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.


11 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


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