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5 Tips for Homeschooling Through Chaos

Job loss. Moving. New babies. High risk pregnancy. Hospitalization. Injury. Chronic pain disability.

These are a few of the things that we, at the Non Stepford house, have dealt with during our almost (gasp!) eight years of homeschooling.

That’s one of the many things nobody warns you about when you embark on the homeschooling path. Life keeps happening. As a homeschooler, you’re not immune to the chaos that life throws at you. In fact, I sometimes wonder if homeschooling isn’t some sort of lightening rod for it, or if it’s like hanging a sign on your front door saying, “Murphy! Come visit!”

homeschooling through chaos

The old saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Personally, the only place I tend to get going is to the fridge, to see if there’s any cheesecake hidden away.

I’ve been asked, many, many times, why I don’t just put the Minions in public school. I’ve given many thoughtful, profound answers over the years, but really, it boils down to three things: 1) Homeschooling is best for our family, 2) I don’t want to, and 3) I’m stubborn as all holy heck. To me, asking why I don’t put the kids in school is akin to asking, “Why don’t you quit parenting?” It’s a part of our life as a family now, and not something I’d ever willingly give up, at least during the elementary years. High school, I’m willing to negotiate on, depending on what the situation is. Heck, I’ve been known to BEG Diva, our almost 16-year-old, to try high school, but no dice.

See, I’m not someone who always planned to homeschool. We started as a direct result of Diva being horribly bullied…so we started out in chaos. And have been fumbling our way through ever since.

My tips for homeschooling through chaos:

  1. Scale back – Do what you can, as you can. If that means math and read alouds are the extent of your ability that day, that’s okay.

  2. Use media – Personally, I love me some National Geographic. There are loads of science shows geared for children, and I have no guilt at all in plugging them in to Magic School Bus, Kratts Creatures, or similar. The Middle Minions think Horrible Histories is fantastic. I also looked for free online ‘games’ for reading, spelling and math. They think they’re playing, but I know they’re learning. Win!

  3. Delegate – Daddy Wolf is probably the biggest resource I have. I can count on him to oversee math, to have the kids read to him, and to do read alouds when I’m not able. Diva, the teenager, does art with the Middle Minions, because since becoming one-armed (and left at that!) cutting, sewing, and painting are not in my abilities.

  4. Be patient – This is for you. Remember, when chaos hits, everyone is out of sync. Kids are more rambunctious, or at least the Minions are. If I’m stressed, or out of whack, so are they. I find that giving them some physical activities outside helps tremendously. Burn off that energy, so they can settle down and focus.

  5. Accept outside help – Granted, sometimes this isn’t even an option. We’ve been in a new city, without a support system, so I understand how that happens. But, if you have anyone you can turn to, that can help at all, LET THEM. Ask for help and support. You might be amazed at what folks will do when emergencies arise.

So. There you have it. Five tips for surviving chaos, and still homeschooling. My number six tip, is possibly the most important though: Remember, this too shall pass. And it will, and it does. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.

Melissa 'Imp' (4 Posts)

Wife to Wolf, Mom to 5 Minions at home, figuring out living, homeschooling, one handed in a 2 handed world.

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Homeschool History Hacks



Local History

Begin where you are! Have your kids learn a little local history about your city/town, your county, and your state. Visit your town hall. Research the deed to your house. Or just use Google. Over the course of a year our Homeschool History Club, which I’ll describe later, took us from our own house and town, from county-to-county and borough-to-borough clear across Long Island, New York.

Family History

I concur with Renée, the official grandparent interview (and written report!) is a MUST for every child. Ideally they will be able to do four of them but of course that’s not always possible. If a grandparent is recently deceased they can certainly be researched by other means. Interviewing another older relative, family friend, or neighbor works fine for this exercise too.

Talking to my grandfather (who turns 101 next month!) always felt like a vivid history lesson. He was a pilot in the Polish Air Force; he escaped Hitler and wound up in England where he met my grandmother. I had known the basics of his story for years….but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I came across an amazing book – that essentially told his personal story.

Our children’s grandparents and great-grandparents all have rich personal histories interwoven with the events of world history. Help your children discover their own personal connection to the past and in the process they will forge tighter bonds with loved ones.


We planned a family trip to Hawaii last year….and what did my wife do? She Googled “Hawaii Unit Study” and found all sorts of books for our kids to read on Hawaii before we got there. A little foreknowledge will not only make a trip more interesting, more educational, and more memorable….but it will also help you justify the ridiculous costs!

Our Hawaii trip got cancelled because we decided to move to London. When informed of this my son lamented, “Oh great, now Mom is going to make me read a bunch of books about London!”

And she did…

Audio-guides and Audio-tours

Museums can be hard on visiting families. Sometimes the kids are too young and bored out of their skulls….and they end up torturing the rest of the family who is trying to take it all in. But almost all the major museums today have interactive audio-guides, often for free and often even “child-friendly” versions of content. We’ve found that our children LOVE them. Audio-guides really ramp up their level of engagement and consequently decrease their level of parental torture.

In the same vein, I highly recommend narrated or audio-guided tours of cities. They are everywhere now, very affordable, and a great way to get the lay of the land when visiting an historic city (or Seattle!). We’ve done them now in Paris, Amsterdam (river cruise), Edinburgh, and just this week we enjoyed a terrific “hop-on, hop-off” bus tour in Liverpool. Definitely do them on the first day of your arrival.

History in Homeschool Groups

I already alluded to a History Club that we partook in for a couple of years. Each month had a theme (planned well in advance) and the children would spend the month preparing an oral presentation of their choosing. Some kids read written reports, others used PowerPoint, some dressed up, made illustrative artwork and handicrafts, brought in artifacts, etc. It was a terrific experience for many reasons including its low cost, relaxed nature, varied presentations, and, importantly, it introduced the kids to public speaking.

Another great idea is to do what one of my local New York groups did. Each month they invited a person, native to a foreign country, to come and speak to the kids about his or her homeland. These meetings were complete with food from the speaker’s country, story-telling, and props to make the experience come alive for the kids. The families all chipped in something nominal – like a $2 donation as an expression of gratitude.

Our homeschool groups on Long Island also put on a terrific “Historic Costume Ball” where the kids, obviously, dress up and try to play the part of famous figures from the past.

And in Manhattan we have loved our annual History Fair where the kids go on stage and offer clues as to who they are….while the other kids in the audience try to guess their identity. Here’s my son a couple years ago as….well you’re going to have to guess!

Historical Fiction

Parents are always asking me how I “teach history”. Of course I explain that I don’t teach it. Other than the hacks you are reading here, my wife and I mostly just throw books at the kids. History is primarily a “content” subject as opposed to something like math which is really a discipline. Ideally your children will accumulate a whole lot of historical facts and ultimately understand how they weave together and inform the present and future.

So we’ve thrown a small mountain of books at the kids over the years and really any book set in a distant time period falls into the category of Historical Fiction. My daughter is keenly interested in the Depression, slavery, and the Holocaust BECAUSE of the novels she’s read – not because she’s been assigned chapters in a dry history text.

Just research the book lists of Ambleside Online and The Well-Trained Mind. Have your kids read all the Newbery Award Winner books. Librarians can certainly give great book suggestions as well, of course.

It almost goes without saying that the older the book….the larger its inherent historical component. Project Gutenberg has a good deal of the old ones, for free. Are you using it yet?

World Travel

You might think this is out of reach….but you are wrong.

It was years ago that I first read about homeschooling families traveling to exotic locations all over the globe – spending winters in Florida, months in Italy, China, or driving across America in an RV. Back then it was seemingly impossible for us too.

But where there’s a will, ultimately there’s a way. In all likelihood, no matter what you do, there will arise a work opportunity or a missionary opportunity through which you can take your family abroad. It doesn’t take much time Googling to learn about families who’ve traveled extensively on shoestring budgets either. (Or send your kids away as foreign exchange students.)

Why should you travel?

Because it’s, by far, the best way to make a study of history truly come alive.

I can honestly say that I feel like, despite years of school, college, and reading small mountains of history books….that I truly didn’t know ANYTHING about Europe until I moved here 8 months ago. It’s one thing to read about history, but it’s quite another to experience it.

A couple days ago we were exploring Liverpool and I came across a statue of the Duke of Wellington. Wondering who he was I asked my 9-year old son and he said to me, like I was a blithering idiot, “Dad, he destroyed Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.”

And note this is hardly the first time I’ve been condescended on like that.

Clearly, the way my kids are learning history….is far superior to the way I learned it!


Dan (3 Posts)

Husband to Inez. Father of John and Christine. Homeschool Coach, Accelerated Math Teacher. Former derivatives trader and future scratch golfer! Follow our learning adventures at

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5 Reasons to Love a Charlotte Mason Education

This post first appeared on my own blog in September 2013 and again February 2014. I think it’s worth repeating here.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. My favorite poem begins that way. Today I am going to count the ways that I love homeschooling but more specifically the ways I love a Charlotte Mason education. In absolutely no particular order other than what came to me as I sat to write this. Winking smile

CM reasons

1. Science of relations. This took me a while to understand when I first heard the term. And it is even possible that I don’t have it down quite yet.

“Education is the Science of Relations”; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of–
         “Those first-born affinities
“That fit our new existence to existing things.”
“Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up.”
At first I thought this meant that simply they would realize that one book mentioned a person that we’d read about in another book. And in a way this is true; they do and will recognize names and events from one book to another, especially with the books that have been chosen. But it means more than that. They will realize and recognize how these things, –the events, the attitudes, the personalities, the successes and failures- all can be associated with our own lives. Not just our own lives but the world around us. At least that is what I take ‘science of relations’ to mean.
It took me awhile to understand that I am a companion on this educational journey. Teacher, to a point. Facilitator could be a better word. I offer the best that I find, and indeed, shelter from what I consider harmful. But it is up to them to grasp that it is all connected. We joke, half-way, that I raised them wrong; I always gave them the answer when they asked “why”. It’s taken us a couple of years to look for the relationship rather than to just wait for the answer to be given.
2. Freedom. I think that homeschooling offers a lot of freedom. We can choose what we use for our curriculum, what method we use, when we do school, how often we study a subject, and we can do it all in our pjs if we want. We don’t do that last one, by the way. Well, not that often anyway. But a huge ‘freedom’ I find in Charlotte Mason’s education philosophy is the freedom to have God at the center of it all.
“Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe,––the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making.”
Many think that homeschooling because of religious beliefs is ridiculous. And to that I say, I don’t homeschool because of my religious beliefs (but will add if one feels that it is ridiculous to homeschool for that reason, that means their ‘religion’ doesn’t mean much to them). I relish the fact that we can incorporate our beliefs into our school. Charlotte Mason did not have the same ideas that our household holds (she didn’t argue with evolution) but spoke of the importance of God in the lives of children, and their parents.
Religion –a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
“We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”
Public school or another educational method wouldn’t prevent me from instilling ‘religion’ into my children but having a mentor that puts such importance on it is a wonderful thing.
3. Living books. Not just ‘books’ but ‘living’ books. The difference is amazing. A textbook relays facts and information. Learning can most certainly happen with a textbook. It just isn’t as fun, it doesn’t connect with the reader, and the information may only live in the mind long enough to take a test or finish the task for which the text was assigned. We’ve used Ambleside Online since 2009/2010, Years 5-10 (Y7Lite-10 with my dd; Y5-Y8 with my ds). We are currently going through a mishmash of Y11 and Y12 for my daughter’s senior year, and Y9 for my son’s sophomore year.
Some of our favorite living books that we have used thus far:
English Literature for Boys and Girls by H. E. Marshall (free for Kindle)
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (free for Kindle)
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
This Country of Ours by H. E. Marshall
Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne (free for Kindle)
Washington: The Indispensible Man by James Thomas Flexner
Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif
And although neither would agree without some hesitation, Winston Churchill’s The History of the English Speaking Peoples have been great books for history. There are so many more that we’ve used and read through that have been, if not wonderful and joyous, at least enjoyable. The same cannot be said of most of the other methods and curriculums we’ve tried.
Added in this category but a little bit of its own reason are the “extras” which are really the riches of CM: art and music study, nature study, Plutarch and Shakespeare. These are areas that our family, unfortunately, miss out on most when it comes down to crunch time. The majority of assessment in the educational world does not include these areas, and so we are often somewhat forced to focus more on math, science, and reading ability. Without these, though, we lose a lot of the connection to a more rounded education.
4. Challenging yet not crushing. A Charlotte Mason education is challenging. It isn’t easy and I don’t think it is right for everyone. Personally, I do believe that every one can follow and benefit from a Charlotte Mason education, but I am realistic enough to know that there are so many other methods that can be appealing to families, for a variety of reasons. In many public schools, the norm is –or used to be when I was going through it as well as my kids –to give the students text books, quizzes that are full of multiple choice and to feed the information to the students. Many excel in this atmosphere. I know I did; for majority of school, I was almost a straight-A student. It wasn’t until some of my classes in college required me to think outside the text book that I started to realize that spoon-feeding and multiple choice tests weren’t the only way to get an ‘education’. I’m not saying I received a poor education –wait, yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. I didn’t want my kids to have to go down that same boring path. I loved to learn, but hated how I was being taught. My memory was great; my comprehension, and subsequently application, not so great. I’m still working on that.
“We, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.”
-Charlotte Mason, Principle #11 (which is followed by “Education is the science of relations”, #1 of my reasons above)
CM advocates gauging how much the student knows through narration. That isn’t the only way, but it is a very integral part. If you cannot tell what you know, in an intelligible, organized, detailed manner, how well did you first, take in the information, and second, process that information? There is the saying that people who can, do; those who can’t, teach. But truly, if you can’t do it, how can you adequately teach it? I think that you can do it without being able to teach it but …how much better to be able to do both.
“As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.”
A Charlotte Mason education stretches the mind to focus more on connections, I believe. It goes along with “science of relations”, perhaps. When we read through the books that we do, the “living books”, we gain a connection with all that we are reading about; the atmosphere, the people, the emotions, the events, the results, etc. This is the ‘not crushing’ part. This connection is like a friend that we do not forget. It challenges us to reach farther than just the next mark on our test, the highest grade in the class; it challenges us to reach farther than we had before and beyond a grade. At first the kids, and I’ll admit I did too, had such a difficult time with the choices that came along with the CM method. The kids sometimes preferred fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice assignments! Because they were easy. I’m not giving them easy, but I am giving them tools that they can use to grow, without crushing them.
5. Individual responsibility for learning.  I actually got this from my daughter. She appreciates the ‘self-teaching’ aspect; being able to take any article, book or other resource, whether written, visual or an experience, and find the pertinent bits as opposed to having the ‘answers’ supplied. My kids, being older, do a lot of their work independently. I set forth the books they will read and the resources they can use. By this time they have learned how to read what they know they need to and they know how to study for information. I see it as them taking a responsibility for their own learning.
“Children must learn the difference between “I want” and “I will.” They must learn to distract their thoughts when tempted to do what they may want but know is not right, and think of something else, or do something else, interesting enough to occupy their mind. After a short diversion, their mind will be refreshed and able to will with renewed strength.”
“Children must learn not to lean too heavily on their own reasoning. Reasoning is good for logically demonstrating mathematical truth, but unreliable when judging ideas because our reasoning will justify all kinds of erroneous ideas if we really want to believe them.”
The above quotes are L. N. Laurio’s modern English paraphrases for Charlotte Mason’s Principle #17 & 18. Although it can apply to a multitude of circumstances, I’ve put it here because I think it goes well with having responsibility for one’s actions. Learning is definitely an ‘action’.
Those are my top 5 reasons for loving a CM method for educating. It’s not only for my kiddos and not only for ‘school’. It is for me as well and for life.
North Laurel (12 Posts)

Blossom- "North Laurel" to the online world- lives in Ohio with her husband and two teens, homeschooling the Charlotte Mason way with Ambleside Online. She is graciously allowed to be a moderator for the Ambleside Online Forum. North Laurel loves to read, be on the computer, and learn. You can read her blogging about homeschooling, book reviews and life in general at North Laurel Home & School.

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