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, mental 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:

14 Days until Portfolio Review: Gathering Materials

So we already discussed what Maryland law requires and we got all the pictures off of our cameras and phones. Now what?

The next step is to collect everything else that tells us or is an example of anything the kids did or that you tried to teach them, such as (and not limited to):

  • Workbooks
  • Papers and worksheets
  • Puzzle books
  • Art — paper, glass, 3D structures, whatever.
  • Pamphlets from museums and events, ticket stubs, park maps, class materials, and any other ephemera.
  • Scraps of paper
  • Calendars
  • Notes
  • Lesson plans
  • Written and online records
  • Diary entries
  • Facebook or other social media sites
  • Screen captures from Minecraft or anything else that lives solely online
  • MP3s or videos your kids created or starred in
  • Text books
  • Book lists

The goal is to just get all of this stuff in one place before you search through it and try to figure out what it all means. Chances are that, unless you’re a spazz like me, you don’t have nearly all of those things above. Maybe not even half. Just collect what you do have.

(Side note — my reviewer actually recommends keeping all the papers and things for each month in a pile… At the end of the month, let the kids search through everything and pick their own samples. That’s also a spectacular idea! Of course, that doesn’t work when you don’t actually do it, or the pictures are on your phone for four months, or your kids don’t care about showing off math or heath and just want to pick 87 pictures of watercolor ponies.)


You could choose to bring in the whole workbook or just pull out a few pages. Each choice has pros and cons.

For example, if you use mostly workbooks, and there’s eight subjects, and you have three kids… well, you’d better bring a pack animal to carry all that weight.

On the other hand, if you have to pull pages out of non-perforated workbooks, it’s messy. Also, some kids really like everything together in a book and would never let it be hurt in such a fashion.

But remember, workbooks are in no way required. Maybe you don’t have any at all.

Papers and worksheets

Worksheets are, of course, super easy to work with. No book to tear them out of and they usually have a place to mark the student’s name and date.

Of course, some kids just refuse them, so maybe not so easy. We don’t use a super huge lot of worksheets around here, either. If we are, then you know I’m stressed out and the kids are just being super nice to me.

However, we do generate large amounts of paper for drawings, sketches, watercolor, pastels, chalk, etc.

Puzzle Books

The workbook’s more fun cousin is the puzzle book. We do a lot more of those. Which Way USA is one of our current favorites for Social Studies, and the little ones have enjoyed Highlights, High Five, Puzzle Mania, and other similar things. They tend to be smaller than a workbook, so it’s easy to just bring the whole thing with you.


This can be awkward if they like to make 3D structures or delicate glass art. My daughter is currently enjoying making lots of shoe box dioramas. Glass and large 3D art projects are not easily brought in as examples, so frequently I’ll just choose something else or bring a picture.


I just love the word ephemera. It sounds neat and it’s a useful word — basically it’s things that are written or printed, but aren’t intended to be kept or last a long time.

It includes pamphlets from museums and events, ticket stubs, park maps, class schedules, and anything else that might be handed out to you or your kids that just shows that you went places and did things.

Scraps of paper

I don’t know about you, but I have all sorts of weird scraps of paper and post it notes around to remind myself of something we worked on or planned to work on. Sometimes it’s just enough to jog my memory.


Whether it’s on your wall or on your computer, calendars will list a lot of things about what you and your kids did. Maybe you lost the pamphlet from the aviation museum and you forgot to take pictures. That’s ok, it’s still good to remember you went, even if you don’t have examples from the trip. You can describe the semester’s lessons without showing examples of every single one. More on this later.


Some years I’ve taken notes as we learn things just to remember we did those things.

Lesson Plans

I’ve used paper planners and online planners. Once again, it won’t be a sample of work, but it will remind you of all of the different topics you’ve tackled this semester, so it’s very handy for writing a summary.

Written records and Online records

Maybe in your system you don’t write plans so much as what you already did. Or maybe you write plans and just check it off when it’s done.

Diary entries

Same as above.

Facebook or other Social media sites

I tend to post about fun and cool things we’re doing, so this can also be a reminder or a way to find pictures other people took of my kids that I can use as examples. Plus, once your kids get older, maybe you can use a social media site as part of their portfolio — Facebook essays, beautiful photography on Instagram, sketches on Deviantart, music on SoundCloud.

(Yes, I’ve played music from SoundCloud from my laptop during a review. The reviewer remarked, “Ooh! Sounds kind of like Imagine Dragons!” It was awesome.)

Screen Captures

Sometimes games can be educational (actually very frequently!) and the only way to get examples is through screen shots. Maybe it’s the perfect orbit that your child managed in Kerbal Space Program, or a well-done titration or laser beam through PheT simulations, or even working logic gates in Minecraft. When we used Khan Academy, a screenshot was often the best way to get math examples from it.

MP3s or videos

Maybe your child wrote a song, played an instrument well, or starred in a home movie they wrote and directed. Maybe they learned stop-motion photography and now you have a video about lego people being eaten by a shark. Perhaps your child runs too fast in gymnastics so you can’t get a photo that isn’t blurry, but you can get an amazing video of him doing a flip.

Yes, I’ve brought in videos of gymnastics… but decided against the lego video.

Text books

If you use them, get your text books in a little pile somewhere. You may want to glance over the Table of Contents to remember what topics you studied.

Book lists

Lists of books you read to the kids, audio books, and books the children read to you or themselves.

I use Goodreads to track our books. It keeps track of the date the book was finished and I have a shelf for each kid (to remember who read what) and a shelf system to mark which semester they read it. So any particular book will have 1-3 tags indicating the child or children plus another tag for the semester, such as 2016Spring.

It also can scan barcodes (yay!) and even has a bulk scan capability, so I can scan a whole ton of books before we take them back to the library.

At the end of the semester, I just use the filters to make a list for each kid for that semester and print it out.


Once you’ve gathered everything in place, we can move on to summarizing what topics the kids worked on in each subject.

After that, another post about translating everything into educationese, followed by choosing just enough of the right kinds of portfolio materials.

Finally, I’ll post about how to prepare yourself for the review visit.

Other posts in this series:

13 Days Until Portfolio Review: Make a List

Okay, so if you’ve followed the previous posts, you’ve learned the lawgone through your pictures and maybe even tagged them, and gathered all the things that you and your kids did that remotely related to homeschooling. Now you’re sitting around surrounded by book lists, workbooks, glass sculptures, a cello, albums full of pictures, and random scraps of paper… or maybe you just have a computer full of pictures and three pamphlets.

Now what?

Well, if you’re me (actually that would be weird, please just be yourself), you make lists. I love lists. Lists are great for organizing things.

So either on paper or on the computer (my current method is just using Google Drive) I just make a chart that looks something like this:

Class All kids Kid 1 Kid 2
English / reading

It’s the eight required subjects in MD, plus columns for each kid plus a column for the things the kids all did together. Even if you have very different kids, some things (like field trips!) will often be the same for all of them.

Then I go through the stuff I’ve gathered — the pictures, workbooks, puzzle books, worksheets, notes, lesson plans, ephemera, and so forth — and I make bullet lists of the topics we covered, organized by subject.

For example:

English / reading

  • freewrite haikus
  • suction cup
  • handwriting sample?
  • suction cup
  • handwriting lower case
  • alien helmet freewrite
  • reading kids post and stuff
  • Wee Free Men
  • Oral spelling,
  • spelling in games,
  • email to family
  • read popular science
  • read minecraft and terraria wikis
  • handwriting, caps, punctuation, better formation
  • Hunger games
  • druiddawn
  • read fairy books
  • wrote stories
  • 8 parts of speech (MCT)
  • parts of sentence (MCT)
  • types of verbs 
  • handwriting — finish caps, do some lower case

As I go through all of their work, I write down any samples that might work well to take to the portfolio review. I don’t do it in any sort of systematic way yet, just if it strikes me that something is a good choice, I’ll make a note of it in the left column. (You could make an additional column to hold those, or put them at the end of each kid’s list, but I find this makes the whole chart smaller and the efficiency of it all pleases me.)

I’ll write another post about what sorts of samples work best and how I choose which ones to bring, in a few days.

At first, the list will be sort of random. I grab topics from the books we read — for example in social studies I might just say “read OUP ancient greeks, chap 2-14, covers years 1000 BC – 500 BC”. Or I might mention a project – “made a series of shoebox dioramas of life in spring, ancient nubia, etc.”.

In subjects where you go pretty strictly by the book, you’ll probably have fewer entries:


  • C&O canal
  • WWI telegram
  • FDR & stuff
  • greek chariot
  • C&O canal
  • FDR and stuff
  • SOTW 4: thru 4-22
  • finished adaptation of the odyssey
  • indep. rading on WWII, civil war.
  • Greeks, etc

In subjects where you do more scattered passion-following, unit studies, or unschooling, you’ll end up with a lot more entries:


  • rocket center GPS
  • visited okeanos
  • reading sample
  • visited okeanos, etc
  • ph stuff
  • crystalradio
  • distillation
  • nature walks — tree, bird, etc identification
  • county fair
  • achaeology, history techniques
  • ocean science! — watching nautilus. okeanos
  • habitats: beach, md, al
  • wild horses
  • hominid evolution
  • history of life on earth
  • chemistry — stoichiometry
  • mushroom identification
  • aquarium! twice
  • raptor festival
  • NASA Wallops, rockets
  • astronomy
  • rock and mineral show
  • radio stuff
  • electronics and
  • programming minecraft!
  • velvet worms
  • rocket museum
  • tech museum
  • hiller air museum
  • heart, organs, veins
  • cabbage juice indicator
  • forces
  • concentration
  • diffusion


Here’s some quick tips.

Tip #1: Don’t worry about grammar or spelling.

These notes are just for you, not for your reviewer to look at, so don’t worry about it making sense to anyone but you. Don’t fiddle with caps, spelling… or logic. It’s just quick notes. Don’t let it take forever.

If you look at my examples above, they’re chock full of errors, sentence fragments, and I no longer know what “FDR and stuff” as a work sample could have meant.

Tip #2: Write lots of topics down.

Don’t discount things that you thought you could have done a better job of, or things you’re still working on, or things your kids might not have learned.

Write it all down. It all counts — it’s instruction you provided, even if your kids didn’t necessarily learn as much as you expected.

Also, you might be wrong. Maybe they learned more than you know they did. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have seemed to just glide through a topic and I figured only a little of it actually stuck but months or even years later they just pulled that information out of the dark recesses of their brains.

(Of course, sometimes I was sure they learned something and a conversation with a grandparent or a friend or a stranger shows that I was totally fooling myself and they know absolutely nothing about it. Oops.)

Tip #3: Give yourself a pat on the back.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in anxiety about what our kids have learned that we forget how far we’ve come. So make sure you write down everything you did this semester (or year, or whatever time period you’re tackling). Let the list get really long and just bask in it. Roll around in all the luxurious learning you planned and provided. Feel happy and content and amazing.

Tip #4: Use this to plan your next semester.

Okay, now that you feel awesome, look at the list again. The list can help you see where you need more content. We’ll talk about this more in a few posts when I talk about picking samples, but if you can’t find more than one or two bullet points or you can’t even find two or three samples… maybe it’s time to give that subject a little more time or find a way to document it just a little more thoroughly.

This is one way to find any giant gaping holes in their education.

Next Steps

In the next post, I’ll show you how to summarize the topics your children studied and re-write them in educationese.

Other posts in this series:

Homeschooling, working, writing, living

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