Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Important Conversations

Have you ever found yourself in a situation, with another person, that was uncomfortable, irritating, frustrating, aggravating, frightening or confusing? Most of us experience those feelings from time to time. What do you do? Do you express your feelings? Do you listen to the other person's viewpoint? Do you try to learn from the situation?

The best way to resolve difficult situations is to talk about it with the other party or parties involved. This can be overwhelming, and many of us tend to postpone "the talk," hoping the problem will go away or resolve itself. The authors of the book, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, address this topic and offer advice on initiating talk about those challenging topics.

You can discover strengths and weaknesses in your approach to difficult conversations by taking the Have the Talk Quiz or download a Difficult Conversations Preparation Worksheet (pdf format.) The worksheet is not a script, but rather a guide to help you focus on the issues to be discussed in an open, honest and understanding way.

If you feel ready to have "the talk" but find yourself procrastinating, it might be helpful to set a date for the important conversation. You could even choose to do it on January 1, 2008, which has been designated, "Have the Talk" Day.

So, go ahead, have "the talk." It may be easier than you think.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


One of my favorite scenes in the movie, Dead Poets' Society, is when Professor Keating has the students stand on his desk and face the classroom, so that they can see things from a different perspective.

When things seem to stagnate in our lives or in our learning, it's time for a new perspective. Relax. Have your children prepare dinner. Take a walk. Sing in the shower. Dance in your front yard. Make a hat with items you find around the house (and wear it!) Read a Shel Silverstein poem. Make faces in the mirror. Blow bubbles.

Now, what was that problem, you were trying to solve? Oh, yes. Ideas are flowing now!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Keys to Success

Richard St. John calls himself, "an average guy." He is the founder of a successful marketing company, The St. John Group. Over a seven year period, he interviewed more than 500 successful people and asked them what they felt was the key to their success. In one of the many popular TED Talks, Mr. St. John distilled those hours of interviews into 8 key words and a 3 minute presentation. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Better than a Parade

I love parades. The floats, the fire trucks, the smiling waving people and the great marching bands. Actually, I'm usually a little disappointed if a marching band is playing as they pass me. I much prefer just hearing the drummers' cadence... the rythmic drumming they play when they are marching and not playing a tune. I can't stand still. I have to move when I hear it.

If you enjoy percussion as much as I do, you will love this great video from YouTube and Animusic.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Making a Difference on Planet Earth

I get to know many homeschooled students through the enrichment classes I teach. Twenty-one-year-old Rachel is one of my former students. She and I have kept in touch, off and on, over the years. Last fall, she wrote to tell me about her exciting twelve week internship with the Student Conservation Association (SCA).

Rachel spent the 12 weeks working at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington, D.C. She worked with rangers and volunteers to run a mule-pulled 19th century replica canal boat. During her internship, she and other college students lived together in a house in the park. Rachel loved the experience. For her work, she was paid a weekly stipend of $225, which was more than enough to pay her living expenses. At the end of her term of service, she also, qualified for an optional education award of $1,250 from AmeriCorps, which she can use to pay toward her college tuition.

SCA offers a wide variety of internships and volunteer opportunities. In addition to having fun, making money, meeting new friends and living in unique places, students, also, have an opportunity to make a difference in the world. What could be better than that!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


In the classes I teach, I try to provide a lot of "food for thought," facts and concepts that inspire the students to question and wonder.

I recently found the website of artist, Chris Jordan. Mr. Jordan has taken statistics that many of us read in newspapers and magazines and transformed those statistics into images that boggle the mind. They are definitely thought provoking. Visit his site and share it with your family and friends.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Want to Take a Trip?

I have always thought that it would be great fun to take my two daughters, and travel around the United States. There are so many interesting, unique and exciting places that I would like to see and to share with my girls.

I think they would love splashing in the cold ocean water along Maine's breath-taking rocky shores. Riding a cable car in San Francisco would be such a thrill. Seeing a real working ranch in Texas would be exciting, especially since we all love reading the adventures of Pioneer Woman's homeschooling family on their ranch.

Although I am still saving my pennies for our family's trip, Amy Haroldson, and her 9 year old daughter, Caroline, are preparing to depart on their trip across America. You can check out their itinerary, and follow along on the map. They have even included their intended curriculum for the journey.

Their exciting adventure will begin on September 4, so gather your family, and prepare to follow their progress. It should be a very interesting and fun trip!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Here's to Friends!

Many homeschool moms tell me they feel exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed and alone. Not a good feeling. How can you avoid that feeling?

The best remedy, I have found, is to connect with good friends. I did that last evening. One of my dear friends hosted a moms' dinner party at her home. Six fun-loving, supportive kindred spirits shared food, drink and laughter for an entire evening. We talked about funny things that have happened in our lives, problems we have faced (or are facing), major events in the lives of our families, books, movies, health and a myriad of other topics. The evening was relaxing and rejuvenating, at the same time. We left feeling loved, supported, more positive and far from alone.

Where did I meet these friends? We are all homeschool moms. Over the years, I have met and connected with moms on field trips, at homeschool informational meetings, at the park, at the library and at homeschool "Moms' Night Out" events.

Many new homeschool families tell me they can't find any friends. If you can't find events you enjoy, or haven't connected with a group that shares your interests, plan an event yourself! This is not only good for you, it's an excellent lesson for your children. You don't have to depend on others to plan things. You can do it!

So if you are feeling exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed and alone, get out there. Find an event that interests you. If you can't find one, plan one. Given enough time, you will find kindred spirits, too.

Here's to great friends!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What's Important?

When I present a workshop to teens or their parents, I am often asked, "What's really important? What do I need to be sure to learn (teach)?" My answer is nearly always, "Learn how to learn." Things are constantly changing: jobs, technology, products, transportation... To survive and thrive in the future, we must all be prepared to constantly learn new skills, facts, and methods. We must be open to change, ready to look at things from new angles, prepared to give up methods that are obsolete.

A few years ago, a man by the name of Karl Fisch, who was the Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School, was asked to speak at the beginning of the year staff meeting. Mr. Fisch thought that staff meetings often were so filled with information and schedules that everyone tired of hearing speech after speech, so he decided to create a PowerPoint presentation filled with thought-provoking ideas and facts. Before the presentation began, he explained to the assembled teachers that he wanted them to watch, but that there would not be a discussion of what was shown immediately after the presentation. Instead, he wanted them to think about what they saw and read, and over the course of the following days and weeks, he wanted them to discuss their ideas with each other.

In the days and weeks that followed, there was discussion. Then an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, and blogger, by the name of Dr. Scott McLeod, saw the presentation, and he thought it was phenomenal. He showed it to his students and then he asked Mr. Fisch if he could play around with it a bit. He was given permission, and he created a remix, taking out the parts that referred specifically to Arapahoe High School, and adapted it to have more universal appeal. I think it is an outstanding presentation, and one that definitely supports my suggestion that the most important thing we can teach others or learn for ourselves is to "learn how to learn."

Creative Commons attribution-share alike license.
Created by Karl Fisch, and modified by Scott McLeod; Globalization and The Information Age
Music Credits: (1992) "The Last of the Mohicans" off the soundtrack. The song is (Elk Hunt/The Kiss).

"They know enough who know how to learn." -- Henry Adams (1838-1918)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What is your best time?

I had big plans for today. A thorough cleaning of the living room, organizing my lessons plans, mopping the kitchen floor, and a few other little tasks, were all on my list. But, this is one of those rare days, that my oldest daughter and I are both free of other people's schedules, so we decided to begin the day with breakfast at a local "mornings only" café.

On the way to the
café, we stopped to meet friends, who were on their way to a wonderful campground, where my younger daughter was already enjoying herself. I had found a couple things that she had forgotten to pack, and our friends were kind enough to make a quick stop to pick up the forgotten items. A quick chat, and then on to the local gas station that offered the valuable liquid for a few pennies less per gallon, than others in the area.

By 10:00 am, we were seated at the
café and ready to enjoy a leisurely breakfast of delicious omelettes. Several cups of coffee and a lot of conversation later, we were headed toward home. After a quick stop at the bank, we arrived home a few minutes after noon.

These days seem so few and far between, why not take the time for a game of Carcassonne. It's one of our favorite games, and there never seems to be time to play it.

OK, time to get to work on those "to do" items. Unfortunately, by this time, my get up and go, got up and went. Although I still have the desire to do the things, I seem to be moving in a very low gear.

I know from experience that morning is my best time for accomplishing things. After noon, it is often a struggle to get motivated, and to really get things done. I have to force myself to do it, and everything seems to be more difficult, and take more time to complete.

Most of us have a time of day, or night, that is our peak performance time. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, there are times that things are easier for you, and when you have more energy.

This is an important thing to keep in mind when doling out tasks or reviewing lessons or planning field trips with your children. Sometimes, when your child seems less cooperative, or unable to grasp concepts you think they should understand, it may be a time of day when they are low in energy, or reasoning ability. If it's possible to try again at a different time, one that you know is usually good for them, think about rescheduling. It will probably make everyone's life easier.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Joy of Reading...

One of the questions that I receive most often at my workshops, is "how can I help my child learn to read?" Or, "how can I help my child improve their reading ability?" Many of the parents asking the questions are frustrated or embarrassed or completely baffled by the problem they are facing.

One of the first things that I tell parents, is that not all children are ready to read at the same age. Schools must keep everyone "on track" because they do not have the staffing or funding needed to help each child at their own pace. In homeschooling, we do have that luxury. We can wait and try many different approaches.

In most cases, the main problem is a lack of readiness for reading. The child may be spending all of his energy on other tasks (like building with Legos or running races), and has little energy or interest to put to use figuring out what those little squiggly lines might mean. With time, and with continued effort from the parents, most children will learn to read.

What can parents do to speed this process along? Include storytime in the schedule each day. Hearing good stories often inspires children to want to read on their own. Choose books that are well illustrated and interesting. Stories that are humorous or exciting are often good choices. Read to your children with enthusiasm and with expression.

If your child has hobbies or enjoys sports or loves animals, choose books that relate to those interests. Read some of them aloud to your child, and leave others on the table or somewhere they will be seen. Just getting children to pick up a book, and look through it, can lead to increased interest and desire.

Subscribe to magazines that are interesting and fun. "Sports Illustrated for Kids" is a wonderful magazine for any child with an interest in sports. It covers a wide range of sports, avoids sensationalism, and it includes wonderful photographs, activities and games. For animal lovers, check out "Ranger Rick," "Your Big Backyard" or "National Geographic Kids." Filled with facts, photos and activities, they will pique your child's interest in learning. "Highlights for Children" was always very popular at our house, because it included such a wide variety of activities and stories.

Try giving your child a "book allowance," money that can be used only to purchase books. There are many places that offer inexpensive books for children, such as the grocery store, library book sales, used book stores and garage sales. Ownership is very important to many youngsters. Set up a spot in your child's room for their books. If they purchased them, and they can see them on their own shelves, it often increases their desire to learn to read them.

Comic books, interesting and educational websites and computer games that require reading are, also, good options for increasing interest in reading.

One of the most important factors is to be a reader yourself, and to enforce a positive approach to reading. Most children should not have a required reading time each day. Forcing children to read for pleasure usually has the opposite of the desired effect. You might try a family reading time each day, where everyone spends time "reading." Let them choose what interests them, even if it is something that is very light. Keep the time fairly short and be sure to participate in this event yourself.

If you feel that there may be other reasons your child is not learning to read, consider having them tested to determine if there is a learning difference that might be causing the problem. Dyslexia or ADHD or other differences in learning are all challenges that require specialized approaches. Determining if your child needs a specialized approach is important. There are many resources to assist you and your child. Some are listed at the end of this article.

Learning to read is a very important skill, and one that should be encouraged. Celebrate your children's improvements (even small ones) and let them know that you are proud of their efforts. Include time at the dinner table to discuss interesting, exciting or humorous things you've read. Include enrichment activities to bring stories "to life," such as meeting a favorite author, visiting a location mentioned in a book, making a recipe or trying a craft that was described in a favorite story.

Let me know about your family's book activities. I would love to be able to share some "real life" reading adventures with the readers of this newsletter.

Happy reading!


25 fun ways to encourage reading

The 100 best children's books (according to this website)

A great source for wonderful reading material

Reading and Dyslexia - methods and resources

Parents resource guide for learning disabilities
"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." - Dr. Seuss, "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!"

"Never judge a book by its movie." - J. W. Eagan

"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves." ~Anna Quindlen, "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." ~Groucho Marx

"I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book." - Groucho Marx


This past week's snowstorm disrupted many people's well-planned, and scheduled lives. It, also, offered us some wonderful lessons.

Sometimes while teaching or learning, you may be hit by a surprise storm. It may be a difficult subject that you are studying or teaching, and you find that you are stuck. You don't understand it, or you really don't like it, and you are just not making any progress. You may choose to dig in, and plow your way through. Or, maybe you decide to take a break, rest your mind, or at least, pursue a different subject for awhile, then return to the difficult subject with a fresh perspective. Or you may decide that the subject is not what you want to pursue at all, and try a new route. There is nothing wrong with any of the above methods, but sometimes, it is possible to become so blinded by the snowstorm of difficulty, that you may not see the alternative approaches.

In other words, if algebra is proving to be so challenging that you are stuck, sometimes you force yourself to keep trying (digging) to understand it for so long, that you begin to hate the word algebra. But, if you stop for a minute and relax, you may realize that a short break can bring a fresh perspective, before you put up such a high mental wall of frustration. After a week or two, you may want to try something that might shed some new light on the subject. Maybe books that take a unique approach, such as "Algebra Unplugged," by Kenn Amdahl, or "The Algebra Survival Guide," by Josh Rappaport. Or, you may even decide to postpone the study of algebra, and try geometry, business math, economics or some other branch of mathematics. Maybe you decide to take a long break from all math, and dig into literature for a while, or plow through an interesting period of history. A break won't hurt you, and will probably be helpful in the long run.

I hope that the snowstorm provided you with time to rest and rejuvenate your body and mind, and filled you with a blizzard of ideas and inspiration. It's all in your attitude, you know.



Fears. Everybody has them, in varying degrees. Even the most confident people have things they fear. Sometimes fear is warranted. Any life-threatening situation may bring fear, and that’s a natural reaction. Most of us experience other fears that are not as logical.

For many, meeting new people, speaking to a group (large or small), or learning something new can be terrifying. Most of the time, these fears happen because we are worried about making a mistake or appearing incompetent. Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington Carver and others have said that their greatest learning was from their mistakes. Wouldn't it have been a shame if they had given up without trying?

Sometimes, we are afraid to say what we really think or believe, because we don’t know how others will react. Will we be able to express our thoughts clearly, so that we are not misunderstood? Will others disagree with us, or think that we are foolish or wrong?

While many people fear failure and embarrassment, others fear success. I know a number of people who have turned down wonderful opportunities, because they feared that others would be jealous, or would think that they didn’t deserve such success or abundance.

There are times when these fears affect not only our lives, but those of our children, as well. For example, choosing an educational plan for our children can be affected by our fears. It can be scary to pull our children out of school to begin homeschooling. It can, also, be scary to send our children to school, if homeschooling is not working. It can be especially scary for some families to choose an online school, when so many express opposition to them, whether the opposition is to the funding, or to the use of the term “homeschooling” by charters. In some cases, families stick with the familiar, even if it’s not working, rather than risk criticism or ostracism.

Although there have been many, many times when my fears held me back, I have tried to encourage my children to try new things, to meet new people, to ask questions when they don’t understand and to say what they believe. It is easier for my more outgoing daughter to do this, than it is for the one who tends to be quieter, but on many occasions the quieter one has surprised me by overcoming fears to attempt something I never thought she would. Often they have done things that I don’t think I would have had the courage to try. That is a good lesson for me, to “practice what I preach.” Many times, I have to force myself to step up to a new experience, but nearly every time, I am rewarded for my bravery with a new friend, a new skill (or the beginnings of one), new understanding and ever-so-slightly increased courage for the next time.

Sometimes when I am facing a scary situation, I try to determine exactly what it is that is scaring me about that situation. I sometimes talk to myself about the situation, as if I am explaining it to someone else. Often, as I am explaining why I am afraid to do something, I realize that my reasons are not really logical, and sound more like excuses. Often, this realization gives me just the boost I need to do what needs to be done.

It can, also, help to talk to a good friend about the situation. Often they can look at it more objectively, and advise you as to whether your fears are justified, or an excuse for not trying. Ask them to encourage you -- to be your own personal cheerleader.

Many people choose to make new plans or resolutions for New Year's, yet many of those plans and resolutions are forgotten due to fear.

So, face your fears with all the courage you can muster (even if you have to fake it for awhile). Ask yourself, “what is the worst that can happen, if I do this?” And “what is the best that can happen, if I do this?” Answer those questions honestly, and then make the best decision based on those answers. You will be on your way to a richer and more rewarding life experience, and your actions will inspire your children and many others to face and overcome their own fears.



“Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

“Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them.” ~Brendan Francis

“There is much in the world to make us afraid. There is much more in our faith to make us unafraid.” ~Frederick W. Cropp