Play is a Child’s Work

Posted on April 15, 2014 
Filed Under Learning Lifestyle | Leave a Comment

Snap the Whip 1872 Winslow Homer

“Snap the Whip” by Winslow Homer, 1872

Deep meaning lies often in childish play.
-Johann Friedrich von Schiller

The outdoors used to be a place where children could run, play, build, create, and do the mildly hazardous things children love to do. I remember walking the 5′ high cinderblock wall that ran like a vertebrae down the center of our block, jumping repeatedly from the garage roof to learn to land lightly, climbing trees with a good book, using scrap lumber and other discarded material to build a fort in a neglected corner land next to a freeway, and countless other adventures that would make many adults wince. And I wasn’t even a particularly adventuresome kid.

Things have changed a lot, though. Children rarely seem to have the freedom to roam and play independently, and this is not a good thing. Hanna Rosin’s article, The Overprotected Kid, in the March issue of The Atlantic, is a fascinating look at what has happened to child’s play, and how it is affecting the development of significant skills.

Even though “play been demonstrated to improve academic performance, behavior, mental and physical health in children,” filmmaker Erin Davis suggests that America’s obsession with litigation, and “the rejection of any activity that does not have an immediate, quantifiable value” makes it more difficult to provide public adventure playgrounds.

Happily, homeschoolers have the ability to create their own adventure playgrounds. Provide space, time, old tools, and allow a random supply of junk to accumulate (childhood is short, and one day you can send it all packing), and you’ll have the ingredients for constructive, interesting play. Whether you’re in the city or the country, there is ample opportunity for adventure. Parents just have to be brave enough to allow it!

Here’s a preview of The Land, the documentary by filmmaker Erin Davis.

“The Land” Teaser – An Adventure Play Documentary from Erin Davis on Vimeo.

Don’t miss this interview with the filmmaker, Erin Davis: Inside a European Adventure Playground

Never neglect an opportunity to play leap-frog;
it is the best of all games, and,
unlike the terribly serious and conscientious pastimes of modern youth,
will never become professionalized.
-Herbert Beerbohm Tree

Our next conference will be the Great Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. I hope to see you there!

Carnival of Homeschooling: Learning Lifestyle, Reading, and News

Posted on March 25, 2014 
Filed Under Education, Family, Homeschool, Inspiration, News | 2 Comments

Learning Lifestyle

Still Life with Fruit by Severin Roesen, c. 1858-1862

Still Life with Fruit by Severin Roesen, c. 1858-1862

In this pair of articles on the Circe Institute blog, Joshua Leland shares Why I Don’t Own a Television and Further Thoughts on Television. Since I am also television free and always have been, I found these particularly interesting and thought provoking.

Dr. Jay Wile writes about the surprising finding of  Yet Another Benefit of Homeschooling at Proslogion.

At Cyber-ScholarDaniel Louzonis shares a day-by-day journal of his family’s Amsterdam Trip! Lifelong homeschoolers, they’ve recently moved to London, thinking it would be easier and more cost effective to bounce around Europe, from within Europe.

In Sisterhood of Spies: Two Reasons Every Mom Should Be Social Media Savvy, Heidi St. John writes at The Busy Mom about an uncomfortable experience, and highlights the importance of knowing what your children are doing online.

Dinner is a family affair where everyone chips in. You’ll learn this is much easier to do with the lifestyle provided by homeschooling in Preparing Dinner for Today and Tomorrow at Bruggie Tales.

In 3 Ways To Handle Being Frazzled & FatiguedKathie at the Character Corner shares “How to stay calm and sweet, rather than grumpy, when you are worn out!”

In Homeschooling for Jesus, posted at My Blog, Jan May discusses the importance of being focused on Christ in your homeschooling life.


Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child by Cheryl Swope
Kathy Kuhl, author of Homeschool Your Struggling Learner offers a careful review of Cheryl Swope’s new book, Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child at  Learn Differently.

At Like Mother, Like DaughterLeila Marie Lawler presents a delightful review of The Trolley Car Family in Warm Family Life–Library Project. As soon as I read her review, I realized why The Boxcar Children was so unlike the book I remember reading as a child. Apparently I read The Trolley Car Family instead!

Cindy Rollins will be reading and blogging through Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education by Stratford Caldecott in her online book club at Ordo Amoris, and it’s probably not too late to jump in. At Beauty in the Word Preliminaries, she explains how the book club will work, and shares her first post in Beauty in the Word: And We are Off…sort of.

Theresa Powers presents Free Book Friday CL Nature Readers | Nature Study Freebies! posted at Joyous Home.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
At Carrots for Michaelmas, Haley writes In Defense of Fanny Price: Why You Don’t Like Mansfield Park as Much as You Should. She’s probably right, and I should probably read it again, but honestly, Fanny is a pill, as my grandmother would say.


Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day by Jeannie Fulbright
In her ongoing College Crash Course series, science author Jeannie Fulbright offers a look at College Crash Course Part 4: ACT or SAT…That is the Question. Be sure to read the other posts in this series–they offer excellent information.

At Why Homeschool? jacate3 writes about Homeschooling in the age of Common Core

Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, shares Breaking News! The SAT test will change in Spring of 2016, at The HomeScholar Blog.

Shelly Sangrey shares some thoughts on  What Exactly Is an Unschooler? at the Red-Headed Mom blog.

ChristineMM of The Thinking Mother discusses giftedness and sensitivities in Thoughts On The Highly Sensitive Person, Giftedness, Allergies, Food Sensitivities, and Leaky Gut  and ponders possible solutions for the problems related to various neurological challenges.

The Diet by Jehan Georges Vibert, late 19th century

The Diet by Jehan Georges Vibert, late 19th century

College Alternatives, Part 1: Skilled Trades

Posted on February 6, 2014 
Filed Under College Alternatives, Homeschool | Leave a Comment

Skilled trades /industrial arts poster from WWII era. Public domain from LOC.govAfter the last two posts on financial aid, there were a few private comments about how hard it can be for a student to qualify for some types of aid. Honestly, it is easier now than it has ever been. There are all sorts of programs, initiatives, and projects, all designed to get more people into college.

This is not necessarily a good thing. Not every student is called to a profession that requires college. Not every student is ready for college right out of high school. Not every student is able to benefit from higher education. College can be a wonderful learning experience for an engaged, motivated student, but for some, it’s just an expensive party venue with a long-lasting bill.

If you have students who maintain they don’t need college, don’t want it, or don’t understand the purpose and meaning of education, it is probably not the right time to go to college. It is better to wait until they are ready than to rush off right after high school and incur debt for an education they won’t appreciate. They can go to work, start a business, work on the family farm, or do something else. If they eventually need college, it will be there.

College Alternative #1: Skilled trades

The first college alternative is the skilled trades, including  machinist, mechanic, builder, welder, electrician, pipe fitter, plumber, electronics or machine maintenance personnel. The traditional list could doubtless be expanded to include healthcare technologists and assistants, cabinet makers, arborists, midwives, and many others. My husband and I encouraged our sons to cultivate both a head skill and a hand skill, not just to have backup career options, but for wholeness of spirit. Although each has a bent toward one type of skill or another, having experience in both has been a personal and professional plus for each of them.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford
Although college has been increasingly pushed as an option for everyone, Matthew Crawford in Shop Class as Soulcraft writes of anecdotal evidence that suggests “one of the fastest-growing segments of the student body at community colleges is people who already have a four-year degree and return to get a marketable trade skill” (p. 12; emphasis mine). Subtitled “An Inquiry into the Value of Work,” Shop Class as Soulcraft examines the purpose, meaning, and value of productive labor through the lens of Crawford’s transition from think-tank PhD to motorcycle mechanic. He makes a compelling case for the trades, noting that he has “often found manual work more engaging intellectually” than wrestling with the abstract.

The trades experience chronic labor shortages, which are only getting worse as experienced workers retire. According to an article in Fortune, “companies that make tangible products are struggling to find candidates for about 237,000 job openings. To put that figure in perspective, it’s 89,000 more than the entire U.S. economy created in September.” Those openings need to be filled, and a 2013 article in Forbes analyzes where the greatest needs will be in the coming years. If you’re willing to consider a career based on demand, the Forbes article offers solid statistics to consider.

Wages for the skilled trades have been compared to wages for middle managers, but figures vary, depending on experience and where you live. Forbes suggest that the “median wage . . . is $20.25 an hour, and even the bottom 10 percent earn $13.14 an hour.” Training for the skilled trades can come through vocational training programs, trade schools, community colleges, or apprenticeships.

Although the skilled trades don’t always earn the respect they should, they are an excellent option. There’s even an extra bit of job security for some of the trades– when was the last time you heard of a plumbing job being outsourced to China?

Resources for information on the trades

Next time, I’ll write about College Alternative #2: Entrepreneurship. Watch for it here!

Note: As always, Amazon links are affiliate links. 


What Kinds of Financial Aid Are Available?

Posted on January 27, 2014 
Filed Under High School | 2 Comments

Beim Notar by Josef Wagner-Höhenberg (1870–1939)

The financial aid department deliberates . . .

Financial aid is available in several forms to homeschoolers, as well as the traditionally schooled. The U.S. Department of Education (the courteous provider of most of this information) awards about $150 billion every year to help millions of students pay for college. This federal student aid is awarded in the form of grants (good), low-interest loans (to be avoided if at all possible), and work-study funds (good).

Need-Based Awards

Grants are typically awarded on the basis of need and generally do not have to be repaid. There are four types of federal student grants:

Avoid Loans if Possible

Get a Jump Start on College: A Practical Guide for Teens by Janice CampbellLoans are money that the student borrows to help pay for college, and must be repaid (plus interest). If you want to avoid loans, you might consider earning credits through CLEP exams before college, or earning an associates degree, then transferring to a four-year college for the last two years of school. You can learn more about these options and how to make them work in Get a Jump Start on College: A Practical Guide for Teens.

There are two federal student loan programs:

Work-Study is an Honorable Classic

How to Go to College Almost for Free by Benjamin Kaplan
The Federal Work-Study Program enables students to earn money during the school year while also gaining valuable work experience, typically in part-time, career-related jobs. I am always moved by the story of Booker T. Washington working his way through Hampton Institute, and he is only one of millions who have chosen this way to earn a degree. It’s an honorable way to pay for your education.

Other forms of financial aid that might be available to students include:

Financial Aid: You Won’t Get it Unless You Apply

Posted on January 20, 2014 
Filed Under Education, High School | Leave a Comment

Dante by Luca Signorelli, c. 1500Do you have a teen who is filling out college applications? If so, there’s one more application to add to the list. It’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, informally known as the FAFSA, and if your teen wants to be eligible for federal financial aid, this form is where you start.

The FAFSA gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school, and is used by many states, colleges, and private financial aid providers to determine your eligibility for state and school aid. In other words, if you want free money, you must fill out this form.

What happens after you fill out the FAFSA?

Once you have filled out the form, it is sent to the colleges of your choice, and using the information on the form, colleges that accept your student will draft financial aid offers to fit the student’s need. These offers will arrive in the form of a letter that spells out how much the school can offer in grants, loans, and work study. Each college will offer a package that covers your federally-calculated Financial Need. This is defined as the difference between the cost of attendance (COA) at a school and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

An important point to remember is that while COA varies from school to school, your EFC does not change based on the school you attend. This should help to free you from having to make a financially-based decision on which college to attend.

Example, if your EFC is $1000 and your student has been accepted to three colleges.

No matter which school your student attends, you will be expected to pay your EFC of $1000. Each college will send you an offer of aid for the difference between that amount and the COA. So you should get offers for $39,000, $27,000, and $11,000.

You look at the letters, weigh the balance of grants, loans, and work-study, and start making making decisions about which college to choose. If you are offered loans, it doesn’t hurt to contact the financial aid office to ask for work study instead. You and your students will be blessed by anything you can do to avoid the burden of debt.

In our family’s experience, private colleges ended up being a much better deal than public universities, and I’ve heard other families attest to the same thing. One of our sons chose an eye-poppingly expensive private school, but received a full ride of grants and scholarships for the two years he attended (he had earned an Associates degree before applying). The public school to which he had also applied had much lower tuition, but offered one paltry grant and an array of loans. One of our other sons mostly worked his way through a public university, but got to the point where he just needed to finish and ended up taking a loan, which was not ideal.

You can learn a lot more about financial aid for college students at

What you need to fill out the FAFSA

Fill out the application at It will cost you nothing, and it is fairly easy to follow. You may also fill out a paper form or download a PDF to fill out, but this is not recommended, as it takes more time and has a higher chance for error.  The FAFSA website explains that you must create a secure PIN, and have the following items available so you can enter the information.

If you are a dependent student, then you will also need most of the above information for your parent(s). If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information, and then correct your application after you have filed your taxes.

Although you have to fill out the form each year, the site saves your basic information, so the process is quicker for the second, third, and fourth years of school.

When is the FAFSA due?

The short answer is to do it as soon as possible after January 1st. You want to have your application in the hands of the college admissions counselor before any deadlines are close, and before all their scholarship money has been offered.

To be considered for federal student aid for the 2014-2015 award year, you can complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between January 1, 2014 and midnight Central Time, June 30, 2015. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by midnight Central Time, September 19, 2015.

However, many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for state and institutional financial aid. You can find your state’s deadline at Check with your college about its deadlines.

Homeschool through High School with Confidence SaleNext week, we’ll take a look at the types of aid available. Meanwhile, remember that if you want to be eligible for federal aid, you must fill out the FAFSA whether you think you will qualify or not. If you don’t fill it out, you definitely won’t get federal aid and probably not any of the other aid tied to it, so do it. It’s well worth the effort.

Meanwhile, don’t forget that Transcripts Made Easy and Get a Jump Start on College can help you navigate these years with ease. You can do it!

Alternatives to Writing a Literary Analysis

Posted on December 10, 2013 
Filed Under Education, Homeschool, Language Arts | 3 Comments

1857 McGuffey Readers with instructions for use with Charlotte Mason teaching methods.There are many ways to approach literary analysis, but the default method is usually writing an analytical essay. There are good reasons for this– writing an analytical essay causes students to think critically, organize thoughts, sequence ideas, and compose an acceptable piece of writing. It’s an excellent way to prepare for college writing or a debate team, and it’s good for boosting general literacy and understanding.

However, essay writing is not the only tool for studying literature. Students can benefit from the occasional opportunity to approach the great books in a fresh way, so here are a few alternatives to writing a literary analysis:

  1. Create illustrations through drawing, painting, collage, or other medium.
  2. Do a chapter-by-chapter summary of a book, with brief sketches that recall the main event of each chapter (as a bonus, you can make your illustrated summary into a mini-book). 
  3. Compile a timeline of events that take place in the story; illustrations optional.
  4. Create a character chart that includes each character’s name, the page on which he/she first appeared, and role in the story.
  5. Write a news or feature article based on events in the book. Use correct journalistic format (instructions at the Purdue OWL).
  6. Summarize the plot of a book in poetry or script for a play.
  7. Create a website and social media presence for your main character.

Sometimes a creative writing assignment can be not only a welcome break in a heavy academic load, but also a way of understanding even more insightfully than usual. Feel free to share your own creative ideas in the comment section below.

I’m happy to tell you that the first, second, and third 1857 McGuffey Readers are now available at Everyday Education. Enjoy!

Connie Schenkelberg

Posted on December 3, 2013 
Filed Under News, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Connie Schenkelberg, author of Grammar Made Easy and Spelling Made EasyConnie Schenkelberg, my friend and colleague, stepped from this life to the next on Sunday morning (12/1/13), and I will miss her. I first met Connie at an HEAV homeschool conference in the 1990s. Her table was tucked into a corner, and she was selling only one book, Writing a Step Above. I’m a sucker for books about writing, so when she invited me to stop and hear about the book, I did.

The book turned out to be a short, easy-to-use intensive grammar course, and I used it with all four boys, and loved it. I saw Connie at a few conferences after that, but then she disappeared. It wasn’t until I was speaking and traveling to other homeschool conferences that I started looking for her book so I could recommend it to others (you wouldn’t believe how often people asked about a good grammar resource).

Around 2005 or 2006, I finally tracked her down and cold-called her to ask if Everyday Education could republish her excellent book. Much to my surprise, she was very receptive, and we ended up forging an informal partnership and republishing Writing a Step Above as Grammar Made Easy: Writing a Step Above. When she wrote Spelling Made Easy: The Homonym Way to Better Spelling, we were able to publish that as well.

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck
When she was able, Connie loved to join me at conferences to talk with people about her books. If you were at a Virginia conference between 2006 and 20112, you may have had the delight of being hailed by the kindly lady with the robust laugh. She’d ask about your family with genuine interest, tell you about her books, and share tips about teaching, cooking, and good things to read, too.

Connie shared my love of middle grade fiction, and my favorite of her book recommendations was Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago. She also introduced me to “Three Questions,” a memorable short story by Leo Tolstoy, which in her honor, formed the foundation for this month’s writing lesson at Schoolhouse Teachers.

In recent years, Connie’s health has not been good, and she’s had to stay closer to home. I haven’t seen her for over a year, but we communicated by phone or e-mail. I’m going to miss knowing she’s there. I’ll miss making room in the booth for her scooter and bowl of candy. I’ll miss watching the crowds of kids who stopped by for candy but stayed to talk to the lady with the compelling voice. I’ll miss hearing hearing about her trips to visit the stately buffalo she loved. Connie was a dear friend, and I’m glad I knew her.

Connie’s life was characterized by a focus on faith, family, and friends. She leaves her husband, Loren, and grown children, Andrea and Andrew, along with their spouses and one granddaughter. You will find details about her memorial service on her Facebook page.

A buffalo for Connie. 

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Psalm 116:15

Gratefulness and Thanksgiving

Posted on November 27, 2013 
Filed Under Family, Home & Garden, Inspiration, Poetry | 3 Comments

The Angelus by Jean-Francois Millet

The Angelus by Jean-Francois Millet, 1859

A cold rain falls outside my window, but inside it is warm and cozy, and I am thankful. Not just for the warmth that results from months of wood cutting, splitting, and hauling, but for the love that inspired it all, and for the faith, family, and friends that make life sweet. I am grateful.

It’s time to begin cooking, so I’ll be brief. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that each year I share the same poem, “Gratefulnesse” by George Herbert (1593-1633). Each year it reminds me anew to focus on things that matter. The poet, describing himself as “thy beggar,” begins by petitioning God for a grateful heart:

Thou that hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a gratefull heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee
By art.

Herbert muses about God’s tender, patient reception of our “perpetuall knockings” at His door, and finishes with a touch of humor, reminding God that

“And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankfull heart obtain
Of thee:

Not thankfull, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare dayes:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.”

Herbert’s love for God and understanding of Him as a gentle, patient “Abba, Father” shines through each line. God’s children ask “Gift upon gift,” yet he “didst allow us all our noise: / Nay, thou hast made a sigh and grone / Thy joyes.” Imagine.

You may read the entire poem, plus a bit about the Jean-Francois Millet painting (above) at the Excellence in Literature site.

Here is the link to a 2009 post with an idea for sharing blessings, plus the Cranberry-Orange Relish recipe. This recipe is our family tradition for Thanksgiving, and it’s ideal, because it’s quick and easy and can be made ahead. So if you were looking for one more thing to add to your table, here it is!

And finally, be sure to check out our Thanksgiving Sale!

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought,
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
–G.K. Chesterton

Telling the Truth in Fiction

Posted on October 16, 2013 
Filed Under Learning Lifestyle, Reading, Writing | 2 Comments

St. George and the Dragon- a 15th C. iconI have been thinking about fairy tales this week after coming across the bowdlerized (to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content) version that appears on a third grade Common Core reading assignment. In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien writes, “The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”

Although non-fiction is effective for telling facts, fiction shows facts in action. There are two primary ways you can tell truth through fiction. The first is through simple stories such as parables, myths, and fables that easily and obviously illustrate a moral or truth in action. The second is through longer, more sophisticated stories such as those found in novels, plays, and epics. Each has its place in the world of fiction, but I have come to believe that some of the most powerful stories are short–pithy parables, wise fables, simple folk tales, and imaginative fairy stories.

When Christ told the parable of the seed-sower who sowed in various places, he told a story his audience could visualize. Can you imagine that any of them left with the desire to be anything less than the good soil that would produce a bountiful crop? In a similar way, Aesop’s fables illustrate the folly or wisdom of human behavior in such an effective way that many of the morals drawn from them are used as metaphors in everyday life. We can encourage ingenuity by reminding our children of the crow and the pitcher, or discourage greediness by reminding them of the dog in the manger.

Fairy tales are often seen as either too dark or too frivolous, but they tell the truth in a very special way. As G. K. Chesterton wrote in his essay “The Red Angel,” “fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already . . . What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” To deprive a child of fairy tales or present him with a butchered version such as the Peter and Patty story from the Common Core is to not only dull his taste for good literature, but also rob him of the assurance that one day he too may slay the dragon.

More on this topic:

“On Fairy Stories “by J. R. R. Tolkien

“The Red Angel” by G. K. Chesterton

“On Three Ways of Writing for Children” by C. S. Lewis

Hansel and Gretel and Courage and the Defeat of Evil” at The Wine Dark Sea


A Piqued Plea for Correctly Peeking at the Peak

Posted on September 17, 2013 
Filed Under Grammar, Language Arts, Teaching Writing | Leave a Comment

I’m not sure why, but I’ve recently been seeing a rash of misused peaks. I have a feeling that these things spread like smallpox, and are just as deadly to clarity and enjoyment of the written word. Here for your enjoyment is a mini poster that might help keep them straight. Feel free to share!

Peek at this peak lest it grows piqued.

Handbook for Writers: Excellence in Literature

P. S. I know that learning homonyms isn’t always easy, but there are things that can help. Spelling Made Easy is an ungraded two-year, puzzle-based spelling program based entirely on homonyms, and the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers has a substantial list of Frequently Misused Words (pages 267-277). I hope they’re helpful!

Spelling Made Easy: The Homonym Way to Better Spelling by Connie Schenkelberg



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