Weeks 7 of Fall 2016 – October is a Busy Month

October has great weather, in general. It’s after the heat of summer is over, but before snow. So everyone plans a billion activities in fall. It’s a really, really, really busy month. It’s also when my allergies try to kill me again and I always end up sick. It’s a bad combination.


  • Kid #2 and Kid #3 brought me the Magic Treehouse book about Halloween to read.
  • The kids demanded a spelling “test”. So I found spelling lists online and they wrote them out. (It doesn’t count as a test, it’s not timed, graded, or even required… )
  • The younger two kids practiced handwriting in their new cheesy joke handwriting books.
  • Kid #2 practiced typing.
  • Update on Bravewriter projects:
    • Kid #1 worked several more days on his Zombie Apocalypse catalog.
    • Kid #2 had me print out some pages from the NaNoWriMo kid’s workbook so she could work on her main character for her story
    • Kid #3 spent several more days working on her alien book with me.
  • Our regular Friday night visit with family didn’t happen, so we stayed home and watched Galaxy Quest and The Princess Bride.
  • Kid #2 wrote a song for her Tomodachi Life people to sing.


We started going through Zaccaro Challenge Math as a group. Sometimes things are better on teams. We decided we were a secret band of math geniuses who have to solve problems to save the world. Kid #1 helpfully named us the M Team and played the theme from the A Team to inspire us.

The first day we did this, it went great! The kids took turns, everyone was involved, it was great. Then, stupid me, I decide to do it again. In the same week. Like, what am I even thinking? Oh, I know what I’m thinking, I was a math geek as a kid, and doing math all day long for a week was my idea of fun. So we worked on it for 45 minutes and the kids got bored, tuned out, and were sad. BAD MOMMY. So I apologized. Profusely. They are now under orders to set a timer during math time so I stop doing that.


  • Kid #1 made a parachute for a stuffed snake out of yarn and a plastic bag and it worked really well. The girls helped out by observing the test flights.
  • All three kids went on a nature bike hike on their own. They saw a ladybug, grasshopper, mushrooms, and I don’t know what else because I wasn’t there.
  • Kid #1 did his first chemistry experiment, separating a mixture of solids using recrystallization.
  • He also spent a lot of time in Kerbal Space Program. He’s so far past where I got…
  • While the youngest was at soccer practice, the older two and I played 20 questions… which has a large amount of science content the way we play it. “Is it a chordate?” and other cladistics questions come up a lot.
  • When I felt horrible on Friday, we watched a video about heat transfer and rubber bands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfmrvxB154w
  • We talked about hurricanes and weather. A lot.
  • Kid #2 and Kid #3 learned about the vehicle that moves big rockets and stuff to the launch area. (Thanks grandma!)

Social Studies

  • Kid #2 and Kid #3 read about the Gregorian Calendar with me. Grandma printed out a nice article about it.
  • Caught up on Story of the World activities, coloring pages and maps.
  • We ate at a Persian restaurant. I learned that it’s been a while since I took the kids to new and different places… but it all worked out.


  • What do you do if the house is on fire, the door is stuck, the window is stuck, and everything is on fire. It was a weird conversation about risk.
  • More fire safety: How to brulee a creme crulee.


  • Kid #2 and Kid #3 made a lot of beaded bracelets and other beaded decorations.
  • I have no idea what else, I was sick and tired much of the week.


  • We all watched Dancing With the Stars — it’s a great introduction to different dance styles and music.
  • We went to a celtic fiddle concert.
  • Grandma printed out an article that explains the difference (or not) between a violin and a fiddle.


  • All three kids did a lot of bike riding.
  • The girls went to soccer practice and dance class.
  • Kid #1 trimmed the hedges.
  • Kid #1 and Kid #2 played basketball for about half an hour with me.

So, to summarize:

  • We’re really busy with soccer and activities and concerts… and I’m sick. And tired. But we still gets stuff done!
  • I need to just not be a crazy math-pushing wacko.

What interesting things did you do this week? (Or two, or three?)

Week 6 of Fall 2016 – After Vacation

Anyone with kids knows that right after vacation can be… challenging. The kids are used to breaking the daily routine and being constantly amused by new and different things. The parents have to catch back up on keeping the house clean, feeding people, and work stuff.

It’s nice to be home… but you miss the beach pretty quickly.


  • Kid #1 participates in a game called Druidawn, which involves freewriting.
  • Kid #2 wrote in her new cursive handwriting book. It’s fun because it’s copy work with cheesy jokes.
  • All three kids began their monthly Bravewriter project:
    • Kid #1 is writing a catalog of items you would need in a zombie apocalypse.
    • Kid #2 is writing a story about a candy store. She’s writing it all herself, and plans on transferring the completed book to a blank book I got her from Bare Books.
    • Kid #3 is writing a story about an alien. She narrates it out loud to me and I type it in my Chromebook in Google Drive. Then I read it back to her and she corrects things that make so sense, and I copy it into her blank book for her. She’s going to add illustrations.
  • We’re working on watching movies and shows together. This week we watched:
    • Three episodes of Monk.
    • The first half of Harry Potter 2 — though I fell asleep on the floor. I’m fighting an awful cold/sinus infection thing and every once in a while I just can’t move or think at all.


  • Math games, like “I’m thinking of a number” where I say “I’m thinking of a number that is 12 less than 67” or something like that. Some great ideas for games like that in the Kitchen Table Math books.
  • We played the Race Track pencil game, which helps demonstrate inertia and acceleration. I’ll write up how to play sometime soon, I hope.

    Race Track Game
  • Sometimes math practice just happens randomly. When we went to watch Monk, we used the old XBox to play it… but when we started it up, it decided it needed to install an update. So while we were waiting, we would read off how far it had updated (such as 45% done) and I’d ask the kids to figure out how much more was remaining. It’s so tempting for young kids to answer “65%” to that, so practice is always good!


  • Nature Study — found a morning glory in the back yard and  identified a random volunteer bird seed plant that looked like corn as Broom Corn, which is a type of sorghum.
  • A Kickstarter I backed arrived — Snatoms! Made lots of things and  learned a little about how molecules work.

    Oh no, some water fell on the floor!
    Oh no, some water fell on the floor!
  • Their grandmother printed out a neat page about why leaves change color in the fall and which pigments show which colors. Kid #2 sat with her for a while and learned about reflection and absorption of light and how seeing works. (Yes, it’s handy having another scientist around the house!)
  • Both younger kids also learned from grandma how hearing and other sensory stuff works.
  • Kid #1 and Kid #3 played with hydraulics — tubing, syringes, water, various connectors and stuff.

Social Studies

  • Continuing our study of ancient Rome, the kids made some aqueducts.

    Testing her aqueduct
  • We read the next chapter in Story of the World.
  • We watched the first presidential debate.
  • When I was half asleep in bed because I felt awful, Kid #3 snuggled up next to me and watched the first episode of The Greeks with me. Well, she watched it, I fell asleep. But before that happened, she quietly asked me really great questions. It was nice.


  • We got flu shots, so we talked a lot about how flu shots work and why we needed to get them even though we’d probably be fine if we got the flu. (The flu is, in fact, miserable and awful, and other people need us to protect them through herd immunity.)


  • Drawing practice by all three kids.
  • The younger two also painted with acrylics on canvas.
  • Everyone decorated their aqueducts.


  • Kid #2 and I went to see Swan Lake. It was lovely. She loves ballet so incredibly much.


  • Coming home was hard. So they convinced me that they needed to go to one of their favorite parks, which has a huge castle play structure, and a ship, and all sorts of other weird non-standard equipment to play on. It was nice that they conspired together to come up with excellent persuasive arguments. (Oh no! More LA!)
  • Kid #1 rode his bike every day.
  • The girls went to soccer practice and dance classes!

So, to summarize:

  • Wow. I thought it was a pretty light week, but look at that!

What interesting things did you do this week? (Or two, or three?)

Weeks 3-5 of Fall 2016 – What We Did These Weeks

We went to the beach for two weeks, and (for some reason) I decided to relax and play instead of posting. Crazy, huh?

Anyway, to help me catch up, I’m going to combine three weeks together — the week we packed for the trip (hardly any “formal” school got done that week) and the two weeks at the beach (no “formal” stuff those weeks, either, but we learned so much!)


  • Reading: All the kids played a lot of DS and/or online games, which involves a surprising amount of reading.
  • The oldest got a really neat book about constellations and read it a lot.
  • The younger two read a few small books. Kid #2 found a neat book about crabs and the littlest read a graphic novel called Mighty Jack to herself. Woo!


  • All three kids worked collaboratively to come up with a good way to distribute plastic animals when the number of each animal type wasn’t divisible by three.
  • Calculating when to leave for restaurants. You need to know what time it is now, what time the reservation is, and how long it takes to get there. Fun!
  • We played miniature golf, which actually requires a lot of geometry.
  • Counting tickets for rides — the ticket sheets had 4 tickets across, and the rides usually cost 4, 5, 6, or 8 tickets. And if there were 2, 3, or 4 riders… well, you end up with a lot of thinking about multiplication and division. (Ok, the ride is 5 tickets, and there are 4 of us, so that takes 20 tickets, which is 5 rows…. Or the ride is 6 tickets and there are 3 of us, so that’s 18 tickets, which is 4.5 rows…)
  • Spent a lot of time talking about high tide and low tide and watching it move in and out… and how it changes from day to day.
  • Sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset were also pretty common topics of conversation. We saw some beautiful sunsets and harvest moon rises. (I saw a stunning sunrise, but the kids were never up that early).
  • We measured so many things. Sizes of animals (feet, inches, centimeters), bushels of crabs, pints of sides…


  • Engineering interesting buildings with tiny building materials (Mini Materials)
  • Kid #1 started teaching himself Lua to make mods for a spaceship game he plays.
  • Tides, the sun, the moon, planets, and constellations count for science, too! We saw the Milky Way, Mars, and a few other night sky things.
  • The ocean provided many opportunities to talk about waves and how when two waves meet it can be constructive or deconstructive.
  • We visited NASA’s Wallops site and read and saw rockets, a neat radar display, and so many other things.
  • We flew kites and saw how different parts of kites change how they fly.
  • The fall equinox conveniently happened while we were there.
  • And animals… so many animals! Birds, crabs, fish, etc..
  • We played with animal bones at a nature center and looked at their list of birds they saw that week.
  • We saw TWO live horseshoe crabs in the ocean. The first was pointed out to us by random a marine biologist we met there.
  • After Hermine went past the week before we came, we got to see a lot of examples of erosion.
  • Mosquitoes. So many mosquitoes.

Social Studies

It wasn’t a very geography sort of month. And that’s ok.

  • Some local history of the MD, VA, Delaware area.
  • Some geography of places we drove through.


  • We talked about safety a lot: safety at the beach, in the waves, ocean, rip tides, looking to make sure the lifeguards are around.
  • A couple kids also went on walks alone or with each other, so we reviewed stuff about crossing the street, walking alone, and so forth.
  • Sunscreen and sunburns.
  • We actually got a bit dehydrated — it’s hard to remember to drink water when you’re surrounded by water!
  • At the carnival-type areas, some kids (and I…Heh.) got to challenge their fears of heights and such.


  • Before we left on the trip kid #2 made a really neat mosaic out of post-it notes. It ties in with learning about the Romans right now.
  • Then at the beach, we made forts and sandcastles and other sand installations.
  • The older two kids practiced taking pictures.
  • Everyone colored and drew.


  • We heard some performances while walking around the boardwalk, and that’s about it.


  • Went out walking and looking for Pokemon or crabs quite often.
  • Swam in the ocean for hours and hours and hours.
  • Soccer on the beach.
  • Walked around parks and nature areas.
  • Walked around everywhere!

So, to summarize:

  • You can do so much science on vacation.
  • You can even do a lot of math!
  • It’s okay if you don’t do a subject for a week or two or three. You have years.

What interesting things did you do this week? (Or two, or three?)


I’m Tempting Fate This November, Risking Painful Injury

That’s right, there’s a high chance I’ll get injured next month. Almost every November I do something so dangerous, so risky, that I actually skipped it out of fear last year.

Oh My Gosh, Katie, Are You Skydiving or Something?

No. It’s scarier.

I participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).


How is that risking injury and tempting fate? Are you wondering if I get really awful carpel tunnel or something?

No. No, it’s worse than that. I somehow get extremely accident-prone. Yes, it really is a total coincidence, but the data are there.

My two worst incidents were:

  • When I severely burned my left hand in a cooking accident (hot metal is the same color as cold metal, as it turns out).
  • When I dropped a large chef’s knife on my leg while I was carrying too many things and trying to step over a baby gate. I couldn’t walk for a month. It hurt too much to think. It was awful. And ridiculous.

Okay, Why’d You Skip Last Year?

Last year was a busy year — working full time again, homeschooling three kids for the first time (previous years the youngest was too young to be required), hosting Thanksgiving, and planning for a cruise! So I decided there was no way I’d have time for NaNoWriMo with all of that going on.

Also, I didn’t want to experience a cruise-destroying maiming.

So What is This NeeNooDryBo About?

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. It just made out of the first couple of letters of each word. It’s like an initialism, but sort of more awkward.

For NaNoWriMo, a bazillion regular people from all over the world get together and try to write 50,000 words of a new novel in a month.

You can also set other goals if you want. There are rules…. theoretically…  but rules were made to be broken. Some people write fewer words. Some people continue novels they already started. Some people just edit old works. Maybe they write blog posts instead of a novel, or a series of short stories. You can make your NaNoWriMo be what you need it to be.

How Old Do You Have To Be To Do This?

Any age! There’s even a Young Writer’s Program for kids that has some really helpful workbooks to help kids plan their plot, characters and novel structure.

Why Are You Mentioning It Now Instead of in a Month?

October is usually when NaNoWriMos (that is, people who participate in the challenge) start planning, plotting, and doing anything but actually starting to write the text. I just started reading Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham to get me in the mood. I’ll also go through some articles I clipped and stored in Evernote to use as inspiration. If I find the time, I’ll create some characters and settings and (hopefully!) sketch out a few scenes. And sequels.

But What Should I Write It With?

I can’t recommend enough the excellent application Scrivener. It not only holds your entire manuscript, but it has excellent tools for organizing character sketches, settings, inspiration, virtual note cards, and other writerly things. Name generators. Word counts.

Scrivener: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

I recommend going through the tutorial that comes with it (it’s interactive and fun!) to learn how to use it. There are also a lot of video tutorials on youtube and written tips and tricks all over the internet. Or check out the NaNoWriMo forums or Scrivener groups on Facebook for help. There are a lot of really helpful Scrivener users out there!

That Sounds Really Lonely.

Not at all! NaNoWriMo is like a big writer party. People make groups on Facebook, meet in person for write-ins, talk on twitter (writing sprint!), and friend each other on the NaNoWriMo site!

If you want to contact me at NaNoWriMo, my handle there is biophy. We can compare words! Don’t worry, I’ve never won, so I probably won’t make you feel inadequate. In fact, you’ll feel extra awesome by beating me! Woo!

Where Do I Go To Learn More About NooNooRyeFlow?

  • NaNoWriMo: nanowrimo.org
  • Young Writer’s Program: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/

So, are you in? Anyone else participating this year?

Week 2 of Fall 2016 – What We Did This Week

This is the week everything really begins to take off. Soccer practice. Dance. Shopping for so many special shoes for soccer. And dance. And shopping for special clothes for soccer. And dance. And packing up bags with the right special clothes and special shoes. And water. And snacks. So many bags.

On top of that, we had another guest this week. So we did a lot of game schooling and driving.


  • Played Code Names, a fun word game. The premise is that you’re trying to uncover the secret names of spies, but that really never comes up in the actual play of the game. I like that the game can be competitive or cooperative, and can while it works best with four or six players, you can still play if you have an odd number, or only two or three players (just check the manual for ideas).
  • For Tuesday Teatime, we read “You Wouldn’t Want to Live Without Cell Phones”. Not my favorite book of the series, but all three kids sat and listened for the whole thing, so that was cool.
  • Played Taboo a few times. Another fun word guessing game.

Each kid gets something a little different out of the word games. The youngest is just excited to be able to play since she can read well enough now. So for her it’s just reading practice. The middle kid gets to learn new words, or new interpretations of words, or (in one case) that if you read a word too quickly, “Pinocchio” looks a lot like “poncho”. And the oldest gets to challenge himself and try to win!


  • The oldest kid mowed the lawn and trimmed the bushes!
  • Middle kid has soccer practice, ballet, and tap class.
  • The youngest had a dance class, too.
  • We went on a nice Pokemon Go hike. I got 10,000+ steps yesterday (yay!).
  • The older kids walked to the gas station for candy. This led directly to math and health lessons…


  • The kids bought some stuff together (from the gas station down the street) and had to figure out how much each person owed the others by reading the receipt.
  • Played a game called The Resistance, where a team of rebels has to figure out who on the team are spies. So much of it is just a big logic puzzle. So I consider it math. It also involves a bit of acting, since the spies have to make sure to not act like spies, and maybe need to lie a little.


Um… maybe we didn’t do any this week? I can’t find anything in my notes. But most weeks are all science, so I think we’ll be ok. Seriously, not worried about this at all. You don’t have to do everything every week.

Edited to add: I’m wrong! My mom just pointed out that we spent the week learning a lot about weather. Hurricanes, wind, erosion, sunsets, sundogs, and clouds!

Also, the Oldest Kid harvested his salt crystals and made some plans about what to do with them next. It’s a great lesson on the scientific method. Science isn’t just about one experiment that someone else created, it’s about trying things, seeing what happens, and then trying some other things to test your idea about what happened.

Social Studies

  • Read Story of the World, Book 1 (the ancients) Chapter 28 about ancient Rome. We were supposed to then read some more books about it and make an aqueduct and so forth… but we ran out of time. Maybe this week.


  • The kids learned about reading receipts. Apparently they never tried to read one before. At first, they didn’t notice that the item they bought four of had a four next to it and a subtotal of four times the amount it was worth. They were worried only one of the item had been scanned, and not the other three, since there was only one entry on the receipt. And therefore they hadn’t paid for three of them. So they got ready to go back to the store together to confess and try to fix it. Awesome kids.


  • Our new not-back-to-school tradition is to go to a pottery place and paint pottery. So of course we did that.
  • Drawing. Once again, nothing led by me, but the kids drew. They saw two different cousins who also like drawing, so they saw some different examples of techniques and styles.


We had no intentional music lessons this week, but we did spend a lot of time in the car, which leads to:

  • A lot of singing practice.
  • Discussions about:
    • Rhythm
    • Dynamics
    • Phrasing
    • Time signatures – one of the songs had a section in polymeter, where different parts of the band play in a different time signature to interesting results.

So, to summarize:

  • Basically nothing I planned for this week happened. But look at all the neat stuff we did! The best part is that it means I have very little to plan for the coming week, since I can use last week’s plans! (Thank you Homeschool Planet for making it so very easy to just shove assignments along to the next day….)
  • If you don’t sometimes keep track of the things you and your kids do, you will vastly underestimate the learning that occurred, like I did in science this week.

What interesting things did you do this week?

Sriracha is Not Low FODMAPS, But There’s Something Better

Sometimes you just want a nice spicy chili sauce. Sriracha used to be my go-to sauce for everything. But… then my doctor told me I had to go on a special diet, called the low FODMAPs diet.

FODMAPS is an initialism that stands for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols”. Basically, sugars and other carbohydrates that gut bacteria can ferment. It’s similar to people who are lactose-intolerant (in fact, lactose is a major FODMAP!).

Check out my FODMAPs tagged posts for information about my weird diet issues: http://homeispossible.org/tag/FODMAPS/

Anyway, I get so, so, so many hits on searches wondering about sriracha. Is it gluten free? Is it low-FODMAPs?

Yep. It’s gluten free. If gluten is your only issue, eat tons of it and be happy.

But, no, it’s not low FODMAPs. One major ingredient is garlic, which is a pretty big no-no. If you know you tolerate garlic okay, then go for it. Otherwise, you need to avoid it or find an alternative.

At my house, we avoid it. But then we discovered (thanks to my brother and his lovely wife) that there’s an even better chili sauce — sambal oelek! It’s spicy and lovely and it goes on everything. Beef, potatoes, in salad dressing, whatever! Anywhere you need a nice tasty, spicy kick. You can even get it from the same company that makes Sriracha.

You can get it at asian markets, at specialty grocery stores, or just order it online. I think our local Wegman’s carries it… but we usually get it by the case from Amazon. Yes. By the case.

Week 1 of Fall 2016 – What We Did This Week

It’s fall! Time to schedule some school ideas so I don’t end up on Wednesday some time opening random books while my kids stare at me, hoping I can find something to teach them. (There is no “open and go”. Homeschooling can only be as good as the work you put into it!). I find it amusing how Julie Bogart from Bravewriter said this years ago, and it’s so true: Classical in the fall, Charlotte Mason in the winter, Unschooling in the spring.

This week, from 8/21-8/27, I’m going to call our first week of the 2016-2017 school year. I now have an 8th grader, 5th grader, and 1st grader, to give you a rough idea of their ages.

I try to sum up what we did, but I frequently forget incidental things that I never planned or wrote down — such as when we discuss things at dinner. Plus, the kids often do things on their own or with other adults that I might not even know they did — like calculating how much space the new swings will take up with dad or making puns with their grandmother.

In general, this was probably a light week for fall, but it’s nice to ease into things and not go overboard. We had a guest visiting, so the kids were on their own to play a lot.


  • Watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
  • Free-wrote a list of things to do at the beach. (They did this all on their own, I had nothing to do with it….)
  • Played Apples to Apples.
  • Learned about Pig Pen codes and wrote some notes to each other using them.
  • Middle Kid read Vacation Under the Volcano, a Magic Treehouse book.
  • Littlest Kid read some short picture books to herself.


I frequently count games as math — they require a step-by-step process and logical thinking. There’s often some kind of number-based scoring.
  • Exploding Kittens
  • Coup
  • The Resistance


  • Ordered a new science kit for the oldest. We received the chemicals and supplies and put them away. We talked about safety with them, since there’s some strange acids and bases, and some toxic things in there.
  • Read a short article about why there are so many ties in Olympic swimming events. It was a really good example of why significant figures matter — not all numbers really mean something.
  • Had a nice astronomy night in the backyard and saw:
    • Saturn
    • Mars
    • The Milky Way
    • Andromeda
    • Ring Nebula
    • Open and Globular Clusters
    • Not sure what else. I was half asleep.
  • Read a little of a skywatching book to learn about how you can you your thumb, fist, and hand to measure degrees of distance across the sky.
  • The Oldest also got excited about making crystals, so he looked up how to make salt crystals and grew some in the basement. They ended up pretty small, so next he can design some experiments to figure out why and how he could grow some larger ones.

Social Studies:

  • Read Story of the World Book 1, Chapter 27 about the beginnings of Rome and the Etruscans.
  • Grandma gathered together an album of pictures she has of an Etruscan tomb they happened upon when driving through Italy one day and we looked at those.
  • The girls and I did some related activities:
    • Braided wigs made of yarn to show up some fun roman hairstyles. We looked them up on Google, and the girls were amazed at some of the elaborate ways they styled their hair. (We’re not done yet — making a really nice yarn wig takes a lot of yarn and a lot of time!)
    • Clay animals for saturnalia presents.
    • A nice fasces bundle. First we looked at the one on the dollar bill that Oldest Child supplied, then some online, then the Youngest Child made one out of craft supplies.
  • Started the Which Way USA book about Rhode Island. The Oldest Child looked up Rhode Island on Wikipedia and learned that Rhode Island had the first all-marble dome built in the United States. One of the famous people mentioned in the puzzle book was Julia Ward Howe, so I found a recording of the Battle Hymn of the Republic with an interesting slide show of related pictures. We listened to it while we did the puzzle book and the Oldest Child provided some dramatic interpretive dance… kind of.

(Did you know that Julia Ward Howe was still alive the last time the Cubs won the World Series? Mark Twain, too…)


  • Last week we talked about Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke… so this week provided a hands on lab for the girls. Soccer practice was hot and miserable, and we brought a ton of water and learned how to just not run as much and take a lot of breaks in the shade.
  • The Oldest Child learned a lot of safety with chemicals, the proper way to take off lab gloves, and fun things like that.


Too hot to do very much this week. We’re all pretty much tired of hot.

  • Soccer practice for Middle Kid.
  • Running around outside and going to the local park.


The girls do tons of art when I’m not looking. Drawing, chalk art, flower arranging… who knows.

  • We also got out the poster paint and did some painting.
  • The yarn braiding, clay animals, and things we did for history also count as art!


Nothing really organized for music this week.

  • We listened to some music, sang some other songs together.
  • Learned about the Battle Hymn of the Republic, of course.
  • Watched America’s Got Talent — it’s interesting to hear different styles of music we might not play around the house, or see how different people interpret songs. We also like to, um, critique the singers we don’t think did a great job.

New Look!

Okay, sorry for not posting for three months, but it’s been pretty busy. Also, I kept trying to update the look and feel of this place and I sort of ended up hating it repeatedly. So, of course, I couldn’t post. Why draw attention to the ugly page design? Anyway, let me know if anything is horrifically broken or weird. (Besides my brain! Hah!)

Hopefully I’ll like this enough that I can post again without feeling unbearably awkward.

17 Days Until Portfolio Review: Look at Pictures

(Whoops — as it turns out, things only publish when you actually click the Publish button.)

One of the ways I demonstrate “regular, thorough instruction” is through pictures. Many of the activities we do in our homeschool don’t leave a paper trail at all. Ballet and soccer are the obvious ones. But we also do a great deal of science observations and activities that are hands on. Or we play math, science, or history games. So i take a picture. In addition, it is way easier to get kids to write on white boards or the tile table in the homeschooling room, so if they do, I just take a picture.



I just spent an entire day going through pictures on my phone from the past four months. I uploaded about 150-200 pictures to Flickr and have I don’t know how many more on my regular camera. I guess I’ll take care of those tomorrow!

I like Flickr because I can tag the pictures for review, tag it with subjects, or even list them all out by date to find an interesting picture per kid for each month. But, there are plenty of other services out there that can organize pictures for you.

Pictures are also a great way to keep a record of three-dimensional projects, artwork, and all the other beautiful things your children make that take up too much room in the house.

Other posts in this series:

19 Days until Portfolio Review: What’s the Law?

Oh no! The portfolio reviews are coming! The portfolio reviews are coming! It’s time to freak out, right? What if I don’t have enough worksheets or tests or book lists or…


That’s it. Take a deep breath. Imagine you’re on the beach. Hear the waves.

Calm yet? If not, go back to the happy place. I’ll wait.

No rush.

Okay, now we can talk about portfolio reviews.

I’m going to do a series of posts about this, because it’s a pretty huge thing. Now, note that much of this will be Maryland-specific, but people in other states might get ideas about how to keep track of student portfolios. Or not. It’s up to you.

For those of who don’t know me, this is our ninth* year homeschooling. We spent three in California and six (I can’t believe it’s been that long) here in Maryland. Hopefully I have some experience I can share with people new to homeschooling or to the state.

(*”Ninth? But your oldest is in seventh grade?” — yep. But we started really actually homeschooling when he was 4. We joined the homeschooling community and all that good stuff. If you think preschool or whatever we did doesn’t count, then just replace ‘ninth’ with ‘eighth’ in your head whenever I say we’ve been homeschooling that long. I won’t tell.)

Maryland Homeschool Law

Here in Maryland, we do two portfolio reviews a year with our county school system. The law that covers homeschooling is short and easy to read: COMAR 13A.10.01.

In this post I’m going to draw your attention to a few important parts of it.

(Note: I am not a lawyer. I once wanted to be a supreme court justice, but decided not to once I learned that you probably have to be a lawyer first. That said, some of my friends and family are lawyers — I have nothing against them. I just didn’t want to be one. Also, anything I say is not meant to be legal advice, just regular old boring human advice.)

Instruction Program

Part C indicates what homeschoolers are expected to do.

(1) Provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age;

This is completely vague and mostly useless. Children of the same age often learn rather different stuff, especially kids with learning disabilities, gifted children, etc. Heck, some kids take music all through high school while others never see it after 5th grade. There’s basically nothing in this rule that is actionable.

(2) Include instruction in English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education; and

These are the eight subjects for which you’ll need to show a portfolio. This doesn’t count a lot of things, like technology classes or foreign languages.

Some of them are pretty easy to figure out — English is about things like learning comma rules, writing papers, reading poetry, and literature.

Others are also pretty easy but some people can get hung up on what kids in public school are doing — “Oh, third grade? That’s world history” or “Oh, sixth grade has to be earth science”. Um, no. Don’t feel you actually have to follow what the schools have decided to implement.

Other subjects seem pretty opaque, like health. I had trouble when I first moved here, trying to figure out what on earth kindergarten health was. So looked up what the local schools had listed in their information for parents. Not because I felt like I was forced to cover the same things, but because I wasn’t really sure what it entailed! As it turns out, in Maryland, health includes things like understanding your emotions, metal health, bullying, fire safety, and dozens of other things that don’t really fall in the other subjects.

(3) Take place on a regular basis during the school year and be of sufficient duration to implement the instruction program.

Still… pretty vague! And you know what? That’s good! Vague is great. That means you have a lot of wiggle room to do things your way — the way that works best for you and for your kids.

Basically, this means you can’t show up to a portfolio review and tell them you already did health last semester. You have to show examples every semester. Yes, even though the public school kids actually don’t always do all eight subjects every semester.

It also means that a lot of reviewers will require you to show dates for the samples you bring, just to show that the instruction happened over time.

Educational Materials

Section D indicates what a portfolio should contain.

(1) Demonstrates the parent or guardian is providing regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the areas specified in §C(1) and (2);

Basically just what we said above. Your portfolio has to show that you did the things they say you have to do.

(2) Includes relevant materials, such as instructional materials, reading materials, and examples of the child’s writings, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, and tests;

The key words here as such as. This is not an indication that you have to do all of these things! These are just examples of ways you can demonstrate compliance. In later blog posts I’ll list all sort of things you can use to show compliance. I don’t give tests in my homeschool and we don’t use worksheets or workbooks very often, either.

(3) Shall be reviewed by the local superintendent or the superintendent’s designee at the conclusion of each semester of the local school system…

You’re probably not going to meet up with the actual superintendent. They have better things to do with their time. This is where there is some difference among the counties.

In some counties, such as Montgomery County, you get a letter asking you to sign up for a review time. All the homeschoolers are reviewed over a period of a few weeks in a big room full of reviewers. These reviewers generally have other normal jobs and just do reviews a few times a year. They often have very little familiarity with common homeschool terms and curricula.

In other counties, like Frederick County, there are only a couple of reviewers who are focused solely on the homeschooling community and will generally have more familiarity with the homeschool laws, culture, and curricula. They review people all year long so reviews can be when it’s convenient and so they can make their own schedules more bearable.

…at such times as are mutually agreeable to the local superintendent or designee and the parent or guardian.

This part means that they can’t require you to show up on a particular day in a place that’s hard to get to. They also can’t decide to show up at your house if you do not want them to.

Now, I’m not saying that you should refuse to meet unless they show up at midnight on the spring equinox in a meadow… just that if you’re going on a long trip you should expect they’ll work with you to find a place and time you can meet.

Usually you’ll meet at a school building or office, though I once met with my reviewer outside of the local library because her office was very noisy because it was being treated for flood damage.

Review Meetings

Section E has a few more details about what reviews can and can’t involve.

(1) The review is at a time and place mutually agreeable to the representative of the local school system and the parent or guardian;

This is the same as above.

(2) The purpose of the review is to ensure that the child is receiving regular, thorough instruction as set forth in §C;

This is key!

They are not reviewing you to see if your children are on grade level. They aren’t there to see if your kid even learned anything. They can’t test your kid or refuse to pass you because your kid hasn’t mastered Algebra. All they can do is review to see if you offered instruction.

“But Katie,” you say, “Why wouldn’t I want my child to be on grade level and master algebra? What is wrong with you?”

Do you want someone who doesn’t understand you, your child, or homeschooling to decide if you child passed without even meeting them? Yeah, me neither.

It means you can go in a different order than the schools do. It also means you don’t have to fight for an IEP for children who have learning disabilities. It means you have a lot of freedom to decide how to run your school.

(3) There are not more than three reviews during a school year.

They can’t just keep harassing you with reviews.

But it mentions three reviews instead of two. Most homeschoolers will have two reviews. However, if you fail one of the normal two reviews, you can have another review thirty days later to show that you’ve fixed the problems they found in your instruction program.

(Note: I have a story about failing a review. Stay tuned to find out what happens and how it really isn’t the end of the world. You’ll probably find it comforting.)

Additional Requirements

Part E is super, super, super important.

A local school system may not impose additional requirements for home instruction programs other than those in these regulations.

Your county can’t just add requirements for tests, more reviews, different subjects, or anything else. It’s illegal for them to do so. There is only the state law about homeschooling. They cannot have county-specific laws or rules. Period.


So, to sum up, you have to teach eight subjects, mark the dates, show up twice a year, and show them a few samples of what your kids did.

Hopefully you enjoyed this post, and hopefully I’ll find time to continue to write them as I get ready for my review in 19 days.

Other posts in this series:

Homeschooling, working, writing, living

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