Back to School, Baby!

Last Monday, we began our family’s sixth year of home education.  Things have changed since our rookie season.  Back then, one child was homeschooling (second grade).  One child was attending a local pre-k program, and our baby girl was one year old, happily coming along for the ride.  I jumped into the classical method because I had friends using it.  It also made a lot of sense to me, a former doctoral student in education.  The classical philosophy meshed well with what I believed about learning, so we dove right in.  We belonged to a small but inspiring little co-op that met in a fabulous botanical garden.  It was positively dreamy.

Now, our home life–and thus, our educational atmosphere–looks quite different.  We have four homeschooling students.  This “school house” of ours contains a seventh grader, a fourth grader, a first grader, and a 3-year-old preschooler.  We have a one-year-old daughter who complicates things while also helping us to keep a light, cheerful spirit and a humble perspective.  While I still value many elements of a classical education, we have shifted into a Charlotte Mason style of learning and living.  We live in a different state with a very different climate.  We belong to a far larger co-op inside a lovely church.

So much change.  But our love for learning at home remains strong.  Some of our motivations are the same, and new ones have come.

Now we begin 2017-2018.  I love planning a new year of books, activities, and exploration.  I love that Charlotte Mason folks think of education as a “feast” with many tantalizing offerings to taste and enjoy.  Isn’t that a terrific image as we approach education as a joy and an adventure?


I’m excited to have a preschooler again.  His natural curiosity is delightful, and his growing hunger for books warms my heart.  In week one, we read and played with Blueberries for Sal.  This week, I’m offering him Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  I’m planning simply, low-preparation activity boxes to help keep him engaged while I attend to other kids, but I also hope to maintain the sense of fun as we dig into new stories.


Whether you are simply exploring homeschooling, continuing a year long schedule, or returning “back to school” as I am, I wish you peace, growth, and happiness on your journey.




Groundhog’s Day and Candlemas

A re-post from my personal blog, six years ago.

I don’t know why I love Groundhog’s Day so much.  I guess it’s just the silly fun of it.  Maybe it is the midwinter longing for a little spring weather.  My love might also have something to do with a rotund critter who visited our  backyard for many summers of my childhood.  We named him “Chubbs.”  Whatever the reason, I was excited to celebrate with my boys on February 2nd.

I borrowed the idea for these cupcakes from Gourmet Mom on-the-Go, but I decided to go with cupcakes instead of cookies.  I love cupcakes.  They just seem more festive.  That being said, if you visit the link above, you must look at the groundhog hot chocolate.  Too cute!  We enjoyed our cupcakes when Daddy got home from teaching around 3pm.  We had a little tea time celebration with cupcakes and decaf tea.  Earlier in the day, we worked on our new winter playscape.




In the evening, we celebrated Candlemas for the first time.  What fun to embrace a new tradition.  For weeks, I’ve been reading about Candlemas, researching its history, customs, and potential for creating a meaningful teaching moment for our family.  The internet is full of sources about this rather obscure little holiday, but here is the quickie version.  Candlemas marks the end of the 40 day period after the birth of Jesus.  According to Jewish custom, Mary would have gone to the Temple for purification (40 days postpartum for a boy baby, 80 days for a girl).  This would have been the day of Christ’s first visit to the Temple, His Father’s house.  The event is recorded in Luke 2:22-40.  While I consider myself pretty familiar with the Bible, I didn’t remember so many of the wonderful little moments in this story.  A figure named Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Christ.  Upon seeing young Jesus in the Temple, Simeon acknowledges that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.  He gives thanks to God that he may now rest in peace.  Also, an elderly prophetess named Anna acknowledges and blesses the baby.  Such a beautiful moment in the early life of Jesus!





I drew and laminated some simple figures for the kids to use in acting out the story.  We even enjoyed a spirited rendition of the story by Daddy at the dinner table!

From my quick research I learned about several interesting Candlemas traditions.  Because the date also marks the center point between with first day of winter and the first day of spring, people eat round foods to remember the sun.  When the holiday is given its Christian identity, the acknowledgement of the sun also becomes the acknowledgement of the Son of God, the light of the world.  Candlemas has potential pagan roots in the Gaelic festival, Imbolc.  I find the parallel to be a wonderful statement about the way God shows up in creation and how He designed the world to reflect the presence of Jesus in all things.  We ate our round foods (cheeseburgers; sliced potatoes baked with olive oil, salt & pepper; carrots in “coin” shape; and orange slices) with candles on the table and talked about Jesus as the Light.  Other traditions include bringing candles to church for a priest to bless them and watching the weather for a prediction of spring’s arrival (“If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, / winter will have another bite. / If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, / winter is gone and will not come again.“).  Not hard to see the Groundhog’s Day connection!

It was a special evening, and I hope our family embraces this new-to-us holiday for many years.  It proved to be a great teaching tool and a sacred moment in the middle of a regular old week.   ~*~Erica~*~

Hibernation Mode

It’s no big surprise that Pittsburgh is a grey city. This place has many, many cloudy days. In fact, it ranks in the top five major U.S. cities for # days in which the day is more than 3/4 covered in cloudy skies. (We are #4, with 203 days/year of “heavy cloud”.) All of these cloudy days equates to winter feeling like a long, often dreary season, especially when it’s cold, wet, or – most likely – both. Even in what was once an old Victorian boarding house, our home can start to feel like the walls are closing in on us, but I have been working hard to combat cabin fever, and have realized that we all feel better if we do so by slowing down, staying home, and entering what I like to think of as “hibernation mode”.

Reading on the couch.
Reading on the couch.

After a month of holiday festivities, visits with friends and family, and too many sweets, this first month of the year in our home has been embraced as family time. Now, we as a family, and particularly as a homeschooling family, spend quite a bit of time together. But January takes that up a notch – our calendar stays purposefully clear, jammies are worn all day, and we spend days inside. While hibernation often conjures up thoughts of sleep or laziness, our time is quite the contrary. Yes, it’s slowed down, in that we won’t be rushing around to get anywhere on time, climbing in and out of the van, trying to pack lunches and make playdates. But we ramp up our reading and imaginary play, as well as taking advantage of what we can walk to within our own community, having our world shrink down to about a square mile. Despite living in a neighborhood that does not have a high score on the walkability scale, we do have a corner grocer, a library, dance class for my daughter, and a neighbor who gives many of the local children piano lessons. And unless the windchill is down in danger zone territory, we are walking to those places.

Walking to piano in the rain.
Walking to piano in the rain.

A few snippets of the past few weeks include exploring the structural integrity of the various weights of blankets when building forts; delivering hand-written notes to neighbors up and down our block via scooter; cheese runs to the grocer for grilled cheese and tomato soup lunches (a family favorite on rainy days); building snowmen on our single snowy day thus far; and of course, books and legos. So many books and legos. There are a lot of moments when three children, age 7 and younger, running circles around our house make me question our choices and my sanity. But turning a corner to find them snuggled together on the couch while the oldest reads books to her brothers melts the tension away and helps me remember why we homeschool, why we have worked so hard to build and support this family-focused life, why sometimes hibernating is just what we need.


New and Hard

New things are fun!  Over the weekend, we went ice skating for the first time in two years.  Two years ago, we had a 9 year old, a 6 year old, a 3 year old, and a one year old.  Only the older two truly skated.  The 3 year old held on to a bucket most of the time.  What a difference.  Now, we have five children, and four of them skated!  The buckets (shown in the picture) were still helpful, but everyone tried skating freely.  Most of the time we were smiling.  Most of the time we were laughing.

But new things are also hard–skating included  Ankles were tired.  Knees were sore.  Patience grew thin, and confidence was bruised.  We had to cheer for each other and encourage one another to get up again and again.  We paused to warm our hands by the fire and hopped back on the ice.  Some of us had a little more fun than others.  But you know how I know that this was a good experience?  Even the boy who had the hardest time was already asking when we will go again.  That, my friends, is learning at its finest.

Whether you are eight or 108, learning new things is hard.  You feel clumsy.  You feel worn.  But how dull would life be if you didn’t throw yourself out on the ice and glide?  ~*Erica*~


Finding a Rhythm

We are definitely eclectic homeschoolers.  While I feel most connected to the Charlotte Mason approach and I envision our homeschooling through that lens, I happily adopt elements of other educational models.  In particular, I love aspects of the Waldorf tradition*.  The concept of rhythm–a foundational element of the Waldorf lifestyle–resonates with me.  Rhythms happen naturally.  The ocean has a rhythm.  The days and nights have a rhythm.  Even the newest babies have a rhythm to their sleeping and waking, their hunger and alertness.

Schedules, on the other hand, are imposed upon us, or we impose them upon ourselves.  Schedules tells what to do at what time.  At 8 o’clock, I must eat breakfast.  At 12 o’clock, I must eat lunch.  The reading lesson starts at 1 o’clock.  Dance class is at 5.  You get the idea.

Perhaps this kind of rigidity works well for some people, but in my family, a schedule is a promise of failure.  I can guarantee that someone will have a dirty diaper at breakfast time.  Phonics will take longer than the time I allotted.  We’ll fall in love with our latest novel and not be able to stop.


So instead of watching schedules be unmet day after day, we follow a rhythm.  I love reading “day in a life” posts and articles, so I hope you’ll enjoy a glimpse into how our days run–the rhythm that keeps this family of seven moving forward.

Morning.  I wake up with the baby.  Sometimes that is 5am.  Sometimes, like today, it is a glorious 7am.  Usually, we are up for the day between those hours.  I change the baby, and I get myself ready.  I make breakfast for my husband, and our toddler usually wakes up during this time.  I make the little guy breakfast, too.  I sit down at the computer to breastfeed our youngest.  She’s four months old.  While we nurse, I post to my doula business page and the organizing support group I lead on Facebook.  Ideally, I spend some time in my Bible at this point.  One of my goals in 2017 is to make my Bible study time more of a priority, so I’m trying to read the scripture before I jump on Facebook.

I put in a load of laundry.  Slowly, the other kids make their way downstairs.  The big kids can make their own breakfasts, so they busy themselves with cereal and bagels while I nudge the young ones toward getting ready for the day.

I glance at my meal plan and the to-do list in my bullet journal.

Everyone is wide awake, and the inevitable squabbles are starting.  Milk has probably been spilled.  Oatmeal is probably getting cold.  Eggs are probably sticking to a pan.  I have already let the dog out about six times.

The process of morning chores is underway.  Each child (except the baby, of course) is responsible for bringing his or her breakfast dishes to the sink, dressing, brushing his or her teeth, and tidying his or her bed.  I don’t say “making the bed” because I want to make the job as easy as possible.  As long as the comforter is neat and the pillow is at the head of the bed, I’m happy.  I don’t need to know what dwells beneath the blanket!

When I think enough time has passed for everyone to be ready, I sit down at the piano with a baby in my lap.  I play a few simple songs (sometimes with one hand).  This is our “school bell.”  The kids know that it is time to come to the dining room.  I hope that we will come together for school by 9am, but that doesn’t always happen.  We sing a bit.  We read a bit of scripture, and we dig into our current family read-aloud book.  Right now, it’s Little House in the Big Woods.  Sometimes, we read a few pages.  Sometimes, we read a few chapters.  We do the picture study from Ambleside Online, and we listen to a piece from our current composer (also from

The rest of the morning is spent on handwriting, language arts, math, and history.  I move from child to child and back again.  I attend to diapers, spit up, the dog, and the toddler who isn’t quite ready for formal school activities yet.  He and I do a puzzle together.  I eat a pretend bowl of soup with a pretend piece of birthday cake in it.  I savor it with a hearty “yummmm,” and my son laughs, his chef’s hat askew.  I switch the laundry.  I nurse my daughter half a dozen times. I sneak a peek at Facebook and chastise myself for doing so.

I coax my middle son back to the table.  He hates writing, but we manage to inch our way through his assignment.  I give instructions (again) through clenched teeth and remind myself to stay calm.  I shove down my fears about the standardized test he will take this year, and instead, I focus on the huge notebook of drawings that he wants me to see.  I praise him and kiss the top of his head.

Lunch.  Lunch is often a hodgepodge that happens some time in the vicinity of noon.  I plan to give everyone an entire hour for eating and playing.  I make a few peanut butter and jelly wraps.  I make a grilled cheese sandwich.  I serve yogurt, fruit, and veggies with hummus.  This isn’t gourmet.  The kids eat and talk.  I call my mom for a quick minute.  Sometimes that quick minute turns into a long one, and I have to rush to gather everyone back together for school.  On other days, I take the rest of the lunch hour for myself.  I nurse  the baby, read, or mess around on the internet.  I enjoy this time while I keep one ear open to the sounds of my children playing with zero agenda.  There are arguments to moderate, but mostly, they play well together.

Afternoon.  We finish up our history lesson.  We do science, art, or music.  Sometimes all.  Sometimes one.  The toddler takes a nap (on some days).  On Wednesdays, we go to a homeschool history class at the public library.  We’re done with everything by 1 or 2pm.  I bring all activities to a hault so that we can do a quick clean-up before the kids run off to play.  The oldest reads for pleasure, making his Mama’s heart sing.  I put on music, and it isn’t unusual to find someone dancing.  I scramble to do a bit of cleaning, make things less chaotic before Daddy gets home.  That’s the goal.

Evening.  On Mondays, my daughter goes to dance class.  We have dinner afterward.  On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we have church activities at 6pm, so we eat dinner before heading out.  The kids set the table, and they clear their own dishes afterward.  I contemplate how our chores need to evolve as these children grow and mature.  They are ready for more.  I wipe up spills and marvel at the number of utensils under the dining room table.  How does this happen?  My husband starts the dishes, and I give him a big hug from behind.  The baby is in a wrap, sandwiched between us.  The rest of our evening involves board games, stories, and a little too much wrestling.

On Fridays, we attend a homeschool co-op from 9am to 12:30pm.  We have lunch there, and the kids have some playtime with their friends.  Co-op is such a blessing to us.  I love watching my children form meaningful relationships with kids from a wide range of ages.  When the weather is nice, they play outdoors and run off some of that wonderful childhood energy.

This is how our days roll.  We move from one thing to the next.  We have interruptions.  We go with the flow.  We make messes.  We recover from the messes.  The next day comes.  It is predictable yet entirely new.  I soak in these moments and give thanks for both their comforting rhythm and their inevitable surprises.


*Waldorf education is founded on Anthroposophy, a philosophy by Rudolf Steiner.  Waldorf schools all over the United States and internationally celebrate festivals that have Christian and pagan roots.  Some elements of Anthroposophy do not align with Christianity in the way that I practice it, so I do not adopt Waldorf as our primary mode of education.  I do, however, have a great respect for the lifestyle, as well as the right for every family to choose the style of education that works best for them.  For more information, please visit

Everyday Lessons

I am sure I’m not alone in loving the everyday lessons that arise as a homeschooling family.  Sure, I feel great when I pull off a well designed lesson plan, and the learning meets my expectations.  However, my heart positively soars when I see my children gaining solid knowledge in organic ways that simply pop up as we do life together.  Life skills are never far away, and if we walk through life slowly enough to have the luxury of doing tasks in careful, mindful ways, then these lessons are ready-made!



Are you ever struck by the “are we doing enough?” question as a homeschooling family?   I wrestle with those concerns weekly.  I think about the specific tasks that “should” be done but sometimes fail to make the top of the daily to-do list.  I feel the stress creep in as the joy gets pushed out.  Then I force myself to make a mental list of the life skills we practiced that day.  My household has five children in it, so there are many opportunities to practice sharing, negotiation,  compromise,  selflessness, organization, categorizing, decision-making, leadership, and forgiveness.  We exercise our bodies, our minds, and our creativity.  Every single day.  Even on the down days when we lounge a bit and read a lot, we are practicing many skills that will be valuable long past these “school years.”


When I think about my deepest reasons for homeschooling, I come back to appreciation.  For my children (and myself!), I desire an appreciation for the beautiful Earth that has been given to our care, an appreciation for music and art, an appreciation for my kids’ own abilities to create music and art and objects of all kinds, an appreciation for their unique personalities and capacities for learning and sense of humor, and an appreciation for meaningful friendships.  In our particular family, an appreciate for God as a loving Creator is of foremost importance.* I want my family to have the time to appreciate these things and more–all those wonderful intangibles such as honesty, integrity, humility, and grace.  Don’t forget the very concrete skills, too.  We experience our share of laundry, sewing, dusting, digging, and cooking (and on and on and on).  So much life to live!

Everything I have listed can be found in the unique and brilliant lives of families who choose public and private schools as well.  I do not doubt that!  However, I love the opportunity to thoughtfully craft a life for my family that makes room for these things purposefully and without hurry.  When I have doubts and worry about the many, many subjects to cover in the fleeting years we have, I give thanks for the everyday lessons we share together.  They add up to a magical sort of life.  ~Erica~


*Neighborhood Homeschool has a diverse staff of bloggers from a variety of lifestyles and faith traditions.  This is an welcoming space where people can share their unique experiences and points-of-view.

Homeschool and Motherhood

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.  She never existed before.  The woman existed, but the mother, never.  A mother is something absolutely new.”  -Osho

 This is one of my favorite quotes about motherhood.  It’s so very true:  when we give birth, we shed the skin of our former selves and are born anew as a woman forever connected to her child.  Our selfish selves can no longer exist, for we are physically, mentally and emotionally bonded and responsible for this new little human who has come from our body.  This happens with each subsequent birth- when a new life enters the family, life resets and a new dynamic takes shape.  Motherhood is a constant evolution and the most intense and thorough form of self discovery.  We can’t possibly know how we’ll feel, what we’ll believe or what choices we will make until that baby is birthed from our body and in our care. 

There are many things in my experience of motherhood that I never imagined doing:  homebirthing, breastfeeding until my children outgrow the need (my oldest son weaned in his 5th year), and adopting a holistic, natural-minded lifestyle are a few.  But the biggest surprise of all would have to be homeschooling.  I never imagined that “homeschooling mom” would be part of my motherhood identity.  I always carried the typical stereotypes of homeschooling in my head: isolated, anti-social kids who seem to be missing out on life.  I probably thought it was strange and certainly never imagined that it would become part of my own lifestyle.  In all of my parenting choices, I have let my instincts guide me and have made educated choices that feel right for my family.  Homeschooling has become an extension of our “natural-minded” lifestyle and a beautiful opportunity that I feel fortunate to provide for my children.  It was when my oldest son (now 6) was around 3 that we started doing “circle time” on a daily basis.  As an only child, “playing school” was something I did on a regular basis and throughout my life, I’ve worked with children in various ways (babysitting, volunteering at daycare centers, working at KinderCare).  It felt natural to me to begin doing learning activities with my son at home and I began reading and researching homeschooling.  A couple of close friends felt similarly and we often discussed the concept together.  My husband didn’t immediately understand or agree- we are both products of public school and we turned out fine, didn’t we?  But after many discussions and exploring the idea together, he was on the same page and supported my feelings.  It was a natural evolution to arrive at the decision that I would homeschool our kids.    


 Homeschooling has been an amazing journey so far:  to see my kids learn together… to learn along with them myself… to give them enriching experiences that are “outside of the box” of traditional classroom education- I feel so lucky to be doing this wonderful work!  I feel that if I have the means and desire to provide my kids with this enriched lifestyle, our whole family benefits.  I couldn’t really imagine sending them to school where they are one of many- every child learns differently, at their own pace, has different styles, strengths and weaknesses.  I couldn’t imagine them spending the majority of their day sitting down and having to share the focus of their teacher with 20-some other children their age.  I can’t imagine my boys not being able to spend their learning time together and missing out on the many ages of kids (and adults) they interact with.  At this point in our experience, I have seen so many benefits to our homeschooling lifestyle that I can’t imagine it any other way!  I don’t think that all aspects of public school are negative- there are pros and cons to everything.  But I do know that it’s a different world than when I was in school and I can’t confidently say that public school would be the best I can offer my children.  I want more for them. 

Homeschooling isn’t easy- it’s downright hard at times- but it’s beyond worthwhile.  Many moms (realistically, probably all of us!) experience times of doubt.  We often question if what we’re doing really is the best option… if we’re “good enough”… if our kids are getting enough out of what we’re offering.  Asking those questions alone shows that you ARE doing it right…that you are selflessly giving to your children the invaluable gift of your time, your energy, your desires to want the best for them.  Isn’t the easier choice to just send them off to school?  By homeschooling, we’re providing our children with a way of learning that’s enriched, well-rounded and personalized- something that simply can’t be found in even the “best” of the public schools.  You don’t need a degree or special certification to offer this- your love, devotion and time is more than qualification.  As a mother, you provide a standard of care that can be matched by no other. 

I’ve found that SO many families are choosing to homeschool these days.  It’s far more common now than ever before (well, except when it was the norm back in the pioneer days!).  In wanting to connect with like-minded moms and kids to join us on our journey of learning, I decided to start a group which would serve to provide the social aspect that both the children AND the moms thrive upon.  We all need and benefit from the connection to others and the circle of amazing women whom I’ve become friends with has enriched this experience so much for me.  The friends my boys have made through our homeschooling circle has given me the reassurance that they’re not missing out on any of the social benefit of public school.  We do academic and learning activities as a group, as well as fun parties and adventures.  I am a better mom through the friends I’ve made through homeschooling.  The women I see on a regular basis through our group classes and get-togethers truly inspire me to be the best mom/wife/woman/friend I can be. 


I’ve learned as a mom- in all aspects, not just homeschooling- that my time is no longer my own.  Someday when my kids are grown and don’t need me as intensely, I’ll have it back to myself.  But for now, I’m learning to be ok with not accomplishing everything exactly when I want.  In life, our best laid plans don’t always turn out exactly as we hope (and sometimes, that’s for the best!) and the same is true with homeschooling.  Our lesson plans and learning activities may not always unfold exactly as we plan… we might not get to something on the day we intend… we may go weeks without accomplishing certain topics or activities that we had hoped to cover.  Life has a way of getting in the way of our plans and I’m constantly trying to be ok with that. 

There is a reality of not “getting it all done” that feels like a common theme in motherhood.  It can be frustrating but also awesome at the same time- sometimes not accomplishing everything leads to the spontaneous adventures that make the best impressions.  Life can be a beautiful, chaotic mess and when we embrace that fact, we make the real memories that are what we and our children will someday recall. 

I am so thankful that I have the chance to homeschool my children and to be part of their learning adventures.  I know that when I doubt myself and need a boost of confidence to keep going, I have the encouragement and support of a husband who believes in me, friends who share my values and goals and my amazing little humans who think I’m a great mom no matter what.   –Sara Sites

Unexpected Lessons

One of my favorite things about homeschooling, especially in the city, is how many times we go out and happen upon learning experiences.  We are a pretty active family who likes to explore and always be on the go.  Even the most routine adventure can be turned into a lesson, which appeals to this worksheet hating mama.

My son’s bike needed minor repairs and had been out of commission all summer.  We were so busy city pool hopping though that it wasn’t really an issue.  Now that the weather has returned to sanity (goodbye 90° and up!) I figured it was time to take care of the bike.  Every parent with highly active children know the value– for the kids and any person around them– in making sure they are well exercised.

The bike was a gifted to my son, Xavier, from our friend Rocky, who volunteers in a beloved community bike shop.  The shop owner made a habit over the years of reconditioning bikes to give to less fortunate kids and families who may not be able to afford purchasing one themselves.  We happened to be one of those families at the time and I can’t express the amount of joy Xavier had receiving it.  Since I know nothing about servicing bikes, I messaged the man who built it.   Xave is really into fixing so I asked Rocky if he could be a part of servicing the bike, it was no problem.

We got to Kraynick’s Bike Shop in the Garfield community of Pittsburgh, unloaded the bikes (we brought the whole family’s) and went in to set up.


I wasn’t aware of it before, but the shop is actually set up as a workspace for the community.  Locals can come in and tune their own bikes, or have Mr. Kraynick or a volunteer fix it for them. Either way, people are encouraged (though not made) to take part in the process.   This was perfect!

Rocky mounted the bikes on the rack, one after the other, and proceeded to show Xavier the basics of how to oil the chains, test and adjust the gears on the adult bikes, fill the tires, and fix a slipped chain.  Xavier mentioned that he would like a hand brake, so Rocky went above and beyond and showed him how to install one as they worked on it together.  He even threw in a headlight for the night riding Xave so desperately wants to do (‘fraid not yet, my young son).

This morning Xavier is schooling me on how the brake works, how to put it on, and where the rear hand brake will go when he has mastered the front one.  There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing my children learn practical life lessons.  We love book learning, that certainly has a place in our homeschool days, but seeing them learn how to actually take care of things themselves is priceless.  The added bonus yesterday was Xavier seeing community in action.  These two things combined– practical learning and community involvement– made a wonderful day of unexpected lessons.  And it was amazing.   ~Audrey

Treasure Hunt

The homepage for this blog states that “Neighborhood Homeschool was born from a desire among parents to see the day-to-day stories of families homeschooling in urban settings.  Homeschooling changes a family’s relationship to its community and environment.  After all, every nook of our surroundings becomes a classroom.”  An experience in our homeschool this week embodies that description better than anything else I have written for the blog so far and I would love to share it with you.

We did a unit on maps and map reading this week.  As a capstone activity, I set up a treasure hunt of sorts for him in our neighborhood. We are lucky to live a block away from one of the longer business districts in the city.  We have three blocks full of independently owned businesses working together to make our community a fantastic place to live.  My husband and I are huge proponents of the shop local movement and make every effort we can to shop on “the boulevard” for everything we can. As a result, most of the owners of those small businesses know us and our son and were willing to be my accomplices in the treasure hunt.  It pays to know people!

There were a number of challenges including the fact that I had to get away from my son to set it up and my son can’t read yet.  My husband helped out with the first problem by distraction the little guy for a while so I could go plant the clues.  The second challenge was a bit trickier.  I decided to make the map largely with online clipart images which he could recognize as representing a business he is familiar with or the name of a street he knows.  In the image below, the stack of money is the bank and the coffee mug is the coffee shop. I was feeling particularly clever about the images for Castlegate Avenue!


He followed clues which led him up and down the business district until he ended up with his treasure of chocolate ice cream.  Each business owner along the way engaged him in a conversation about homeschool, about maps, about treasure hunts, or about puzzles before they gave him the envelope with his next clue and a puzzle piece.   Each clue had a short verse to indicate where we were going next and the image of the next location on the map on it.   He glued the puzzle pieces onto a piece of cardboard to reveal the final clue – an ice cream cone.


We both had a great time and so did everyone we talked to along the way. I was absolutely thrilled at how involved all of our friends in the neighborhood got.  It’s a good day when a five year old boy on a treasure hunt stops by and you can be part of the adventure.

So many things I love about urban homeschooling happened in this treasure hunt.  Not only did we get to use a map in a hands-on activity which got us out of the house, but we got to collaborate with our friends and neighbors and support our community in the process.  As stated in our blog description, our community became our classroom. What a treasure that is!  ~P.L.H.


Market Street

This blog began because a friend of mine and fellow homeschool mom said, “Hey, where are the urban homeschool blogs?”  She was right.  The story of urban homeschooling can be hard to find on the big internet.  The same can be true in children’s books.  Many stories written for children depict the quaint county side, the lively farmyard, or an odyssey through the wilderness.   Of course, the world of busy streets and brick row houses isn’t completely absent from children’s lit, but it seems more difficult to find than horses, log cabins, and woodland creatures.  I get excited when I find a great depiction of city life.

This week we are reading Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (illustrated by Christian Robinson.)  This Newberry Winner depicts a tender relationship between a boy and his grandmother, a woman who “always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.”  The book takes a gentle look at poverty and gains its real meat from the themes of gratitude and perspective.  Along the way, messages of appreciation, beauty, and selflessness come through.

The illustrations are charming and meaningful in their own right, and the writing borders on poetry, making Last Stop on Market Street a delightful read-aloud selection.

In our homeschool, we used the story as a place to jump into some city artwork. I love that my kids ignored the restrictions of paper size (notice the pages taped together) and of time limits; at 3pm I quit teaching, but the kids were at the table much longer.  I call that a successful activity!  ~*~Erica