Homeschooling Corner

Welcome! Highly unscientific polling has revealed an interest in a regular or semi-regular feature focused on homeschooling.

Note that I am NOT some homeschooling guru with years of experience. We are just beginning, so I want some other people to discuss things with. I don’t have a curriculum picked out nor a coherent “philosophy,” but I am SO EXCITED about all of the things I have to teach I couldn’t even list them all.

I was thinking of starting with just a focus on what has been successful this week–which books/websites/projects we liked–and perhaps what was unsuccessful. I invite all of you to come and share your thoughts, ideas, questions, philosophies, recommendations, etc. Parents whose kids are attending regular schools but want to talk about learning materials are also welcome.

One request: Please no knee-jerk bashing of public schools or teachers. (I just find this really annoying.) Thoughtful, well-reasoned critique of mainstream schooling are fine, but let’s try to focus on the homeschooling.

This week’s successes:

DK Workbooks: Coding with Scratch (workbook) has been an amazing success.

Like many parents, I thought it’d be useful to learn some basic coding, but have no idea where to start. I once read HTML for dummies, but I don’t know my CSS from Perl, much less what’s best for kids.

After a bit of searching, I decided to try the the DK Coding with Scratch series. (This particular workbook is aimed at kids 6-9 yrs old, but there are others in the series.)

Scratch is a free, simple, child-friendly coding program available online at You don’t need the workbook to use Scratch, (it’s just a helpful supplement.) There are also lots of helpful Youtube videos for the enterprising young coder.

Note: my kids really want to code because they want to make their own video games.

In general, I have found that toys and games that claim they will teach your kids to code actually won’t. (Eg, Robot Turtles.) Some of these games are a ton of fun anyway, I just wouldn’t expect to become a great coder that way.

Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space is as good as it looks. Target market is 8-11 years old. There’s a lot of information per page, so we’re reading and discussing a few pages each day.

There are two other books in the series, Professor Astro Cat’s Intergalactic Activity Book, which I’m hoping will make a good companion to this one, and Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure, which looks like it fills the desperately needed “quantum physics for kids” niche.)

I’m still trying to figure out how to do hands-on science activities without spending a bundle. Most of the “little labs” type science kits look fun, but don’t pack a lot of educational bang for your buck. For example, today we built a compass (it cost $10 at the toy store, not the $205 someone is trying charge on Amazon.) This was fun and I really like the little model, but it also took about 5 minutes to snap the pieces together and we can’t actually carry it around to use it like a real compass.

Plus, most of these labs are basically single-use items. I like toys with a sciency-theme, but they’re too expensive to run the whole science curriculum off of.

Oh, sure, I hand them a page of math problems and they start squawking at me like chickens. But bedtime rolls around and they’re like, “Where’s our Bedtime Math? Can’t we do one more page? One more problem? Please?”

There are only three math problems every other page (though this does add up to over 100 problems,) the presentation is fun, and the kids like the book better than going to sleep.

The book offers easy, medium, and hard problems in each section, so it works for kids between the ages of about 4 and 10.

There’s an inherent tension in education between emphasizing subjects that kids are already good at and working on the ones they’re bad at. The former gives kids a chance to excel, build confidence, and of course actually get good at something, while the latter is often an annoying pain in the butt but nevertheless necessary.


Since we’ve just started and are still getting in the swing of things, I’m trying to focus primarily on the things they’re good at and enjoy and have just a little daily focus on the things they’re weak at.

I’d like to find a good typing tutor (I’ll probably be trying several out soon) because watching the kids hunt-and-peck at the keyboard makes my hair stand on end. I’d also like to find a good way to hold up workbooks next to the computer to make using the DK books easier.

That’s about it, so I’ll open the floor to you guys.

18 thoughts on “Homeschooling Corner

  1. >Note: my kids really want to code because they want to make their own video games.

    As someone who was once in that position, back in the last millennium, I would say that in retrospect the “coding for kids” approach that was in vogue at that time (“learn to make your own games!”) didn’t benefit me. It would have been more useful to approach the basics of coding in their own right, learn to appreciate the fun of puzzle-solving with algorithms, and then gradually get to the point where I could decide whether to fool around with making games.

    The problem with “coding for kids”, as I was exposed to it, is that you needed to memorize a fairly large and unwieldy set of commands in order to refer to specific pixels, manipulate sprites around the screen, etc. So I didn’t get a lot of experience learning how to make lines of code work together to do interesting things, relative to the amount of time I put into it – and the little “games” the program had me creating were, at any rate, extremely dull. (Ofc this must vary a lot by personality type/skill set, and newer programs may have made my experience obsolete.)


  2. My oldest is not quite 5, so not really any official homeschooling here, but I’ve dabbled a bit as “proof of concept” before anyone holds me accountable. Right now, fine motor skills are getting caught up so they aren’t an impediment to the oldest’s ideas, and I’ve found Kumon workbooks useful (related to the tutoring centers, but not the same.) The only negative Amazon reviews tend to say they’re “too easy”, and I’m just like “ok, your kid has better fine motor coordination, good for you”…

    As far as typing, oldest was playing with the free lessons from an online program last fall, and I need to find it again.

    A friend from college is also homeschooling, and her oldest is doing a lot of stuff with Scratch, but I don’t know what they use, if anything, since her husband is probably able to wing it with coding. I did a bit of Perl in grad school, and was forced to do some C in undergrad, and played with Basic in elementary school, but I wouldn’t say I can program by a long shot. Part of me wants to hook up the ancient T.I. computer I used as a child, though, because for me there’s something nostalgic about being able to do nothing without writing a Basic program (well, there’s games for it, too, but those got old, and I think I had a bit of anxiety about anything timed, though unlike a lot of people who say that, I always did well on standardized tests…)

    As far as other stuff, once I feel like I’ve done more than dabble, I’ll have more of an opinion…


  3. Successful homeschool mom here — two highly functional daughters born in ’86 and ’88. Best advice I can give you: That you will figure it out; they will figure it out. Look over all your available resources. Make the best choices you can. Expose them to everything you can, to see what it is that really sparks their interest.

    We did occasional small local school classes (early grades), online classes (Laurel Springs, Ojai CA) in addition to Community College classes. My (high school-aged at the time) daughter told me one day, “Mother. I am an excellent learner. I can learn anything!” She went on to coach her husband in test-taking and study skills (he grew up in Great Brittan and was told he was not smart enough for college, but he just lacked the skills to study and learn). He went on to became an EMT and Paramedic. Now he’s working in a hospital and considering becoming a PA or a nurse.

    My musician daughter on Celtic harp:

    So, great that you’re venturing into the homeschool realm — with your smarts, your kids will be AWESOME :)) :)) Dawn


  4. I did a bit of Perl in grad school, and was forced to do some C in undergrad, and played with Basic in elementary school, but I wouldn’t say I can program by a long shot. .


  5. I know EXACTLY what you need and it’s free and there’s a lot of documentation. The biggest problem in programming is getting a GUI. All the libraries have huge massive pages of code just to get a box with a few list in it except Rebol. I’m going to babble a little so please bear with me. Rebol is a language that uses mini languages to do specific task(he calls it dialects), programmers tech term,(Domain-specific language (DSL), html is a DSL). Rebol is like a language construction tool kit. It looks simple at first…but it’s not. Rebol has a DSL just for GUI, called VID, that can be super simple or add detail as you go. So you can get something going easily and then add more features later.

    The guy who wrote it, Carl Sassenrath, wrote the first multitasking operating system for a personal computer, the Amiga. It’s great but his marketing skills…well they suck so it had a few fanatical followers. He charged too much for it and right after it was done open source started being big and his wasn’t. So eventually he decided to open source it, (called R3), and a little before this, (in frustration), another great coder decided to rewrite the the whole thing where it could be compiled.(Red Programming Language). So here’s the deal Rebol is free and complete but it’s not open source. R3 is open source and while it’s usable it’s still has some missing stuff but it has a few more modern features. Don’t get the complete wrong opinion about R3. Companies are using it to run industrial machine automation equipment and other stuff, so it’s not a toy. RED is not finished but you can do a lot of stuff with it now(RED seems to be the future). Best to use Rebol(R2) now, R3 for newer features after you learn Rebol (R2) and wait for RED which is coming super fast and I think will be the most successful programming language…ever.

    Brief reviews written by a great guy Nick. (R2)

    Here’s his forum a great place to go. The next link is to a page full of resources(same forum). There’s also free full length books on programming Rebol linked in the forum. In the forum they talk about the various permutations of R2, R3, the newer and hopefully better RED.

    Another great thing about Rebol is it runs on all kinds of platforms, Windows, Linux, BSD’s etc. and they all use the same commands. The code is kind of sort of like LISP and it’s extremely powerful. You can do small things easy but can also do massively complicated stuff so there’s lots of room to grow. A lot of easy languages are good to get started but are too difficult to do more complicated things. Some bad things about it is it uses an 80’s kind of visual GUI that looks kind of cheesy. It can be changed but it takes some smarts. Your super smart I bet you could figure it out by looking at other examples where it was changed and the code is available.

    Last link official Rebol(R2) doc page and download link there also. You’re kids will love it as they can follow Nicks examples and quickly get something up they can look at and manipulate. There’s forums where people have written game stuff with Rebol but you’ll have to look around for it as I haven’t saved any links to that stuff.

    I know what I wrote is long but if you like Rebol you’ll find it helpful and it will stop a lot of confusion as Rebol is a bit in flux and it’s hard to tell what’s going on without some background.


  6. . I did a moment of Perl in grad schooling, and was forced to do some C in undergrad, and played with Basic in uncomplicated schooling, but I wouldn’t sound out I can computer programme by a long pellet.


  7. I don’t have any experience with home-schooling but I have lots of experience with programming. To get people interested, cryptopals* is very good. It starts off easy and gradually gets harder. For a programing language, I recommend Python**. It has a fairly gentle learning curve and plenty of free educational material but it is still a serious programming language and plenty of major corporations (and pretty much every server in existence) make use of it.

    Re. learning to type well: what helped me wasn’t a specific course but just practice. I started with hunt-and-peck and over time I became more efficient and developed muscle-memory. Make your kids keep a daily journal on a computer. As a plus they have a daily journal. I always wish I’d started mine earlier.



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