We were in New York a few months ago, and of course we played with every animal we saw because my kids are, at this point, probably more farm than city.  And of course we had the violin and the cello because we travel with them everywhere because we practice every day, no matter what.

And I had this idea that I wanted photos of the kids, but I didn’t want normal, boring portraits. A while back I found the photographer, James Maher, and I was blown away by his street photography. And then I saw he sells his most popular prints to guardians of visual taste, like Tiffany. So I became obsessed with him, and then I cut a deal with him to hang out with us in New York City and take photographs for a day. Read more

Our farm is magical right now. All the animals are having babies. My husband is giving the animals more and more freedom. This year he took the pigs out of farrowing crates and let them farrow in a big, open building full of sunlight and hay. He was worried that the moms would lie on the babies and crush them. This is what hog industry wisdom says will happen. But in fact, the pigs were excellent moms, better than he has ever seen them be before. And the piglets grew up faster, and disease-free when they were left alone to be a variation of free-range pigs. Read more

Before I was a homeschooler, before I even had kids, my friend, Lisa Nielsen was running literacy programs in the New York City public schools. The first time I can remember thinking that schools were really messed up was when she told me that teaching reading in school is controversial among reading specialists.

Today Nielsen’s blog, The Innovative Educator is a great resource for understanding why kids don’t need to go to school to learn to read.

I did not teach my youngest son to read. He has been picking it up himself, often from video game instructions. Here are the arguments against teaching reading that give me the confidence to let him learn to read on his own: Read more

Often, parents ask me how long my son has been skateboarding. This is parentspeak for, “I hope your kid is a lot older than he looks because I don’t want to think my own kid is slow.”

I think the core parent worry is that their child is falling behind and the parent’s job is to keep that kid out in front. We all pretend to not think that, because it’s not a healthy way to parent—as if we are in a race—but I think most of us battle against thinking that way sometimes.

I think using curriculum is caving to the wrong side of that struggle. Here’s why: Read more

Someone sent me a press release about “educational rap music.”

I knew right away the music would suck. People who write good music do not need to say that it’s educational. I mean, is Bach not educational? Is he just for idiots? What makes some music educational and some not?

Stuff that needs to be labeled educational in order to sell is stuff that is boring and stupid. It’s stuff that kids won’t ask for and instead needs to be force-fed by adults who do not trust kids to know good music when they hear it. Read more

During my last business trip I bought my son a phone. I try to say yes to what they want to buy. I try to trust that they’ll use it for something interesting. Sometimes it ends up being a waste of money, but usually not.

So the big surprise about the phone is not that he used it for pictures—I think Generation Z just assumes that every gadget they have takes photos. The surprise to me was that he started texting the photos to people.

And then he responded to the responses, and soon he was spending fifteen minutes a day figuring out how to spell. Read more

The Washington Post announced that Sarah Wysocki has been fired. She got great reviews for her classroom performance. Kids liked her, her principal liked her. But the test scores of her students were not good enough.

There is wide agreement that teaching to the test is a vapid way to educate kids. There is wide agreement that young kids should be on the playground way more than they are right now. It’s just that we can’t think of another way to manage education on such a huge scale as the US public school system requires.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put enough money toward solving this problem that we have enough data to know we have nothing that even approximates a solution. Read more

I rarely tout my teaching abilities as a reason that I am homeschooling, which is probably why I have a homeschool blog full of beach resort photos instead of teaching tips.

However I do think I’m qualified to teach writing. I’ve taught writing at Brown, Boston University, and the University of Paris. And having been a teacher of college students I feel qualified to tell you that being a writing teacher is the process of giving constant feedback about what is interesting and what is not interesting.

Read more

Do you ever hear parents who send their kids to school talking about curriculum?

No. Right?

Do you know why? Because it doesn’t matter. If you use curriculum or you do not use curriculum, that is a very big question. Riverdale is a school that is following child-directed learning: no set curriculum. Most public schools are to-the-test learning: established curriculum. That is a huge difference. Beyond that, if the kid is doing well on the test, the curriculum doesn’t matter.

So why are homeschool parents obsessed with curriculum? It’s a red herring. There are huge, enormous questions for parents to be asking instead:

1. Why are we teaching to a test? My son visited my friend Melissa in Austin and they played in a gym all day. Is that better?

2. Is it a good model for girls to see moms making their life revolve around their kids? Should dads be more involved?

3. Should kids focus on learning languages and music? The benefits to learning these at a young age are huge.

Of course those are not the only three big questions, but those are three of the 300 questions that are way more important than choosing what curriculum you use.

I think parents use the choice as a way to bury their heads in research. As if that will somehow make them a “good” homeschool parent. But the more time you spend trying to figure out curriculum, the less time you are spending figuring out answers to really meaningful questions.

My son plays cello in a Suzuki program at The Music Institute of Chicago. The Suzuki method is rigid. There are ten books, and you go through the songs one by one. You learn a new skill in each song, and the Suzuki-certified teacher tells you when you can progress. To be clear, I love the program, and we drive four hours each way because the teacher we have is special.

But my son’s curiosity is not as rigid as the program. I used to let him play whatever he wants. But then we got the special teacher for special students and she put the kabosh on that. Now he plays only what she has taught him, theoretically. He searches through his Book 2 to play whatever he finds. She told me to put Book 3 where he can’t find it, but he finds videos on YouTube and teaches himself songs in the confiscated books.

Then my cousin came over (a graduate of book 10 and then some) and he played Bach for my son.

So of course my son wanted to try it. He found the music on YouTube, but he couldn’t see the fingering. So I downloaded the sheet music.

I wrote to my cousin: “What’s up with the sheet music? It’s only notes. Is the bowing a secret?” Read more