Themes, Not Subjects

975552AD-D106-46BC-9F52-D6868ADEB61BThis will be my tenth year teaching school at home. TEN YEARS. Honestly, I can’t even believe it. I recently went to a homeschooling conference, and realized that I was in the significant minority. Most of the moms were in their 20’s. Most of those moms had 2.5 kids under 5. Most of them had expensive hair. Only a handful of the moms had kids that were in middle school, let alone high school, and it seemed like many of them had less than 4 kids. I felt old, and tired, and very frumpy. 664B2311-88EC-4795-920B-1AE6FCB92A84But ten years was just barely enough time to hit my stride, and now my oldest is beyond me. I am still hoping to catch up. {although it’s not likely}8d65a1d1-f116-43b1-9433-eb5891043cb3.pngEvery summer, I go over what worked, and what didn’t work the previous year. I try to plan the following year in a way that makes sense with what we have already done, and what fits the best with each kid, and where our family is at. Let me tell you, it is never a perfect match. One thing that I always get annoyed by, is how to structure our areas of study. I have always done them by subject- most likely because I am a product of the school system. We learned in compartments, without any connection between history and math, science and art, geography and language arts. These were all separate subjects, taught by different teachers, who weren’t particularly interested in any subject other than the one they personally taught. AA855913-8241-452D-8124-E912EA0BD256This year, I am throwing subjects out the window, and we are structuring our learning in themes. Many of these themes overlap each other- as described in much of what I have been reading- like a piece of fabric, each area connected and supporting the others, to create “a tapestry of learning” {as Bernie Nebel puts it}.

DB695154-6BFA-4A04-AB1F-8424E7D328CDHere they are.

Communication: Phonics, Reading Fluency, Penmanship, Composition, Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, Spelling, Grammar, Speech, Literature, Poetry, Notetaking

Values, Purpose, History, and Society: History, Ethics, Etiquette, Philosophy, Church History, Religion, Classics, Law and Politics

Discovering our Planet Earth: Sense of Place, Mapmaking, Earth and Space Sciences, Geography, Astronomy, outdoor skills, exploring

Living, Non-Living, and Human Made Things: Biology, Ecology, Physics, Anthropology, Archeology 

Water Wonders: Hydrology

Physical Forces and Properties: Physics 

Numerical Skills: Mathematics, Reasoning, and Logic

Humanities: Linguistics, Languages, Performing Arts, Musicology, and Visual Arts

323B8059-F323-4FA4-A0BA-788041BDEE14Whew. Basically, we are learning everything, this year.

Many of these areas of study can be easily combined, or done in parallel with each other, which makes the list seem less scary. There is pretty much a humanity for everything, which makes it fun.

139EBCBF-B664-4B32-BFEB-2F33AD5853A0Even as I was typing this list,  I was making changes and clarifying things. Undoubtedly there will be some variance in what actually happens,  from what you have just read. But setting the trajectory, that is important. We ‘have our work cut out for us’, so to speak.

Right now, I am trying to make sure I don’t forget any books in my orders over the next week! Also, I am avoiding the school supply sales, because I tend to go nuts with pencils. and markers, and especially notebooks. 

Enjoying these last golden weeks, Shelley


Spring is Here, After a Long Winter.

Well, blogging has certainly been on the back burner for me this year. I think the last time I posted anything was when Beatrix was born. Since then, we have done nothing. Sitting around mostly, looking at blank walls.  Ha! Just kidding. We have been super busy, so busy in fact, that writing a ‘catch up’ post seems totally overwhelming. So I won’t bother. I will just tell you what is currently happening, and little bits and pieces will fill in on their own.

{A brief recap of September-March: We have totally loved Beatrix, School has been up and down, Orchestra endeavours for Vegas have been exciting, he is going to State next weekend after taking first place in the regional solo competition, We have loved our schoolbooks this year, and are finished with a couple already! We moved. Yes, we moved again. The yard here is huge and fantastic, so a garden is on its way…there is more, but this was supposed to be brief!}


I just bought Exploring Nature with Children, even though another curriculum tool may not be what I actually need! It looks simple, easy to use, and sort of revolving, so that at any point we can jump in and use it. There are weekly nature walks, and everything corresponds with Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, which I have been wanting to get for a couple of years now. I found that there is a free archived version online, which we will use for now.


Having a new nature book is perfect timing for the spring nature exchange! We signed up for this one, the first one we have done in quite a while. Our ‘pal’ family is in Ohio, so we are looking forward to meeting them through this process. If you have never heard of the nature pal exchange, I highly recommend it! It is super fun, and changes the way you interact with the out-of-doors permanently. We are always scanning the ground for treasures, and still call things we sent in the first exchange by their Latin names! {I still REALLY want a Tamarix ramosissima for my garden!}

As far as academics go, this year has been a challenge. I am reading Teaching from Rest, which is hard for me, because I want to be able to say we ‘finished’ or achieved a certain level of work. I tend towards the vice of being a servant to my books, rather than using the books to serve us.  My goal is to finish reading that book, before I freak out about the fact that it is almost May and *some* of our students have a hefty amount of book service left before next year starts.

Right now, I just need to start a load of laundry.

Scouting out a good planting spot for my Vine Maple, Shelley

Handwriting is the New Black


In an age of emails, and text messages, we are fighting back with some handwriting intensives this year. Most of what ends up delivered by the mailman to our front porch includes bills, ads for stores we never shop at, credit card offers, and mail for people who don’t live here. I imagine that is what most of your mailboxes look like too…on the rare, bright occasion that a handwritten card arrives, everyone in our house wishes it was for them, and eagerly awaits their own. It is pretty sad that we just don’t bother to write to anyone regularly anymore…and one of our yearly goals is to incorporate weekly letter writing.

Part of writing a letter, is of course, legibility. While beginning handwriting is cute, that only lasts for so long. And there aren’t always 4-year-old interpreters around to translate reversed letters and chicken scratch.

Vegas has been studying Spencerian Penmanship for a few years now. I bought it for him to use in second grade, and it made him weep and gnash his teeth…. given back to him a few grades later, he took off with it independently, and if you have ever gotten a card from him, you will have seen the results.

Not wanting to induce more weeping or gnashing of teeth, we are not starting off with Spencerian Penmanship in the early grades, rather we are using Peterson Directed, which is sort of a broken down, less fancy version of Spencerian. At the same time, it is dramatically different from using the ‘loop group’ type of cursive, which teaches individual letters, as opposed to basic strokes that can be used to build any letter, and can be practiced, mastered, and used in conjunction to form any combination of words.


So, if you want a letter, send us your address! You can email it to us directly at

Buying stamps, Shelley