Tracy Million Simmons

Lines of Communication with Teen Unschoolers

How one mom uses technology to stay connected to her teen unschoolers. Good ideas here! #homeschool

There are emails in my inbox from my children this morning. My son has sent a link titled, “Best Worst Game Trailer Ever,” and my daughter, the middle kid, has sent an email titled, “How Utah Solved Homelessness,” and “TV Return Dates.” My latest email exchange with the oldest is titled “21 Things you can do in London that are Free.”

This habit of emailing each other throughout our day has grown, I think, from something my husband started. He sat down a couple of years ago and made a list of things he heard the kids bring up in conversation often. He created a list of Google Alerts for himself with keywords based on those topics and the alerts became fodder for email exchanges with the kids (and me — he outlined my interests, as well). At first I was perhaps a little skeptical of his motives, but I soon saw how often those exchanges started spilling into our conversations, sparking exchanges we might not have otherwise had, and how many times an idea or concept picked up in this manner turned into a whole family dialogue.

Even better, the kids began responding in a similar fashion. When they came across something they found amusing, enlightening, or curious, they’d send an email titled, “What do you think of this?” or “Something we should consider.”

It’s become another way for me to peek inside their universe at an age where kids are often accused of being less accessible. I may not know every detail, but in this small way I think I am gaining a greater understanding of what captures their interest and imagination. I don’t always understand what draws them to the things they are drawn to, but these glimpses have opened my eyes to things I might not have noticed on my own. I learn a little something with each note and what evolves into conversation helps me understand where a topic ranks in importance.

Many of these exchanges burn out quickly, while others have become subject of daily conversation between a few of us and sometimes all. I like the point of contact that fits between schedules that are increasingly filled with job and school obligations, something our lives were free of for so long.

These email exchanges are indicative of our changing roles. We serve as the primary resources for our children less and less with each passing day. More and more, they are teaching us, showing us the things we need to learn to keep up with this ever-changing world.

In the Autumn of Unschooling: Shifting Gears for High School

Pinning this for later: Great read on what unschooling high school looks/feels like. #homeschool

When the kids were younger, September was a month of settling into a new routine.After summer 4-H activities and nearing the end of the summer farmers market season, we looked forward to making plans for fall projects and defining just what it was that we wanted to accomplish in the coming year as the days grew shorter and the temperature dropped.

New routines don’t feel like so much of a joint effort anymore. I’m feeling, in fact, like the month of September snuck up on me. Our family has managed to wrap up a summer full of 4-H, quite a bit of travel for the kids, farmers market events, extended family gatherings with cousins one-two-and-three generations down the line, and we’ve celebrated the middle kid’s 17th birthday.

What has changed?

I find myself asking if it is more the kids or me. As they’ve gotten older, my routine has slid toward working more and hanging out at home less. A defensive mechanism, perhaps? A way of keeping myself from hovering? A reaction to the fact that I realized, at some point, my kids would benefit from a little less mom time?

Five years ago I took a job as the farmers market manager (part-time summers, somewhat less than part-time through the winters) and what my vendors have been reminding me lately is that the kids were there, near weekly, helping out. My youngest learned to count change by sorting the market money bag. The oldest helped by plugging the numbers into the accounting program for the first few summers. She also became the market’s official photographer for events. They carried corn and watermelons for shoppers and were often there to ring the start of market bell.

“Haven’t seen your girls all summer,” a vendor said to me on Saturday, and, “That boy of yours, I barely recognized him. He’s gotten so tall.”

Some days I feel I don’t see much of them either. My oldest seems to be having an easy semester. When she’s not in school, she’s working… saving her money for big plans down the road. She’s spending more time out with friends, studying… or whatever it is the college kids do these days.

The middle kid is also on campus, for only one class, but it is five days a week, and she works in the office for her dad the one day I’m not there. We took a break together at lunch yesterday to review the state’s guidelines for high school graduates. We then went to the university’s page for incoming freshman. She’ll have no problems getting in. She could be “done” in fact if we chose to look at things that way. In the spirit of being thorough, we decided to add a Crash Course/Khan Academy chemistry unit to her transcript. I volunteered to sit beside her as a student, too. I’m looking forward to the time together.

My son took on a two-half-days-a week babysitting job in the summer that has morphed into three-more-or-less-full days this fall. When I worried that it was too much time, too much responsibility, he talked me into letting him give it a try. I still worry, but he is finding his way, and we are keeping the lines of communication open about it. In addition to the babysitting job, my son remains dedicated to daily “edu-pack” time, his self-titled selection of topics/themes/lessons that has evolved from what I once urged as a daily things-to-do list. The last I looked, in included things like DuoLingo lessons, a history series on YouTube, and daily time on Khan Academy. In addition, he has signed up for a German cooking class, and has been studying the area technical school catalog, trying to decide if there is a certificate he might like to apply for (he has learned that high school students can begin taking classes at minimal cost their junior year of high school).

I have moments where I ache to have it all back again… days centered at the kitchen table, rolling out egg noodles for lunch as little voices take turns reading out loud from the latest Harry Potter novel. Last night middle kid made pizza for the whole family. Tonight we each ate what was found in the refrigerator as we arrived home, varied leftovers as varied schedules permit. Last night’s pizza maker has her nose in a book, and it’s not the same book I saw her reading a few hours ago. My son has retreated to his room, feeling the need for some alone-time, I suspect, after another full day of babysitting. I crawl into bed without seeing the oldest. Hubby and I have a conversation about it. Should we ask her to check in more often? We hear the key in the lock as we drift off to sleep.

September will soon turn to October, and I will be doing my best to balance keeping out of the way, while spending all the time I can manage with them.

Honoring “All By Myself” When It Isn’t All That Mom Wants

Must-read for homeschoolers: How to navigate when your homeschooler wants to be more independent, and you have to take a step back. great homeschool inspiration.

Lately, I keep thinking back to a dance class my oldest daughter took when she was four. It stands out in my mind as one of my early parental blunders. She didn't want me there, you see. It was an “all by myself” moment which I failed to honor.

From my lap, she had turned and whispered, “I don't want you to watch.” 

I remember sitting in a chair outside of the dance studio, watching mothers enter with their daughters as I stirred my feelings of jealousy. “I'm paying for the class,” I reasoned. “She’s my kid. I deserve to watch.”

I also remember the look on her face when she spied me there, hiding at the back of the room near the doorway. It completely erased the delight I had felt at watching her dance. In that moment, I was transformed into someone she couldn’t trust, and to come entirely clean with her about my emotions and desires seemed the only option. 

Truthfully, it broke my heart a little, but I also understood that it wasn’t really a rejection. She was simply saying that she was prepared to go this one on her own... as she would be prepared, over the years, to try many things I may or may not have enjoyed watching.  

“I messed up,” I told her clearly. “This was my error, my selfishness. Though it may have felt that way, it had nothing to do with a lack belief that you could do this thing on your own.”  

Over her nearly twenty years, I can see our relationship as a series of moments, hand-in-hand and then standing apart, hand-in-hand and then standing apart again.

Until last year, when she started college, she’d never been in a traditional school setting. That decision, which originated with me, had given us ample hours together. Some mothers cringe when they think of time with teenaged girls, but I have no regrets. That conversation we started having when she was four and I screwed up at dance class? We are continuing it still. 

I had expected to experience a bit of heartbreak when she decided to try college full-time. The change wasn't necessarily easy for her. As an unschooler accustomed to taking charge of her own time and planning her days and weeks to meet her own agenda, she had some struggles with “someone else” making so many demands on the way she filled her calendar. I honestly wasn’t sure she would commit to continue past the first semester.

She was constantly filling me in on her experiences and observations. She was full of questions and eager for my input.

But now we had more to talk about than ever before. For those first few weeks of college, in fact, I remember having this feeling that we had returned to that hand-in-hand place. Though she was more frequently gone, when she was at home we were often in the same room and interacting with an intensity that hadn’t existed between us since she was young enough to need me for things like reading directions and reaching the projects on the highest shelf. She was constantly filling me in on her experiences and observations. She was full of questions and eager for my input.

Today I’m generally comfortable standing on the sidelines or completely leaving the room when asked. I recall from my own childhood that it was sometimes easier to be brave, bold, and experimental when my mother wasn't around. 

She knows I’m her biggest fan and supporter. But she also knows that I trust her and will listen when we disagree. When she says, “I've got this,” I know now to walk away, to keep my opinions to myself, and to leave her needs above my wants. 

The Dreaded Summer Break Question

Love this! Great read about summer break for homeschoolers. #homeschool

“Do your kids get the summer off?”

It’s another one of those questions I get when people learn that our kids don’t go to school. I’ve still not mastered the answer. The question they are asking, of course, comes from the realm of traditional public schooling. What they really want to know is: Do your kids get to spend the summer running wild and free? Do they drive you crazy with all their summer-time needs and wants? Do they get a break from all that learning? Do you look forward to your time with them all summer long, or do you long for the structured days of school again? If your summer break isn’t really a break… how do you cope?

This time, the answer came out something like this.

Well, they are teenagers for one. I mean, they are pretty self-sufficient at this point. They “do” in the summer pretty much what they “do” the rest of the year-round. I see my job as staying in touch, trying to keep up, helping them look down the road a bit to make sure they are accomplishing what they need to accomplish now in order to be in a place they want to be down the road. It’s an ongoing conversation, just as it is the rest of the year. Routines may change, but we don’t take a break from eating, drinking, sleeping, or breathing just because a new season is here.

I talked about some of the projects the kids are currently working on. The 4-H fair is right around the corner. I’ve come to think of these summer months as a season of finishing things… or of deciding which of their projects are deserving of a finish. My daughter—my seamstress—has been meeting with a younger club member, helping him on a sewing project. She made a jacket to go with her formal dress last week. She’s tweaking a pattern for an upcoming project. She’s got the old bed sheets out, working on a draft before she tackles the final project. My role in this has been as a brainstorming partner. What if I split the pattern here? Of these two patterns, which do you like best?  (I picked, she went with the other one.)

My son has already gone to and returned from his one and only summer camp this year. He’s working on a voting simulation class that he will lead at a local day camp soon; he’s working on ideas for getting 7- to 11 year-olds excited about their future in the democratic process.  He took over his oldest sister’s babysitting job this summer, he continues to ride his bike to get around town, and he recently switched from studying Italian to German. He’s making plans to travel to Germany and I’m feeling a bit behind on the news. I’m sometimes tempted to tell him he’s not allowed to leave home without me, but somehow I don’t think he’ll fall for it.

Three of us are reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, joined by a fourth, my oldest, about half the time. Though it is harder to find the time for it, this much has not changed—I love listening to the voices of my children. I enjoy the discussion that springs from our together-reading.

As a family, we are working our way (again) through the Hobbit movies, and we’ve just switched our online viewing service from Hulu to Netflix, so I imagine a few series marathons are in our future.

Both girls are studying near-daily with their dad, in preparation for a math class they plan to take in the fall. The oldest will be entering her second year of college. She is working on an essay today, as part of the application to enter the honors college this fall. For the middle one, it will be her first class on campus, her first traditional classroom experience.

We’ve got a friend’s wedding on the calendar this summer. We are still trying to work in a few road trips to visit with distant friends. All three kids are quick to help me out at the farmers market when I need it.

It’s summertime, and things are much the same as they are any time of year. I don’t think my kids consider themselves “off” for the summer. I don’t think they consider themselves on, either though. They are just living, day-by-day, as we all should be.

Sorting through Subjects in an Everything-is-Connected Manner of Homeschooling

Sorting through Subjects in an Everything-is-Connected Manner of Homeschooling

Once when my middle kid was about nine, she came home from playing with friends and said, “I must be stupid.”

“What?” I was floored. The friends were public school kids, but they’d always been kind and accepting of my homeschooled kids, as far as I was aware. “Did the kids say that? Did someone call you stupid?”

“No,” she shrugged. “They didn’t call me anything. But they were talking about their favorite subjects, saying I like social studies, I like science, I don’t like language arts, and I didn’t even know what any of those things were, so I guess I must be stupid.”

And so began one of our “formal” lessons.

Our family takes an “everything is connected” approach to life, but some people prefer to break the world into subjects, perhaps for the sake of being thorough (or because the setting of school requires it of them). It gives you more of a checklist approach to life. Have we done our math today? Have we practiced reading? Have we learned to spell a few words today? Have we spent some time with nature, making sure we are learning about the way of the world? Have we contemplated cultures, people, or methods of governing?

These are all things we encounter daily, and the flow of life naturally takes us there.

Coming from a subject-oriented education myself, I found it surprisingly hard to turn it into words my nine-year-old, unschooled kid could relate to.

Okay, so when you write a letter to Grandpa thanking him for your birthday present, and I show you the way letters are typically structured, with the date in the top corner and “Dear Grandpa,” at the beginning…  that’s language arts, or English. Those are lessons in how to write.

Things that fall within this subject:

  • When we read fables, talked about them, and then made up some of our own.
  • When you asked why words ending in –ough had different sounds (I think the examples were cough and bough) and so we made a list of all the –ough words we could think of and talked about how some pronunciations didn’t necessarily make sense, you just had to learn them through exposure and memorizing.
  • Pretty much anytime we are in the car for longer than a few minutes playing rhyming games or alliteration games or those word games we just make up on the spot to keep ourselves entertained.
  • When we write our own stories. And especially when we go over those stories that you have written and we talk about the things you could do to make the story more readable for others. That’s grammar. Punctuation. Sentence structure.

The more I spoke, the more puzzled she seemed to get.

“I don’t get it. What about science? Do I know any science?”


  • When your sister collected all the different leaves and looked them up and pressed them in a notebook. She wrote the names of the trees they came from on the page. She took photos of the whole tree.
  • When we tried to raise Betta fish. When we talked about their genetics and colors, that’s a branch of science.
  • When we collected water from all the different sources and looked at little drops under the microscope. We found the water fleas and you drew pictures of them. And we looked up the parts of their little bodies and read about the way they lived.
  • When we followed the ant trails and tried to distract and deter them by placing different types of foods along the way.
  • When our friend took us to the lake and showed us all the different fossils and told us stories about what those creatures once were.
  • When you planted seeds and watched them grow…

Though she insisted it still didn’t make any sense when I suggested that every single thing she did each day could be categorized as a subject (or many subjects) if we took the time to break things down that way, I could see that she was beginning to understand.

“How am I ever supposed to figure out what my favorite subject is?” she asked.

How is a child to learn to detest when they are given a life focused on the joy of exploration?

That was a tough question, I had to admit. And I thought the first question she had to ask was how important was it to have a canned answer to such a question available. There were times, we both had to admit, when it was easier to just throw out an answer that the questioner understood than to have a discussion on the merits of a life-is-learning approach anyway.

She does love to read, so I suggested reading or English might be an appropriate answer. But she reminded me that reading seemed to cover the gamut of subjects and she didn’t want people to think she limited her reading in any way.

I thought maybe saying she loved all the subjects would be a good response. She thought that might be bragging.

I don’t know that she ever came up with an answer to the question. Today, at 16, she tends to spend her time sewing (mostly clothes, both upcycling from the thrift store and creating original costumes), reading (young adult, general fiction and fantasy), following Chinese culture and history, learning Mandarin, and drawing (computer illustration, but freehand). She’s a competitive shooter and a Disney animated movie aficionado. She loves to roller blade and bike (last year she even trained for a 200-mile ride, but an injury kept her from the actual event).

Of my three children, she’s the most likely to approach a subject with a drill mentality, the idea of doing something over and over again until she’s mastered it. She knows how to play the guitar, but hasn’t picked it up in months. She has to work at spelling, but has the most legible handwriting of anyone in the family.

When I asked her this morning what her favorite subject was, she furrowed her brow and looked at me like I must be confused. “Do you mean like, in school?”

She then looked thoughtful and took a minute to answer. “Traditionally speaking, I guess I would say Chinese, language and culture. Any other answer is too abstract.”

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda— Homeschooling Better, After the Fact

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda— Homeschooling Better, After the Fact

You can spend your entire homeschool life second-guessing yourself — or you can trust yourself (and your kids) to get where you need to go.

Three Words Every Homeschooling Parent Should Know

The holiday break for our family included two trips to the build-it-yourself store (lumber yard), at least four (I lost count) trips to the hardware store, three trips to the recycling center/dump, and one big trip to Goodwill. In short, we built a wall for Christmas (and got a little spring cleaning in as a bonus). All hands were on deck for a remodeling job that turned our small, three bedroom home into a still small, but four bedroom home.

But why… some of our friends and family have questioned… when you have one kid with one foot out the door (perhaps) and two more closer to on-their-own than just-beginning would you bother to add a fourth bedroom now? I have no better answer than that it simply seemed to be the right time. All five members of the family were in agreement, so we spent our holiday building a wall.

In fact, our family has talked about creating more space in this old house for years. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking about moving to a bigger, or at least a different house, altogether. So many options have been considered. The back porch could have been converted into a small bedroom or perhaps the side “deck” (which isn’t really a deck at all, but does have a small roof overhang). We’d even talked of a tiny bedroom in the spirit of the tiny house movement, parked in the yard and within easy commute.

But in mid-December, when I mused— “You know, we could move the kitchen table into the (imagine this) kitchen and move the living room furniture into the room where the kitchen table now resides and then put a wall right down the center of the living room with a door and, voila, we’ve got a fourth bedroom!” —that’s when the plan came together.

Anything is possible when the whole crew is on board.

Perhaps I should back up a bit and admit that we aren’t typically a family for whom construction, in the literal sense, is a standard pastime. We read books, we love movies, we take walks and we sometimes hike. We’ve been known to go camping, though travel most often requires a motel room and a hot shower at the end of the day. It would not be unusual to drop in on us at some random point in time and find someone knitting or weaving or sewing or playing a video game or writing a story... Our kitchen is often in use as we are bakers and love cooking from scratch so much that we often chose eating in over going out when we want to treat ourselves to a special meal.

But actually changing the configuration of our house? Not so much. Our tool selection is limited and our skill set, admittedly, on the shy side. In these situations, I close my eyes and do my best to channel my father (the house I grew up in was in a continual state of remodeling) and perhaps consult a how-to book or a wiki-how site.

“Sure. Why not?” I said. Those are three very powerful words, I have learned.

Can we build a wall?” the members of my family asked. “Would it remain standing? Could we put an actual door in it?”

“Sure. Why not?” I said. Those are three very powerful words, I have learned.

When the wall was complete, middle kid, recipient of the bedroom that was the product of the construction, said, “Wow. Do you know how empowered I feel? If I can build a wall; I can do anything.”

When I look back on my years as a parent, these are the words that have triggered some of the most worth-while, most memorable, and yes, most educational events of our lives. Can we stay up all night? Can I dig a big hole in the yard? Can we sleep outside? Can I cut my brother’s hair? Can I make up my own recipe? Can we make our own video game?

Sure. Why not?

Driving Lessons: A Homeschool Mom's View from the Passenger's Seat

Driving Lessons: A Homeschool Mom's View from the Passenger Seat

My youngest just got his learner’s permit for driving. His sisters coached him through studying for the written test. I felt oddly removed from the process. I offered to help him study a couple of times, but he said, “No thanks, Mom. I’ve got it.” He passed on the first try.

Getting the permit was only step one, of course. He needs me for the next part because his sisters aren’t yet “of age” per Kansas law to be in the passenger seat while he learns to drive. So I am handing over the keys and wondering why it isn’t easier. I’ve been down this road twice. My oldest gets in her car at least once each day now, and I don’t always know where she is going. Middle kid is well on her way. She is three months from being a driver without restrictions, and in my mind (which is where it really counts) we are pretty much there, as well.

But here I am… actually making excuses for why my son might not want to try driving at highway speed for the first time today…  the cold weather, the holiday traffic, the glare of the setting sun on the window… the fact that I just want to get there quickly (I don’t even speak this one out loud).

For the holiday weekend, I took my son and his sister back to the place of my birth for a two day visit. The roads in western Kansas (as opposed to east-central Kansas where we live now) are flat and straight and meet each other in tidy, perpendicular lines.

“These are the roads you need to learn to drive on,” I told my son, when the bulk of the trip was behind us. “There are no surprises. You can see the next car a mile or more away.”

He did drive a bit on those roads, but he didn’t see them as superior. He said, after a couple of miles, that there was a kind of hypnotizing quality to driving in such a straight line. We came upon a cross on the side of the road, less than a mile from my father’s rural home. It can be easy to forget that believing there are no surprises on the road ahead isn’t necessarily the way to live.

I would like to say that after so many years of unschooling, it is easy now to trust, to embrace the sometimes jerky starts and stops, the sudden braking when you thought you were accelerating and vice versa. I would like to claim I have learned better, but I am still guilty of embracing those old straight roads of my past. I am tempted to say to my son, “Just let me take you there. I will do the hard part. I’ll keep driving; you just tell me where you want to go.”

Driving is one of those milestones that has stuck as a reminder to me of just how close we are to the other end of things – fewer years ahead of the intense, time-together, days filled with each other than there are behind.

The thing about this lifestyle that we have chosen is that it is so fluid, so ever-changing, and while it was often easy to see, living day-by-day, that unschooling was a good fit for our family, I’ve had to remind myself now and again that not knowing exactly where we were going and how we were getting there was okay.

Driving is one of those milestones that has stuck as a reminder to me of just how close we are to the other end of things – fewer years ahead of the intense, time-together, days filled with each other than there are behind. Perhaps, because he is the last of my children, I feel the sting of days gone by more sharply. I find myself in a questioning place… What is my role here? How do I contribute now?

I am handing over the keys. I am riding in the passenger seat. I will soon be standing outside the car, waving as he drives away. Knowing. Trusting. Believing that he will master any surprises on his own road, in his own way. That has been the point all along, after all.

Today, he did not ask directions to our destination, and I did not offer. He took a new road, one different from our usual path, and he got us there all the same.

Raising Children Who Love to Write

The homeschool parent's guide to raising children who love to write

Once upon a time, I looked forward to arriving on the other side of this unschooling journey. I thought that if I would only wait and watch and learn long enough, I would eventually reach a point where I could fully articulate how a child learns.

In the fall issue of home/school/life, Amy shared a list of books on writing. I believe she was right on target when she wrote, “The best books for young writers inspire as much as they instruct, giving kids enthusiasm for writing as well as tools they can use to improve their stories, essays, poems, scripts, and other work.”

Inspiration, enthusiasm, and tools are all words that have been common to my vocabulary over the years, and I have learned that it is as important (maybe more) for me as mom to be inspired and enthused as it is for my kids. The tools for gaining knowledge are the ultimate goal, after all. It is not nearly as important that kids pick up the various facts and figures that are so commonly thought of as scholarly matter as it is that they gain practice and skill with the many tools of knowledge acquisition.

I now live in a house with three young people who are certainly independent writers and I’m still not sure I can explain it exactly. They are three very different kinds of writers even though they have enjoyed many of same introductions to reading and writing activities over the years.

I thought I would share a few of those activities and my thoughts about growing writers here:

Read, read, read, and read some more. There is no substitute for reading together and reading out loud. Every day you should be reading together, and don’t stick to age-appropriate books alone. Read the stories you remember loving as a kid. Read the stories your kids pick up at the library. Read even the bad ones, and when somebody says, “I really don’t like this book,” stop and have a discussion about what makes it a bad book. Put that book down and start another. I read to my kids from the newspaper, from news magazines, and often from the books I was reading for my own pleasure. As soon as they began reading on their own, we took turns reading out loud together. Books on tape are great, too, but the real power comes from reading with your own voice.

Make your own books. Starting as early as ages 3 and 4, I encouraged my kids to tell stories that I would write down. I returned these stories to them in booklet form. Their stories would be divided by scenes that they could illustrate. We made copies of these books to share with grandparents, aunts and uncles. The books we made went on the shelves beside other books and we were just as likely to read the stories they had written as others. This taught them that they had the power to manipulate words and that their efforts were legitimate.

Play word games while on the go. Mad Libs is the bomb. It is simply fun and no homeschooling family should be without a book or two of Mad Libs. It is easy to keep in a copy in a bag to pull out when entertainment is needed to fill some time. Most word games, however, require nothing more than your imagination. Time in the car, for our family, was typically filled with word games. Make it rhyme – I have a pet snake, his name is Jake; I have a pet flea, his name is Larry… Add it alphabetically – I’m going to the store and I’ve got an apple in my cart; I’m going to the store and I have an apple and a banana in my cart; I’m going to the store and I have an apple, a banana, and a cucumber in my cart… Tell round-robin stories!

Give them reasons to write. Here’s the thing about writing. The power of words can quickly be diminished when they are turned into worksheets and steps you are required to learn. My kids learned about punctuation when they asked, “Why do they put those dots in there? Why does the dot sometimes have that little tail that drops below the line? What’s that squiggle mean?” If I had to name the single most powerful tool my children received early on, in regards to their development as writers, it was power over the list. We moved our grocery list to kid height and announced that everyone in the house should add to it when they saw there was something we needed from the store. The list was one area where I didn’t take dictation, at least not throughout the week. If you wanted it, you had to put it there.

But don’t force them to write. I just wrote that the list was the one area where I didn’t take dictation. I should emphasize, however, that I did take dictation. I took a lot of dictation when my kids were young. I wrote whole stories as they were told to me. I typed letters that they mailed to their cousins. I encouraged storytelling, both fact and fiction, and I preserved those stories in printed form until they had mastered the skills to preserve what they wanted on their own. And gradually, as they did begin to write, I found myself taking less and less dictation (though occasionally they still came to me because I typed faster, or perhaps they just felt the need for some one-on-one time with mom…) There were times in my life where I was writing by hand for one kid and spelling words out loud for another while reviewing the third kid’s email because she wanted it to be “all right” and I thought my brain might explode from all the different directions it was going. Then, almost as quickly, I realized that nobody was asking me for help anymore. Last week, I proofed one college composition paper the morning it was to be turned in and reviewed an email my son had written for an event he was organizing. That was it. An entire week, and nobody needed any real help with writing.

Withhold judgment, at least until they ask for it. When you homeschool, it is tempting to turn every moment into a teachable lesson. Learn to bite your tongue. If your child brings you a handwritten note, a love letter, a book they made, a poem, whatever… simply observe and appreciate. Don’t point out the words they have misspelled, or the fact that it’s hard to read because they haven’t really put any spaces between their words. If they ask what you think about it, start with what you like. Then ask what they think about it. Children will often recognize their own mistakes, and if you start a conversation about the work they have written, the conversation becomes the lesson they need at that moment.

Homeschool Moms Need Friends, Too: How to Make Time for Mom Friends

Homeschool moms need friends too

For my debut entry at the home/school/life Magazine blog, I thought I’d write about one of those happy side-effects of thirteen (or so) years of unschooling three kids. I call this side-effect: Unschooled Mom Friends.

This past week, you see, I drove to a playdate… alone.

It was the same highway that has been host to hundreds of games of I Spy With My Little Eye and a maybe a dozen versions each of 20 questions, the alphabet game, and can-you-rhyme that once kept my children entertained for the hour-long ride to the at-least-once-weekly playdates with our eclectic mix of homeschool friends. It was the same highway, but without the backseat full of chatter and kid/DJ riding shotgun, customizing song selections to set the mood for the day.

Our Mom-gatherings started as Mom’s Night Out, an occasion to dine together without anyone having to worry about house or kitchen clean-up. For several years, we called our meetings Book Club. We were even studious, intentionally broadening our horizons by occasionally reading books.

Playdates evolved. The kids did what kids grow to do. They went from trampolines and skateboards to driving around in cars. Some got jobs, joined clubs, tried out school, got girlfriends/boyfriends, suffered broken hearts…

With kids in tow, and sometimes without, we moms continued to gather as schedules allowed. Where we once assured each other over late readers and screen time, we continued to assure each other over our children’s relationship developments and first apartments.

Get-togethers without the kids began as our way of helping each other remember that the job of being Mom, while big, was not all-encompassing. We still needed to make time for ourselves, once in a while, and in doing it together, we gained experiences and explored and socialized, much like our kids.

The kids who once filled our houses and backyards when we gathered, or wandered off on park trails for hours at a time, got busy with their own lives, and my Unschool Mom Friends and I… we made a conscious decision, at some point, to keep getting together regardless of kid schedules, because we still had so much to learn from one another.

New friends for myself was not a perk I expected when I started on this journey so many years ago, but it’s one I would encourage every mom who makes a commitment to homeschooling to look for. Make sure you take some time to make friends with parents who are embarking on similar journeys. They will make you stronger, over time. They will help lift you when you are down. They will give you words you need to hear when you are at a loss for comforting your child, your teen, your young adult.

Your kids will refer to you collectively as “The Moms” and you will appreciate having adults in the lives of your children who understand the kind of investment and choices you are making as a family.

Yes, you are doing this for your children, but you are growing in your own right, as well.

Meet the Team: Tracy

Meet Tracy Million Simmons, one of our new bloggers. She's a mother of three teenagers, a farmer's market manager and a writer. You can view her author page at and read her blog at Living and Learning in Oz. She's answered a few questions so that you can get to know her better.


Me in 100(ish) words:  I tried to leave Kansas in my 20’s, but was drawn back by the wide open sky and the assured change of season (sometimes we get multiple seasons in a single day!) I’m a reader, a writer, a people watcher, a long-walks taker, a “fresh and local” foodie and manager of the local farmers market. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Finally, I have come up with the answer: Always growing! Whether sharpening my skills at word craft or strategizing a better method of keeping my husband’s law office accounts in order, my gig as a homeschool mother has taught me that who I am is a journey, rather than a destination.

How I started homeschooling:  The hubby talked me into a homeschooling trial when Munchkin #1 was still… well, munchkin-sized. I tackled the experiment with gusto, and when I looked up she was 18 and on her way out the door for her first day of school… at college. My second and third munchkins (now 16 and 13) have remained unschooled, to this point, as well.

My homeschool style:  It’s a family affair, a continual collaborative adventure. At various times in our journey, I have referred to our family’s method of education as child-led, project or passion based, unschooling, homeschooling, and just plain living life.

Favorite readaloud:  We simply like reading together. Great books, read together at the kitchen table have been the one constant in our homeschool journey from the beginning. From The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch) to the On the Shoulders of Giants series, from Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) to The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (William Kamkwamba), we have joyfully read ourselves hoarse many times over the years.

Favorite driving music:  I tend to listen to an eclectic mix of 60s-70s-80s-90s pop and classic rock hits with selections from the MP3 players of my kids mixed in. The only music I tend to actively avoid is contemporary country music, though occasionally you’ll find me humming along with a twang, as well.

Things I like:  Chocolate, sunsets, storms, books, kittens, the smell of lavender, homegrown tomatoes…

Guilty pleasure:  Life is too short to bother with guilt; if it gives you pleasure, embrace it.

What I love about home/school/life magazine:  I love the glimpses into the lives of others who are joyfully raising children. I enjoy articles that make me think about my own processes and connections with other homeschoolers that make my world feel a little bit bigger.