Category Archives: Back in homeschool classroom

Back in the Homeschool Classroom … Rainy Days

6d7a7-schoolbooksWith rain pouring down outside my window in the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains hidden behind fog and low clouds … dark and dreary but cozy and bright inside … my mind wandered back to rainy days when my kids were little. A drippy day was the perfect time to build a blanket house. Some people call it a fort. Either way, it made hours of fun for little ones who couldn’t go outside and play.

It wasn’t a new idea to me. When my sister and I were young, our mom would take the ladder-back dining room chairs and spread blankets over them to make us a blanket house. We spent hours playing inside, arranging the interior, napping, tending our baby dolls, and whatever else little girls do to entertain themselves by setting up housekeeping under a sagging blanket ceiling.

So when I had children of my own, the memory of those rainy days gave me the idea that my kids would probably like doing the same. And they did.

I would set up a card table and some dining room chairs in the middle of the living room floor. Then with the help of blankets gathered from the bedrooms, the kids and I would drape them over the chairs and table to make a roof and walls, and leave an opening for a door.

The kids would help, so excited they couldn’t stand still. Once the “house” was ready, off they would fly to their bedrooms to gather favorite stuffed animals and books. Katy would usually also be toting a favorite doll baby; Matt would have a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

While they were gone, I covered the “floor” of the house with a blanket or quilt, then added a couple of extra blankets or sheets inside along with pillows snatched from the beds. By that time the kids were back with their treasures. Giggling and wiggling, in the door they crawled as they each made a nest from pillows and blankets, and after a fair amount of time arranging to get the house all set up, they settled in.

And that was where they would spend most of the rest of the day. It was something that was done only on some rainy days so the always-new experience kept them interested and satisfied. Sometimes a request was called out through the door for a board game which I delivered, and they would play Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, or Trouble, and as I headed into another area of the house, I could hear their muffled voices and giggles as they rearranged or made plans, or the pop of the Trouble popper and dice.

Afternoon naps took place in the house as each child curled up with a book and then drifted off as rain beat against the nearby windows. Lunch was served in the blanket house which was much like a picnic. Sometimes I would plop down on the floor and join them for lunch; other times I would enjoy some much-needed mom time for cleaning or cooking or even lesson plans once they were in school.

It’s so dreary today that I would love to have little squirmy ones around to make a blanket house, snuggle in together with a book, and then nap. The fun of littles … it’s too bad we’re so busy at the time it happens to truly enjoy it as much as we should.

Memories….

—–
Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin College in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:

– Reading out loud to our children (July 2015)
– Did Terry McAuliffe understand the ‘Tebow Bill’ he vetoed? (April 2015)
– The Virginian-Pilot is wrong about homeschool sports ‘entitlement’ (February 2015)
– ’50 reasons homeschooled kids love being homeschooled’ (November 2014)
– Grown son’s first home (April 2014)
– Support group vs Co-op (February 2014)
– Where it all began … blazing new trails (January 2013)
– Grown son’s first home (July 2013)
– Staying in touch with homeschool friends (July 2013)
– New Year’s Eve (December 2012)
– More sleep = homeschoolers happier, healthier than public school students? (April 2013)
– Using Shenandoah National Park as your classroom (March 2013)
– Rainy days (May 2013)
– A chance encounter (June 2013)
– Autumn (October 2012)
– The rain rain rain came down down down (April 2012)
– Why we teach our own (April 2012)
– Casey (April 2012)
– The wedding … letting go (September 2012)
– The pain of grief (August 2012)
– When faced with a challenge … no whining (April 2012)
– The simple wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (August 2012)
– First day of school (September 2012)
– The rise of homeschooling (February 2012)
– Hot summer days (July 2011)
– Constitutional lessons and the Judicial branch of government (March 2012)
– Mary Baldwin commencement 2012 … SWAC Daughter graduates with honors (May 2012)

Back in the Homeschool Classroom: Reading Out Loud to Our Children

Reading

My kids and I spent much more than 15 minutes a day reading out loud over the 16 years that I had the wonderful opportunity to educate them at home.

Today’ it’s cool and rainy, a perfect autumn day for reading to little ones, and I found myself savoring the sweet memories of those days when my now-grown children would snuggle close to enjoy the many adventures found on the pages of a book.

During those days, we read countless books out loud at home by the wood stove in winter and outdoors in the yard during the summer, while picnicking and camping along the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway, at the Outer Banks, traveling across the country to Colorado and Wyoming — anywhere and everywhere. The memories are priceless.

While in kindergarten and elementary school, our trips to the local public library — I considered it another room of our house — resulted in an armload of books for each child. They were curious about a variety of subjects so it was interesting to see what was chosen.

When planning road trips, the kids would find books about the places where we would visit, about nearby historic sites, trees, fun areas, animals — whatever they considered interesting.

Sitting at a picnic table along Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway, we would read of Virginia and American history, or perhaps about historical figures specific to the area. During our North Carolina years, Daniel Boone was a favorite as we sat in the shadow of where he had explored and blazed through the thick laurel thickets in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Poetry was another favorite to read aloud. Biographies. Science. History. Those years were priceless.

Read. Learn. Bond.

—–
Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin College in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and a minor in Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in Augusta County located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The story of how she began her homeschool journey can be found here (see Back in the homeschool classroom: Blazing new trails).

Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:

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Back in the Homeschool Classroom: Where It All Began … Blazing New Trails

school books“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote this morning, my mind drifted back to the sixteen years we educated our children at home. Talk about going where there is no path and leaving a trail!

A tip of my hat to those homeschool pioneers who were there years before I joined up in 1990. I read books about their battles with school and state officials in various locations across the country, and was grateful for the tenaciousness and willingness of those faithful parents to basically lay it all on the line, plowing that path for those of us who followed. In Virginia, Delegate Rob Bell’s parents were pioneers in that movement, and local homeschool friends whose kids are now grown had been involved in the South Carolina movement.

By 1990, when we took the plunge, laws had been written and there were enough families involved that they had begun forming local groups and state organizations. We were fortunate to find a homeschool support group when we decided to jump from public school into homeschooling.

Before making a decision, I researched. There was a homeschool section of our local library with a number of books that had been donated by the local homeschool group which was how we found them. I wrote to publishers for information — that was before the internet opened the world on a desk top — and read books about other families and their struggles, and called the president of the local group. I researched curricula and laws and everything I could think of that would help if we were to make this life-altering decision.

In the end, we pulled our son out two months into second grade. The Calvert curriculum I had chosen used the same reading and math books that he had in class.

First of all, thank you to all the hard-working teachers out there who pour their souls into education. They have a love of children and teaching that makes them special and loved in the eyes of not only their students but the parents. The energy, hours, and financial sacrifices they expend often go unnoticed.

Let me back up a bit before going on. When our son entered kindergarten, I became a room mother who helped with field trips, holiday parties, and reading. A small table and two chairs were set up in the hallway outside the classroom, and I would listen and help students who were having difficulty with their reading. We’re talking books with one word on a page and, though the kids had been instructed to take their books home and read them ten times to their parents, it was easy to tell who had not done so.

For my son, kindergarten was a great experience and so we moved on.

In first grade, I was again the room mom who traveled with the kids on field trips (by this time they were fondly calling me “mom”) and sitting in the hall listening as students read. I found scrap wallpaper materials and cut out six-inch round circles of various textures and colors, and the teacher and I began a caterpillar that crawled around the wall of the classroom with all the children’s names as they completed a story or book.

One of the main issues I observed in public school was discipline, and that was especially true in first grade. One or two kids can disrupt an entire class of 25 or 30, and it can be very time-consuming for teachers. Sadly, recess was sometimes taken away from the entire class because of the actions of one or two or three … recess, where little wiggly legs could run off energy after sitting at desks for long periods of time.

Another issue in first grade was busy work. Bundles of work pages, or “staple sheets” as they were called, were given to each child who was expected to work the exercises but also outline each illustration (apple for “a” or whatever) and color it in. To quick learners, it proved frustrating and tedious.

By second grade, a very discipline-minded teacher set forth a rule of no talking in the lunch room until kids were finished with their meals. Since I was again spending time with the students as room mom, part of the fun was joining them for lunch. They were delighted to sit with me, and I loved to interact with them in a way that was not necessarily in a structured manner.

What I observed during that time was lots of wasted food. Lots. Kids were not allowed to talk during their free lunch time until all their food was gone, or they would have their names written on the board and be punished. So what else were they to do? They threw away most of their food. Problem solved! Now they could talk. It was wasteful. Elementary kids who sat in a classroom for hours during the day needed some time to release all that pent-up energy, and social time with their friends.

I went to the principal, a fair-minded man I knew well, to discuss my concerns. He was hesitant to interfere with a teacher, something I totally understood, but that didn’t help the situation. It was disheartening to see kids basically punished for being kids at what should have been a less-structured portion of their school day.

That was when light bulb #1 went on.

In second grade, more homework began being assigned. Since I was a stay-at-home mom, we were fortunate to have afternoons to complete homework and not lose our family time in the evenings except for those days when we had sports and other after-school activities. On those nights, we often had homework-dominated evenings.

It seemed to me that second grade children who spent all day in a classroom doing school work should not then have to spend more additional hours at home doing school work. When were they supposed to play? When were they supposed to read? When could they explore the subjects they were interested in pursuing? When were they allowed to just be kids?

That was light bulb #2.

The county we lived in took up a new reading program that year. In the past, students were placed in traditional reading groups according to ability and those who were faster learners moved into new books while the slower learners persevered until they could move forward. Makes sense, right? Apparently not to some pencil-pushing desk jockey who came up with the new program. And this is how it worked.

On Monday, all students were given a story to read. The teacher read it in class, and students were then to read it themselves, and carry it home at night to read aloud to their parents as they learned new words.

On Tuesday, the same story was read in class. The typically fast-learning students had picked up on it quickly while some of the slower learners struggled with unfamiliar words. Tuesday night, the story was to again be read aloud to parents to continue re-enforcing reading skills and word familiarity.

On Wednesday, the same story was again read in class. By this time, the fast readers were becoming bored while the slow readers continued to struggle. Wednesday night was a repeat of Monday and Tuesday nights.

The same for Thursday and, according to the thinking of before-mentioned pencil pushers, by Friday all the students would fly through the story with the greatest of ease and that would be that. Monday they would start a new story and the cycle would begin all over.

The problems were immediately evident. Fast readers quickly became bored with no challenge to keep them interested, and slow readers panicked when they realized they were holding up the entire class. No more intimate reading groups so by Friday everyone’s eyes and ears were glued to the poor child who was still struggling with words.

It was disappointing. I talked with the teacher who said it was the new program and she had no control over it. I talked with the principal who said it was the new program and he had no control over it.

And then other parents began calling.

That was light bulb #3.

Because I had been a room mom and involved with the students, they thought perhaps I could do something or head up something or form a protest. At about that time, a study came out grading school systems nationwide and, in that study, North Carolina was just about at the bottom of the list.

That was the catalyst that caused me to seriously consider educating my son at home, maybe for just a couple of years, I thought. He was bright, he was a fast reader, he loved learning … but I saw him wilting from the tedious busy work, and from being slowed in one of his favorite subjects, reading.

My research convinced me that we should take the plunge although I was scared. I had no college degree much less training as a teacher. I did have, however, a love of learning that I had shared with my kids from the time they were born, and a willingness to do whatever it took to make sure we were successful. And I definitely wanted to raise my own children, not leave them in the care of others, so had no immediate plans to go back to work.

What would my parents think? What would my friends think? Would I mess up my kids’ education? Would something important and necessary fall through the cracks? I would become one of those parents that others whispered about at school events. I would lose the backing of all that knowledge and all those resources of the public school system. I had received an excellent education in Chesterfield County, Virginia, schools. How could I deny that same foundation to my children?

As I dug more into the subject, our son was brought into the conversation to see what he thought about it. He was fine with staying home to learn; in fact, he seemed downright excited. I assured him he would not lose touch with his public school friends, a promise I kept even after we moved back home to Virginia when he was 12. I looked forward to “homework” being “work done at home,” something that could be completed during the day while Dad was at work so our evenings would once again become family time.

I had decided to try the Calvert curriculum and so ordered it, and applied to the state of North Carolina for permission to educate my children at home. We had to give our school a name so we combined our love of the nearby mountains with the meadows on our farm and became Mountain Meadow School. When the curricula arrived and armed with my state-permission postcard, I made an appointment with the school principal to share my decision to withdraw my child from public school.

I carried the curricula with me so the principal could see that I was serious about my son’s education and that it was not a flighty decision. He smiled as I pulled out book after book, explaining that reading and math would seamlessly continue from the point where they were in his class, and shared with him the work books and manipulatives to help in the hands-on part of education that I felt was extremely important to young learners. And then he said something that meant a great deal to me.

“I am not surprised that you researched it so well,” he said. “From my time working with you, I would expect nothing less. But I’m sad that your son will be leaving us because we seem to be losing our brightest students.”

We chatted a bit more, and then I stood up and extended my hand across his desk as we shook hands and said goodbye. Picking up my L.L. Bean bag full of school books and hoisting my purse on my shoulder, we said goodbye to office staff whom I had worked with for the two-and-a-half years while my son had been a student and I had been a volunteer and room mom. Then we walked out the front door into that October morning and climbed into our minivan never to return to public lower education again. Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time … I was still thinking we were on the two-year plan.

Along with my seven-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, we drove to a nearby restaurant and celebrated our cutting the umbilical cord to public education with breakfast and a discussion of the adventures we would have. Then we drove home to begin this new journey that would end up lasting sixteen years as we traveled where there were few paths, and blazed new trails. Though there would be bumps along the way, it turned out to be a journey I never regretted.

—–
Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin College in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in Augusta County located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Originally posted in 2013

Cross-posted from Bearing Drift

Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:

Reading out loud to our children (July 2015)
Did Terry McAuliffe understand the ‘Tebow Bill’ he vetoed? (April 2015)
The Virginian-Pilot is wrong about homeschool sports ‘entitlement’ (February 2015)
’50 reasons homeschooled kids love being homeschooled’ (November 2014)
Grown son’s first home (April 2014)
Support group vs Co-op (February 2014)
Where it all began … blazing new trails (January 2013)
Grown son’s first home (July 2013)
Staying in touch with homeschool friends (July 2013)
New Year’s Eve (December 2012)
More sleep = homeschoolers happier, healthier than public school students? (April 2013)
Using Shenandoah National Park as your classroom (March 2013)
Rainy days (May 2013)
A chance encounter (June 2013)
Autumn (October 2012)
The rain rain rain came down down down (April 2012)
Why we teach our own (April 2012)
Casey (April 2012)
The wedding … letting go (September 2012)
The pain of grief (August 2012)
When faced with a challenge … no whining (April 2012)
The simple wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (August 2012)
First day of school (September 2012)
The rise of homeschooling (February 2012)
Hot summer days (July 2011)
Constitutional lessons and the Judicial branch of government (March 2012)
Mary Baldwin commencement 2012 … SWAC Daughter graduates with honors (May 2012)

Back in the Homeschool Classroom: First Day of School

 

Many students started their first day of school this week including Augusta County. Some will start back after Labor Day.

This week was also the first day of school for many homeschool students … and that’s where my mind wandered this week as I remembered sixteen years of “first day of school” classes with my children. We had no bus to catch, no lunch to pack, no specially-requested school supplies to buy.

Teaching with the Calvert curriculum in grades K-8, all supplies were included so no trips to the store were necessary for particular items. Calvert had it down to a science because they supply curricula for families around the world … students living on sailboats with their parents, missionaries in remote areas of the globe, and even those of us who were simply teaching our children here in the United States.

For a child, there’s something special about a new pad of writing paper, box of crayons, drawing paper, freshly sharpened pencils, books, work books, and even a new ruler. I would add extras for my classroom … glue sticks, glitter, craft supplies, additional reading books, and personalized items for each of my children to make it a special, never-to-be-forgotten day to kick off a special, never-to-be-forgotten year.

I also decorated the school room and made it a new, exciting place for the new year … new posters, maps, visuals, and additional items that were added throughout the year with each season. For fall I would tape a three-foot tall tree on the wall and the kids would cut out and color leaves to add to it as I read story books out loud. Thanksgiving would have hand-crafted turkeys followed by Christmas, winter, Valentine’s Day, and other special times of the year.

Six things remained the same year after year. Our classroom always had a Bible, the American flag, and posters on the wall with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Ten Commandments. Maps of the United States and Virginia were part of our geography.

When my son was in the early elementary years and my daughter was a pre-schooler, she had her own “work station” complete with drawing paper, crayons, cut-out alphabet letters, Play-Doh, coloring books, manipulatives, and toys. It made her feel included in the school day.

We started back in September so mid- to late-August was spent each year working on lesson plans. While the kids swam in the small pool in our back yard, I would sit at the picnic table in the shade of a nearby tree and set up our schedule for the year. Calvert provided a laid-out lesson plan but I always deviated from it, adding and rearranging and working in extra activities to fit our family. That was the beauty of home education.

For the first day of school, I would wait until the kids went to bed the night before and then set up the school room for our first day. It added to the surprise and allure of a new year and, the next morning, they would pop out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, and then we’d head for the school room. It was almost like Christmas with big eyes and oohs and ahhs as they admired the new school accessories, picking up and examining a tablet or book or tube of glitter.

And so our school year began. Since it was September and the days were beautiful leading into autumn, we would often move outdoors onto a blanket in the shade to read out loud, or hike down to the farm pond to look for aquatic life — guppies, frogs, turtles, fish — that we read about in the science books. Searching for specific tree leaves was a favorite as they gathered a variety of species in our own nature scavenger hunt.

Some days we would pack a lunch and the school books and head for the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway where we would do school activities around a picnic table or search for creek critters for biology. After moving to Virginia, we would do the same and head to the Skyline Drive, eating lunch at a picnic area and then becoming Junior Park Rangers for the afternoon, looking for animal tracks and wildflowers and insects.

But the first day of school would kick it off each year, preparing us for those adventures in teaching, in learning, in exploring and expanding our horizons. I learned as much as the kids, and I believe we are all better for it. It was the right choice for my family, and I was willing and, thankfully able, with the backing of a supportive husband, to give 24/7 to my children who are now college grads, married, and have homes of their own.

—–
Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin University in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in Augusta County located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:

Reading out loud to our children (July 2015)
Did Terry McAuliffe understand the ‘Tebow Bill’ he vetoed? (April 2015)
The Virginian-Pilot is wrong about homeschool sports ‘entitlement’ (February 2015)
’50 reasons homeschooled kids love being homeschooled’ (November 2014)
Grown son’s first home (April 2014)
Support group vs Co-op (February 2014)
Where it all began … blazing new trails (January 2013)
Grown son’s first home (July 2013)
Staying in touch with homeschool friends (July 2013)
New Year’s Eve (December 2012)
More sleep = homeschoolers happier, healthier than public school students? (April 2013)
Using Shenandoah National Park as your classroom (March 2013)
Rainy days (May 2013)
A chance encounter (June 2013)
Autumn (October 2012)
The rain rain rain came down down down (April 2012)
Why we teach our own (April 2012)
Casey (April 2012)
The wedding … letting go (September 2012)
The pain of grief (August 2012)
When faced with a challenge … no whining (April 2012)
The simple wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (August 2012)
First day of school (September 2012)
The rise of homeschooling (February 2012)
Hot summer days (July 2011)
Constitutional lessons and the Judicial branch of government (March 2012)
Mary Baldwin commencement 2012 … SWAC Daughter graduates with honors (May 2012)

Back in the homeschool classroom: Why we teach our own

Anyone who knows me knows I homeschooled my children for 16 years and, during that time, served as newsletter editor with our homeschool group in North Carolina. Later, after moving back home to Virginia, I served in leadership for eleven years with PEACH — Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes — as president, newsletter editor, teen coordinator, field trip coordinator, secretary, and anything else that was needed, working together with a group of dedicated moms.

Even though my days of teaching at home are over — my oldest graduated from James Madison University in 2007 and my youngest graduated from Mary Baldwin College as part of the Class of 2012 — I never lost contact with the homeschool community. I keep up with issues that concern them, government regulations that may affect them, and read articles from moms who are just beginning or in the middle of their homeschool journeys.

Today I read an article that oh-so-hit-the-nail-on-the-head. It was passed along by a homeschool mom friend who used to be in PEACH but moved a few years ago to Georgia and is still teaching at home. The article had been written by a Texas homeschool mom who had just begun the homeschool journey with her four children.

Out of all the questions of why and how that came from people throughout the years — why do you homeschool? how can you stand to spend all that time with your children? how can you afford it? where do you find the patience? — this mom answered in one of the best ways I’ve heard.

After writing of the days when it’s difficult that made her ready to throw in the towel and call it quits, she explained why she doesn’t quit:

Homeschooling “works” for our family because we make it work.  It is a priority.  A calling.  Even a conviction. Because of our commitment to homeschool, there are many other things we aren’t involved in, don’t spend our money on, don’t invest our time into.  Not because some of these “other things” are bad, but because they would rob us of these precious years to nurture and train our children.

Then this wonderfully honest, young, homeschool mom summed it up in one of the best ways I’ve ever seen homeschooling explained. In one short paragraph, she gave the reason we do it:

I can only homeschool my children once in my lifetime and theirs.  Now is that time. It is up to me, and to my husband, to make these days count.  For eternity. This is why I choose to get up every morning, sit down at our dining room table, and teach my children in the best way I know how.

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Back in the homeschool classroom: ‘When Will It Snow?’

When Will It Snow

It is January 21 and we haven’t had very much snow in western Augusta County, Virginia — just a few inches in two storms this season. The weather this week is mild for this time of year — the forecast calls for low 60s, the infamous “January thaw.”

Meanwhile, I’m longing for a really good snow, and that made me think of a children’s book that was a Christmas gift to nine-year-old daughter Katy for our first Christmas in the Shenandoah Valley in 1996.

“When Will it Snow?” is beautifully written and illustrated by Bruce Hiscock, circa 1995, who wrote in his dedication in the book, “To my good friends, and to everyone whose spirits soar when the first snowflakes fall. Special thanks go my nephew Will as Robin.”

The words fell happily on my ears: “… everyone whose spirits soar when the first snowflakes fall.”

I somewhat longingly leafed through the pages today remembering the years reading that book to my children as we waited for the first snow. Some years it came in October … other years it was more elusive. We knew what Robin felt like as he wondered when white flakes would finally fall from the sky:

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Back In the Homeschool Classroom: Halloween

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I had the pleasure of educating my children at home for sixteen years until they both graduated from homeschool high school. They graduated from university and now have homes of their own but I remember with fondness homeschooling at this time of year.

Autumn was one of our favorite times and we would decorate the house with hand-made pumpkins, ghosts, and leaves. Outside we would hang decorations in small trees, and play in fallen leaves. Carving a pumpkin jack-o-lantern was always a special event that took place on the front porch in the cool October weather, usually accompanied by a fall supper.

In our classroom, I would cut out a construction paper brown tree trunk about four feet tall and tape it to the wall, and the kids would decorate cut-out autumn leaves — maple, oak, elm — to put on the tree. Each day as I read out loud from a favorite book, they would color and decorate a few more leaves and tape them to the autumn tree.

I probably miss reading out loud with my young children more than anything else. We devoured books of all kinds, and poetry. One of our favorite poets was Robert Frost and every season we would read his words describing spring, winter, fall, or summer.

Their favorite fall poem from Robert Frost was “The Last Word of a Bluebird (As told to a child)” … daughter Katy memorized it and still recites it when prompted:

As I went out a Crow
In a low voice said, “Oh,
I was looking for you.
How do you do?
I just came to tell you
To tell Lesley (will you?)

That her little Bluebird
Wanted me to bring word
That the north wind last night
That made the stars bright
And made ice on the trough
Almost made him cough
His tail feathers off.

He just had to fly!
But he sent her Good-by,
And said to be good,
And wear her red hood,
And look for skunk tracks
In the snow with an ax–
And do everything!
And perhaps in the spring
He would come back and sing.”

In our Calvert 2nd or 3rd grade curriculum, we found a Halloween poem that became a tradition right through 12th grade. “Little Orphant Annie” was written in 1885 by James Whitcomb Riley and later inspired the Little Orphan Annie comic. Even now it’s fun to read it out loud, complete with the rising and lowering voice and spooky overtones that I used for 16 years — kind of like riding a bicycle … one never forgets. While reading, we would all join in together at the end of each verse with, “An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you ef you don’t watch out!”

This year pumpkins and mums are on the front porch … gourds are in baskets … decorations are throughout the house … but there’s no fall tree on the wall or reading out loud as in the past, or decorations on an outside tree placed there by little hands.

But I pulled out the poems today and remembered … and read “Little Orphant Annie” out loud just as I did for so many years. I could almost hear two young voices join in the last verse, “An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you ef you don’t watch out!” Ah, memories.

Happy Halloween!

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
October 31, 2016

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Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin University in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in Augusta County in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:

Reading out loud to our children (July 2015)
Did Terry McAuliffe understand the ‘Tebow Bill’ he vetoed? (April 2015)
The Virginian-Pilot is wrong about homeschool sports ‘entitlement’ (February 2015)
’50 reasons homeschooled kids love being homeschooled’ (November 2014)
Grown son’s first home (April 2014)
Support group vs Co-op (February 2014)
Where it all began … blazing new trails (January 2013)
Grown son’s first home (July 2013)
Staying in touch with homeschool friends (July 2013)
New Year’s Eve (December 2012)
More sleep = homeschoolers happier, healthier than public school students? (April 2013)
Using Shenandoah National Park as your classroom (March 2013)
Rainy days (May 2013)
A chance encounter (June 2013)
Autumn (October 2012)
The rain rain rain came down down down (April 2012)
Why we teach our own (April 2012)
Casey (April 2012)
The wedding … letting go (September 2012)
The pain of grief (August 2012)
When faced with a challenge … no whining (April 2012)
The simple wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (August 2012)
First day of school (September 2012)
The rise of homeschooling (February 2012)
Hot summer days (July 2011)
Constitutional lessons and the Judicial branch of government (March 2012)
Mary Baldwin commencement 2012 … SWAC Daughter graduates with honors (May 2012)

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Back in the homeschool classroom: First day of school

Many students started their first day of school this week while others began classes in August. It was also the first day of school for many home school students … and that’s where my mind wandered this week as I remembered sixteen years of “first day of school” classes with my children. We had no bus to catch, no lunch to pack, no specially-requested school supplies to buy.

Teaching with the Calvert curriculum in grades K-8, all supplies were included so no trips to the store were necessary for particular items. Calvert has it down to a science because they supply curricula for families around the world … students living on sailboats with their parents, missionaries in remote areas of the globe, and even those of us who were simply teaching our children here in the United States.

For a child, there’s something special about a new pad of writing paper, box of crayons, drawing paper, freshly sharpened pencils, books, work books, and even a new ruler. I would add extras for my classroom … glue sticks, glitter, craft supplies, additional reading books, and personalized items for each of my children to make it a special, never-to-be-forgotten day to kick off a special, never-to-be-forgotten year.

I also decorated the school room and made it a new, exciting place for the school year … new posters, maps, visuals … and items that were added throughout the year with each season. For fall I would tape a three-foot tall tree on the wall and the kids would cut out and color leaves to add to it as I read story books out loud. Thanksgiving would have hand-crafted turkeys followed by Christmas, winter, Valentine’s Day, and other special times of the year.

Six things remained the same year after year. Our classroom always had a Bible, the American flag, and posters on the wall with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Ten Commandments. Maps of the United States and Virginia were part of our geography.

When my son was in the early elementary years and my daughter was a pre-schooler, she had her own “work station” complete with drawing paper, crayons, cut-out alphabet letters, Play-Doh, coloring books, manipulatives, and toys. It made her feel included in the school day.

Mid- to late-August was spent each year working on lesson plans. While the kids swam in the small pool in our back yard, I would sit at the picnic table under a nearby tree and set up our schedule for the year. Calvert provided a laid-out lesson plan but I always deviated from it, adding and rearranging and working in extra activities to fit our family. That was the beauty of home education.

For the first day of school, I would wait until the kids went to bed the night before and then set up the school room for our first day. It added to the surprise and allure of a new year and, the next morning, they would pop out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, and then we’d head for the school room. It was almost like Christmas with big eyes and oohs and ahhs as they admired the new school accessories, picking up and examining a tablet or book or glitter.

And so our school year began. Since it was September and the days were beautiful leading to autumn, we would often move outdoors onto a blanket in the shade to read out loud, or hike down to the farm pond to look for aquatic life — guppies, frogs, turtles, fish — that we read about in the science book. Searching for specific tree leaves was a favorite as they gathered a variety of species in our own nature scavenger hunt.

Some days we would pack a lunch and the school books and head for the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway where we would do school activities around a picnic table or search for creek critters for biology. After moving to Virginia, we would do the same and head for the Skyline Drive, eating lunch at a picnic area and then becoming Junior Park Rangers for the afternoon, looking for animal tracks and wildflowers and insects.

But the first day of school would kick it off each year, preparing us for those adventures in teaching, in learning, in exploring and expanding our horizons. I learned as much as the kids, and I believe we are all better for it. It was the right choice for my family, and I was willing and, thankfully able, with the backing of a supportive husband, to give 24/7 to my children who are now 20-something adults.

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Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin University in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in Augusta County located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:

Reading out loud to our children (July 2015)
Did Terry McAuliffe understand the ‘Tebow Bill’ he vetoed? (April 2015)
The Virginian-Pilot is wrong about homeschool sports ‘entitlement’ (February 2015)
’50 reasons homeschooled kids love being homeschooled’ (November 2014)
Grown son’s first home (April 2014)
Support group vs Co-op (February 2014)
Where it all began … blazing new trails (January 2013)
Grown son’s first home (July 2013)
Staying in touch with homeschool friends (July 2013)
New Year’s Eve (December 2012)
More sleep = homeschoolers happier, healthier than public school students? (April 2013)
Using Shenandoah National Park as your classroom (March 2013)
Rainy days (May 2013)
A chance encounter (June 2013)
Autumn (October 2012)
The rain rain rain came down down down (April 2012)
Why we teach our own (April 2012)
Casey (April 2012)
The wedding … letting go (September 2012)
The pain of grief (August 2012)
When faced with a challenge … no whining (April 2012)
The simple wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (August 2012)
First day of school (September 2012)
The rise of homeschooling (February 2012)
Hot summer days (July 2011)
Constitutional lessons and the Judicial branch of government (March 2012)
Mary Baldwin commencement 2012 … SWAC Daughter graduates with honors (May 2012)

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Back in the homeschool classroom: Where it all began … blazing new trails

school booksBy Lynn R. Mitchell

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote this morning, my mind drifted back to the sixteen years we educated our children at home. Talk about going where there is no path and leaving a trail!

A tip of my hat to those homeschool pioneers who were there years before I joined up in 1990. I read books about their battles with school and state officials in various locations across the country, and was grateful for the tenaciousness and willingness of those faithful parents to basically lay it all on the line, plowing that path for those of us who followed. In Virginia, Delegate Rob Bell’s parents were pioneers in that movement, and local homeschool friends whose kids are now grown had been involved in the South Carolina movement.

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Back in the homeschool classroom: Summer prep for the new school year

Teachers' Day

It’s almost the end of July and my mind wanders back to the days of educating my children at home and this familiar time of year when thoughts turned to the new school year.

Thankfully, I was able to set my schedule, and I chose to start back to school after Labor Day. Unscheduled warm summer days were for enjoying the activities that there’s little time for once the school schedule kicked in with lessons, gymnastics, baseball, soccer, co-op classes, writing club, and my leadership responsibilities within the local homeschool group.

Summer was for hiking, exploring, swimming, biking, traveling, camps, visiting grandparents, sleepovers with friends, summer sports, camping and campfires, and anything else we wanted to do in the slowed pace of long days, short nights, and hot weather.

The first of August I would order our curriculum for the upcoming school year and it was usually delivered within a week. As the kids played outdoors in the pool on those hot August days, I would sit at the picnic table under the nearby shade tree, unpack the box of curricula, spread out my weekly lesson planner, and begin laying out our study schedule. The smell of chlorine mixed with the loud sound of cicadas humming all around while the warm breeze stirred the leaves above me. In the background, the kids were splashing and laughing and doing exactly what I wanted them to do — squeeze every minute of fun out of their vacation time. It was a routine year after year after year.

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Back in the homeschool classroom: ‘When will it snow?’

When Will It SnowBy Lynn R. Mitchell

It is December 10 and we haven’t seen even one snowflake in western Augusta County, Virginia. The weather this week is mild for this time of year — the forecast calls for upper 60s — and we are hearing that El Nino is affecting the East Coast.

Meanwhile, I’m longing for snow … which made me think of a children’s book that was a Christmas gift to nine-year-old daughter Katy for our first Christmas in the Shenandoah Valley in 1996. “When Will it Snow?” is beautifully written and illustrated by Bruce Hiscock, circa 1995, who dedicated the book, “To my good friends, and to everyone whose spirits soar when the first snowflakes fall. Special thanks go my nephew Will as Robin.”

I somewhat longingly leafed through the pages today remembering the years reading that book to my children as we waited for the first snow. Some years it came in October … other years it was more elusive. We knew what Robin felt like as he wondered when white flakes would finally fall from the sky:

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Back in the homeschool classroom: Thomas Jefferson’s quote

Monticello 5

                           Monticello. Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell)

By Lynn R. Mitchell

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
– Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, April 22, 1800

During the years I served as newsletter editor for Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes, I would often use quotes, and one of my favorite was the one above by Virginia Founding Father Thomas Jefferson.

While these days it means more for political reasons, during my days in homeschool leadership it pertained more to our religious differences. Among those who had made the decision to educate their children at home were a wide range of religious beliefs. If we concentrated on those, we would devolve into disagreements about how the group should run and narrow our focus from the group’s purpose.

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Back in the homeschool classroom: Reading out loud to our children

By Lynn R. Mitchell

Reading

My kids and I spent much more than 15 minutes a day reading out loud over the 16 years that I had the wonderful opportunity to educate them at home. We read countless books out loud at home by the wood stove in winter and outdoors in the yard during the summer, while picnicking and camping along the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway, at the Outer Banks, traveling across the country to Colorado and Wyoming — anywhere and everywhere, and the memories are priceless. Read, learn, bond.

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Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin College in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and a minor in Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in Augusta County located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The story of how she began her homeschool journey can be found here (see Back in the homeschool classroom: Blazing new trails).

Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:

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Back in the homeschool classroom: Did Terry McAuliffe understand the ‘Tebow Bill’ he vetoed?

school booksBy Lynn R. Mitchell

Virginia homeschoolers were disappointed when Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed the “Tebow Bill” — a homeschool sports access bill — after years of working to get its passage in the General Assembly.

Jeanne Faulconer, a homeschool mom who has educated her children at home for 17 years, wrote in Friday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch about the governor’s seeming lack of understanding everything around the bill. Her response to the governor (see Homeschoolers Are In (Reaction to Governor’s Veto of Homeschool Sports Access Bill):

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The Virginian-Pilot is wrong about homeschool sports ‘entitlement’

school booksBy Lynn R. Mitchell

In 2013 Education Week reported, “Four out of five Americans believe homeschooled students should have the opportunity to participate in public school sports, according to a new poll from Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa” (see Public Supports Homeschool Students Playing Public School Sports).

Even so, the Virginian-Pilot editorialized its opposition to HB 1616, the “Tebow Bill” that passed in the 2015 Virginia General Assembly with bipartisan support and is currently waiting for Governor Terry McAuliffe’s signature. The newspaper’s primary reason for opposing is improbable (see Homeschool lobby wins special privileges) :

The latest proposal … still presents an opening for school districts to elevate success in sports ahead of enrollment in an academic community, paving the way for home-schooled students to do as Tebow did a decade ago, when he and his family shopped for a public-school football team that would accommodate his big arm.

I hate to burst the Virginian-Pilot’s bubble (well, actually, I’m happy to burst it) but very few homeschool families would feel compelled to cherry-pick a location for their children to play sports. Even fewer homeschool families could afford to go to such lengths as to move part of the family because most live frugally on one-income salaries. That argument is projecting a scare factor that just is not there.

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