A2Z Homeschool – Ann's Blog

Homeschooling From Ann's Perspective

Can I make my own curriculum?



Can I make my own curriculum?

Can I mix and match different “brands” of curriculum? My 4 and 5 year old children are very artistic. I really need someone to walk with me step by step through this for a bit until I get the hang of it. I need some specific advice and insight. I need someone who can tell me exactly what to do and how to do it and so on.


You can build a custom “curriculum” around their best skills!

For reading they’ll probably enjoy books with illustrations for some time. Fortunately, most children’s sections of large bookstores have zillions of these books on all topics. Forget any form of structured “reading comprehension” lessons: just read with them and talk to them about the plot while you read. “What do you think the character meant by that? What do you think will happen next? What clues does the picture give us?” Just use normal questions that occur to either of you while reading.

For writing, perhaps get them a set of gel pens and black paper to write on. Have some FUN with writing in a colorful way. I have on my site some fonts you can download. You can print the stories using these fonts and let him use their color pens to illustrate the stories and go over the fonts to practice handwriting in a way that would be meaningful to them.

There’s a lot of art in the patterns of math facts. Get a large pad of graph paper for doing math problems on. Color in the squares to show sums or black out previously colored squares to show subtraction. Make up patterns by defining a square that is 10 on each side. Color in every second square or every third, etc. Use math manipulatives. These can be purchased at teacher supply stores and through catalogs. You can also use items you have around the house. Many get by for years using LEGOS to teach everything!

I’ll point you to my “Content Standards” page but do NOT set your standards as low as the state requirements! The standards can be handy to help you see what concepts need to be understood before you can move on.

An inexpensive way of getting fairly accurate science information for young children, for example, is to subscribe to several good scientific children’s magazines and one or two grown-up ones to keep on top yourself! (The same goes for history and geography!) So, yes, you can mix and match – this is called the “eclectic” approach to homeschooling, which I bet most of us will admit we do, rather than consistently follow just one method all the time for all subject areas.

Kids grow and have different educational needs through the years as well. Homeschooling is a very personal project, which is why I am not telling you exactly what to do. It would be like telling you precisely how to clean your house or what to plant in your garden. I might be able to tell you what grows well in your particular ecosystem, but ultimately, it is up to you to decide what to plant. If you had a specific question, such as how to get a catsup stain out of your carpet, I might have a suggestion that would work well on MY carpet. But I am not going to presume which furniture you should buy or how you should arrange it or how “neat” you must be.

Just slowly collect a shelf full of those books with titles that are sort of like “Fun things to do with kids in your city,” or “Things to do with kids on rainy days,” or “Hiking with kids in your region,” or “Gardening with kids,” or “Crafts for kids,” or “How to make your own Science equipment,” or “Make an Indian Village.” — the list is endless! Just have FUN with this.

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One Busy Down Syndrome Guy


By Barbara Frank

When I write about homeschooling and mention that all my children have pursued their own interests, I do mean ALL of them, even my youngest, who has Down syndrome.

I remember the social worker who told me, shortly after his birth, that he would watch his older siblings do things, but because of his innate lack of curiosity he wouldn’t do much himself. In fact, she actually said he would “watch the world go by.” As an involved parent with several years of childrearing under her belt, I found that very depressing.

Fortunately, it turned out to be wrong. In fact, by the time he was two or three, the family joke was that we were going to take him back to her office and let him loose so he could take the place apart as he did our house. Maybe then she would stop depressing other parents with her outlook.

The fact is that our son has plenty of curiosity. He expressed it physically far earlier than verbally. He was still pretty young when he began climbing into the refrigerator and the oven. He often narrowly avoided catastrophe when attempting to surf down the stairs or taste electrical cords. I once caught him trying to nuke his brother’s watch in the microwave. He was nothing if not intrepid.

These days he’s a young man. We’re no longer “doing school” as we did for so many years, but he manages to keep busy and most importantly, he pursues his interests. His days often begin with singing; this morning he burst into song along with Joseph in one of his favorite movies, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” He sings with all the fervor (if not the enunciation) of a Broadway star. It’s a pleasure to hear him.

He also has his own ideas about getting exercise. While I coax him on occasional walks, and his dad takes him bowling every week, he loves to take time out from his day to dance along with the “High School Musical” gang. I think he must know all the dance numbers by heart now, and he works up a sweat trying to imitate the dancers perfectly. Most of the time he does this with his door shut, but occasionally he requires an audience and whoever happens to be at home obliges. It’s always a good time.

He enjoys working out, and will occasionally take over the hallway to see if he can top his record of push-ups or sit-ups. He has a favorite barbell he uses to work on his biceps, which he flexes for anyone who asks (or even if they don’t).

He has other interests, including his latest, using Skype with his big brother and infant nephew. Last week he tried Skyping with his best friend, who also has Down syndrome. Those guys had a great time.

He’s so busy pursuing his interests that he often doesn’t want to stop in order to go with me to the grocery (where he mans the cart and does the scanning) or on other errands. He usually lets me know I’m interrupting his day before giving in and coming with me. But as soon as we get home, he goes back to what he was doing before I dragged him away from it.

Other people don’t understand this. They ask me why he isn’t in a sheltered workshop or bagging groceries somewhere. Seriously, I don’t think he has the time!

Copyright 2013 Barbara Frank/ Cardamom Publishers

Barbara Frank homeschooled her four children for 25 years and has written several books related to homeschooling. You’ll find her on the web at www.cardamompublishers.com,
www.barbarafrankonline.com and www.thrivinginthe21stcentury.com

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Aaron Swartz, Unschooler, is Vindicated

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz

Journal Storage, JSTOR, the data base that Unschooler and Internet Activist had hacked into and “liberated” their whole library of scholarly journal articles, on Wednesday, January 13, 2013, announced that it would open its archives of 1,200 journals for the public to read for free.

But Aaron Swartz did not live to see this happen. He had committed suicide, depressed over his pending prosecution for taking the scholarly journal articles, and liberating them for the public to read. He was just 26 years old when he hung himself on January 11th this year.

While Aaron’s name may not be familiar to you, the products he worked on are very familiar. He is the creator of “RSS,” the news feed that brings you data as it is created from the sources that set it up so you can do this. You can, for example, use RSS to always receive articles in this blog as they are posted.

Aaron also co-founded Reddit, a discussion board where topics and best answers are voted on by its members, the best winding up at the top.

As an unschooler, Aaron was self-taught. He imagined a world where people could teach themselves from the very best information to be had. But that was the problem: while the internet is jam packed with opinions, most are not backed with research, including this one, scholarly papers were walled behind memberships and fees so high that only the richest could afford to get access. 10 cents a page may not sound like much, but we’re not talking indefinitely long website pages, more like typed, double-spaced paper pages, research that might be called small books. Much of this research is paid for by public grants.

Now, I’ve been asked many times to help out some student researching homeschooling, and early on I was glad to do so. I would ask to have a copy when the paper was done, but most never sent me a copy. I now ask students to first do their homework and read my site and its links first to get their answers. If I haven’t already answered their questions, then I would be glad to clarify. My reaction is not unique among homeschoolers. We’d like to see the research results, and not have them hidden buried deep in some exclusive database. Oh, and while you are at it, let’s free all research so that others who need to learn can read up, too… on any topic!

Our family, too, had a young, depressed young man kill himself back in 2010, when he was threatened with jail time. His parents pleaded to try to get help for his mental problems, but the law didn’t give a damn for the mentally depressed 21 year old. Instead the police bullied and tormented him, and not seeing any way out, he chose suicide. For both these young men, the crimes they committed were not death penalty crimes, not even life sentences, but the result was as if they were.

Here are some of the resources that provide background on this article. I may extend it later on. All I have time for today.

Internet Activist, a Creator of RSS, Is Dead at 26, Apparently a Suicide – By John Schwartz, January 12, 2013  – At 14, Mr. Swartz helped create RSS, the nearly ubiquitous tool that allows users to subscribe to online information.

Petition to remove prosecutor in Aaron Swartz case up for White House response – Published: 14 February, 2013 – A petition to the White House requesting the removal of Aaron Swartz’s prosecutor before his death has surpassed 25,000 signatures – which means the Obama administration must reply. It comes one month after the internet activist committed suicide.

Aaron Swartz’ Weblog – Aaron Swartz is the founder of Demand Progress, which launched the campaign against the Internet censorship bills (SOPA/PIPA) and now has over a million members. He is also a Contributing Editor to The Baffler and on the Council of Advisors to The Rules.

Why Aaron Mattered – By Lauren Wales, 02/01/2013  – As I listen to the news reports about Aaron’s life, so many of them seem to miss something key to his work: the unschooler understanding that knowledge is free, yes, but it means nothing if it is not implemented and shared.

Unschooler Aaron Swartz Dies at Age 26 – By Peter Kowalke, 01/12/2013 – Aaron and I briefly collaborated in 1999 on a learning exchange that we intended to turn into a college for unschoolers. But Aaron was too young, still with a squeaky voice, and I ended up making the Grown Without Schooling documentary instead.

Anonymous Hijacks Federal Website Over Aaron Swartz Suicide – By Matthew Larotonda | ABC News Blogs – Sat, Jan 26, 2013 – The lengthy essay largely mirrors previous demands from Anonymous, but this time the group also cited the recent suicide of Reddit co-founder and activist Aaron Swartz as has having “crossed a line” for their organization. Swartz was facing up to 35 years in prison on computer fraud charges.

Aaron Swartz’s Girlfriend Explains ‘Why Aaron Died’ – By Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Feb 05, 2013 – “I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a criminal justice system that prioritizes power over mercy, vengeance over justice; a system that punishes innocent people for trying to prove their innocence instead of accepting plea deals that mark them as criminals in perpetuity; a system where incentives and power structures align for prosecutors to destroy the life of an innovator like Aaron in the pursuit of their own ambitions.”

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The Importance of Free Time


Free time was once the hallmark of childhood. But these days, many parents feel it’s their duty to keep their children busy. This mindset can be found in parents who both work outside the home and need somewhere for the kids to go during off-school hours, parents who compete with other parents regarding whose child is the most “well-rounded,” parents who want to give their children every so-called “advantage,” and parents who believe their children will fall behind or get into trouble unless their schedules include every activity that can be crammed into each day.

The result is a generation of children who are so accustomed to organized activities that they don’t know how to entertain themselves (unless there’s a television or video game nearby). They’re the total opposite of the kind of workers needed to grow our economy in the future. America needs creative innovators, not passive participants or couch potatoes. So if you want to encourage your children’s natural creativity, reduce the amount of time they spend in scheduled activities, and give them more free time instead.

What is free time? It’s unstructured. It’s not directed by adults. It requires that children move through boredom in order to arrive at the place where the innate creativity of the child kicks in and comes up with something to do. But many parents dread the thought of free time for their children, because they know it will be a matter of moments before the “I’m Bored!” chorus begins.

If you have children whose time has always been planned out for them, they won’t know what to do with a lot of free time—at first. But if you stick to your guns and require them to entertain themselves on a daily basis, they will (perhaps out of desperation) figure it out. See “Boredom” (Appendix A) for more about this.

So what will they do with all their free time? They can make things and work with their hands. They can use their imaginations to come up with games, structures, even toys. In the absence of planned activities and formal schedules, children are incredibly good at learning from their play. They just need enough time to do so.

Children also need time to be alone so they can think. In this frantically scheduled world we live in, even adults find they don’t have time to just sit and think. But quiet introspection is important for everyone, young and old. It’s particularly important for those who create things. Much solitary thought is required for pursuits such as writing, painting, inventing, etc.

Free time isn’t only a necessity for small children; older children and teens need plenty of it, too. Many extremely creative people are late-bloomers (as Edison was). They need ample time alone as they grow older and discover what their gifts are, and how they want to use them. Unfortunately, parents and schools tend to increase the outside activities of teens just when they really need their personal time.

Tightly scheduled lives are detrimental to creativity. In 1996, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, an expert on creativity and business innovation, led a research project to study creativity in the workplace. Amabile and her team pored over almost 12,000 journal entries from over 200 people working on creative projects in a variety of different companies. One of their most important conclusions was that time pressure actually decreases creativity. While many people (myself included) feel that working against a deadline makes them more productive, it may not make them more creative. It takes time for creative ideas to grow and develop in our minds. The Amabile study found repeatedly that creative people on a tight time schedule found their creative abilities hampered not only up until their deadlines, but even for a few days afterward.

What this means for our children is that they need regular free time in order to feed the creativity and spirit of innovation they were born with. It takes time to get deeply involved in a creative pursuit; as parents, it’s up to us to make sure our children get that time.


Copyright 2012 Barbara Frank/ Cardamom Publishers



Excerpted from Thriving in the 21st Century: Preparing Our Children for the New Economic Reality, (Cardamom Publishers, 2011). Barbara Frank homeschooled her four children for 25 years. You’ll find her on the web at www.barbarafrankonline.com and www.thrivinginthe21stcentury.com

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Obstacles to Homeschooling


By Barbara Frank

Sometimes, we find ourselves in circumstances that make homeschooling more difficult than it would be otherwise. Often, these situations are not of our own making, or can’t be helped, but they shouldn’t keep us from homeschooling if that’s what we really want to do. Some are serious, others more annoying or just plain time-consuming, but all of them require us to do some extra thinking about how we can successfully homeschool in the midst of the specific situation.

Financial Difficulties

Money is tight for many single-income families these days, but if the breadwinner (usually Dad) loses his job, that can be a real emergency. While he searches for a new job, Mom may want to find work to bring in some money. If she starts working, does that mean the end of homeschooling?
Not necessarily. If you’re committed to homeschooling, you’ll want to find ways to bring in money that allow you to keep homeschooling. Some ways others have done this include:

  • telecommuting
  • in-home daycare
  • selling goods via home parties (books, cooking utensils, candles, etc.)
  • working retail in the evenings and on weekends
  • starting a family business so the kids can help
  • delivering newspapers in the wee hours

If none of these options work out, you can always get a day job and let Dad do the homeschooling. He won’t do it the same way as you do, but a little change will be good for the kids, and Dad will develop further (or new) appreciation for what you do all day. Once he finds another job, you can quit yours and go back to homeschooling, most likely with renewed vigor.

Whether you’re dealing with unemployment or some other kind of financial setback, another option is to cut back drastically on what you spend. A penny saved is not only a penny earned, but a penny earned without paying taxes on it. Until your money situation improves, dedicate yourself and your family to cutting back everywhere you can. Make your children the Utility Police, so that they’ll be on the lookout for lights burning in unoccupied rooms, and showers that take too long and waste water. Challenge yourself to see how low you can get that food bill while keeping everyone fed and healthy. Check out some frugal Web sites (www.stretcher.com is a great one) and educate yourself on saving money.

While you’re at it, save money on your homeschooling. Use the books and resources you already have instead of buying more just now. If it isn’t already your favorite place, make the public library your choice for books, software, and educational DVDs. Organize a swap meet in your support group so that everyone can try some new things at no cost. Find out if your local museums offer “free days,” and if so, visit only on those days.

With some ingenuity and a good attitude, you can get through financial difficulties without giving up homeschooling. Think of what your example will teach your children about perseverance, and what the entire family will learn by working together.

Disapproval of Family and Friends

When someone first learns about homeschooling, and then considers the possibility for her children, enthusiasm begins to develop. The more she reads about homeschooling’s advantages, the more excited she gets. Then she brings up the subject around some relatives or friends. Many times, they don’t share her excitement. In fact, they may be totally opposed to the idea.

When people you care about are against homeschooling, you have some tough decisions to make. How you make those decisions depends on who’s against it.

If your parents, in-laws or other relatives don’t like the idea, you have to decide whether their disapproval is something that would stop you from homeschooling. If you have a very close relationship with them, talk to them and find out exactly what worries them. The older generation has a picture in its collective consciousness of school the way it was back in the mid-1900s. Have you ever read the list of teachers’ complaints from the early 1960s? It includes such behavior as talking in class and chewing gum. Nowadays, that list includes physical assaults on teachers and gang activities in the schools. But many members of the older generation don’t realize that the schools in their areas have such problems. They still picture Miss Smith in her shirtwaist and pearls leading a class in reciting the multiplication tables.

Of course, their memories are tinged in the golden glow of time passed and difficulties forgotten, so they may not understand how you can deny your children the wonderful education they got (or believe they got). Maybe you can calm their fears by citing information you’ve found, or introducing them to some veteran homeschoolers you know with older homeschooled children. These days, the newspapers are filled with stories of homeschoolers winning spelling and geography bees, and other honors. Clip those stories and pass them on to the naysayers.

Eventually, as they see how well your children are doing, your relatives should relax somewhat. If not, they need to be reminded that you are in charge of your children, and that you are doing what’s best for them.

If the dissenters are your children’s grandparents, bring them into your homeschooling. Are there subjects they could teach their grandchildren? Perhaps Grandpa is a woodworker, or Grandma loves to play tennis. These are things they could share with your children. The children learn something new, and the grandparents learn that these are smart children you’re raising.

As time passes, be sure to keep them up to date on the children’s accomplishments. If your children score high on achievement tests, send copies of those test reports as soon as possible. When your support group has a project night, invite the relatives. Let them see for themselves how well homeschoolers are doing.
What about friends and neighbors? They have no clout when it comes to how you raise your children, but it can be difficult to accept that they don’t like what you’re doing. As for your neighbors, do you realize that by homeschooling your children, you’re saying, “I won’t put my kids in the school your kids go to, even though I’ve already paid for it through my taxes.” In other words, it’s like looking at your neighbor’s car or furniture and telling them, “I wouldn’t take that if it were free.”

So these people may not be all that thrilled with your decision to homeschool. But if you’re motivated to homeschool, you’ll have to develop a thick skin and continue on your course. You need to do what’s right for your family.

(Excerpted from
The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling
The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling: A 20-Year Homeschool Veteran Reveals How to Teach Your Kids, Run Your Home and Overcome the Inevitable Challenges of the Homeschooling Life

by Barbara Frank.)

Copyright 2011 Barbara Frank/ Cardamom Publishers

Barbara Frank has been homeschooling for 25 years. Her latest book is
Thriving in the 21st Century: Preparing Our Children for the New Economic Reality
Thriving in the 21st Century: Preparing Our Children for the New Economic Reality

(Cardamom Publishers, 2011). You’ll find her on the Web at www.thrivinginthe21stcentury.com and http://barbarafrankonline.com/blog.php

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