A Day in the Life

Homeschooling and Medieval Living

Males Order Brides

Hello everyone!

I know it has been forever since I have posted and I do apologize. Life has just gotten in the way. I am working part time and I have taken up a new hobby – drama. Well, it isn’t new and it is much more than a hobby. It all started with my daughter…

My daughter will be 17 in June. This means a couple of things. Firstly, it is her last year in our homeschool curriculum. Secondly, it means that she must now look at what will come next in her life. These two things have kept the both of us very busy lately. I asked her what she wanted to do with her life. She said she likes to write and build/design things. But she is definitely old school. She would rather work with her hands than on the computer. Now this shocked me to death. This comes from a girl who spends hours on Skype/Minecraft/Mass Effect/Skyrim/etc. She plays with her friends online constantly. At one time, she wanted to work  for Bethesda. She still wants to do that. But, more than that, she wants to build sets for plays/movies/etc. We have been on a “Behind the Scenes Look at…” kick lately. We watched the one for Game of Thrones (even though we both hate the show) the other week. She said “I really want to do that.” OK. So, being the VERY supportive mother that I am, I began to look for local theatres where she could hone that talent and passion.

Through my searching, I found a local theatre that seemed perfect – Azle Arts Popcorn Players. They were holding auditions for their upcoming melodrama. They were in desperate need of technical and backstage crews. When I told Meaghan about it, she said she would do it if I auditioned for a part as well. I love drama and have wanted to be on the stage for as long as I can remember. But, some excuse always kept me from it. So, I said I would.

We showed up at the theatre early. I had arrived with knowledge about the play (“Males Order Brides…or Big Harry Deal’s Scandalous Scheme“) and the part I wished to play (Starr Billings). I auditioned and she volunteered. Turns out our passion was recognized. I got the lead villain and she is now THE tech crew. She will be running the lights and sound. Yay!

There is only one bad part to this – I have to provide my own costumes. The play takes place in 1870. The female villain is an actress/con artist who plays five other roles – a schoolmarm, saloon hostess, grieving aunt, society matron, and a prospector. Meaghan has been helping me with my costumes. Pinterest and Google have become our best friends. We now have a bustle and it looks great. I will be posting our project here soon. So, it looks like the both of us will be very busy. But it is a good kind of busy.

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School Choice Week

schoolchoiceweek.com

National School Choice Week is January 25-31, 2015.

“National School Choice Week (NSCW) provides an unprecedented opportunity, every January, to shine a spotlight on the need for effective education options for all children. Independently planned by a diverse coalition of individuals, schools and organizations, NSCW features thousands of special events across the country. The Week is a nonpartisan and nonpolitical public awareness effort.”

I recently came across School Choice Week while I was researching for my homeschooling book. I took a good look at the website and I spoke with a customer service representative. The site is basically a place for organizers and schools to sign up. I looked for events happening in my area through their nifty search engine. I found four events in my state. The one in Dallas is an open house for a Catholic school. All the others were over 200 miles from me. Although there is a great event happening on the steps of the Capitol Building in Austin, it’s a four hour trip.

As soon as you open their site, a chat window opens up and a CSR asks if they can help you. It was a little annoying at first. I told her that I was a homeschooler and I was interested in helping out the cause somehow. She said I should be an organizer and directed me to the homeschool section of the site. When I arrived at the site, I noticed the form for organizers to fill out. So, I filled it out. If approved, I will receive a complimentary box full of goodies such as scarves, posters, fliers and more. I am not sure what I will do with all the goodies if I get them. Do I just sit at a table downtown during the School Choice Week and talk up homeschooling? That would be odd. Most people would ignore me or think I was three fries short of a happy meal.

Does anyone have any ideas about what I could do with all this information? How can I get the word out that there is a need for effective education options for children. I guess I could set up on the steps of the Fort Worth court house. I would love to do this locally but my town is so small. We have a tabernacle in the middle of town. I guess I could set up there right next to the farmers’ market. “Hey! Have a flier with that apple. Support education and farmers at the same time!” Maybe. I would love to get your feedback. Just leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks! BTW, this will take place January 25-31, 2015.

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Homeschooling and Public School

Letters on the fridge

Photo Credit: Lyn Lomasi via Compfight

I have homeschooled my children for the last five years. I feel that I have been somewhat successful at it. My daughter will be attending college next year to study acting. My son is only 13 and he already knows and loves Java programming. He is currently working on a Java project of his own. Although most people might think this is an achievement in and of itself, I don’t. Granted, I am very happy and proud of what they have accomplished. But, I am even happier about something that most people don’t notice. They are creative thinkers. When they have a question, they ask it (even when it is an embarrassing one). If I don’t know the answer, we look it up together. Hey, you are never to old to learn something new. My daughter takes things apart just to see how they work. If either child is interested in something, I encourage them to learn more about it. I don’t care if it is “age-appropriate” (well, within reason). My son has been doing advanced algebra since he was 10. He absolutely loves math. My daughter has been reading college level books (such as Tolkien and Shakespeare) since she was in the third grade. Her public school told her that she was too young to read them. So, she checked them out of the public library and read them. I have always made sure that they had support for whatever subject interested them.

When most people think of homeschoolers, they generally think of severe right wing conservatives who only teach what the “good book” tells them to teach. I am here to break that stereotype. First of all, we are Unitarian Universalists and we are pretty liberal (although I wouldn’t go so far as to call us severe left – just moderate). I also practice secular homeschooling. I feel that religion/spirituality/philosophy should be taught separately. Academics should be just that – academics. Secondly, I feel that my children must learn about society and learn to cope within it. In order to attend college, take part in the workforce, or just interact with society, they must learn cooperation, communication, and leadership.

In a way, I have been “homeschooling” my children since they were born. I was there to teach them to walk. I read and sung to them constantly when they were toddlers. I gave them a safe and loving environment in which to explore and learn. I wanted to give them the best that I could. Then, they grew to elementary age. I lovingly sent them off to public school and all was well. I loved the school so much that I helped whenever I could. I was room mother and volunteer of the month. I also took a job as a substitute teacher with the district.

So, if everything was going so swimmingly, why did I pull them out of school? The elementary school was great, fair enough. But then, my daughter began the fifth grade and, in so doing, moved to the intermediate school – which was not so peachy. There were seven classes a day as opposed to one. There were cliques. And the guidance councilor was not as empathic as she could have been. In fact, the woman pried my daughter’s hand out of mine and took her to the councilor’s office daily. In short, the school let me down. It let my daughter down. She begged me not to make her go back to that school and I just could not make her go.

My son, on the other hand, loved school. He was still at the elementary school (in the second grade). But, I could see that there would soon be problems. His teacher complained that he could not stay still. His attention span was very short and he would not stay on task. His desk had been moved several times, but it did not help things. “He really should be on meds,” was what the teacher and staff told me constantly.

On a day in mid-February of 2009, I took them out of public school and I never looked back. I have used many methods of teaching: school-at-home, Classical, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Waldorf, and Unschooling. Finally, I just decided to let them learn however they could (and all of this without medication). Now, my kids use their own methods for learning. This doesn’t mean that I just leave them alone. They still study math, science, computers, drama, the piano, Java and anything their heart desires. I am the bellows that keeps the embers lit. I think any and every parent can do this. Anyone can raise a creative thinker with or without the help from a public, private, charter, or online school. If your child attends a really great school, more the better. There are great schools out there. But that doesn’t mean you should just leave all the teaching duties up to the school. As parents and caregivers we could do so much more. I didn’t just leave it up to someone else to teach my children alone. I have used all the resources I had to make my children the best they can be. Will you?

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From Homeschool to College in 8 Easy Steps

This is a bittersweet year for me. This is my daughter Meaghan’s last year in homeschool. We are both happy and sad. I will miss her next year, but I also can’t wait to see her on her own. This means that we are having the busiest year ever. I never thought I would be here. I always figured she would want to go back to public school at some point. But we have both endured and persevered. It has made me think back to all those other moms out there who have wondered what they are going to do once their homeschooled student reaches the college age. In fact, I know several who have put their children back into public high school because they didn’t know how to get their child ready for college.

I have a confession to make. I am a research junkie. I love to look up information and learn from it – much to my children’s dismay. I also love sharing the tidbits I have learned. So, without further ado, here is my guide to getting ready for college (from a homeschool mom’s perspective).

1. Skills and Career Assessments

The first thing I had my daughter do this year was to take a skills assessment. The best one I have found is at MyNextMove.org. This site asks “What do you want to do for a living?” It then gives you all the tools needed to figure that out. After much research and assessment-taking, my daughter has figured out that she wants to be a voice-over actress. Once you figure out what you want to do for a living, the site tells you what type of education and what skills you will need for that job. It also has links to specific job details such as average salary and who is hiring.

2. College Research

Now that you know what you want to do for a living, you need to find out how to get the education and skills you need for that career. So, it is now on to college research. Meaghan went to Big Future at Collegeboard.org. This site helps you find a college, pay for college, and make a college plan. Once you have a couple of colleges in mind, it walks you through everything you need to do to make it there. Meaghan found out that our local community college has acting classes. So, she decided to take her core (and acting) classes there. She is currently working on her college plan, with Big Future’s help. There is a great article entitled “College Admissions for Homeschoolers” that has more great information about what colleges look for in a homeschooled student.

3. Portfolio

One of the best things you can do for your homeschooled student, is to create a portfolio. The structure of your portfolio will differ, depending upon your state’s requirements. My daughter has Written Output Disorder and ADHD. So, we do many things hands-on or on a huge whiteboard. This becomes a major drawback when we work on her portfolio. To make up for this lack, she completes projects. Whenever she participates in a community event, builds a robot, writes a short story, completes a reading log, I put the evidence in her portfolio. Our state does not require records, so we use pictures and logs to record her progress. It is what works for us. Donna Young has some great portfolio creation ideas. I use many of her templates. Meaghan’s portfolio is separated into four sections: Projects, Writing, Courses/Testing, and Community Service.

4. Community Involvement

Community service is a great way to flesh out your portfolio and help your neighbor’s at the same time. Many colleges place more emphasis on a homeschooler’s community involvement and SATs than a transcript. We have all helped out with the local Trinity Trash Bash and several clean-ups. Not sure where to start? No problem. Check out Lesli Amos’ article entitled “50 Community Service Ideas for Teen Volunteers” over at Teen Life.

5. Dual Enrollment

Another way to buff up your portfolio is by participating in dual enrollment at a local college. This process will vary by college, but it is offered by most community colleges. Some colleges call it early enrollment or dual credit. This is a great way to ease into college. The student can take just one or two courses and add them to his/her portfolio. The college will then be more likely to accept the homeschool student as a full time college student. It also gives the student the confidence that he/she can and will make it at college.

6. Testing

The last thing you should include in your portfolio are your test scores. Most colleges will accept the SAT. For more information on SAT testing, check out CollegeBoard’s SAT site. It has lists of testing centers, dates, registration information, and sample practice tests. Our community college also requires the COMPASS. If your chosen college also requires the COMPASS, you can find test prep info at the COMPASS website.

7. College Essays

Now that you have your portfolio sufficiently filled out, you have taken all your tests, and you have helped everyone you can think of, you can turn to that dreaded college essay. The application process varies by college. This process can also be very different for a homeschooled student. You should check out the process required by your college/university of choice. My daughter hates essays. To help her out with this skill, we turned to the CollegeBoard again. I just love them. They seem to have everything. This site even has essay tips such as “What do colleges look for in an application essay?”

8. Aid

Now that you are completely ready for college, how are you going to pay for it? Good news, there is financial aid for homeschooled students. Homeschooled students are no longer required to have a GED in order to receive financial aid. So, all you have to do is fill out the FAFSA and you are done. The Department of Education has a great site that will help your student prepare for college. It has information about all the types of aid out there and how to apply for it. Once you have figured out what kind of aid you need, go to the FAFSA site and fill out the Free Application For Student Aid.

I hope this information will help as you and your teen prepare for college. Even with all these resources, it can still be a long stressful road. But don’t let it get to you. When all else fails, take your teen to the college of his/her choice. Have her/him sit down with an adviser. They are there for you. They are more than happy to answer any and all questions. Take a tour of the campus. We are blessed that my husband currently attends the college my daughter has chosen.  So, she has been there on a weekly basis. She is already familiar with the campus and many of my husband’s college friends. This will make her transition to college much easier.

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NaNoWriMo – Help or Hindrance?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place every November 1-30. It started in 1999 as a motivational tactic for a group of young writers. It has since blossomed into a national non-profit organization. Today, there are over 300,000 participants who all agree to write at least 50,000 words by 11:59 pm on November 30. According to their website: “Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.”

The good about NaNoWriMo:

1. It encourages adults (and youth) to write. During the first couple of years of homeschooling, my kids absolutely hated writing. This would have been a great tool to use with them. Since I found out about it last year, I have used their tools and resources to nurture a love of writing. My daughter now writes fan fiction – and loves doing it. I am still working on my son.

2. It creates inspiration. At the beginning of 2013, I had a dream of writing. It didn’t have to be a novel. I had already written several short stories. A friend of mine introduced me to NaNoWriMo late that October. I signed up that November and wrote my little heart out. As hard as I tried, I could not finish that novel. I just cannot write crap intentionally. I have to revise as I go. Then, I revise again. And again. I finally made it to chapter three. Yay me! That is still a far cry from a complete novel, but I digress…

3. It helps my depression. Up until November, I was depressed and had no energy. I normally love to read and write. But, the depression had a strong hold on me that year. NaNoWriMo and my friend J helped me out. I signed up and sat down with J. We put together an outline for my novel and I began to write. I talked with the NaNoWriMo community and I had a goal. I tend to become obsessive over things and this was no exception. I wrote like a gal on fire. I still revised like crazy. I re-wrote more than I wrote. But it was all good. I had purpose and I was ecstatic.

The bad about NaNoWriMo:

1. It encourages bad writing. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to simply write. This allows a lot of drivel to make its way to the page. Revision usually culls the crap. But, revision is not encouraged. Participants are told to simply write – anything. Some writers become so obsessed with meeting the 50,000 word deadline (and, thus, winning NaNoWriMo), that they forget all about revising.

2. It sets the writer up to fail. It encourages writers to write, write, write. This is good. Then, the writer finishes that novel and sends it off to a publisher. The publisher will either accept it or not. Rejection letters are a common thing among new writers. But let’s suppose that it is actually accepted by a publisher. Now you have a book out there that is not being read. So much emphasis is put on writing, that reading takes a back burner. What was the last novel you read? I think I may be the exception. I just finished reading my fourth novel in a month (and that is a bit low for me). Getting a book published doesn’t really mean much if there is no one to read it. For more on this subject, check out Laura Miller’s article at Salon.

3. It makes my stress/depression worse. OK, so I was really manic for a month. I didn’t finish my 50,000 words. I spent so much time revising that I felt like a failure. I had little to show for all my hard work. I had spent a month of writing furiously and I only had about 3,000 words to show for it. December saw me spiraling downward again. I felt so low – again. It has taken me months to really snap out of that feeling of failure and hopelessness.

I have thought long and hard about NaNoWriMo. Do I want to participate this year? I think I will but not to the extent of last year. I will not even register this time. Instead, I am just going to write a little every day (and revise, revise, revise). I will not try to finish that novel in a month. I will work on it. I still only have 3,000 words. But that is just fine with me. It will get finished eventually. I have my own goals in life. I have taken on a couple of freelance writing gigs. That is way more than I had last year. Since writing is my only income, it makes a world of difference. That novel is not going to pay my electric this month. So, I will work on it between actual paying gigs. I think it helped me begin my writing career but I won’t rely on it entirely anymore.

What do you think of NaNoWriMo? How has it helped you? Feel free to comment about your experiences with it. I love to be enlightened.

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Homeschooling – 10 Things I Would Do Differently

My oldest daughter is coming to the end of her homeschooling education. She is a senior this year at the age of 16. This has led me to wonder about our last five years together on this homeschooling path. I took her out of school during the fifth grade. (I have posted in a previous post about how that went.) So this has given me much to think about.

I have done much for the homeschooling community. I have created a course at Udemy, created a homeschooling YouTube channel, taught at a local co-op, and enjoyed fellowship with a local homeschooling support group. Even so, I feel that there are things I would do differently. In the style of David Letterman, here is my Homeschooling Top Ten List.

1. Be Less Rigid

When we started out, I taught the kids in the same manner as public school. We only used text books and we had hour-long chunks dedicated to each subject. The kids learned Science, Math, English, History, and an elective of their choice. That took us about five hours a day. We were all miserable. The next year, we moved to alternating days – still miserable.

The following year, I gave them a list of weekly assignments to be completed by the weekend. The assignments were not completed and the kids were grounded for the weekend. Then, I had to work and their dad went back to college. So, Nana helped out a lot. That was the year of chaos, needless to say.

This year, I have a list of subjects and we work on them as we have time. I figure it will get done eventually. My stress levels are now significantly lower. Luckily, Texas treats homeschool as a private school. Therefore, we are not required to spend a certain amount of time in class. Thank goodness.

2. More Field Trips

In the beginning, we attended 1-2 field trips a week with a local homeschool group. Then, my husband lost his job and I started work. We were only available on weekends. The group did things during the week. We only had weekends free so we were really picky about what did during that time. Plus, we had less money. So, we stayed home a lot more. Time just seemed to get away from us. This year, even though we still have less money, I am determined to do something outside of the house. We are more housebound than we should be. My kids spend way too much time on the computer. I vow to get them out even if it is on the weekends. We have found a Magic: The Gathering group at my husband’s college. My 13 year-old son loves Magic. He now spends two days a week at the college with his dad. Now I just have to find something my daughter likes. Wish me luck on that one. So, my advice is to get out once a week if you can. It will be so worth it. Plus, it will give you more to talk about during the week. “Remember when that guy did that thing?” Oh yeah. Lots more conversation.

3. More Socialization

This is actually a “bad” word in the homeschooling community. The thing I heard the most when I began homeschooling was “But how will your children socialize?” I grew so sick of answering that question. We joined a local homeschooling group, went on 2-3 field trips a week, joined a local history re-creation group (Society for Creative Anachronism), and we went geocaching every month. In fact, we spent so much time “socializing” that we had little time for classwork. I was burned out – we all were. So we stopped everything except the SCA. Last year, we had very little money. So, we stayed home most of the time. This year, I am getting more and more freelancing work. So, I hope to be able to get out more. It is imperative that we get out.

4. More Active in Support Groups

We were very active in a local secular support group during the first year. Since then, our dedication to the group has waned. We have not had any contact with the group in nearly two years. I think that there could have been a happy medium. Just because we were members did not mean that we had to do something with the group every week. Membership had its rewards. It gave me access to events and activities within the homeschool community. There were people who had the same issues we did. I had someone to talk to who could empathize with me. My kids had others their age who were also homeschooled. I really miss the group and I would love to join them again. This is another thing I will change for the upcoming year.

5. More Reading

This little tidbit comes from my daughter. She is a bibliophile. She read her entire World History book in less than a month. “OK, I am done. Next.” She thinks I should give her more reading assignments and fewer worksheets. I am all for that. In the beginning, I gave them worksheets and tests. I spent most of my time grading them and keeping records. This brings me to:

6. Less Curriculum Planning/Record Keeping

Texas does not require homeschoolers to keep records of any kind. Local community colleges do not require records from homeschools. So why keep records? I am a product of public schooling. I was a substitute teacher for a couple of years and a preschool teacher for one. It was ingrained in me to keep records. So, I did. I thought local colleges and universities would actually care what grades they made in homeschool. Silly me. I look back on all those hours spent every week on planning and grading. I was working more at home than I did at work. I missed so much time with my family. So, I quit. I now spend more time getting my daughter ready for college and teaching my son more worthwhile subjects. The local colleges look at SAT/COMPAS scores and community involvement. So, that is what we do now.

7. More Community Service

This really goes hand-in-hand with the last one. Since more colleges look at community involvement these days, we really need to spend more time doing that. We are members of a historical re-creation group. But that doesn’t really count. This year will see more activities in our community. There are many to choose from 4-H, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Trinity Trash Bash, local animal shelters, soup kitchens, mentoring, etc.

8. More Hands-On Activities

The kids and I have gotten so bored with text books. I fall back on them time and time again because that is what I know. That is all I had in public schools. They offer guidance and information at my fingertips. I feel that this has been a crutch. Instead of reading about plants, we should have planted a garden. We did dissect a shark with our homeschooling group. It was amazing – even though our house smelled of sugar cookies for a week. We really miss that. So, I will try to have more of that this year.

9. Teach More Life Skills

This one won’t take a lot more work. I have really taught them some life skills. Both kids know how to do their own laundry, balance a check book, write a resume, sew, and cook. They can read and follow recipes. We just need to work on it a bit more. I do most of the cooking. I really need to change that. I think they could cook a meal a week. That wouldn’t be too hard. My son could take Mondays and my daughter could take Wednesdays – or something like that. The person responsible for the meal will make a list of what is needed, go to the store and buy the ingredients, and then make the meal.

10. More Career/Life Planning

This is the most important thing that every homeschooling parent should do. Once your child figures out what career paths/activities make him/her happy, you should explore those things. I watched Logan LaPlante on YouTube the other day. He is awesome. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he said “I want to be happy.” TED Talks is full of youth who are inspiring and doing remarkable things. I think that teachers should spend more time cultivating happiness and passion in youth and less time teaching to a test. The US is way behind the rest of the world in education. After spending two years teaching in public schools, I can see why.

So, I am now off to teach my 13 year-old college algebra. I have been using my husband’s college text books  to teach our children for the last two years. My son is currently taking Java for Beginners on Udemy. He absolutely loves programming. My daughter writes fan fiction and short stories. So, I am not spending so much time worrying about the Common Core or any other educational nonsense. They do what they love and that is ALL that matters. Isn’t that what we all want out of life? Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life. Words to live by.

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You’ve Got Mail

Rural mailbox

– From The Daily Compass:

This mailbox looks as if it’s been waiting for the mail to come for some time, with deliveries, perhaps, few and far between.

What have you waited and hoped for the longest?

For the longest time, I have waited to be financially stable. My husband has tried many things to help out. He is now going to college in the hopes of better himself and our family’s situation. Several family members have been upset with the amount of time he has spent in school. It will take him three years to get his Associate. He is working on his Associate in Applied Science degree. He is majoring in computer science (Game Design and Development). In the meantime, I am working as a courier. I have very little at the end of every month. I would do better to work at McDonald’s and I have thought about it several times. But I have so many skills. I can code html and CSS. I have created webpages from scratch (using only WordPad). And I still cannot find any work. I want something that will allow me to work from home so that I can homeschool my children and take care of my mother. It is so hard to wait sometimes. I know (hope) that my husband will find work eventually. He won’t graduate until Spring 2014. He wanted to transfer to UT Dallas because they have a wonderful game design program. But none of his Weatherford College courses will transfer. He would have to start all over. So he is stuck. He can boast his AAS I guess. That will help some, right? I was listening to Freakanomics the other day. They were discussing whether college was a good or bad thing. For some jobs (such as those in the technical field), it is a requirement. Everyone in that field already has a Bachelor’s degree, that to not have one would be detrimental. But if you are looking for a job that does not require a degree, why get one? I think the reason so many members of my family are frustrated is that none of them went to college. My husband and I are the only ones who have (and I dropped out to raise a family). What they don’t understand is that if he does not have a degree, he cannot hope to compete with anyone else in the computer science field. So, I am stuck in a dead end job making less than minimum wage (after I take out the $1000 in gas that I spend every month). I am just waiting for either him to finish school or me to find a better job – one I can do from home. I am so hoping I can. I even created a LinkedIn account. I have put in an application with Automattic. That should help. But I am still looking and waiting for things to get better. I have waited my whole life. I cannot remember a time when I was financially stable. Even as a child, my family was constantly broke. OK, this is becoming a real downer. I am so sorry about that, but those are my feelings.

In other news…I will be posting a story I am working on. I will try to post it in the next day or two. I am entering it into a Flash Fiction contest.

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