For the Mamas Thinking About Homeschooling.


Every year about this time, I have a fresh crop of preschool moms who ask me about homeschooling. I’ve never considered myself an expert at homeschooling – I don’t read all the books, attend all the conferences, or lobby for laws. But having homeschooled as a child for 12 years, and now having made it nearly through the fifth grade in homeschooling my own kids, I do think I have a unique perspective on it, both coming and going.

I’m not the person you want to talk to for a list of all the great homeschooling resources (I tend to be a renegade and do my own thing), nor am I a curriculum expert (I make quick decisions and don’t research every curriculum out there.) But if you want to know what it looks like, how it works, how it’s not nearly as overwhelming as it seems, and are looking for a few practical tips along the way, I’m your girl.

First, a couple ground rules:
1. Homeschooling is not the right answer for every family. It is not the more holy, more dedicated, or a more better Momming decision. It is just an option. An option that works great for some families and is a nightmare for others.

2. Don’t let me stress you out. If my way doesn’t work for you, do it your way. That’s the loveliness of homeschooling: You get to tailor it to fit perfectly into your family’s personalities, schedules, and learning styles. Don’t ever feel like you have to do it someone else’s way or you’re wrong.



Here are my collection of tips and insights.

…Homeschooling seems overwhelming. It seems harder and more work. But I personally find it to be the most efficient, most laid back, least time-squandering form of education for my particular family. We finish our school around 12 or 1 every day, do not have homework, and spend our afternoons exploring, hiking, and being outdoors, which is also totally education. My kids have an appreciation for the woods, for nature, and for the universe that I believe they would not have as much time for if they were in a classroom setting.

…However, if you homeschool, that means you’re pretty much committing yourself to being with your kids all. the. time. And that’s okay. But remember that you’re doing double duty – you’re now mom and teacher. Which means you deserve – no require – twice the number of breaks away from your children. Never feel guilty for taking time and money to pursue your hobbies, your introvert coffee shop visits,  dates with your husband, your retreat weekends away. The better your mental state, the better teacher you’ll be.

…On that note, don’t feel guilty about paying babysitters. Think of it as using a little bit of the money you’re saving on that private school tuition (if your second option would be private school.) It’s just a part of the expense of homeschooling: teacher sanity breaks.

…While we’re on the subject of spending money, also don’t feel guilty about spending money to buy supplemental books or experiments, going on road trips with your kids, and multi-colored pens. Because you cannot homeschool without a proper set of multi-colored pens.

…If you like being outdoors, or if you have wanderlust, or both, you can totally implement these things into your curriculum. I don’t remember much about the things I learned in either elementary school or college, but I remember the nature walks my mom took me on. I remember the flower pressings we did, and the leaf drawings. I hope my kids, also, remember the time we spend outdoors, and learn to love this planet and all her beauty. Our year-long Alabama History project is an example of how I snaked my love of Alabama, exploring outdoors, and photography into what turned out to be a pretty fantastic educational year.

…If you’re starting out in Kindergarten, make it fun. Your job for the first year is to help them associate learning with enjoyment, not with toiling and dread. Don’t get bogged down in health and spelling and a twenty-subject curriculum kit. The time will come for that. If they like workbooks, get some cheap workbooks (For Noah, he was interested in Star Wars. So I found Star Wars workbooks.) If they don’t like workbooks, learn counting and letters in a non-workbook way. For examples of what I mean: use gummies to teach math, play store with your kids, and make them secret codes to encourage reading and writing.

…iPads are not your enemy, when set up as an educational device and with rules about when they may be used. iPad learning games can teach so much so quickly – because it’s using fun games to do so, and they want to keep progressing in those games. I haven’t updated these posts since Ali was little, but here and here are some of the games Ali and Noah used when they were in Kindergarten and First Grade.

…As soon as they can read, teach them as quickly as possible how to be independent learners with some of their subjects. The way to do this is to have a routine, so they know what is expected of them each day. At this point, Ali (fifth grade) is 90% independent: She knows what she needs to accomplish in Math, English, Reading, Bible, History, and Writing. As I type this, Noah (first grade) is eating breakfast and reading a book. After he finishes, he knows that he needs to write in his diary. After that, it’s time for math, at which point he will come get me to join him.

…The reason to teach them independence in studies is two-fold: it enables you to focus on one child at a time, because the other children are involved in their own school. Secondly, it prepares them for college from a young age with good study skills and self-motivation. College was so much easier to grasp for me than my friends because I knew how to read the textbook, take notes, study, and take a test, without relying completely on someone walking me through the material.

…Routines are great for every day, but don’t forget that you have all the freedom in the world to mix it up. Take a trip. Go outside. Learn something hands-on.

…Your children will one day praise your name if you make them keep a daily diary. Ali has kept one since she was 4 – they’re all lined up on a shelf, and she loves reading them. Noah started one this school year (he writes two sentences a day), and it’s already his prized possession. Ali always liked drawing a picture to illustrate her entries, so I tried to get Noah to do that too. However, he doesn’t like drawing, so he asks me every day if I took any pictures the day before and asks me to print one out for him. This has made his diary a lovely daily scrapbook.














…Make your life as streamlined as possible with technology. My favorite school purchase was this printer. Because a) it has a separate tray for 4×6 photo paper, so it’s always loaded and ready to go to print a picture for a kid’s school report or diary. And b) it’s Wi-Fi and simple to set up, so I can print easily from my phone with one click and without even having to walk in the same room as the printer. In the old days, I would have had to send the picture to my computer, load photo paper into the printer, make sure the printer was connected to my laptop, and then print. Nobody’s got time for that.

…Create systems of motivation and reward for your children. They’ll fade over time as you forget to do them and they don’t need the motivation as much, but they make all the difference in times of I’m-losing-my-sanity-and-I-need-my-children-to-clean-up-their-freaking-messes-and-do-their-flipping-school. My most thorough/successful motivation tool is in this post, an earlier version can be found here, and yet another system can be found here.

…Find a digital or paper planner school recordkeeping system that works for you. I couldn’t find a school recordkeeping system that worked for me, so I made my own – you can see and download it here. On this same note, keep up with your summer educational pursuits. That includes book reading (like summer reading programs), trips, hikes, sports, and anything educational you do. It’s totally worth the paperwork to count some days during the summer and have less in May when you’re SO DONE. The template I use for that is included in the above link.

…Get in the habit of tracking your school days from the beginning. You’ll thank yourself later. I prefer to track as we complete subjects, rather than plan my week in advance. It’s significantly less stressful, keeps us flexible, and saves on pre-planning.

…For the first three grades, I think it’s awesome to center science around nature walks. Nature learning. Nature journaling. Observation and appreciation for the world around you. You can get a book about the flora and fauna in your area and use those as your guide. My favorite science book we’ve ever used is a great companion for nature schooling – you can find it here (be sure to get the notebooking journal or junior notebooking journal to go with it.)

…When homeschooling multiple children, buy each child a set of noise reducing earmuffs. That way, when one child is doing reading and you’re explaining long division to the other child, they’re not distracted. We started using these last year and they’re a fantastic upgrade.

…Do not miss the benefit of the laid back homeschool life. Don’t overbook yourself. Co-ops are great when the kids are older and you can’t teach their subjects with proficiency anymore, but when they’re young, enjoy doing what you want when you want to do it. (Or at least think seriously about the commitment level required by your co-op before taking it on. Don’t let their schedule rule your life.)

…Read good literature to your kids. It doesn’t have to be much – perhaps a chapter a day. But it’s a very beautiful thing to bond over great books together. All the better if you’ve never read them and are just as excited about the kids to find out what happens next. Here’s a list of great read-alouds I made a LONG time ago. Since then, we’ve discovered and loved The Wingfeather Saga and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.

…If a curriculum isn’t working for you, don’t angst about trashing it and starting with a new one. Your investment is for a non-miserable life for you and your student.

…Analyze yourself, your patterns, and what works for you. For instance: I do not go to homeschool conferences because I’ve learned that hearing all about the amazing ways other people are teaching their kids just blisters my perfectionist spirit and makes me feel like a failure. Some people can attend homeschool conferences and feel lifted up – I cannot. So I don’t go. Another example: I know that to be most efficient, I need to create my own frameworks, such as my planner pages and field trips, so I do. If you are the type that is encouraged my homeschool conferences, go to homeschool conferences, If you are the type that loves to have someone else’s framework as a guideline, use someone else’s framework. Don’t just assume that because someone else does something a certain way that you should too. (This applies to everything I’ve said in this post.)

…Don’t go into homeschooling telling yourself that you’re going to do it forever. You are not a failure if you homeschool for a year or two and then determine that another option is what your family needs. It just means it doesn’t work for that particular child, or for that particular year, so that particular period in your life. Doing something different if being wise and flexible for your family‘s needs at that time. Also, committing to homeschooling for forever can feel extraordinarily daunting – tell yourself that you’ll take it one year at a time – you’ll be much less likely to experience emotional breakdown.

After I wrote my tips, I asked my vault of Facebook friends for their advice. I picked out a few of the tips to share below. You can find everyone else’s advice on this thread.

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To sum it all up, it’s not nearly as overwhelming as it may feel like it is. Just take it one day at a time, one week at a time, one year at a time.


Feel free to ask any follow-up questions in the comments! I’m always open to answering questions about homeschooling – whether you’re interested in pursuing it or just curious.

Boom. A Decade.

Last week was my ten year anniversary of writing on this blog.

As in, a decade of my life has been lived, and is recorded, on this website.

Rachel Headshot Rachel Callahan IMG_2166editedJPGSMALLPhoto by Jake Marvin

It’s really quite mind-blowing – to me, and probably only to me. My first feeling about all that is that I am so much older than I was a decade ago.

I started on a complete whim. With way too little thought put into the commitment I was signing up for. It was as if I was purchasing a baby parrot and nobody happened to mention that parrots live 60 years and hey I might wanna take a minute to consider how my next 60 years look and if I have room in my schedule for a talking bird and all the poop it’ll make.

But the friends I’ve made from blogging have outweighed the crap I’ve had to clean up due to blogging, so, totally worth it.

Because I do adore numbers as well as friends, let’s talk numbers.

In ten years, I have written 2,353 posts. I started out writing more than seven times a week (It was before you could have a Facebook status, so I had a lot to say), and now write one, maybe two times a week. And I’m actually finally cool with that.

Of the 2,353 posts, I am most likely now embarrassed by 600 or so. I have only deleted 2. Oh – and I have 6 secret posts. You’ll have to ask about those.

I have had over 11 million visitors, with the completely random day of January 10, 2014 being my most heavily visited day – with a total of 126,847 visitors. Currently, a normal amount of daily visitors is around 1,300. Because, as we all know, blogging is extinct. It’s the Dodo Bird of the internet. The Pterodactyl of Social Media. But as I am the worst at quitting while I’m ahead, here I still am.

But back to the numbers.

My most popular post, at over 5 million views, featured photos of my butt a few dozen times. Its various prequels and sequels fill out my top 5 posts, because denim wisdom is, apparently, my most valuable contribution to society. Too bad it’s all outdated and I have no motivation to spend my days photographing my hind quarters in a dressing room.

After the jeans posts, Ali’s debut into Geography at 2 1/2 years old is next most popular. For the record I’d like to say that Noah is seven and doesn’t know all his states. This was one of those weird first child freak accidents. But her voice is fantastically adorable so it makes up for my cluelessness about how education works.

Oddly, the most therapeutic posts for me were the ones about what would have been tragedies, except that I was able to share them with you, in all their ridiculous how-did-this-happen-to-me glory. Such as when I went to get Noah up from a nap and discovered a bat flying around his room. AND HE CLAIMED IT BIT HIM. And the time I picked up my kid’s giant turd out of the bathtub and “accidentally” threw it at my husband. When I lived out the worst nightmare Chuck E Cheese can deliver a mom. And multiple sleepwalking injuries (some requiring ER visits), such as the time I jumped out of bed and ran into a wall – twice in one night. And also the time that my children were chased by an angry cottonmouth – and also we found a misplaced boob.

And of course medical posts. What is a blog without stories on colonoscopies, vasectomies, tonsillectomies, hysterectomies, stress tests, swallowing a camera on purpose, and illegal lactation medications.

In random news, breast pumps talk.

And I’ve had some fun with Essential Oils. Maybe a little too much fun. Is there an oil for that?

I got to interview a graffiti artist named Moist.

I met and befriended a family of bunnies.

I was able to track down and crack the case of Uncle Joe, owner of Uncle Joe’s Tot Locker. I stalked down my mysterious celebrity twin. I stalked my hacker and found the street view of their house. (I might have a stalking problem.)

I found, and watched, the movie I was in as a kid – the one where the gangster dies of syphilis.

I was able to prove that children aren’t, and perhaps shouldn’t, be bathed as often as our Mommy Guilt tells us.

I struck up a relationship with a spammer.

And it took me nine years, but I finally dipped my toes into political commentary – but only with lots of .gifs and because Alabama is so cray.

Noah starred in memes and fashion videos and was, to be quite honest, the best blogger’s toddler ever. And also the butt of all my jokes for years.

I made an entire blogging series out of my favorite neighbor ever (who has now left me and is therefore my ex-neighbor, much to my daily tragic loneliness), Not-Crazy-Renee.

My husband and I did, and blogged about, stupid insane things like making a meat bouquet. And, although we did this before our blogging days, there needed to be a record of the time we fibbed (stretched-the-truthed) ourselves out to the roof of an Atlanta skyscraper – then got locked out. Oh – and we took our wedding cake topper on our thirteenth anniversary trip?! Because blog.

These are just a few of the posts that I remember. I often click on a link to an old post and have absolutely zero recollection of ever writing it. Which is why, for my tenth anniversary of recording our family’s history, I am rewarding myself with getting my entire blog printed out into an Encyclopedia-Brittanica-Sized set of hardback books. For me to read, for Ali to read (she loves reading the first 500 posts, which I printed out many years ago), For Noah to browse and read one day, and for there to be an actual, physical product to represent the thousands of semi-pointless hours that I’ve put into this endeavor.

But the absolute best product to come out of this blog have been friendships. I have met up in real life with more blog friends than I can count, and have had those meetings in at least six states. I have dozens of friends that I would have never met were it not for me sharing my endless meanderings here. I have learned with you, laughed with you, and lived life with you. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

How long have you been hanging around here?

Pokemon Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.

My exhaustion of hearing about the HP of every Pokemon ever created can be a heavy burden. And I grow weary of hearing the difference between GX and EX and Ultra and Mega and X. I languish from my child asking me for eBay searches and Amazon browsing for more and more and more Pokemon cards.

But oh.

The power one wields when a child of questionable temperament falls hopelessly and completely in obsession with something is indeed a very, very effective power.

It is worth every banal conversation. Every. Last. One. Of. Them.

Noah is not a people pleaser like his sister before him. So I must find new and creative ways to constantly encourage him in the way he should go. Some things work, some things don’t. But nothing – NOTHING – nothing in the creation of everything has worked as blazingly efficiently as Pokemon Cards.

The first use that made my eyes light up with the power I now held had to do with dirty plates.

Noah has never, not once, picked up his dirty lunch plate or snack napkin or gummy wrapper and put them away without being told to do so.

No matter how many times I tried to tell him he needed to do it without me telling him, or offering him tickets to help him remember, or threatening consequences if he didn’t remember – it literally did not matter. He would not, could not remember to pick up his trash.

But then one day I told him if you don’t pick up your trash, I will take away two Pokemon cards. And the next day he didn’t pick up his trash. And I don’t think he had even conceived of how cruel I could possibly be until that moment. When I told him to go get his Pokemon book and I thumbed through, looking specifically for the cards he talked about the most.

I took two of his most precious cards. His Jumbo Snorlax GX and his Mega Charizard.

He cried. And cried. And cried some more. There is no possible way that he will cry so many tears of grief when I die. He used all his tears on Snorey and Charz.

Since that day, at least a month ago, he has not left a single plate or piece of trash out after consuming food. Not one. He went from a .000 batting average to a 1.000. And, for the record, the consequences weren’t even permanent. I sprung Snorlax and Charizard from the slammer after a couple of days for good behavior, with the dire warning that next time, they would find a permanent home swimming with the fishies in the septic tank.

(Before we continue, I need to say something to Chris. No, dear, if you’re reading this, I would never *actually* flush Pokemon cards down the toilet. I know how you coddle our septic tank as if it were a colicky newborn baby. But I must add an appropriate amount of drama to my threats to be the loving, effective mother that you desire me to be.)

My second brilliantly evil use of Pokemon cards was to get my daily dose of exercise. I’d bought two junk boxes of random Pokemon cards off of Amazon a while back to use as prizes. I had so far used them as rewards in mental math contests between my children (turns out Noah is really good up in his head with math and can nearly compete with his four-year-older sister – when appropriately motivated), so I invented the most genius exercise game ever created for kids. WAY better than Nintendo Wii.

Pokemon Run.

For every quarter mile you run without stopping* or complaining, you earn one Pokemon card.

* Up to five second walk breaks were permissable for road crossings and side stitches and such.

For every continuous mile you run, you get two bonus Pokemon cards, bringing the potential total Pokemon cards up to six earnable per mile.

I explained the rules to the kids. Noah shivered with excitement. Ali, who also enjoys Pokemon cards but doesn’t need as much motivation as her brother, was also excited to get something for something she’d do anyway. And probably secretly relished the opportunity to earn more than her brother, but she’s a people pleaser. She’d never say so.

The run was every bit as magical as I’d hoped.

Noah is usually complaining just for his own personal entertainment at the .2 mile mark. But this run, there was no complaining. None at all. The kid even got a wretched side stitch and DID NOT WHINE. He was leaning over while running, cramming his hand into his side, BECAUSE HE NEEDED THAT LAST POKEMON CARD.

Ali earned 19 cards. Noah earned 12. And they were both thrilled and freaking thankful that I had taken them on such an amazing run. And begged to have another one soon.

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There is nothing like finding the currency that motivates a child. It’s as if I truly finally am in charge of my situation. I use Pokemon cards like they grow on trees now, and it’s worth every penny of all the money I send to Amazon.

So, mothers. So, fathers. I urge you. Find your currency.

Find it soon.

And treasure it with all your might.