive doesn’t it?
The thing is that, like I have mentioned before, we do best when we have a rhythm to our days. You will see times written in the schedule and honestly I ignore those times completely. They are there so that I can give my reviewer an idea of how things work, not so that our family becomes a slave to the almighty schedule. I say it like that not because I am judging people who need a schedule. Because some people really do need an itemized schedule to help keep them on track, there is nothing wrong with that. Some children have to know whats coming next and exactly what time that is going to happen, if your child fits that description than this will not work for you (but thanks for checking it out!). I word it so harshly because I am the kind of person that totally stresses out if I make a tight schedule and then can’t keep it. The truth is that I cannot keep up a strict schedule. I just can not.

In one of my other posts I call it Beautiful Chaos and that is exactly what it is. We have enough order to know whats happening next yet enough flexibility to go where the winds take us.

Here is how that looks:

My children have very slow and drawn out mornings.


Sometimes that means a diaper hat


Or winter wear in summer…


Or an adorable ensemble!

They usually wake up on Monday morning (730ish) and get dressed, they know we will head to the grocery store at some point in that day.

Then they play or watch cartoons until we leave (usually closer to 10), with a quick breakfast thrown in (c. 8 am) because mommy is NOT a morning person.


This could easily be Yoda, an alien, a fairy or a gnome…to start with


Empty drink servers are also drums, building blocks and so much more


Mirror Mirror is a favorite around here and a jumping point to all sorts of studies!

Their play is intense and intricate, often including complex story lines, character development, geography, science exploration, engineering experiments and multiple costume changes. I often include that when listing their language arts, science and social studies activities for the day.

They also know that we will probably set aside some time for copy work (hello language arts that only take about 10 minutes), read a book or two (again language arts), watch some movie (that’s why we call it Movie Monday) or cartoon that will end up leading to a discussion (which leads to reading more books) about a group of people, place or event in history (hello social studies). Then we will go to the grocery store were we will be comparing prices, rounding and adding (yep, you guessed it thats math). Once home, we will put away the groceries (more math with sorting) and make lunch (math, again, and health). Over lunch I might read a poem out loud, play some classical music (composer study/music) or show them a piece of art and tell them about the style (art, artist study). Ending the time with a clean up (more math with all that sorting).

That is our morning.

After lunch the younger two take a nap, sometimes the younger three, but all four will have a quiet time.

This mommy is an introvert and even though much of their play is with each other, they are still very intense and by 2:00 pm I am spent! Completely and utterly exhausted. If we do not have private quiet time than mommy gets snappy, my fuse is infentismal and I tend to yell, which none of us like. Because we live in a small apartment, we have to be creative with our quiet time arrangements. Usually Itty bitty takes a nap in the master bedroom, it is about an hour and a half to two hours of dedicated quiet. It’s lovely and because she is asleep the others have to be quiet as well. Curly Que looks at books in her room, on her bed…more than half the time she falls asleep too. Little Miss goes up to her brothers loft to read (look at books), do puzzles, color, draw or sleep. Two to three days a week she will fall asleep for about half an hour of that. Little Man reads or plays quietly on his DS in the living room with me, where I read, nap or write.

Everyone wakes up from this lull between 300-345ish and they are hungry. Which brings us to their favorite time of day, Tea Time. For Tea Time we use the fancy dish ware, set up the main table properly and enjoy a nice snack together. We talk about the stories they made up during quiet time, read poetry, work on Mad Libs together, try to stump each other with logic problems or tell jokes. Many of the jokes end with “on your face!” and lots of little giggles.


After tea is free play. Anything goes all afternoon long until Daddy comes home and we have Dinner. I try to clean while they play throughout the day but that doesn’t always happen.

Pretty much everyday works out like this.

On Tuesdays our tea time is a little more structured around poetry (each child will choose one or two poems for mommy to read out loud) and we do any errands or appointments during the morning.

Wednesday is our dedicated Library day and we go to two different libraries. One has a great selection of older, living books and it is small enough that the Librarian knows who we are and what we are reading every time we visit (which is so cool!!). The other Library is a larger county library with a larger selection in general. Then in the evening we watch the Nature and NOVA shows as a family on our local PBS station.

Thursday is our Nature study / Science day. We spend almost all morning out in nature. We have nature journals that the children use to collect specimen (via gluing the specimen into the book or drawing it), a pocket microscope, colored pencils, a tape measure and unscheduled time to roam. If there is a science interest that requires research or experimentation we do it in the Afternoons.

IMG_2539 IMG_2906 IMG_2926 IMG_3515 IMG_3576 IMG_3674

Can you tell they really like Thursdays?

Fridays are also one of their favorite days of the week. We call them free fridays. The only thing they do that even remotely looks like school is Free write Fridays. For 3 solid minutes the younger two draw, Little Miss draws according to a specific topic (we tried actually writing but she gets so frustrated and upset that we stopped that after 15 seconds, we also tried crayons so that she couldn’t erase and that was disastrous!) and Little Mister writes about a topic of his choosing (he needs a few minutes before we start to formulate his thoughts before the writing exercise begins, it may not be true free writing but its preparing them in its own way). Usually we have Piano lessons on Friday, sometimes we try to go to a local market, other days we go on field trips and some days we play in a playground all day long. It is free friday and every friday looks completely different! Our Free Fridays often turn into fun weekend trips too.

Cape Cod

Cape Cod

Cape Cod

Cape Cod

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Information Center in Philadelphia

Information Center in Philadelphia

Baltimore Aquarium

Baltimore Aquarium

Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

Valley Forge, PA

Valley Forge, PA

Valley Forge, PA

Valley Forge, PA

Kinder Farm Park

Kinder Farm Park

Kinder Farm Park

Kinder Farm Park

Playground on Fort Meade, MD

Playground on Fort Meade, MD

Playground on Fort Meade, MD

Playground on Fort Meade, MD

National Cathedral, Washington DC

National Cathedral, Washington DC

Hayride to Strawberry Patch

Hayride to Strawberry Patch

Strawberry Picking, PA

Strawberry Picking, PA

Montpelier Mansion, Laurel MD

Montpelier Mansion, Laurel MD

Making and Canning fresh Strawberry Jam

Making and Canning fresh Strawberry Jam

So there you have it. A day and week in the life of US! We don’t take too much too seriously. We try to have fun in hands on ways.  While we have this overarching rhythm to our days, nothing is absolute. We have even been known to do a Movie Monday activity on Tuesday and a Tuesday tea on Thursday. Each day is an adventure awaiting discovery, even if that discovery is how much fun hiding under blankets on the couch can be!

Hope to see you all next time when I post How we record all of this so that it is legal in our State!

You can also go back to to Post 3, Post 2 or Post 1 by clicking on the Hyperlink.

Back to School #3: Planning and Resources without Curriculum

Welcome Back!


Nature Study in the Rain

It’s my Back to School roundup and so far we have gone through What I’ve Learned about Homeschooling so far and How we use the Charlotte Mason and Unschooling philosophies in our house.

I did not go into any detail behind the two philosophies because honestly there is already so much out there on those subjects that I felt no need to repeat it. Also, while I honestly believe that everything we do can be repeated in any household, please recognize that my children are gifted and therefore tend to do things differently than others their age.  NOT BETTER, just different. They are crazy, wild and all over the place…and I have four of them. Each one dealing with their own asynchronous learning and over excitabilities which can be a handful to begin with. That being said lets get on to todays topics, Planning and Resources!

First off is how we plan when we don’t really know what we are going to learn.

1) Quarters not Semesters or Years.

We break our year up into quarters, two quarters before December and two quarters after January. This is strictly for state purposes. Well, not strictly. Here is the thing, my little guy knows that he has to do certain things in order to place them into our portfolio for the state. We try our best to get as much of that as we can organically but they tend to be sticklers in the writing and math areas (at least the last two reviewers were) and so we (my son, husband and I) have come to the decision together to have a few pages in a composition book a week dedicated to writing and math. However, the little guy also knows that school is not all year long and will read my calendar in order to find out when our “off” time is and refuse to do any “work” during that time…such as his writings or math. Im completely fine with that.

The real reason that we use quarters is that it is much more conducive to unschooling. It’s easier to plan if we are reevaluating our topics every three months or so. So at the end of June, September, January and March we have a planning tea. I make a quiche, scones, cakes, sandwiches and tea (or we go out for one at a local Tea Shop) and we have a high tea together. I have with me a little notebook, a pen and the calendar on my phone to jot everything down. During our tea we discuss what we learned over the last year and talk about the subjects that interest us now and would like to explore more. Each child adds their interests to the list and we figure out on quarters worth of materials at a time.

2) What our Lists looks like this year

Little Man (2nd Grade):

Geology*, World War I, Fractions, Multiplication, How to write a research paper, How to write a Lab Report, Nutrition and Running a mile.

Little Miss (Kindergarten):

How to read, Addition to 50, Double digit subtraction, Telling time, Tying her Shoes (she wants to beat her big brother to it), Mammals, Birds, Write a story

Curly Que (PreK-4):

How to Read, Addition, Subtraction, Write her Name, Insects, Water Mammals

Itty Bitty (PreK-2.5):

Bugs, Fish, Farm, ABC’s

*my children chose these subjects, I have changed the wording from Rocks, minerals and land masses to geology , or subtraction with 10’s and so forth.

* The amount of input I gave to these lists is: “what would you like to study?” “Is there a time period you are interested in?” …thats about it.

3) Look up the topics together.


Learn how to read.

Little Miss is a Right Brained, hands on learner. We have been working on reading since she was 3, at her request! I keep telling her that it is ok if she is not ready to learn yet and she pushes the subject. She knows that there are phonemes. She can make all of their sounds. She knows her ABC’s and can make all of their sounds. She can recognize any letter when standing alone and name it. She can sound out and separate sounds in CVC words verbally. She cannot put any of these things together when trying to read it off of a page. When asked what she sees she describes, in her words, that “the letters are wiggly and really messy”, every single time. For the past year I have been fighting with pediatricians trying to get referrals and trying to get those referrals taken to find out why this is so difficult. The response is the same everywhere, “she’s too young to diagnose as having a problem” or “she’s too young to test” This year we are trying again but most of them have told us that they will not look at a child younger than 2nd grade. So this year after doing some more research we decided to toss the curriculums and go after this fully through living resources and everyday experiences.

Curly que is left brained and active. She began speaking in complete sentences before her 1st birthday, so it came as no surprise when she declared that she wanted to read too. She will be 4 in October and honestly I think she already knows how at a basic level but hides it from her big sis. This is her chance to pretend she is learning while at least progressing, and I have no qualms about giving this to her.

Charlotte Mason recommends a combination of sight words and phonics taught through play, both hands on and verbally. I plan on using this method. I have done the research and it is completely compatible with the organic, everyday learning that is recommended with unschooling. However, as long as the child is helping with the choosing, there is nothing wrong with choosing a curriculum for your unschooled child, even if some radical unschoolers will tell you so. The point is that you are listening to the requests and needs (including learning styles) of your child.



We will be simultaneously covering Geology and Biology because that is what is interesting to my children. My youngest three are all interested in animals, in a way that their brother never was. Maybe that has something to do with the amount of time spent on Nature study over the past year and a half with the girls at a much younger age or maybe its just that he has a space obsession. I do not know.

Either way this is how we get into Biology:

  • Visits to the National Aquarium in Baltimore (memberships), The National Zoo in DC, The Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, Kinder Farm, Local Lakes, State Parks, National Parks, Nature Centers.
  • Checking out every book we can find that has to do with any of these animals and read them together. We try to find stories that are written by experts, as stories that realistically show the animal and otherwise living books.
  • Watch documentaries such as but not limited to: PBS, Nova, Nature, BBC, Disney (they have some wonderful documentaries with amazing cinematography), Animal Planet or any others we can find via Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon.
  • Youtube videos, Online Scientific photos/stories
  • Cartoons or TV shows: Go Diego Go, Wild Kratts, Big World, Steve Erwin and others
  • Roadkill and grocery stores: My children know what they eat, they are not shielded from death and while it may seem morbid often these two options open up a slew of discussion topics regarding biology.


I know my son well enough to know that when he mentions any science outside of Astronomy it is because he wants to know more about that subject only so he that he can understand it in terms of Astronomy. When we studied Chemistry it was purely for the periodic elements, atom make up and reactions. Why? because he wanted to know how the stars were made. When that wasn’t enough information he studied Physics and gravity. Now he wants to know what planets, comets and asteroids are made of and so he chose geology. I won’t kid myself into thinking that I finally got him to broaden his horizons, but I will take advantage of this subject and strew the living daylights out of it! so in the mean time we will study it through…

  • Visits to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Children’s Museum in Baltimore, The Science Center in Baltimore, National and State parks (and any ranger talks we can get into), Nature Centers, Home Depot/Lowes, The Dinosaur Park in Connecticut (which has a great geology walk), quarries, coal mines turned museums (there is one in Jim Thorpe, PA that we may visit again).
  • Every Living Book, Usborne/Kingfisher/DK/Eyewitness/Field Guide we can get our hands on for free or cheap. (Thrift shops and Libraries are the best resource for this!)
  • Documentaries or Cartoons: PBS, NOVA, BBC, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, Magic school bus…I’m still searching
  • Youtube, BrainPop, Science based websites found through Google or Pinterest
  • Rock Collecting on Nature Walks
  • Ipad and online game options: Alchemy, Elements
  • Science Course for Little Man through a Local Organization and if we are lucky and they reopen, through SERC. For the Girls through the Baltimore Aquarium.


Non-Learning how to Read Language Arts

We follow some ideas from the Brave Writer Blog because their ideas and products are amazing! We don’t use the products as of now but I’m not opposed to them. Instead we approach language arts as a fun past time.

  • Movies, Games and Cartoons: We approach visual media in much the same way that we do books. We analyze them as we watch or play them. Right now my children are in love with all things Pokemon. We find books about pokemon, we categorize the Pokemon, we talk about the story lines. Who are the main characters, who is the protagonist (we do use this word followed by good guy/main person just to get them used to the terminology) or antagonist. What is going to happen next? Did this episode relate to the last episode? How?…we also use more traditional options for the integration into the subject. We watch movies or shows based on books and then discuss the similarities and differences. They watch shows specifically meant to teach a language skill, like: WordWorld, Wordgirl, Martha Speaks, Pinky Dinky Doo.
  • We read books. Go figure! We actually read a lot of books…usually mom reading out loud but that gets tiresome so sometimes we have quiet book time, the ones that can’t read LOVE to pretend that they are reading and often make up stories based on the pictures. There are favorites that we read repeatedly, classics that we try out, chapter books occasionally…they take a while and my guys are wiggle worms!
  • I strew books like Basher’s Grammar or Super Grammar and the little guy reads them, repeatedly.
  • I pad and online options: bookworm, Storybird, Bookworm heroes, PBS Kids, ABCYA, Turtle Diary
  • Writing projects that we use to meet his goals: Free Write, Copy Work (he started copying one sentence, than one complex sentence, followed by one paragraph and eventually a short paragraph…this may take all year or until next year, I’m fine with that), one or two research papers and a handful of Lab Reports (probably as a part of a science course). Little Man absolutely hates writing but he knows that it is necessary and so we try to minimize how much we have to do for now. The girls on the other hand love it and want to do Copy work or Free write almost everyday.


Social Studies

The girls get their social studies interests as we read books and usually will ask for more after we have read a particularly interesting subject. Or they will focus on a single subject and want to know everything about it: like pirates or ninjas. At least thats what happened last year and so the best thing to do is be prepared for anything. Which is where google and pinterest come in handy.

Little Man is a different story. He watches documentaries with us or reads encyclopedias for fun and decided what he wants to learn so:

  • he finds books
  • we watch documentaries or cartoons
  • he navigates through sites like Brainpop, Mr. Nessbaum, youtube, and any others we can find
  • we go to museums and memorials



This is the subject that we do the least “work” with but practice most often.

  • We play games like :Dominoes, card games, dice games, Battleship, Yahtzee
  • We cook together: measurements, fractions, counting, adding, subtraction, time is all a natural part of cooking
  • We grocery shop together. Little Miss looks for the best price and Little Man adds it all up after I round it (out loud) to the nearest half dollar.
  • We have math games galore on the iPad and computer that they have free reign to play. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, time, measurement, patterns, greater than and less then.
  • We do math problems written on a piece of paper for the journal three times a week.
  • khan academy is available to them to use at their leisure. Last year they used it regularly but the mastery challenges were not quick enough for them and they were frustrated with not seeing their progress fast enough.


Health and PE

  • Wii sports, Wii fit,
  • Running at the track, Rock Climbing (at the playgrounds)
  • Nutrition: talking about healthy foods, reading books, talking to doctors, cooking, cartoons like magic school bus
  • Hygiene: brushing teeth thoroughly and twice daily, cleaning your body, washing hands, covering mouth, germs, bacteria


The Arts

  • Children’s theater or concerts at local colleges and community centers
  • Art museums in DC and Philadelphia
  • Street Artists
  • Online music (pandora, spotify, etc)
  • Videos of Operas, symphonies or theater performances online or through PBS Masterpiece Theater
  • Creating art projects
  • Piano Lessons



  • Weekly Sunday School
  • Weekly AWANA
  • Memorization for AWANA
  • daily Bible readings
  • VeggieTales, VHS bible stories, 3-2-1 Penguins!


I hope this can be of use to someone who is trying to plan without always knowing exactly what will happen next!

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!

Back to School #2: Unschooling Charlotte Mason Mashup

Post #2 in a series about getting back to school!

Water Discovery on a hot day.

Water Discovery on a hot day.

The days of summer are beginning to fade. The long nights are not quite so long. Backpacks and uniforms can be found in every Target, Walmart and Mall. Summer Reading lists are being crammed. Parents everywhere are jumping for joy. So are we. Not because our children will be leaving us for hours everyday, giving us that long awaited peace (which really sounds quite lovely at times!), but rather, because all of our favorite places will be ours alone once more!

No more wading through crowds to get to our favorite Smithsonian museums, or waiting in line to go down our favorite slides. No, no,no, it will be us against the world as we head out to supermarkets during school hours, braving curious and vocal strangers at every turn! Lets face it, we are not the norm. Not only do we homeschool but we unschool. If we tell people that we homeschool the next question is almost always what curriculum do you use. Depending on how brave, or talkative I am, I will either say “I make it up” or “we are unschoolers” because the first will bring questions but the second will bring shock and immediate judgement.

Yes, we unschool. Yes I allow my children to tailor their own education. Yes my oldest is 7, which is second grade for us, then we have my 5 year old who is in Kindergarten, my 3.5 year old is in Preschool and my 2 year old, she’s just a toddler. Yes, we do school. Yes, we have rules. No, I’m not a hippy…although I wouldn’t mind being one someday 🙂

You see, we are unschoolers who dabble in Charlotte Mason. I love the philosophy behind Charlotte Mason’s writings. I love the Literature rich environment, the focus on Nature, science and the Arts. I love the idea of 20 minute lessons and using Copy work, Narration and Dictation to help build language skills. Here’s what i don’t like, the scheduling! I used to think that I needed to introduce history in chronological order but you know what happened? My kids and I were bored, and history has always been my favorite subject! I just couldn’t do all those subjects in those orders, it was too forced for us.

Also we did not start out as Unschooling enthusiasts, we started out as classical enthusiasts…my early blog posts are proof of that. I tried, I really did and the Classicist in me (literally my undergrad was in Classical Studies!) wanted nothing more than to create mini-classicists in my children. The thing is though, that my son is a natural scientist, my daughter is a natural artist, my little fireball is a book worm and our youngest is a mashup of all of them!

So after this long intro here is how we make this work in real life…in Bullet form to make it easier.

– My Children choose the subjects. I will go into more depth in my next post but basically I ask them “What do you want to learn this year” and then we make a list.

– Once the list is made we follow it, and any rabbit trail that may pop up along the way.

Have Stick, will pretend.

Have Stick, will pretend.

– I give LOTS of suggestions. Almost to the point of bombardment. They are not required to do any of the suggestions but the idea has been planted.

– We live in a state that requires a twice annual review that proves that there has been instruction and I will dedicate an entire post to how we prepare for this but our children are highly involved with the process. We invite our children to be a part of this preparation process starting on the first “day” of “school”…which is usually an arbitrary day after our family vacation in July.

I remind them that we have to have things written and available to prove that they are learning and they choose what they will make or write. They each chose to have a single composition book to prove weekly math and writing.

– So how does that fit into our unschooling household? Simple, my children are responsible for setting their own parameters. For example, my son does not like to write. It is the bane of his existence. He knows that he has to show that he can write. We talked about what that would look like and this is what we came up with: (I made lots of suggestions and he said yes or no).

-Copy work is twice a week at most (usually once a week),

-Free write on Fridays (10 minutes of constant writing)

-One story a month on Storybird.

If there are any other writings that occur they are entirely his choice. For example, he wants to learn how to make a lab report and write a research paper so we will need to build up to that.

– We allow our children to decide on the consequences of unfinished homework.

Those assignments mentioned earlier break down to one assignment every other day and he has all week to complete them: 7 full days were his decision upon realizing that he would end up with 6 writing assignments and then 9…he didn’t like the idea of getting stuck at the end of the month or quarter with that many assignments so he gave himself a limit…we suggested this.

-We then asked him if at the end of that week his assignments were not done what would be the consequence (making him responsible for his own choices) and he chose to lose tv until the work was complete.

– We mix the how’s of learning from charlotte mason (copy work, dictation, living books) with the why’s of unschooling.

In our house that looks like this:

1) Son “How does the sun burn hot enough to warm Earth and all of the other planets” while staring out the window on the way to the grocery store.

2) My response “Well, the sun is a Star and stars are made up of burning gases. Why don’t you look up what happens when the gasses explode on my phone?” followed by me passing my phone back in the car.

3)  He then types why is the sun hot or similar query into my Safari search engine (asking every other letter to make sure he is spelling it correctly) and then reads the results out loud until we find an answer.

4)  Then he reads it out loud, we watch a video together or we find a documentary we can watch at home.

5) After watching the documentary and answering his initial question we then go to the library the next day and find all the books we can on stars, solar systems and chemistry/ elements.

6) At home, or in the park, we read the books together (with his sisters who are now also engaged)

7) I ask him to tell me what he’s learned (which is narration)


He might choose one of the sentences in the book to be his copy work that week


He may choose to write a story about a boy who goes to the sun

or perhaps, and really most likely in our house,

He will use the new information to transform his pretend time with his sisters…i’ll use that as narration too.

– We do weekly nature studies (the kids pick the park and we spend hours outside letting them explore as they wish),

– We go to the theater as often as possible,

– Museums a few times a month

– We listen to a composer (of their choosing from a list of possibilities) while driving

– We have art from a specific artist or time period strewn about in the house.

Learning about play in the 1700's

Learning about play in the 1700’s

– We have weekly activities that keep our house moving to a solid rhythm.

No schedules or minute by minute checklists, they work for some but definitely not us. We move to a rhythm, a set of weekly activities that keep us moving, both academically and as a family.

Such as Tuesday Tea time with Poetry readings and practicing manners.

I will go more into this later on when we tackle scheduling…or unscheduling…muahaahaa. (ok that was unnecessary, but fun so I will keep it!)

I have gotten pretty long winded here so I will save the rest for later. If you have any questions or want some more specific examples let me know, I love helping people figure out how to make things work for them!

Find Post 3 (Planning and Resources without Curriculum) here.

Back to School 2014!

at the Farm

At the Farm

Last year we began our homeschool journey, again. We ditched almost all of the curriculum, changed gears radically and fell in love with learning. I most definitely call 2013-2014 a success, so it should come as no surprise that, with all the back to school hoopla thats taking over the airwaves, facebook feeds and weekly circulars, my reevaluation of this upcoming year is pretty simple. In fact thats my keyword for the year (again). Simplicity is the name of our game.

So simple that I am going to get rid of the little bit of curriculum we bought at the end of last year. We are jumping in with full force, as in curriculum free! There will be no reading curriculum, no math curriculum…nothing but living learning for us! This year will be a continuation of our experiment, because it is an experiment that we tweak according to results, from last year. More Unschooling and more Charlotte Mason, less, no, I suppose a better word is no, no workbooks.

To prepare me for this moment I have done a lot of research. More research than ever before over the past year trying to figure out how people make homeschooling work in real life. I’ve read blogs, participated in multiple Facebook groups and a few forums as well. Here’s what I’ve learned about homeschooling in general.

1) Every family is unique every year. What worked last year may not work this year. What worked for kid #1 may not fit kid #2. Successful homeschooling families learn to roll with the punches and sometimes that means just letting go of things that don’t work, even if they cost lots of money.

2) There are a TON of free or cheap resources out there! Seriously more than I can count! Holy cow, I am always amazed at how much there is on Pinterest, teachers pay teachers, ihomeschool network and many other places. Some of these things are workbooky, some meant for lap books, others are teacher guides, or read a louds, and a few are full curriculums (like MEPs, a completely free math curriculum that rivals Singapore math!). It may take some digging but you can find resources for any and every subject without buying a curriculum…which makes traveling down rabbit holes so much less expensive!

3) There are many technological resources that go unnoticed because people are looking for paper formats. Youtube has SOOOOOOO many (yes, it requires that much of an emphasis) amazing science, history and hands on videos that will blow your mind and foster your child’s interests. Brain Pop is Amazing for all sorts of information. Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime have such a great selection of not only educational cartoons but also documentaries and PBS/BBC specials that are not only fascinating but also highly entertaining (my budding chemist has watched Hunting the Elements about four times in the last few months alone!). We have gone so far as to cancel our cable subscription and rely on those three providers fully (its our opinion and we are not getting paid for it).

4) Homeschoolers don’t spend a lot of time at home. Funny how home is in the name and all, but in reality, we are rarely ever home! In our house Mondays are grocery days (which ends up being a math and health lesson), Tuesdays are PE days and we go to the track (training to run a 1 mile kids fun run in October) as well as lots of fun at the playground, Wednesdays are library days, Thursdays are for Piano lessons and Nature Study, and Fridays are for field trips. Not to mention any class we may sign up for along the way. Granted it’s all totally flexible, but still we have a rhythm to our days, our week, our month and it keeps us all sane.

Visiting the Montpelier Mansion's English Gardens

Visiting the Montpelier Mansion’s English Gardens

5) Homeschooling in general is about relationships over stuff. It is time spent fostering good relationships with each other. It is making the time to build or maintain friendships. It is focusing on learning how to love learning. Its about finding your spiritual center and making it a priority in your home (regardless of what religion you practice or if you practice). It is above all rejecting the idea that things make you happy.

Outside the Smithsonian

Outside the Smithsonian

In general, no matter what style you eventually settle on, how you school will depend entirely on how your family works. There are so many options out there (school at home, online school, everything prepared and planned out for you curriculum in a box, subject based curriculums that are completely separate, Waldorf, Montessori, Classical, Thomas Jefferson or leadership, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Project Based, and any hybrid you can think of) and every one of them is as viable as the next as long as they fit your personal dynamic. I enjoy using great literature to learn through everyday life. We don’t require subjects, daily activities or impose things like bedtimes. Everyday in our house is filled with active and inactive learning.

In order to save space, I am going to turn this into a series,which is a new concept on this blog, so expect a 5 part Back to School series over the next week. Post #2 will look at Unschooling and Charlotte Mason philosophies or more specifically, how we utilize the philosophies in our own home. Post #3 will look at how we plan for our year and how we find resources that will help us on our journey. Post #4 will look at a day and week in the life of this crazy bunch and Post #5 will look at how we record our progress so that everything is legal in our state.

Join me! 🙂