37 Fun Ways to Celebrate the First Day of Homeschool

37 Fun Ways to Celebrate the First Day of Homeschool

It's that time again! We've rounded up some great ways to celebrate your first day of the new homeschool year, whether you want to keep it simple at home or take a big adventure together.

  1. Go roller skating.
  2. Visit a paint-your-own pottery studio to create a special back-to-school souvenir.
  3. Have a backyard campout.
  4. Give everyone a small budget, and hit a flea market to refresh your homeschool space for the new year.
  5. Spend the whole day in your pajamas.
  6. Work on a volunteer project together.
  7. Plant a container garden.
  8. Drive to the nearest river and go tubing.
  9. Set your alarm to wake up and watch the sunrise together. (You can take a nap later!)
  10. Go out for a fancy brunch.
  11. Ask everyone to make a First Day of School mixtape and trade your mixes.
  12. Take a hot air balloon ride.
  13. Have a karaoke party.
  14. Make a first-day-of-school time capsule.
  15. Take back-to-school photos.
  16. Compete in a backyard Olympics competition.
  17. Write a letter to yourself to open on the last day of the school year. 
  18. Go geocaching.
  19. Pull out your art supplies, and create self-portraits.
  20. Make new school year’s resolutions.
  21. Take a day hike.
  22. Have a karaoke party.
  23. Paint a mural.
  24. Dress up in last year's Halloween costumes.
  25. See a movie matinee.
  26. Have a backyard luau. 
  27. Build and launch rockets.
  28. Bake and decorate a back-to-school cake.
  29. Have a tea party.
  30. Wash your car.
  31. Decorate your driveway with sidewalk chalk.
  32. Take a personality test, and compare results. (Try the Enneagram or the Myers Briggs test.)
  33. Fill up your wall calendar with holidays, birthdays, events, and celebrations you are looking forward to this year.
  34. Solve a jigsaw puzzle together.
  35. Write your autobiography.
  36. Go shopping for school supplies.
  37. Make official school t-shirts.

At Home with the Editors: Shelli's Summer Homeschool

At Home with the Editors: Our Summer Homeschool

Summer can have a mind of its own, so I know that making a firm agenda for these hot months is futile. Still, past summers have proved that we benefit from a little structure in our days. So I do a few homeschool lessons during the summer, and I also make summertime my time for planning, record-keeping, and cleaning up for a new year. While I do these “administrative” things, my boys have extra time to play, so that makes them happy.



First, I keep our homeschool lessons light. This year, I decided to only do Spanish and readalouds during our morning lesson time. I’ve struggled to include a foreign language in our homeschool in the past, so by putting away almost everything else for now, it’s easy to do one Spanish lesson per day. (I’m trying out Calico Spanish Level A right now, and I’ll let you know how we like it!) I also have a number of books that I never get around to reading to the boys during the winter months, so now is my chance.



It’s great to take a long time to plan and think about what I want to do with the boys in the fall. I have some new curricula to try out, and instead of feeling like I have to read through it all and understand how to use it right away, I have all summer to peruse it. I use my time wisely by going through my curricula (old and new) about once a week until I’ve looked at everything and made my plans. I’m very excited to begin exploring the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and Student Writing Intensive DVD courses this summer. I hope that they may be a good fit for my son beginning in the fall.



The biggest project I undertake every summer is our record keeping. By law, I have to write progress reports for both my boys, but since it’s for our eyes only, I consider it more of a keepsake. I write a list of every subject, and under each heading, I use bullet points to list all the curriculum, books, field trips, and classes that my boys have completed that year. Then, since I’m a photographer, I create a slideshow of the photographs from our homeschool year. My boys love watching the slideshow because they’ve usually forgotten what they were doing at the beginning of the year!



I’m not talking about cleaning my house when I talk about cleaning up our homeschool, although the de-cluttering I do definitely benefits the house. First, I go through homeschool supplies and books and get rid of the things I don’t think we’ll need anymore. (I give good stuff to charity and throw away the rest.) I also like to go through anything the boys may have built or made that year, and I ask them what they want to keep and throw away. This year, I did a deep purge of craft supplies and the recyclables that my eldest son used to use to make things with. He just isn’t into building anymore, and his younger brother is more into drawing and painting. So I have made more room for paints and paper. 

I also store away the binders with last year’s work, progress reports and everything else we finished. While I try to let go of things, I probably keep a lot more than I need. But there’s always time to declutter again next summer or the summer after that.

What is homeschooling like during the summer for you? Do you take a break from everything, or do you homeschool year-round?

5 Things I Do in August to Get Ready for a New Homeschool Year

5 ways our family gets ready for a new homeschool year (#5 is my back-pocked bad day-buster!)

It’s almost time for our homeschool to start its seventh official year, and as I’ve been getting ready for another year to start, I realized there are a few little things I look forward to doing every summer that seem to make our year run a little more smoothly. I thought I’d share them here — and I’d love for you to share some of your back-to-homeschool tricks in the comments!

Set up a folder for each class. You already know I’m a big advocate of the folder system for organizing our homeschool records, so it’s no surprise that one of my annual back-to-school duties is labeling folders for the new year. With my 3rd grader, I just set up one 3rd grade folder, where I’ll stash memorable work and my notes throughout the year. For my high school student, I set up a different folder for each subject. I like to use portfolio folders because I’m always leaving them lying around or stacking them somewhere, and I don’t want all the pages to get mixed up. (These are the folders I use, but I don’t think they’re inherently better than other folders—I just like the way they look!)

Start our new book list. I keep a master book list of all the readalouds we do each year, and the official new school year also means the official 2016-2017 reading list. I used to keep a separate notebook for book lists, but now I just jot the list at the back of my homeschooling bullet journal. Because I am a giant nerd, I use a green pen to write down books I read with just my 3rd grader, a purple pen to write down books I read with just my 9th grader, and a blue or black pen (whichever is handy) to write down books we all read together. I find that these book lists are invaluable to me as the years go by—both as a reminder of what we have and haven’t read (which gets surprisingly fuzzy over time!) and as a series of happy memories. 

Fill in the calendar. Before we get into the week-to-week busy-ness of the new academic year, I like to set up a calendar to remind me of favorite holidays (Hobbit Day!), homeschool days, festivals, and any other events that we’d be sad to miss. I started doing this one year after we totally missed Banned Books week one year—we just got busy, and the week was over by the time it popped back up on my mental to-do list. Having a calendar doesn’t always mean we’ll be able to do all the things we’d like to do—but it does mean that the things we’re excited about won’t slip by unnoticed.

Rotate our bookshelves. I’ve written before about our library organization system, so you probably won’t be surprised that I spend several weeks in August rotating the bookshelves in our house to match up with our plans for the year. (I’m very happy to pull our U.S. literature classics collection out of its bins and put it back on the shelf, though I will miss our Native American collection, which is rotating off the shelf and into storage for a while.) I try to keep the books that will part of our planned homeschooling on the same bookshelf so that it’s easy to access them throughout the year. 

Restock our Terrible Day box. This is a plastic bin that I pull out on those days where nothing goes right—our fun field trip got rained out, everybody has a case of the grumpies, nobody wants to do any work, whatever. On those days, we pull out the Terrible Day box and randomly pick something fun to do. I keep it stocked with fun art supplies, Munchkin expansion packs, new board games, Lego sets, cool coloring books, craft kits—basically all the things that I know my kids will almost always be excited to get their hands on. There are some days where homeschooling is just too much, and the Terrible Day box really has helped turn some of them around.

What are some of the little things you do to get ready for the new year?

3 Summer Planning Tips for a Happy Homeschool Year

3 things you can do this summer to ensure a great homeschool year this fall

Who else looks forward to summer days spent lugging coolers and towels to the beach and spending hours refusing to move off your beach lounger for all but the most desperate of cries? Summer is meant to be enjoyed and during a good summer break, a house should be full of sand, dirt, and sunburned kids.

On my beach lounger, though, I begin to dream about our homeschool. I maintain that nothing makes a school year run more smoothly than spending some summer hours creating a specific plan for the following academic year. 

If you school year round, this post is for you too. Use use whatever break you take for an annual review and planning what comes next.

Step 1: The Theme. 

Decide what overall education values are important to your family. Essentially you are creating a mission statement for your family’s homeschool.

A good starting question to ask yourself is: If I teach my child nothing, ever, what is it important that my child has absorbed living in our home? For our family our theme is, generally: learning is a privilege and a delight; don’t screw it up.

Many people’s answers will be education related, but others are not. Some families want to emphasize familial closeness or cooperation. This is your family; there is no wrong answer.

Remember, though, not to be too specific. Be general. Often I find with my friends that their mission statement could apply to everything they do as a family, not just the homeschool part.

Why this step matters: When you are in the nitty-gritty of the school year and a problem pops up, sometimes it’s difficult to see what specifically isn’t working. Re-examining the difficulty from a more generalized vantage point often allows a better diagnosis of the problem, and gives us permission to change things.


Step 2: Get Creative. 

Set aside a chunk of quiet time by yourself with no distractions (put that phone away!) This might be the most important step of all, and I encourage you to pencil a good block of time into your family’s schedule. If you have little kids, line up child care so that you can close the door to your office or, better yet, leave the house. 

Have a notebook handy to jot down ideas. If you’re the visual type, buy yourself a pretty notebook and nice pens (a new Moleskine and a medium tip Sharpie pen are pretty much heaven on earth). Spend time thinking about each child’s strengths, weaknesses, and goals, both longterm and short term. Jot every thought down; you never quite know how some seemingly benign thought will open up new opportunities.

Think about the past school year. What worked? What didn’t? Write your answers down. Think about them. Chew on them. What would have made things run more smoothly? If you are preparing for your first year as a homeschool parent, think about your goals. Think about why you decided to homeschool, and what you’d like to accomplish, both broadly (I’d like my child to get into Harvard) and specifically (I’d like to teach my six-year-old to read). 

By the end of this time, you probably will have a skeleton outline of what you would like your school year to look like (or, if you don’t, you could put one together by reviewing your notes).

Why this step matters: I have learned countless things from this time with myself. Often little things that have been nagging at me reach that “a ha!” moment and forming a solution becomes simple. Often this time alone allows me to see patterns, and plan and change academics accordingly. 


Step 3: The Specifics. 

Now you’ve got a guidepost and a framework and it’s time to get down to the specifics. Make this part work for you. Do you hate depending on the library? Then buy the books you need to reach your academic goals. Do you like specific, grid-like schedules that take you through the academic year? Make one. Do to-do lists motivate you? Then create your child’s courses and materials in the form of lists that you can check off regularly.

The purpose of the nitty-gritty to to create specific academics for your school year that stay true to your family’s theme, consider your child’s goals (or your goals for your child, as the case may be,) and that are tailored to work for you.

And it should be noted that, for many families, what works for them is a boxed curriculum. If that’s the case, you’re done! Go back to the beach!

Step three can take awhile. I sometimes spend hours agonizing how to divvy up specific books so that they will match up, timeline-wise, with some piece of historical fiction I have chosen for a particular child. Let me repeat what I said above: you’re making a plan that works for you. If you want to assign your child The Witch of Blackbird Pond while you’re studying ancient Greece, then do it! It’s your life and your family.

Step three can also involve a lot of research. If you have decided your daughter needs to focus on diagramming sentences and you’ve never done that before, you may need to spend some time researching what texts are out there and how you are going to plug that work into your school day.

Why this step matters: By the time you are done, you will have all the materials you need for the school year ordered (or know where you can locate them), and a plan for how you are going to execute the day to day of your homeschool for your entire academic year, and that feels pretty great.


Happy planning, and let me know how it goes! 

Summer Has a Mind of Its Own

Summer homeschooling is all about going with the flow. Great read!

Let’s take a poll: 

How many of you continue to homeschool through the summer or do a “lighter” lesson plan? And how many of you take the entire summer off from any homeschool planning?

Leave a comment below or on Facebook or Twitter. Let us know how you spend your summer.

Have you ever noticed that summer has a mind of its own? I usually plan to continue homeschooling throughout the summer, but with all the summer events, it’s hard to keep to a regular routine.

This year, I decided to let the boys pick what they wanted to work on, although they had to pick from a list I created. My elder son picked science, and my younger son decided to work in his Star Wars workbooks. I added some other “lessons” in there, but there has only been a handful of days so far that we’ve had time to sit down and work on these lessons.

First, our cousins decided to visit us for a week in late May. This was awesome.  It was as if the boys had a one-week, non-stop play date! But after they left, it took several days to recover. My youngest son felt so sad after they left that it took a few days before he could entertain himself again.

Now as I write this, I’m recovering from a cold that helped me celebrate the summer solstice. This has been a big drag, and needless to say, I haven’t done any lesson planning. 

My boys are also participating in a weeklong summer camp at the botanical garden. Summer camps are golden opportunities for homeschoolers to get to mingle with all kinds of kids and have some fun away from mom and dad. (It’s also a nice break for mom and dad.) This year we’re only doing one summer camp, so I’m very thankful it’s going well and the boys didn’t catch my cold!

Hopefully we’ll have time for lessons after the camp ends, but I know we’ll also want to get together with friends and enjoy the outdoors during the warm weather. Maybe later in the summer, we’ll visit relatives, or take another short trip. No matter what we do, there will be plenty of distractions from our lessons!

I am not sure where the summer will lead. I’m at its mercy. And I gleefully give in. 

How to NOT Teach Your Kids Shakespeare (But Do Something Else Really Important Instead)

When your child's passions take you somewhere you'd never go on your own, wonderful things can happen. Love this! #homeschool

This spring a fellow homeschooling mom I know mentioned a book she was planning to use with her family, Ken Ludwig’s How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. Ludwig, an award-winning playwright and Shakespeare aficionado, believes that the best way to truly appreciate Shakespeare is to memorize passages from his plays and poetry, so he’s selected a wide range of kid-friendly Shakespeare passages and laid out a step-by-step method for breaking the passages into manageable bits. 

As a literature geek, I was immediately salivating at the thought of sharing Shakespeare this way with my son, who’s thirteen, and my daughter, ten. I knew it might be a stretch for us: my kids tend to be stubborn autodidacts who resist any activity that casts me in a “teacherish” role. But they’ve also enjoyed seeing outdoor Shakespeare performances in our local parks since they were little. I figured they might surprise me and agree that memorizing some Shakespeare together was just the thing our summer needed.

I broached the subject with the kids, pitching it as a way to get in the mood for the Shakespeare performances we’re planning to see this summer. They said “Uh, sure, I guess” in the lukewarm, shifty-eyed way they say yes when they don’t want to rain on my parade but are clearly hoping I’ll forget the whole thing.

Still convinced that they’d get sold on the project once we started rocking our mad Shakespeare skills, I set aside some Shakespeare time on our calendar. Week after week, something always got in the way of us taking a crack at Shakespeare. It was time to face facts: My kids really didn’t want to memorize Shakespeare with me.

They said “Uh, sure, I guess” in the lukewarm, shifty-eyed way they say yes when they don’t want to rain on my parade but are clearly hoping I’ll forget the whole thing.

I like to make the most efficient use of my mama-energy, and what I’ve found is that I just don’t get a very good return on my effort when I push a project that neither kid is enthusiastic about. On the other hand, I’ve seen many times how powerful the results can be when I back off on my agenda and follow the kids’ interests instead. The learning is deeper and longer-lasting. There’s a flow and an energy that just isn’t there when I force things.

So I put aside my Shakespeare dreams, at least for now, and asked myself the million-dollar question: what had my kids actually been saying they wanted to do this summer? That’s when it struck me: the big thing that my daughter had been saying for months is that she wanted to redecorate her room.

This is a girl who loves design, who constructs dream houses for make-believe clients on Minecraft and revels in mid-century modern consignment stores, a girl who adores thinking about colors and patterns and how they interact. The thought of tackling a room redecorating project intimidated me, but I knew that following through on helping my girl create a new space for herself would mean a lot to her. 

Exit, stage right: Shakespeare memorizing scheme. Enter, stage left: room redo. 

Together, my daughter and I set a budget for our project. We slapped paint samples on her wall and changed our minds about a half-dozen times (we finally decided on Turquoise Twist, a gorgeous shade reminiscent of a robin’s egg). We checked out online painting tutorials and conferred with the friendly folks at our neighborhood hardware store. We applied painter’s tape to baseboards and wooden trim, sanded rough spots, scraped off remnants of stickers and Scotch tape. We calculated how much paint she’d need to get the job done. And finally—deep breath—we started painting. 

Neither of us had ever painted a room before. After swiping a paint roller across her wall for the first time, my daughter frowned and said, “Maybe we should hire someone to do the painting for us. I’m afraid it won’t look good if we do it ourselves.”

I couldn’t help wondering if she might be right, but I assured her that if we followed the painting pointers we’d studied and took our time, we could do a fine job. Maybe not as good as a professional, but good enough. I didn’t want her to miss out on the delicious feeling of competence that comes from trying something you want to do but fear you might not be able to do. (I also wanted to keep her project under-budget.) On this point, unlike memorizing Shakespeare, I was willing to push a little. 

We finished the painting a few days ago. It’s not perfect, but the overall effect makes my daughter really, really happy. I think the room means more to her because she was so involved in making it look the way it does. It’s her ideas and work, made tangible.

We’ve spent the last couple of days assembling a storage unit and a desk. There have been many times when we’ve realized we have a part oriented the wrong way and have to remove all our screws and start a step of the process over. We had to problem-solve with her dad when her desk drawers didn’t line up right. 

Instead of trying to be an authority who has all the answers, I get to learn with my kids and be surprised alongside them. In the process, I get to show my kids what learning looks like, in all its messy glory.

Thinking about all the times that she saw me messing up and starting over during this project, it struck me today that one of the very coolest things about doing this kind of a project with my daughter is that she got to see me being a rank beginner. She watched me looking up answers when I needed them and asking for help when I hit dead ends. She saw how I paced myself to get the job done, taking breaks when I needed them, getting my hands dirty and doing the work alongside her to help turn her daydreams into reality. 

In other words, I got to model being a learner right there in front of her eyes. For me, that opportunity to model lifelong learning is one of the most wonderful things about homeschooling. Instead of trying to be an authority who has all the answers, I get to learn with my kids and be surprised alongside them. In the process, I get to show my kids what learning looks like, in all its messy glory. That’s definitely a part of homeschooling I treasure—even if it means I often end up putting aside projects that sound really cool to me in favor of what most interests my kids.

Which brings me back to Shakespeare. If you and your family think Ken Ludwig’s Shakespeare book sounds fun and you decide to memorize some Shakespeare, could you please let me know? I’d love to hear how it goes and find out what you discover along the way!

July Pep Talk

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

We’re taking a break from our weekly pep talks this summer, so for June and July, we’re hooking you up with an over-stuffed monthly pep talk instead. We’ll be back in August with our regular weekly pep talks.



July 4 is Independence Day, sure, but it’s also Sidewalk Egg Frying Day.

Celebrate Yellow Pig Day on July 17. I don’t totally understand this mathematician’s holiday (devised by two students studying the number 17), but any day that celebrates math, has its own songbook of Yellow Pig carols, and ends with a Yellow Pig cake is okay in my book.

What better way to celebrate Ice Cream Month than by making your own ice cream? Bonus: It’s a legitimate science experiment.

Video Games Day is July 8, and Suzanne’s got us all excited about checking out the Uncharted series, starring rakish adventurer Nathan Drake. (Add him to the list of people Nathan Fillion should be playing in a film adaptation.)

The easiest summer art project: Make sun prints.

Make a set of rock dominoes to play all summer. (River rocks are ideal for this, so collecting them is a great excuse to take a little river field trip.)

July is Picnic Month! I love the idea of painting a chess/checkers board on your picnic blanket for picnic gaming.

Make your own wooden stilts to get into the spirit of Walk on Stilts Day (July 27).

Celebrate Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day by making your own vuvuzela (a South African horn) out of recycled materials.

Get crafty on Thread the Needle Day (July 25) by making some easy-to-sew and completely adorable bean bags.



I love how versatile these (gluten-free!) farinata are. Think of them as chickpea pancakes, and top them generously with whatever looks good at the farmers market.

You don’t really need a recipe to make a rainbow cauliflower rice bowl, so experiment with whatever veg you have on hand.

Put a summertime twist on Taco Tuesday with chipotle quinoa sweet potato tacos.

Make a batch of freezer-ready mini pizzas on a quiet day, and you’ll have an emergency dinner/lunch/snack whenever you need it.

I want to make a batch of this pickle-brined fried chicken for our next family picnic.

Break out of your grilling rut with grilled sweet potatoes.

This Big Green Cobbler with leeks, gruyere, and split peas is like a vegetarian take on the best chicken pot pie you ever had.

Summer is all about salad for dinner—and this Thai grilled corn and peach quinoa salad looks like a great addition to your summer salad lineup.

Another dose of inspiration for your grilling menu: Soy-based chicken kebabs with sesame-citrus sprinkle.

Summer squash pizza with goat cheese and walnuts puts a seasonal spin on pizza night.




Seven Daughters and Seven Sons is a retelling of an Iranian folk tale, in which the fourth of seven daughters sets off to make her family’s fortune, disguised as a boy. I’m a sucker for a girl-powered fairy tale, so it’s no surprise I love this one.

Speaking of spunky girls, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is as fun to read aloud as the Lemony Snicket books: plenty of nefarious villains, dramatic plot twists, and, yes, two plucky heroines who must save themselves from an evil governess’s plot.


If you’re looking for laughs, get yourself a copy of Daniel Pinkwater’s Yobgorgle, Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario. I like to think of Pinkwater as the elementary school set’s Douglas Adams, and this zany tale of a boy who takes up monster hunting is a delightful example of why.

New York City’s pushcarts declare war on the trucks in The Pushcart War, creating hilarious city-wide chaos.




Education is a choice. We don’t become educated by watching television, and we don’t learn a whole lot having similar conversations with the same, safe people day after day. Our education comes from pushing up against boundaries, from taking risks that may seem at first to be overwhelming, and by persevering past the first disappointments or shortfalls until we reach a point at which actual learning takes place. Determination and perseverance are absolutely vital to developing a true education—rarely, if ever, do we learn the most valuable lessons in the first few steps of the journey.
— Tom Walsh



strawberry negroni popsicles

The Pleasures of Summer Homeschooling: How to Have a NorCal Summer

Homeschooling summer break: A to-do list for a laid-back, life-enhancing summer holiday

When my kids were younger, I always intended to maintain some of our homeschool routine throughout the summer. Maybe we’d do math lessons three days a week, or finally listen to those “Learn to Speak Spanish” discs I bought at Costco. At the very least, we’d participate in the summer reading program at the library and earn free ice cream cones. But inevitably, the math books stayed close, the Spanish discs remained unplayed, and the books we read were never logged. Summer seeped in and took over, and we were all grateful for the break. 

When a friend recently shared a post about the homework assignment an Italian teacher gave his students, I was inspired to create a different sort of summer curriculum, free of traditional school subjects. The action items assigned by the Italian teacher encouraged his students to learn outside of the classroom, to take oneself as a subject to be studied, to become more fully present in one’s skin and in one’s environment. It’s an assignment for students - and teachers - of all ages. 

I have yet to enjoy an Italian summer (though I could imagine doing so), but here’s how I plan to enrich our NorCal summer:

1.  First thing in the morning while your dreams are fresh in your mind, write them down in a journal. Better yet, tell somebody about them. This is how you become a better dreamer and storyteller.

2.  Learn new words. Try to use them in writing or in conversation; or just chant them to yourself like a mantra, especially the words that make you feel something. Sophisticated, silly, smart, clever, wise. Words have power. Feel them out.

3.  Read what you want to read, but do yourself a favor and try a new genre. Graphic novels, sci-fi, short stories, travelogues, poetry, books turned into movies. Read outside your comfort zone.

4.  Spend more time with people who make you feel good—about yourself, about them, about the world—and less time with people who make you feel bad, sad, mad, or nothing at all. This goes for the people you spend time with online too.

5.  Remember: the days are long and hot, but the season is short. Create some bright memories and tuck them away for the cooler, shorter days to come. Also, wear sunscreen.

6.  Learn how to stand on your head. Start with a pillow for cushion and a wall for support. Then progress to standing on your hands. Try to take a few steps upside down, walking with your hands. If nothing else, you will learn how to fall.

7.  Fall in love. With a person, a place, a song, a movie, a food, a book, an idea. Love it passionately.

8.  Spend time outside alone, under the stars, facing the rising or setting sun, or just sitting in the shade. Practice not thinking during your alone time. A quiet mind is a gift you give to yourself.

9.  Practice gratitude and generosity. Name three things that bring you joy; it’s an instant mood changer. Give compliments; extra points if you compliment a stranger. Be kind. Assume the best about people (but don’t forget #4). 

10.  Don’t wait for invitations. Be the one who invites. It can be simple - a walk, a swim, an iced coffee. Or it can be big - a party, a day at the beach, a trip to an amusement park. Don’t wait for things to happen. Make things happen.

From one homeschooling mom to another, have a happy summer, wherever you are!

Outdoor Art for Summer: Making Sun Prints

How to make sun prints, a great outdoor art project for homeschoolers

Here in New England, after a long, cold winter, we just want to get outside when summer comes. Along with nature exploration, bike riding, beach trips, and good ol’ running around, we make art outside, too. Art doesn’t have to be saved as a rainy-day activity—in fact, for some of these activities, you need the sun. Keep your art habit going strong with this made-for-summer project.

Photo by: Amy Hood

Photo by: Amy Hood


Sun paper, which is treated to react to sunlight, seems magical. Anything placed on the surface of the paper blocks sunlight—thus, the reaction. The paper comes with directions and is simple to use. However, you don’t want to expose it before your items are arranged, so you need to arrange in a darker area and then carry it out to the sunlight—another great use for drawing boards! If you have a piece of glass or Plexiglas, layering that on top of your paper and items will prevent anything from blowing away while still allowing the sunlight to reach the paper. 

Once the paper pales, the reaction is complete. To “develop” the prints, you merely need to rinse them in water. Make sure the kids are involved with every part of this process, because it’s very cool to watch. When the paper is dry, you can leave your prints as complete compositions or use them in collage.

Variation: A product called Inkodye can be used to make fabric sun-sensitive. We haven’t played with it yet, but it’s on our summer list.


This project originally appeared in the summer 2014 issue of home | school | life, along with a handful of other outdoor projects created by our wonderful art columnist Amy Hood. (You can pick up a copy in the store if you missed this issue.)

June Pep Talk

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

We’re taking a break from our weekly pep talks this summer, so for June and July, we’re hooking you up with an over-stuffed monthly pep talk instead.



Set up your telescope on June 3 to see Saturn at its brightest—with a decent telescope, you should be able to see some of the planet’s rings and moons.

June is Camping Month, so pitch a tent in your backyard for an outdoor sleepover. Make s’mores on the grill, put on a flashlight shadow puppet play, and do a little star-gazing. 

Take advantage of the sunshine and turn your nature walk into art by making sun prints.

Make sponge balls and have a backyard water battle.

Celebrate Maurice Sendak’s birthday on June 10 by watching Where the Wild Things Are and reading your favorite Sendak books. (I vote for the creepy, Labyrinth-ish Outside Over There.

Turn making lemonade into a fun science project.

Celebrate Drive-In Movie Day (June 6) by seeing a movie at a drive-in theater near you.

The Magna Carta was signed on June 15, 1215. Learn more about why this 13th century document still matters today by watching this video lecture from the James Otis Video Lecture collection.

I think we all know the best way to celebrate World Juggling Day (June 18). This video is a great tutorial for newbie jugglers.

To mark Log Cabin Day (on June 26), watch the documentary Alone in the Wilderness, a really fascinating account of a man who left the plugged-in world for the wilderness, building a log cabin and living off the land.



When you want to grill but are feeling a little burned out by the same-old dishes, try this linguine with grilled clams and bacon. It’s unexpected and delicious.

If you bought more eggplant than you know what to do with, serve these falafel-stuffed eggplants with tahini sauce and tomato relish.

When the thought of cooking is just too much but everybody is insisting on eating dinner anyway, this chicken and peaches platter requires assembly only.

Mix and match whatever’s in your fridge to make this leftover salads Nicoise.

Anything you serve for dinner will taste better with this arugula, potato, and green bean salad.

This tomato chèvre tart is delicious just out of the oven, but I’ve also been known to eat a cold slice right out of the fridge for breakfast.

If it’s sunny, cook these Thai peanut chicken thighs on the grill; if it’s not, pop them in the oven instead.

Feeling adventurous?  This chilled crab and shrimp ramen salad is a staple on restaurant menus all summer long in Japan.

This summer minestrone is easy to adapt—and a delicious way to stretch those first tiny garden harvests.

Also a great way to use that late spring produce: spring vegetable bibimbap.



I feel like book series and summer just go together, so for this list, I’m highlighting the first books in series I think make great readalouds—whether you stop after book one or keep going until the end.

Redwall (Redwall, Book 1)
By Brian Jacques
The Borrowers
By Mary Norton

Brian Jacques’ birthday is June 15, and Redwall makes the perfect summer series readaloud: epic adventure, talking animals, and plenty of irresistible characters.

Arietty, Pod, and Homily are just trying to live their lives in a way-too-big-for-them world in The Borrowers. I love the way this book blends matter-of-fact details (like peeling potatoes!) into a fantastic world.

You’ll be captivated by the adventures of Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran and his friends (an enchantress, a bard, a dwarf, and a, um, Gurgi) in The Book of Three, the first book in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain.

Cara discovers a magical world full of dragons, dwarves, nightmares, and more when she heads Into the Land of the Unicorns.



Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the blue sky, is by no means waste of time.
— John Lubbock



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Easy Nature Scavenger Hunts

Love this idea for spring homeschooling: Nature scavenger hunts! #homeschool

The weather in fall is pretty much perfect, so why not add a little nature study to your routine with one of these fun outdoor scavenger hunt ideas?


Children love treasure. Consider the whole outdoors your treasure chest, and turn them into little naturalists for the afternoon. Maybe they’ll even find something more interesting than what’s on the list.

  • Try this: Make a list of ten things you know your child can find around the house and yard. Give her the list and a little bag or container, and let her go on a hunt. Your list might be: a little seed, a flower, pinecone, big seed, red crayon, string, little ball, something purple, something blue, and a bug... a bug? Well, it depends on what kind of child you have.


The Number Game

Have lots of leaves and rocks in the yard? Use them to teach math. This game is great for kids who are learning their numbers.

  • Try this: Write the numbers 1 to 10 in chalk on the sidewalk. Put dots under the numbers to represent each amount—one dot under the number one, two dots under number two, and so forth. Now look for things around the yardand house to put on top of the dots: one toy car, two flowers, three leaves, four twigs, etc.


Venn Diagram

Sneak in more math with a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is a visual way of sorting and comparing a group of things. Draw two or more circles and overlap them. Label each circle with one characteristic. If an object has that characteristic, it will go into the labeled circle. If it has two characteristics, it goes in the area where those two circles overlap. If it doesn’t have any of the characteristics, it goes outside the Venn diagram.

  • Try this: Draw three or four big, overlapping circles with chalk on the pavement and label them things like “brown,” “hard,” “curved,” etc. Let children search the yard for items with those characteristics, such as rocks, acorns, leaves, flowers, and twigs, and show them how they can be sorted. Bring a few small toys and items from inside the house to add even more fun.


This article was originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life.

Taking a Step Back to Embrace Change in Your Homeschool

Great homeschool inspiration read: Sometimes you need to take a step back to move forward. Love this essay. #homeschool

The jet lag is tough. Four days ago we flew home to Great Britain, after a long holiday in North America where we visited friends and family. We’ve unpacked the suitcases, thrown several loads of laundry into the washing machine, been to the supermarket, and are now trying to get back into the groove. Well, almost.

Taking a holiday has always been an opportunity for my family to reevaluate our rhythms and routines. Stepping away from our various projects and commitments, leaving behind the pile of homeschool books and resources, is a chance to think about what we want for our family. Usually we don’t discover new goals, we simply come back to our family’s core values. Time together. A love of learning. Curiosity. Discovery. Fresh air. A concern for nature and our fellow human beings. Helping others. Love.

It’s not so much that we stray from these values and need to come back them; more that I forget that they’re there, and they become buried beneath the making­-breakfast­-practice-­the­-piano­-where­-did­-you­-put­-my­-shoes­-ness of daily life. I like it that I get wrapped up in the everyday, because to me that means I am present to my family. On the other hand, I don’t want to lose sight of what we as a family believe because I want everything in our lives to draw us closer to our core values.

To that effect, I apply my mind every summer to thinking about what we do and how we do it. Do we still want to have family games night on a Wednesday? Do our agreements about screen time still make sense? What direction do our projects seem to be taking, and how could I tweak things to better support the children in their work? Are we socializing enough, or perhaps too much? And the question of questions: are we happy?

Family life changes over time: babies become children who learn to read. Those children become teenagers: all limbs and mobile phones. Husbands turn grey and take up home brewing. For me, life seems too busy and I find myself hatching plans for how I can retreat to my rocking chair with my crochet. It all sounds like a slightly skewed Norman Rockwell painting, but you get the point: what worked for my family last year may not ring true for us now. Though most of us hold in our heads the idea that things are static, in fact they are in a constant state of flux.

The idea is to embrace change. I work at seeing it as my friend. I ask myself what I can change to lead us toward a greater experience of happiness. I attempt to make those changes. Sometimes they work. Other times we go back to the way things were and chalk it up to experience. Change can be hard to swallow and for the change­-averse needs to be gradual and ever so gentle. But if the alternative is to be stuck in a rut, I know what I’d choose. Right now, we are figuring out where our ruts are.

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.