Don’t Wake the Baby! Why You Should Be Letting Your Kids Sleep Longer

Sleep Turbo-Charges the Brain

As the mother of four children I have lived through sleepless nights, toddlers who no longer nap – those precious moments when I could use the bathroom and open the mail without a “helper”, and now – teenagers whose circadian rhythms tell them to live like vampires. Sleep – the constant in our lives that we all need, but we aren’t always sure how to get, or how much we really need.

New research about sleep and children fascinates me as a parent – and is a reminder to me that when my kids are tired (even those vampire teens), that I should just let them rest. Rarely are kids actually, well, lazy, and just sleeping for the pure laziness of it. In fact, their need for sleep could signal that their brains are working overtime – and becoming stronger.

Dr. Ines Wilhelm from the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, along with other Swiss and German  scientists, have recently released the results of an intriguing new look at sleep in Nature Neuroscience. The results of their research shows that:

  • Sleep is when our brains process what we have learned during the day.Sleeping with book
  • Children experience this process more effectively than adults do.
  • Sleep provides the opportunity to build long-term memory storage.
  • When our children sleep, their memory function improves and paves the way for more learning activities in the future.
  • During sleep knowledge that is implied becomes knowledge that is explicit. Did you ever wonder how you came to believe a belief so strongly? Your brain was working on transferring that implied information into actual information.
  • Children tend to sleep more deeply at night, giving their brains the opportunities needed to reinforce what they have learned every day and remember it well the next day.

Dr. Wilhelm and her colleagues conducted studies where children between the ages of 8 and 11 years and a group of young adults were given a short task testing their abilities to predict which step would come next in a series based upon what had already occurred in the series. Then the subjects were tested the following day and the results showed that those subjects who had an adequate amount of sleep were much more capable of remembering the information. Those who did not sleep, or did not sleep well, scored much lower on the test.

While this might not seem surprising to you – consider how we parent, and the pace at which our society expects our children to function. If we absolutely agree that sleep improves our brain functions, why are we making the schedules of children to increasingly limit the sleep they can acquire?

It is fairly common knowledge that teens like to sleep – they just don’t like to go to bed. Studies have also shown that teenagers are naturally wired so that their bodies and brains need to stay awake later and night and sleep longer in the morning. But then we meet them with before school hockey practice, early starts at high schools, and Pep Squad meetings 30 minutes before school starts.

Homeschooled Children Have Healthier Sleep Habits

sleepy teenAnother recent study supports these findings, and is one of the first to look at a new and growing population of students in America – those who are homeschooled. Lisa Meltzer Ph.D. from National Jewish Health in Denver led a study that looked at the sleep differences among  2,612 (including roughly 500 who are homeschooled) teenagers who experience different forms of education. The results clearly showed that teenagers who are homeschooled have healthier habits for sleeping than their peers who attend public or private schools.

  • Homeschooled teenagers on average get 90 minutes more of sleep each night.
  • Students who attend public or private schools are in class an average of 18 minutes before a typical homeschooled teenager is even awake for the day.
  • 55% of homeschool teenagers get the optimal amount of sleep each night, compared to just 24% of those students in private or public schools.

Meltzer says:

“We have a school system that is set up so that the youngest children, who are awake very early in the morning, start school latest, and our adolescents, who need sleep the most, are being asked to wake up and go to school at a time when their brains should physiologically be asleep… That cumulative sleep deprivation adds up…The ability to learn, concentrate and pay attention is all diminished when you haven’t had enough sleep. But more than that, a lack of sleep can also impact a teenager’s mood and their ability to drive early in the morning.”

Meltzer reminds us as parents that it is not just as easy as sending our kids to bed earlier each night. Those biological clocks actually do know what they are doing, and sleep needs for teens typically shifts two hours later into the evening during puberty. So when my teenagers tell me, “I’m just not tired!” as I implore them to head to bed before midnight, they are actually listening to their bodies. Meltzer says that the natural choice is to let teenagers sleep later during the day.

What Can We Do?

Meltzer and her colleagues urge parents and school officials to look at the science behind the data. If we are really striving to build strong, competent, intuitive, and successful students, we need to accept that their sleep needs (and how we respond to them) will determine that.

In schools where high school start times have been adjusted to accommodate the physiological facts about teenage brains, there are several benefits reported.

  • Students are tardy less often, resulting in less wasted time in consequential activities for tardiness (i.e. detention).
  • Graduation rates are higher.
  • Children score better on tests.

So the next time I am tempted to wake my teenage son so he isn’t late for Algebra – I’m going to let him be tardy. He’s homeschooled – so I’ll just have to have a parent-teacher conference. The kids are used to seeing me talk to myself and are good with it. (But if I start to use character voices I’m sure the magic will wear off quickly.)


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Help Your Kids find Careers They Love – With or Without a College Degree

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Miserable? Bored? Frustrated? Tired?

These likely aren’t the answers we expect to hear from our kids when people ask them the ever present question about their looming futures. People expect firefighter, teacher, astronaut, football player, or superhero. We don’t want our kids to pursue paths that lead to 40 hours of boredom, where every day of the week seems like Monday. But are we really preparing them for life living out their passions? Are we living out our passions and excited to be doing whatever it is we are doing every day?

How Working without Passion Hurts Us and Our Kids

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that not even 30% of people between the ages of 31 and 61 rate their feelings toward their jobs as “very satisfied”, and the rest of respondents reported being somewhat satisfied or not satisfied at all. Other reports indicate similar dismal findings. shows an even lower overall satisfaction level among the workforce with only 15% of people being extremely satisfied with their jobs. And those kids we are raising? They are on the heels of the population with the lowest satisfaction rate (those under the age of 30 years).

Research also shows that when we are in jobs that we really can’t stand, our health declines. People who have jobs that give them low satisfaction:

  • Are at higher risks for anxiety and depressiontired dad
  • Are no more satisfied than those who are unemployed
  • Are more likely to have high blood pressure, even outside of work

According to Dr. Katharine Brooks, author of You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career, there are several different kinds of reasons why people don’t like their jobs.

  • The position is either too demanding or not demanding enough.
  • There has been a lack of training for the position.
  • There is not enough job security.
  • The relationships with co-workers are negative components of the job.
  • The job doesn’t pay well enough.
  • There isn’t an opportunity to advance.
  • There isn’t the opportunity for flexibility that allows for balancing work and personal time.
  • The working conditions are poor, or even dangerous.
  • The employee is simply burned out.

I don’t know about you, but when I lie awake at night and envision my children’s future, I dream about something above somewhat satisfied, of more than limited opportunities and poor working conditions. But how are we going to get there?

global girlHelping Our Kids Find Careers They Love

According to groups such as the Search Institute, we need to be help our kids ignite their sparks – those things in their lives that make their hearts skip a beat, get them energized, and are the “essence of who they are and what they offer to the world.”

In the Search Institute’s research, it was found that only approximately 65% of kids in grades 5 through 12 could identify at least one “spark” in their own lives, and 55% of students reported that someone (such as a teacher or parent) helped them to find their sparks and support them.

Maggie Mistal, a career consultant, agrees with this idea. She says that:

“[People] haven’t clarified their values and thought about how they’d like to use their abilities to make a difference and align their work with their purpose. Too often people assume work is supposed to be a chore so they don’t even look for anything other than that when embarking on a career.”

So if you’re like me and many other parents out there – you want to find a way to help your children be some of those extremely satisfied adults, who have a spark for their day jobs, who have learned to pursue their passions.

Will Education Bring Job Satisfaction to Our Children?

It used to be the sentiment that those students who worked hard in school, got amazing grades, passed tests with flying colors, and attended a four-year college, would be guaranteed success. Now, however, a college degree guarantees a large loan more than anything else, and too many students are graduating with degrees that don’t necessarily align with their passions.

Before you make the assumption for your child that his spark will turn into a full-fledged flame of career enthusiasm because he attends college, spend some time getting to know what those sparks even are. Maybe your child doesn’t even know yet because he has been too busy putting in time in education and not enough time putting in effort and enthusiasm for learning.

  • Get to know your child’s school. There are other options out there if you find your child’s school is not nurturing the sparks of students. If we continue to put our kids in the same box of education, we will get the same results. Adults who are not very satisfied with their careers (and when you consider how much time goes into a career, they are not very satisfied with their lives).
  • Get to know your child. This might sound silly, but do you know your child’s favorite color, what she thinks about when she is staring out the car window, and how she imagines her “perfect day” as an adult?
    • Spend one-on-one-fun time with your kids.
    • Read the same books your kids read (and then talk about them later).
    • Ask them questions – and don’t provide judgment in your answers.
  • Give your kids opportunities to job shadow. In schools such as those in Germany, high school is not complete without several internship possibilities that put students front and center with careers for several weeks at a building
    • Take your child with you to work for a day.
    • Ask your neighbors and family members if your kids can job shadow them.
  • Help your kids find mentors in the areas where they have their sparks. This helps them learn networking skills, gives them the inside scoop on the latest trends, and provides a support system for your kids’ dreams.
  • Ask your kids if college is something they want. You just might be surprised at what they say when given the opportunity.

Have you noticed that only one of these items was related to school education? Grade point averages and test scores do not equal success. This doesn’t mean that I am an anti-education fanatic. I have one child who is completing her sophomore year of college, and who plans to continue for many years. I should hope so – she wants to become a veterinarian and I’m guessing that most pet owners would like her to receive proper medical training. However, I also have a son who is an avid history buff, loves media, and hopes to also own his own business one day. While I value education for the opportunities for learning, I don’t know if college will help him achieve his dreams. So today he competed at a Regional History Day competition. He is offering classes for his favorite hobby – yo-yoing, and he is pursuing his passions. He has a spark I have the joy of seeing every day.

I was recently going through a family genealogy book and came across stories about my relatives when they ventured to this country for the first time. They weren’t satisfied with the lives they were living in another country, so they endured travel and terrain unlike any they had ever encountered, and they came to a town barely inhabited – with almost nothing but their determination. They were seeking their own happiness, guided by their own expectations, and ready to face the challenges that were along the paths to their dreams. Let’s get back to a place where we value ingenuity and self-direction. Let’s raise children who will venture on their own, who will be able to mark that box for “extremely satisfied” in life.


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Taking Amazing Childrens Photos

Taking Amazing Childrens Photos

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As a professional photographer in Bend Oregon I’m constantly asked for advice on how to take photos of kiddos.  The category “kiddos” is distinct from newborn and older children and ranges from the age of 1 to about 5 years of age.   This article is aimed towards the average mom or dad who doesn’t have a fortune invested in camera gear!

Subject matter

Obviously the subject is your child.  Don’t be distracted by things going on around your child.   Make your child the focus of the picture, not the sunset behind them.

A trick for making sure your kiddo is the center of attention in your photo is to switch your camera into Aperture Priority mode. This will get you more depth of field.  Depth of field simply means that the subject of your photo will be in focus and the background will be fuzzy.  Make sure when in Aperture Priority mode you have the lowest F-Stop available.  This often sets apart an amateur from a professional.  If your camera doesn’t have aperture priority mode – it might have a ‘portrait’ mode that will assist with those nice fuzzy backgrounds.

Finally, get down on their level.   I often lie down on the ground to get the shot.   Make the camera level with their eyes or even slightly below – do this and you’ll get much more intimate shots.


Although backgrounds can give context they can also be distracting.  The obvious solution for distractions is to physically remove the distraction if possible.   If this is not possible, try moving the angle of the photo – sometimes this will remove the distraction from the frame.   You can also try moving closer to your child.  Remember, too much clutter can take away from the subject matter of your photo.  The best photos are simple and clean.


Unless you have lots of time and access to editing software, make sure your child is tidy.  Wipe those noses, comb the hair, look for spots on clothing etc.

Make it natural and candid

Catch your kiddos while they’re doing something.  Your kiddo lives in a world filled with the joy of discovery and make-believe. This is what you want to capture.  Choose places where your kids have fun, where you can show them in their natural playful environment.

If they’re in the stage of saying “cheese” with the phony smile, distract them with the following tricks:

  • You know them better than anyone – what are their favorite things?  Have a discussion with them while taking the photos.  This works every time!
  • Another trick is to ask them “not” to smile, or play “hide and seek.”  The key is distraction!
  • Showing kids photos after you’ve taken them also lets them be involved and less anxious about the picture taking. The more relaxed they are the better.
  • Play “peek-a-Boo!”

I’ve outlined just a few key points in taking successful kiddo photos.   Obviously, photographers have many tricks to making a shoot productive and successful.  If you have tricks you would like to share, please reply to this article at or visit our Facebook Page.  We will make sure our readers receive your advice!

This shot was taken in the middle of a conversation between the photographer and the kiddo.  Notice the engaged eye contact.  This is also a great example of depth of field.  Thanks to Lisa Armstrong From for providing this great article!

Conditions: Cloudy with sun peeking through.

Exposure: 1/125 sec; f/2.8; ISO 100.

Camera: Canon EOS 7D.


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What in the World is a Lapbook?

What in the World is a Lapbook?

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Lapbooks, project packs, and file folder books – they are all referring to the same basic idea of creating a miniature book to reinforce a learning adventure. Becoming popular in the homeschooling world over the past 10 years or so, these options are also being used in classrooms and even daycare centers. The above fun LEGO lapbook was shared at Joy in the Journey.

Lapbooks are easy tools you can use to build around central themes and turn basic topics into unit studies. In some ways lapbooks are scrapbooks meet learning journals. But don’t be frightened, you don’t need to be a scrapbooking queen in order to master the art of lapbooking. In fact, you can be scrapbooking challenged like I am and still have success with lapbooks!

Most lapbooks are created using the following supplies:

  • manila folders
  • printed worksheets (on regular paper or cardstock)
    • There are tons of free resources – check out,, and more.
    • You can make your own worksheets or even use parts of worksheets from inexpensive workbooks.
  • glue sticks
  • color crayons/markers
  • scissors
  • staples/stapler

filesWhat Does a Lapbook Look Like?

The best way to really understand what a lapbook is all about is to see one, so check out these great examples that moms and dads, teachers and caregivers have used with kids of all ages, about all kinds of topics.

How Do I Make a Lapbook?

Depending upon how much information you want to include in your child’s lapbook, you can use anywhere from 1 to 6 (any more than that and it gets to be too much) manila folders. If you are a visual learner like I am, there are some great tutorial videos that show you how you can create different styles of lapbooks.

If you’ve been looking for something that will hold your child’s attention or reinforce boring information, lapbooks can be the answer – and they are extremely inexpensive and versatile. I’ve used them to supplement books we’ve read such as the Magic Tree House series, to add extra information to a wildlife unit study, and we always incorporate them into our holiday studies.


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9 Favorite Lapbook Projects for Fun and Easy Learning

I was getting the 7 year itch in homeschooling. I’d tried almost everything – except lapbooking. The kids and I were both stuck in a rut and we needed to do something fast before homeschooling turned into something that looked too much like, well, boring school. And then I found the lapbook that made all of the difference in our homeschool and I found a new and engaging way to get my kids excited about learning. So to kick off my list of 7 favorite lapbooks, I’m starting with a standby favorite – just in time for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday in March. Maybe your next homeschool pick-me-up is waiting among my list of favorite lapbooks – and I’d love to hear which one’s you’ve tried, and what you would recommend!

st.pats1. St. Patrick’s Day Project Pack by In the Hands of a Child

We’ll be reviving this favorite one this year with the younger kids who don’t recall too much from this the first time their older siblings studied about St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland, and everything Irish (it’s geared for kids ages 4-9, but is easily adjustable). Even if we weren’t Irish we would chose this type of lapbook, described by the publisher as a Project Pack, because of the thoroughness and quality. You’ll be able to find other lapbooks that are free online, but the sale price of less than the cost of shamrock shakes for the kids is worth the investment. This lapbook includes:

  • Research Guide – This includes a bibliography which makes trips to the local library a breeze when I need to stock up on extra resources, and it also includes links to websites that are helpful (reducing that wasted searching time).
  • Core Concepts – These descriptions of what the lapbook covers help you determine what (if any) other subjects you’ll need to be studying during this time.
  • Project Ideas – These include fun, hands-on activities that take the kids away from the lapbook and into their imaginations – great extensions for what they are already applying.
  • Sample Pages – This publisher does an amazing job describing how to fold a lapbook, use a lapbook, and gives sample pictures of real world lapbooks so you can get an idea of the finished product.

Colorful Mahjong Tiles2. China

If you’re looking for a fun and easy lapbook for your studies of China, check out this one from Randomosity. The highlight of this lapbook creation is the booklist she includes for supplemental reading. Then you can choose and print exactly which pages and types of topics you want to include in your lapbook. We like to make sure we add a map, and then throw in some cooking with Chinese recipes to help round out the experience. Our local college also hosts International Nights where we can go and learn more about various cultures – our program guides get added into our lapbooks.


magic tree house3. Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne

These easy to read and engaging stories get kids thinking about other times, events, and conflicts (usually in world history). These lapbooks are great supplements to further your reading with your kids. If your kids enjoy the Magic Tree House series, grab hold of their enthusiasm to keep talking about the books. This lapbook for the first book covers character analysis at a very elementary level, vocabulary from the story, and a small amount of science. These lapbooks are beneficial for kids who need a little more reinforcement with their reading comprehension, and then help them become more critical readers as their skills develop.

4. Civil War Lapbook

civil warThis is one of the best civil war lapbook tools you are going to find when you are trying to teach across several ages and abilities. The youngest learners can use the activities that rely more on basic skills of cutting, coloring, and pasting, but older children can be challenged by the ideas they tackle. The basic pages and inserts allow you to customize how much your child needs to contribute. You can have younger kids just write simple words, or have older children research and write short paragraphs describing their reactions and ideas. It includes topics and activities such as:

  • Civil War Uniforms
  • Flags of the Time
  • Civil War Quilts
  • Morse Code
  • People of the Civil War
  • More!

It is intended to be used in conjunction with the book Great Civil War Projects You Can Build Yourself, but my kids are using it as a supplement to the experiences they are having and the things they are learning as part of a historical re-enactors guild which performs plays related to Abraham Lincoln.

5. The Polar Express Learning Lapbook by A Journey Through Learning

polarexpressWe love reading aloud in our home, and lapbooks are wonderful ways to extend those stories into something more. One of my favorite ways to bring a good book to life is to use a lapbook, and the holidays are a great time to do this. Even shorter books like The Polar Express can work well with lapbooks because each time we read the same book with our kids we can discover something new. This particular lapbook is the perfect way to study during the holiday season – you get to play with jingle bells, experiment with hot cocoa, and even explore elements of story writing. It is intended for early elementary readers.

Other favorite holiday lapbooks include:

6. How The Grinch Stole Christmas by JoAnn S.

grinchThis is actually a unit study, but all you need to do is print the activities and have the kids attach them into a plain lapbook template. Activities ranging from making your own rock candy (learning about caves like where the Grinch lived), and exploring holiday customs in other countries. And it is free!

7. The Legend of the Easter Egg by Lori Walburg, lapbook prepared by Jolanthe Erb

This story of the legend of the Easter egg draws upon Biblical lessons, but the lapbook created by Jolanthe Erb also includes social studies activities on the history of the Faberge Eggs, math concepts, science lessons on parts of eggs, and more. This is available for free use by the creator.

8. 4th of July

4th of julyOver at The Frazzled Mama you can find some fun ideas to build your own Independence Day lapbook. Sshh – just don’t tell the kids they are learning in the summer. Who could imagine such a thought? These are great activities to print and bring along to the cabin, to the campsite, or to use on a hot summer afternoon.

9. Thanksgiving Lapbook

There is a link here at Joann Griffin’s site for printables to be used in a Thanksgiving lapbook. The pages are simple and not very detailed, but what I like most is that she just took a general interest she had and found a way to use some graphics to turn it into a lapbook. If you add some great Thanksgiving books for early learners, her pages can be fun (and free) supplements.

When you’re searching for lapbooks, don’t forget to check out my top three general favorite sites:

These sites have great tools – some for free and some for cost – but they all can contribute immensely to your children’s learning experiences.

Don’t forget to share your favorite lapbook resources and I’ll get them added to a list to share.

Are there any topics for lapbooks you can’t find? Let me know that, too. When we work together, we learn together!



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Homeschooling Can Ruin Your Marriage

For better or worse. In sickness and in health. Perhaps you pledged things like this during your wedding vows, but did you also promise to honor your partner during homeschooling and times of sanity? You might make it through those “broke” years or come out the other side from a life threatening illness, but whether or not your marriage can survive homeschooling is a completely different challenge.

Education AheadHomeschooling is the fastest growing trend in education in America. Studies continuously point to the academic successes that homeschooling can provide.

  • Homeschooled students outscore publically schooled peers by an average of 36 percentage points.
  • 25% of homeschooled students are enrolled one or more grades above their peers who are in public or private schools.
  • Homeschooled students score on average in the 84th percentile in all areas of achievement tests.

And even though there are still lingering doubts in the minds of some about socialization, many in mainstream society also are beginning to recognize that homeschooling does not deter the socialization of children – it enhances it.

Why, then, can this positive education option be dangerous to your marriage?

Homeschooling is 24/7. It is a frame of mind. It is when you turn ordinary activities into field trips, topics for journaling, and opportunities to increase spelling vocabulary. Homeschooling changes who you are, especially if you do it well. But it also changes who you are with your spouse. If you are not careful, it can change your relationship in ways that threaten the stability of your marriage. This is even truer if only one partner in a marriage is enthusiastic about homeschooling. Flying solo as a married homeschooling parent is a challenge at best – a dangerous prospect in the least. Consider the strains that homeschooling places on marital relationships.

Homeschooling and Marraige: Resentment of The Job

Spouses can resent the time you give to your children in this 24/7 job. There are the days when your spouse sees you having a “fun day at the zoo” and thinks that you’ve got the easy job. He didn’t see your efforts to make sure even the car ride to the zoo was educational, the energy you put into each exhibit you saw with the kids, and the contribution that the trip made to the science series your kids are studying.

Not only does it sometimes look on the outside like you have the easy job, but your spouse can feel he’s getting the shaft when it comes to your time and commitment to the marriage. If your idea of “date night” is to watch a movie that would be great for school, see a play you’ve been reading with the kids, or hike a trail where you are considering taking the kids for nature camp, you might be inadvertently building resentment in your marriage.

Over time that resentment can grow – like a tumbling, twisting, and thorn-producing patch of weeds. Homeschooling families on average have several kids – so the years you are committing to your kids can be many, especially if you homeschool all the way from kindergarten through graduation.

In my household this means that I will homeschool my 4 children for more than 23 years when it is all said and done. That is 23 years of dedication to these little people and their activities. That is a lot of years to spend focusing each and every day on the education of children, and if I’m not careful, those can be years of my husband feeling left out of the priority loop.

Homeschooling and Marriage: Resentment of The Financial Picture

Those early years when you factor daycare costs into your decision, homeschooling can seem easier and even financially responsible. It is when the kids are all old enough to be attending school, even caring for themselves after school, where the stark differences lie. A homeschool mom isn’t needed to provide care for her young children anymore. Her role transitions from caregiver to teacher, guiding hand, or even partner. It is when this transition strikes that the working spouse can get a case of the “what ifs”.

What if the kids went to public school and my wife got a job?

This is the dreaded question that makes homeschooling parents wrinkle their noses. In a society where more and more families are living in dual income households the financial and social strains of choosing to live on a single income can be overwhelming. I’ve ridden the financial roller coaster over the 13 years we’ve homeschooled – and I still have another 10 years to go if I homeschool my youngest through graduation. It is a conscious decision to give up a formal 401K, the opportunities to build job security and pad your resume, and live on the constant precipice of risk if the single earner losing that precious job.

Financial strains can be one of the most significant factors in a decision to homeschool, and it can be cause for some of the greatest marital discord. If you are home each day, watching the kids blossom, and truly seeing their progress, your spouse might not get this same picture if by the time he gets home they are restless because they are hungry for dinner or you are tired because you also worked all day.

kids and moneyHomeschooling also costs money – in some form or another. The median amount of money spent annually in the United States each year on homeschool supplies and materials is between about $400 and $600 per student. This number can vary widely – I homeschool 4 children and usually spend that amount in total, including things like museum passes. I also know families who spend only the gas money for trips to the library and not much more.

The majority of mothers who homeschool do not do work that provides a paycheck – a whopping 81%. However, the trend also seems to be growing that more and more homeschooling parents are seeking part-time work of some kind. I am among these ranks, but my youngest is now 9 and I can safely leave him to finish his projects while I tackle some of my own. Working from home allows me to contribute to the bank account, and have something that is mine that I love and can love after the kids graduate.

However, working part-time and taking on the responsibility of the primary educator in the homeschool is a juggling act like no other. I simply don’t think I could have worked 25 hours each week from home and felt good about the kind of education and attention I was providing my children if I would have attempted this 10 years ago. It only would have created even more stress within the family.

Homeschooling and Marriage: Resentment of the Lifestyle

Let’s face it, even though we’re adults we still care about what others think of us – just hopefully not to the same degrees that plagued us in high school. So it’s normal to still feel the sting of judgmental words that are sometimes cast out when you announce “We homeschool” when asked where you kids go to school. If your spouse carries the weight of others’ opinions, being a new homeschooling parent can be – well – traumatizing for some parents.

Announcing that you’re a homeschooling family when you’re among adults who come from dual-income families, where family meals are reserved for holidays, and anything but the local Wild Cats school colors are considered unpatriotic can be intimidating.

Socialization Rears Its Ugly Head in Marriages

Forget the hype. Socialization is overrated. Yet it still rears its ugly head in homeschooling families, especially if one parent already has reservations about the education choice.

Will my child really be able to make great friends?

Will my child really grow up to be normal without recess and assigned seating?

Will my child grow to be the odd duck because he didn’t play on the high school football team?

Many of these fears can only be eased by actually doing it. It doesn’t mean that childhood friendships are instantaneous or easy – anywhere, or that your child will be just like everyone else, but isn’t that kind of the point? Giving children something else, something more, is a common driving motivator for families to choose homeschooling.

And as far as football (or any other sport) goes, homeschooling is not an end. If your child is sports-minded there are many ways to integrate homeschooling and athletics. Just ask my kids – one who has a locker at the local public school and plays on several school sports. He not only plays, but the coaches and teammates want him to play.

How Do I Convince My Husband that Homeschooling is Right for Us?

I hear this question too many times from parents who are divided about making the decision to homeschool. I usually tell these desperate moms – you don’t. He has to find for himself that homeschooling is a viable, positive option for your family.

Don’t drag him. Homeschooling is an amazing adventure, but it can also be an emotional, physical, and mental exercise like no other. You don’t want to take on the responsibility of forcing your spouse into the decision. If your spouse thinks this is the worst idea in the world, or is apathetic at best, you’re setting yourself up for an even bigger challenge if you take the plunge without his support. Instead of rushing into the decision, assess where you are at today, in regards to where you hope to be someday with your children’s education.

Ingredients for a Strong Homeschooling Marriagemarriage

A backbone – You’ll both need to be strong to face the questions of the in-laws and the critiques of the neighbors.

Communication – Keep talking, without forcing your values on your spouse. The more you both share your concerns and dreams, the greater the opportunities you’ll have to help the other ease those worries or reach those goals.

Faith – Draw upon the faith that you have – in a higher power, in each other, and in yourself.

Patience – Parents automatically think this is about patience with the kids, but it is about patience with each other.

A well of comrades – One of the best things I did was start a local homeschool group (by literally placing an ad in the paper). My husband met other homeschool dads, saw that there were great families on this adventure, and knew that we wouldn’t be alone.

Shared goals – Write a list together about the kinds of goals you have for your kids. Then take a good, careful look at how you think homeschooling can help or hinder you from getting there as a family.

Financial literacy – Be realistic with finances, and take steps to ease financial burdens. This might mean cancelling those manicure appointments, or working from home as your family situation allows.

Humor – There will be some days when you will daydream about the school bus picking up the kids and the freedom you will have from teaching the quadratic equation one more time. Find ways to grab onto the humor in your homeschooling family, like this uplifting book I got for my husband, and then have passed on to other homeschooling dads.

Resilience – Instead of fostering resentment, build resilience. If you meet your spouse at the door each day crying, complaining, or rolling your eyes because the kids complained all day about mathScared baby against crazy mother or they were simply driving you crazy with sibling rivalry, this is the picture you will paint of homeschooling. Instead of meeting your spouse at the door with the leftover science experiment clinging to your hair and wild eyes because your kids almost blew a hole in the ceiling, build your own resilience. Take a 15 minute time out for yourself before he walks through the door and remember to welcome him with open arms. Without him you likely wouldn’t be on this crazy-wonderful journey in the first place, so remember to .

How do you keep your homeschooling marriage strong?



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Why Slumber Parties are a Bad Idea

My son is at a sleepover tonight, and I am sure I will most likely pay for allowing him to go. He will come home tired, cranky, and quick to retort with impatient answers to basic questions (such as Are you hungry for lunch?). Oh yeah – and he’ll come home slightly stinky because this was an impromptu slumber party and he didn’t even have so much as a toothbrush. Reasons like this make sleepovers a bad idea – and many parents agree. But somehow, sleepovers still exist in our home – and I’m OK with that – as long as a few ground rules and expectations are in place.

Sleepover Basics – What Do I Need to Know?

My Child – I have to know that my child is ready. There is emotional and social intelligence required for slumber parties, and it is my responsibility to my child, as well as to the family who invited him, that my child is ready for a sleepover. He needs to be able to take care of himself, as well as his basic manners (taking care of used dishes, putting bedding away, and helping with family chores).

The Family – Call me judgmental, but I’m not going to let my kids go to sleepovers just anywhere. In fact, even though my kids have all been to sleepovers, there is a finite list of homes where that happens. And despite the fact that my kids are homeschooled, this lack of sleepover-list-mania is not because my kids are socially deprived (they’re not – you’re just going to have to trust me on this one as I struggle to balance their busy schedules). It is because these are my precious babies and when I drift off to sleep at night I need to feel good about where my baby is drifting off to sleep.

My son is at a sleepover, but I am good with that – great with that, in fact. The home is also home to one of my dearest friends, and I know she’ll deliver all of the momisms I would be delivering if I was there. She’s texting me with updates and I’m checking in via Facebook. I know all of the people in the household, not just my son’s friend.

The Rules – Just who’s rules are followed at a sleepover? Does one family’s rules trump the other’s? Make sure you communicate with both the other parents and with your child about the rules. Younger children have a hard time discerning which rules to follow, and which expectations might make them uncomfortable.

When in doubt, go for the more rigid rules – and if you feel that the other rules are too lenient, maybe that is your signal that this sleepover is a bad idea. Before my son left for his sleepover, I told the other mom that we say no texting after 10:30. She smiled and said Good, because in our house the electronics get placed on the table at 10:00. Problem averted – my son heard this and knew that his new rule for the night was 10:00.

Why Sleepovers are a Good Idea

Allowing kids to safely experience the rules and mojos of other families teaches them more about their own. Maybe now my son won’t complain quite as much about the 10:30 no texting rule because he sees firsthand how other families have similar rules. He also gets to experience friendships at deeper levels. He gets to build relationships with the parents and siblings of his friends, which can actually make children safer. Remember the good old days when everyone knew your name… in the neighborhood? When you know your kids’ friends and their families, your children have an extended family. Yes – this can be a concern when there are too many opportunities for private time. However, this is why the issues listed above: my child, the family and the rules, are so important to discuss very clearly with everyone involved.

There will also likely be a time in your life when you will need to be away for the night – for a family emergency or hopefully an impromptu surprise night away for your anniversary. Every family needs a back-up family they can call and ask for a sleepover favor. If your child has never been allowed to stay anywhere else, this could be a difficult time, especially if the reason you need the sleepover is because there is an emergency and your child is left feeling out of sorts. Years ago when my kids were much younger we had a family emergency and it was so valuable to me to know that I could leave all 4 of the kids with another family (bringing the total of kids under the roof to 8!), literally at a moment’s notice and know that my kids felt safe, and I knew what to expect from the sleepover.

Planning a Successful Sleepover

There are things you can do to keep your kids safer and help yourself feel more comfortable if you choose to have your kids participate in sleepovers.

  • Talk with your kids. Communication and honest conversations about privacy and sexuality are a must.
  • Whether your kids are the guest or the host, make sure that all of the kids know the basics of fire safety for the home, where the telephones are, and where the home address is listed.
  • Make sure that both families are agreed upon the kinds of music, video games, television shows, and movies that kids are allowed to watch, play, or listen to during the sleepover.
  • Amend sleeping arrangements. We usually opt to have sleepovers occur in where the kids are in the family room – sprawled on sofas or bean bags. It lessens the intrusion on the privacy of bedrooms and the awkwardness of who sleeps where.
  • Get to know the families of your kids’ friends. This is one of the best things about being a homeschool family – we all know everyone else and we get to spend lots of time together. Invite your kids’ friends’ families over for a BBQ or game night. You’ll get to see the dynamics and understand the relationships a bit more. Who knows – you just might find those dear, close friends you never knew you were missing and you all gain bonus family members.

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Get More Out of Family Meals

Get More Out of Family Meals

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You’ve probably heard a zillion times that eating together as a family is good for you. Studies show doing this a few times a week help kids to do better in school, take fewer risks, and learn to communicate better? But how are you supposed to get them there when everyone’s lives are hectic, filled, and overscheduled? Use the following ideas and printables to help you tame the hungry beasts and get more out of every meal.

Keep ‘Em Busy Before Dinner

Part of what makes family meals so rushed is just the getting there. Yes – it would be amazing if I could wave my wand and produce a healthy, balanced, attractive meal that my family wants to gather around in less than 15 minutes. But between the dog waiting between my feet for a stray crumb to fall, teenagers hovering and asking How much longer? with the impatience of a toddler on a car drive, and the younger kids turning the kitchen rug into a magic carpet, I am lucky to set the table in 15 minutes. This is when I need a plan – and I need to keep them busy – just long enough to prepare the meal.

Place settings – Encourage the kids to set the table – without just tossing a handful of random forks in a pile.

  • Use this cheat sheet for your kids and let them set the table – It will pass the time and help keep them busy.
  • Check out some of these napkin folding ideas – elementary and older kids can have fun trying to create the perfect swan or come up with their own creation. I use cloth napkins just made from cotton squares of fabric that I zig-zagged along the edges.

Placemats – Give Younger kids these printable placemats – there are 10 different borders and each child can have a unique placemat or you can print enough of the same kind for each family member. Kids can decorate the center of the placemat with self-portraits, pictures of their favorite foods, and words or pictures that describe what your child did that day (a great conversation starter for the meal, too!).

Make Some Menus – You can just have the kids use a chalkboard or dry erase board and let them write down a café-style menu, or use paper and crayons to make a menu to hang on the wall. You can also print these and let the kids complete the rest.

Pillowcase Chair Covers – These easy projects can add a special touch to any meal – no sewing needed! You can even use pillowcases you find at thrift stores, and supplies around the house. Just make sure that the case is wide enough for your chairs. There are many ways the kids can decorate their chair covers:

  • Lay the pillowcase flat on the table and have the kids stamp their handprints on the fabric.
  • Give the kids stampers or fabric paint to decorate their chair covers.
  • Use chains of old jewelry, beads, or even belts to secure the chair covers.
  • Simply tie with a bow – add a decoration if wanted.

Let the kids get creative – and they will stay busy, too!

Try some of these easy recipes and get your kids in the kitchen – family meals are about more than filling bellies – they are about filling hearts and minds.

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Do Longer School Days Equal Smarter Kids?

Do Longer School Days Equal Smarter Kids?

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If the nation’s children aren’t succeeding in school, it means they need more time in school. Such is the position of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said that he supports the adding of hundreds of hours to academic calendars. A pilot project which will encompass 20,000 students across several states and schools aims at adding at least 300 hours each academic year. The reasons why many are supporting such changes might surprise you – and clue us in to a self-destructive education plan.

Why Are People Fighting for Longer School Calendars?

Not all school calendar plans are created equally.

  1. Rearrange the schedule while maintain a similar amount of school hours (more frequent breaks spread out over the course of an entire year).
  2. Add actual days of instruction (as many as 30 or more to each calendar year).
  3. Divide the school children into groups and rotate days they are in school (using the school buildings and teachers for more days in the hopes of reducing class sizes).

Each of these three methods have their own pros and cons, but the overall approach is supported by many educators and the American government. That is because the American government is taking notice that our students aren’t exactly leading the way in the classrooms. And if we aren’t leading the way in the classrooms, we can’t be leading the way in the world. (I guess I didn’t know that the world was run by standardized tests…)

Arne Duncan, along with his supporters, claim that there are several benefits to increasing academic hours each year.

  • It reduces the summer learning gap that some children experience (usually those living in poorer neighborhoods and in families with fewer resources).
  • Longer school calendars will extend the opportunities for children on poverty to receive free and reduced meals.
  • Families without stay-at-home parents don’t have to find interim daycare for the entire summer.

Calendars Aren’t the Problem – Attitudes about Education Are

Adjusting the school calendars to add more hours, instead of simply adjusting the school calendars to be more effective, is a perplexing plan. For as much hype as Arne Duncan and others want to put on the effectiveness of more academic hours each year, the actual supporting evidence is scant. In fact:

  • A review by the Center for Public Education found that students in India and China (2 countries that have been cited by Duncan as examples of calendar and academic models), in reality don’t require their students to spend more hours in the classroom.
  • Several states, including Minnesota and Massachusetts, have higher than average test scores yet still implement school calendars that don’t start until after Labor Day. In the great state of Minnesota, there was talk of extending the classroom calendars to begin school in late August, but it was quickly shut down by teachers, families, and businesses that rely on vacationing families.
  • Teachers lose out on opportunities to develop their skills through extended learning courses and practical applications when they are expected to spend more time in the classroom.
  • Finland, while it outscores America in many academic areas, requires its students to be in school for fewer hours.
  • Students lose opportunities for free play, to exercise their imaginations, to work summer jobs that help pay for college, and time with families.

Simply extending school hours and lengthening the academic calendar will not prepare students for the future. We need to move away from the school of thought that tries to convince us that warm bodies sitting behind desks is the best way to learn. Instead of a discussion on increased hours, it is time to hold a discussion on increased academic variety.

  • Offer enrichment programs such as the National Summer Learning Association in the summer that are both educational and rich with opportunities for exploration, especially in communities where children are at risk for lagging in the summer or for families who do not have someone at home to care for the children during summer break.
  • Get away from rigid grade levels and move to more of a Montessori approach that would allow for intergenerational teaching and learning. If students spend 6 weeks at the beach with their parents and then forget how to divide, they can go back to school at their levels and where their abilities are, instead of punch a time clock for their grade.
  • Expand individualized instruction and implement learning style evaluations to meet the needs of all the children in the classroom.
  • Change the expectations and goals of education. Are we doing this to create worker bees or to develop our families who can be successful, happy, and healthy?
  • Change the expectations we have as parents for summer vacation. If we keep kids out of classrooms for 3 months instead of 4 weeks during the summer – are they really going to sprawl in the meadow and count butterflies or shooting stars? Or will the kids instead be shuttled between baseball tournaments (I know we were in a different city each weekend last year with one son), flitting between swimming lessons and park days with friends? Will the kids sprawl on living room floors in the air-conditioned comfort, texting, gaming, and plotting with friends how to take over Facebook?

If we are realistic with ourselves we can admit that even though we wish that our kids could experience the laze of summer days, we are the culprits in making sure that lazy summer days don’t happen. We work in dual income households where organized care or activities for the kids are needed. We put forth efforts keeping up with the Jones and Smith families. We think we are helping our kids to become well-rounded if we keep them busy. And school is very adept at keeping kids busy. The best summers my family has spent have been when my kids have declined the offer for golf, baseball, or any-other-time-sucking-camp or class and opted for an old fashioned summer vacation. In the words of my then 10-year-old: I just want time to enjoy summer and make up my mind as I go along. I want to fish and play in the backyard. Well said, young man.

According to the Coalition for a Traditional School Year (yes – there really is a grass-roots effort dedicated to old school schedules): Families and teachers – not calendars – teach children.

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Would You Do It All Over Again?

Would You Do It All Over Again?

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Back to the Future – Living a Purposeful Life as a Parent and Grandparent

Would you go back to high school if you could know then what you know now? Or how about take a trip like that infamous one Michael J. Fox took in Back to the Future? There is no time like the present to give some words of wisdom to your future self, and your kids can even take part. Not only is it a great exercise in personal awareness and goals, but it might actually serve you well one day. Think about your purposes in life, and give the future you a little perspective.

The following printable activity sheets are launching points for bringing a little introspective and perspective into our lives. Your world is probably just as busy as mine, which means we can use all of the assistance we can get, even if it is from our future selves.

Printable Predictions for Young Kids

Use this printable activity sheet to encourage your young child to think about the future. What kind of a parent does he hope to be one day? The answers your child gives might surprise you, and they might just help you become a more conscious mom or dad. Nothing gives you a reality check like your 6 year-old son telling you that he is so glad he is never going to have to be a mom – they seem really tired most days and have a lot of work to do. Maybe the message your young child sends to her future self is one you can learn from to be a more effective parent, today.

Printable Predictions for Tweens and Teens

Has your teenager ever stomped out of the room and promised to never be like this when she is a parent? Have her put her money where her mouth is and consider what she really views as important in parenting. Use this printable and encourage her to record her predications and hopes for her future – and take note – they just might be telling you a bit about you today.

  • Encourage your tween or teen to write a letter to her future self – she can keep it with her mementos or ask you to safeguard it in the safe until she’s a parent of a tween or teen.
  • Talk with your tween or teen about what you used to think when you were their age – honestly. Don’t sugar coat it – but treat them with respect and understanding.

Printable Predictions for Parents

Over coffee with girlfriends we’ve shared stories and dreams about how we hope to be someday as in-laws to the spouses of our children. Sometimes these are based on wonderful experiences we have with our own in-laws, and other times they are based on the battles we’ve fought. While you can’t predict how you might feel one day as your baby gets married, you can give your future self some advice, and let it serve as a reminder to how it feels to be the daughter- or son-in-law.

Printable Predications for Grandparents

Does your child’s grandparent feed him sugar-anything for breakfast, despite your pleas to the contrary? Or does your child’s grandparent ignore your child? Grandparenting can be a rocky road – but grandparents are so important to children. Give yourself a heads-up for your future generations and use this printable to write a letter to yourself for when someone small is calling you “Grandmama”.

Sometimes the best lessons are those that we teach ourselves. Use these printables to spur some predicting and some promising about how you hope to live your future life. Get your kids in on the action, too. Kids are dreamers and they can teach us to dream big – and dream honestly. Who else can plan to be an astronaut who also designs video games and works in an underwater laboratory investigating sharks?

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