Friday, November 20, 2015

16th Street vs Marie's Donuts

Robert is an 8 year old PACT student. Last week, mom wrote about using donuts as a jumping off point for a student interest led unit. This week, it is Robert's turn.

Today’s focus is on donuts. I'm studying donuts because I want to open up a donut shop. To learn about donuts,  I went to a whole lot of  donut shops. When I went to the donut shops I got one specific  donut, the maple bar. 

My  favorite donut is the  maple bar .I got a maple bar from two different places to  try  to see which one is better so I can make the best maple bar.  I did this  with 16th Street and Marie's donuts. 16th street donuts looks like a big donut and had a large amount of ......of .....;of FROSTING. I couldn't see under the frosting. Marie’s  had less frosting and was smaller. On, Marie’s I could see through the frosting and see the donut.The donut from 16th street donuts was 66 grams heavier than Marie’s. 

When I tasted 16th street it was more eggy  and yummier than Marie’s which had flavor in it ,but not as good as 16 street donuts. 16 street had way more maple taste.

I tink 16th street’s was best. I learned that you should add more egg and maple stuff to it. I will put LOTS OF FROSTING!!! and topping on donuts in my shop because more people will come and eat them. It would make my shop the most popular because of the best maple bar. Some day come to my shop called  No Nuts donuts  for a maple bar. 

You can find Robert's data here. Robert carefully took measurements of each donut and took a blind taste test. He also explored the attributes of yeast. His next step is to create his own perfect maple donut.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Experience in Student Interest Led Learning or Why I Let the Kid Eat Donuts EVERY Day this Week

Marie's Doughnuts in East Sac
I try to honor the entrepenuer in my kiddo.  Last week he announced he wants to own a donut shop.

I was desperate. We have somehow gotten into the battle of him not wanting to do his work and me threatening to end his life if he doesn't get it done. NOT why I started homeschooling. "Fine, you want donuts, I will give you donuts."

We started the week of work on Saturday at Donut Madness. I was eager to start this magical journey....he refused to get off of his ipad to engage. Entered Dad's lecture on how lucky he is that Mom is willing to take tons of time to create  a whole week of lessons around something he wanted to do. I sat in the car upset and secretly plotted to drop him off at the local elementary school on Monday.

Reason won out and I left my week of Donut Exploration  intact. The plan?

Throughout the week learn about donuts and the donut business from several sources PLUS introduce him to lots of academic and business vocabulary. This is in addition to his enrichment workshops at PACT , daily spelling, math flashcards, grammar work, and his daily online math class.

We are going to

  • read Can Money Be Made in the Doughnut Business
  • watch The History of Doughnuts
  • read The History of Doughnuts and answer the accompanying questions
  • use this chart to organize our sensory details about the doughnuts that we taste.
  • use Journeys Writer's Notebook to explore the parts of descriptive paragraphs and practice writing our own. 
  • read recipes of doughnuts
  • make grocery lists
  • bake doughnuts
  • research different doughnuts shops, read Yelp reviews, and navigate to a doughnut shop every day.
  • visit a different doughnut shop every day and make observations about taste, price, recipes, flavors, ect. After each visit, we record Robert's first reactions and analysis.
Yes, I said every day. Don't worry! He doesn't eat every doughnut that we buy. We purchase 1-2 (or four) and he takes a few bites. This is after a very nutritious breakfast of protein. I have to admit, I have taken a bite or two or three....but it always makes me sick. Robert has informed me that  it is because," You eat too many vegetables."

So far we have discussed overhead, why some older shops may have lower overhead than new shops, what a franchise is, types of doughnuts, sensory details, how Oak Park (where we live) became separated from the rest of Sacramento due to Highway 50 being built and the impact of that on the community, the relationship between doughnuts and war, and why some stores either do not allow people to use credit cards, charge people to use them or have minimum purchases.

He can also now navigate from our house to Broadway Doughnuts without the use of GPS. Not sure I should be bragging about that.

So, yeah. Lots of talking and videoing and eating. The verdict is still out on if this experience will reduce the complaining or result in something long term. For now, he is still planning on making and selling doughnuts. He has suggested selling them out front with lemonade. But this definately feels more like what I intended to do from the beginning. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Need a Writing Tutor at Home? Check This Out

Usually when I hear about formulaic writing programs the  hair on the back of my neck bristles and I get a little uppity about the whole thing. So when I looked at the Write Bright website this summer I wasn't sure about it.

I also have a 3rd grader that I was struggling with academic writing. How could I get him to read a passage or two and then use what he read when writing a response?

Developing my own writing lessons every week, designing the scaffolding, and the process was a heavy load in addition to planning and designing everything else...oh yeah, and being a mom and wife....oh and school administrator!

I gave Write Bright a go this year and so far so good! What I have discovered is:

a. The "Source Writing"  lessons are invaluable. It teaches students how to  read a passage and include the passage in their response. This is a skill that needs to be practiced and taught. It does not come naturally for everyone!

b. It breaks down and demystifies the writing process for students. It even talks about reading the prompt and identifying what the prompt is asking the student to write.

c. It plans, finds the resources, and scaffolds for me. Why is this valuable? When I was watching Robert write I began to notice several trends in his writing that I can focus on later. For example, he often repeats things. Since I wasn't busy trying to come up with the lessons, I could actually observe his writing and think about revision lessons for later.

d. It uses a predicable pattern and uses academic language. While watching the videos together we are both learning that language and developing a way to talk about writing. Again, since I am not reinventing the wheel, I can focus with him on refining ideas and word choice.

e. After writing the first two essays, Robert did not necessarily need the step by step instructions. So he could write and then fast forward.

f. Working on word choice, author's voice, audience, purpose, ect is still something I will need to fit in. However, now I will have time to observe and figure out the best way to do that!

My next moves? After he is done with 3-4 responses, we will go back and revise his favorite one. At this time I will do mini lessons with him to improve his voice and craft.

Eventually, I will create my own prompts for our assignments in literature, history, and science that he can address using the skills he learns from Writing Bright.

Quick Entry Into the Writing Program: I encourage you check out the website's resources, but if you are looking to get started ASAP.....

a. Log into See your adviser for the password!
b. Click on "Explanatory" on the top menu bar. Then, look for your student's grade on the left hand side. Preview the videos under the student's grade level. Gauge what grade level would be appropriate for your student! Your adviser can also help with this.

c.  Choose "tools" from the menu bar at the top of the screen.

d. Select your student's grade level. IF it gives you a choice choose "SOURCE" writing. You will only need to print this once!
Kinder: print the entire kinder packet
First Grade: Print only page 2
Second Grade: Print page 3 and 4
Third Grade: Print pages 3-5
Fourth-sixth grade: Print pages 3-7

d. Click on "Explanatory" in the top menu  bar. Look for the appropriate grade level on the left hand side and select the "Source" writing option. (this is not available for kinder!)

e. Select the first lesson available. Print the necessary source documents and the prompt. I DO NOT print out all of the source materials at once. That way if we want to skip a topic or move to a different grade level I did not waste paper.

f. Then click on the "video" link on the left hand side under your student's grade to find the accompanying video.

g. Sit with your student during the first few times to make sure that they are on the right track!

Please let me know how it goes! Your feedback will determine if we keep this in following years!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

You Rock...Welcome Back.

Today is Saturday. My husband has taken the kiddo away for the day so that I can get organized for the weeks ahead. On Monday we officially start our third year of homeschooling.

In some ways my student is more excited than me. He knows the joy of working at his own pace, taking interest led workshops at PACT, meeting up with buddies for Lego Club, and (on some days!) throwing up our hands and opting for a day of play instead of work.

While I look forward to the days that include fun hands on projects, relaxed mornings at home, and family time uninterrupted by homework, I groan when I think about the planning, grading, and my plans getting screwed up when a project takes longer or shorter than expected.

I know there will be those days when finishing assignments is like pulling teeth or I would rather be diving into a project at work then thinking about how I am going to get him to write with more expression.

So if you are in the same place I am, don't worry. There is a reason.Teaching is hard. And on top of that, we have chosen to do something out of the box, unusual.

We have chosen to do what most people would not attempt. To provide a differentiated education for our children. We are not relying on someone else to chart their education.  Many of us have chosen what is best for our children over extra money and extra time.

It is that time of year when I have to remind myself to take a deep breath. Act with confidence. Don't look back.

We are in this together. My kid, my husband, Ms. Judy, and our PACT community.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Words Matter (Rant)

Lately, I have seen several articles about Musk. What bugs me the most? The titles usually imply that he is doing something devious."...Musk ADMITS to  unschooling his children...." admits? really? Like it is something he has to "admit"?  Language matters folks and this is not the first time that the underlying meaning to somebody's comments about homeschooling have belittled my choice to homeschool my son.

"How will a homeschooler learn to stand in line?"
"How will we know that your students are ready for OUR 8th grade?"
"There are some homeschool parents who just don't do a good job"
"All the kids I knew who were homeschooled are WEIRD.
"As a Psychiatrist I don't recommend homeschooling, it is too isolating"

WELL GUESS What? When we stand in line at the grocery store my son does not break down into tears because he doesn't know how to do it.
 Some teachers in public school are crappy.
I used to teach in a classroom and many students who spend the majority of their life in a classroom were not ready for 7th grade.

Oh and Dr. I don't know anything, many teenagers are isolated by the social structure present in the traditional school system. In fact, even teenagers who are in the classroom every day commit suicide.

And guess what? Kids are either weird or not weird. Get over it.

Thanks for letting me rant. Usually, I try to stay calm and educate instead of getting riled up. I try to live as a model so that people who are stuck in their traditional ideas of what a "proper" education is can begin to understand that homeschool is a viable option, NOT something people do when they can't hack it in real school or they refuse to (gasp!) conform! I am tired of having to have conversations defending my educational choice.

Of course, then people always say, "Oh well, the way YOU are doing it is so good....I didn't mean YOU!" As if they have taken a comprehensive survey of all homeschoolers.

Then there is the obligatory, "Oh well you can homeschool! You can afford to!" Nope. actually I couldn't afford to. That is why we sold our house, moved into an apartment and I also run a part time business out of my home IN ADDITION to working 65% as a school administrator. Homeschooling is accessible to more than the neavuo riche Techies in Silicon Valley. It is a lifestyle choice.

Many people, like me, do come to homeschooling because the traditional system has failed them or damaged them. Many of them stay because they discover the same secret I have, homeschooling is an incredible option that may prepare students to be active citizens that can think outside of the box, and are confident in their own abilities.

It is not a surprise to me that innovators in tech are choosing to home educate. They see the value of interest led learning and innovation.

Sometimes I think it is fear that prevents people from accepting homeschooling. What would happen to their theories on pedagogy and learning if they had to accept that homeschool is as valid as the traditional classroom? Where would textbook companies be if they had to price their products so that they were affordable for individual families? What would happen if it was accepted that students who learn without regard for standards are just as competitive in the college and job market as those who "meet standards" every year?

I think that most educators do not realize that the same things they rave about on twitter and their blogs are the same things that we do as homeschoolers.

Two years ago, I sat through professional learning about something called Genius Hour. "Student passions come alive..." because they get to spend 20% of their time on passion driven projects. Teachers set aside time and structure them around a driving question.  Last week I saw a series of pictures on Twitter with the hash tag #tlap. It showed teachers running classes based on their own passions and the passions of their students.

I celebrate along with these Principals and teachers. I think letting students explore their passions is awesome.

I wonder if they realize that homeschoolers do this all the time? It is part of our life because our students have the time to do so without having a structured time in their day to do it.

A few years ago, my school librarian turned me onto Donalyn Miller. It was not until I started homeschooling that I could truly follow her principals to help my son become a life long learner and reader. In fact, many homeschoolers are incredible readers. They understand the underlying themes and can talk about characters without having one study guide, comprehension test, or formal discussion.

The thing about homeschooling is that I don't have to "structure" or scaffold for 30 kids.

I look at my son and we work on what he needs. Differentiation is a buzz word in education. Millions are spent each year on PD, textbooks, and conferences to figure out how to differentiate. Here homeschooling has the advantage.

So why am I seemingly battered so often by comments that belittle the choice to homeschool? It is not just the annoying person behind me in the grocery store line.

It comes from the stories that other homeschooling parents share with me. It comes from well meaning family members and friends.

It is from my colleagues at more traditional schools when they are faced with a homeschooling student entering their school.

The last group are the comments I find most offensive. I expect more.

What my colleagues should be asking themselves when faced with a homeschooling student is:

Will our classes be challenging enough for a student who was not been held back by what the math standards say he should be working on, but instead has been allowed to move forward?

Will this student be held back by our English teacher's insistence that he read the same book, at the same rate, on the same day as the other students?

Will our science curriculum hold back this student when he really wants to delve deeper into genetics, but we have to move forward as a class?

Will our grading system kill the joy of learning for a student who doesn't need a rubric to motivate him to do his best work or think critically?

How will our teachers handle a student who sees them as a partner in learning...not a master of learning? Will they be able to handle a collaborative relationship with their student instead of demanding compliance and conformity?

And finally, how can I deal with my own prejudices about homeschooling that come from a place of ignorance so that I do not belittle the choices that parents have made for their children.

Uh...if your still reading this thank you. I could go on for another three hours. But I think that I have gotten just enough out so that I can go back to smiling, educating, and replying with a calm and tolerant tone.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Did He Just Do It? An Update

I got such a good response to my last post Really? Just Do What the Prompt Says, Just DO IT! Lots of comments from moms who totally understood where I was and felt my pain! Someone wanted to know how it ended. Well, it hasn't ended, but this is what happened!

So, later at work that day I spoke to my Educational Adviser, Judy. Who pointed out what tremendous ownership he had over his work. She is always quick to point out a point of view that varies from my own without judgment. She is my true cheerleader in this whole homeschooling journey.

Her comments made me pause and think about my overall goals with teaching writing and teaching in general. Why not be a complete revolutionary in education and throw the writing prompts to the wind. Was I just pissed because he failed to bend to my complete and total power? Yep. I decided I needed to let go of my need to force him to do it.

Then later that day I spoke to a parent about writing a letter of recommendation for her son. He is entering our Performing and Fine Arts Academy and is applying for the Honors English Program.  As a former English teacher at PFAA, I am aware of the process. It includes ...wait for it... a timed write in response to a prompt!

I used to grade the responses and look over applications. The number one "killer"? Not addressing the prompt and low quality analysis.

I saw her son later in the day and imagined my own son at that age. I wondered to myself, "What if Robert wants to go to PFAA or another more traditional high school?" He is bright and will probably be capable of taking Honors courses.

Will throwing the prompts into the wind handicap him later?

I may have groaned out loud.

When I got home, he had chosen NOT to revise. After dinner and a dog walk, we sat down.

"Mom, I don't know what you want me to do with it" he started in that super annoying whiny, I am not going to cooperate voice.

"Yes you do, you just don't want to do it." I replied, trying to sound neutral.

"FINE!" and he angrily grabbed the laptop and started typing and erasing. He made sure that I knew he was not happy about it.

He did end up changing the beginning. When he discovered that he would need to add in the dinosaurs that he had learned about, instead of his favorite dinosaurs, I am pretty sure I saw a tear. I tried to console him by telling him he could keep the T Rex in, but he would have to add in another part to his story to fit in the other two dinosaurs, he responded with a, "NOOO MOOOM, that would be so much more work! All of this revising just means more work".

I knew I had made the right choice. Revising is hard work. Writing what others tell you while still maintaining your own ideas is hard work. Once you write something, you don't always want to return to it, but you often need to. The one and done mentality just doesn't always cut it.

I don't always make him write to a prompt. He has his own blog, where I do not dictate what he writes or the reason he writes. It is also the only time I don't have to force him to write or edit.

Somehow, I need to find the right balance. I don't want to kill his ownership. I don't want him to repeat mindlessly in essays what teachers tell him in class. I do want him to be able to open doors for himself.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Really? Just Do What The Prompt Says! Just DO IT.

Remember a few months ago when I started my series of blogs on teaching a reluctant writer? It has been going super well! UNTIL today!

I should have known this was coming. Things were going too well. He was writing each morning without complaint. He loves to read things out loud to me that he writes and we giggle about it. His resistance to writing has slowly, ever so slowly gone down.

In fact, we started doing some formal note taking when reading about dinosaurs, using venn diagrams to pre write, writing paragraphs, and typing final drafts without too much of an issue. So when I introduced a writing prompt asking him to write a narrative about waking up in prehistoric times, I thought no problem!

We read the prompt and took it apart. He used Legos to create three different scenes from his story. Then, he told his story to me as I scribed. Finally, he typed the story on the computer.

Today, I had  visions of our fabulous revision process where we would talk about sensory details, plot, and quotes. But first, I wanted him to compare what he did to the writing prompt. My goal was to show
him that he needed to double check his work to make sure it fulfills the assignment.

We re read the prompt together. That is when it all fell apart.

The prompt required him to start his story by saying, " I woke up called out, "Mom", but instead of hearing Molly running up the stairs, I heard leaves rustling and strange animal sounds..."

Robert's story started with, " I woke up and felt fur on my face..."

"Robert" I said in my teacher voice, " Does your story start with the line that the prompt requires?"

"NO." I stared at him.

"So what do we need to do?"


Now, Robert is not always the most compliant student, but we have been in a pretty decent groove lately.

I calmly explained that sometimes, we get to write what we want. But when the teacher gives us a prompt that we have to follow, it is important to follow it or the teacher will grade is really low.

"No. I don't care. My way is better"

My Love and Logic Training kicked in. "Oh Robert, so sad. You don't seem ready for help. When you are let me know" and with that I got up and left the table.

I heard furious typing and clicking. I couldn't help it and I looked over his shoulder. He had erased his story and started to type, " I am not going to fix it" and "It is better my way".

Inside I was screaming, "JUST DO IT. I have to leave for work in ten minutes! I don't have time for this!"

I walked over quietly and calmly explained that what he had done was disrespectful. It isn't okay to talk back to an adult in an angry way. I offered that when we were done revising his story so that it fit the prompt, he could write his own version. After a grumble, he agreed and I showed him how to get his story back on the page.

At that point, my dad arrived and I had to leave for work. I yelled as I went downstairs, "If you don't revise today we will work on it tonight" and left.

So, here is the rub. My overall goal is for him to take ownership of his writing. I homeschool so that he isn't forced inside of a box. Most of the time, I allow him to take ownership, use his ideas, and his language. Our lessons and talks revolve around mentor texts, figurative language, and author's intent so that he can think about his writing in a smart way.

Realistically, I also want him to be able to read a prompt, address a prompt, and pass the stupid writing test.

I have no idea how the story ends. I am still at work. I hope he just DID IT. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Living in the Gray Zone Between Classroom Education and Homeschooling

I live in a gray area between the belief that with reform, our education system can address the needs of our learners and the idea that a student is best served not as a student, but as a child being taught by an interested, engaged parent at home. Occasionally, these worlds collide when I am least expecting it. Sometimes, by a well meaning, smart, caring colleague who asks a good question.

"Is he learning?" the question hung in the air. This question came after complimenting me and my job share partner on our work at PACT and asking how my son liked PACT.

I looked at my colleague who asked the question and then across the desk at my job share partner and fellow homeschooling mom, Tracy. I replied with something like, "Yes, don't you know who his mom is? The kid is ready for 11th grade English ... today he dissected a prompt." We all smiled and laughed.

His question stuck with me all day. 

Is he learning? The question didn't anger me. It felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. When my son was in a charter school classroom and then a traditional classroom, that question is not something anybody ever asked me as his parent.

The belief that the system had trained his teachers to teach, that the system would ensure that his teacher would teach him, and that he would learn, prevented that question from being asked to me.

He wasn't the first to ask me the question. "Is he learning?" or "How do you know he is learning?" It is often asked by people in my life who are curious about measuring growth outside of the system.

That afternoon, I watched as Robert answered his question.

I spent the day at home watching Robert use salt dough clay, a knife, and paper to create his own topographic map. Later that night, he responded to the first reader comment on his blog, All Things Boss,  and I overheard him talking to his non homeschooling friend about how, "... our current war is a war against terrorists and that it is unclear if there is a way to win." while his friend patiently listened. Before bed, we decided his second blog post would include a You Tube video about his Nerf gun collection.

It has only been since I started homeschooling that I can confidently answer those questions. YES he is learning. I see it every day. I see it in a way that no test or assessment can measure. I am intimately aware of his progress and growth in a way that I could not have been when he was in the classroom or that I could ever have been with the 180 students that sat in front of me when I was a classroom teacher.

While I was at home watching him learn, students in classrooms were starting the 7 hour process of standardized testing that will answer this question.

Next year, when Robert is old enough for SBAC testing I won't opt out. He doesn't have any disabilities that prevent him from showing his learning in this format and test taking is a skill that I want him to have experience in before he is in a high risk testing situation.

For those who are NOT intimately connected to his growth and progress, it can serve as a measuring stick. It is one way for me to view him through their eyes.

As much as I live in the gray area between school and homeschooling, so does he.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Join Us For The BIG Day of Giving! Food Trucks and Art!

Kick off summer by feeding your appetite and your face!

The “Eat Your Art Out” event is on May 5 from 5:30-7:30 at the corner of Del Paso and Blackrock Dr.

This family-friendly event will raise money to support Natomas area students as part of the Big Day of Giving. Sactmofo will provide the food trucks and NAEF will be providing performance and fine art!

The Big Day of Giving is a 24-hour fundraising competition between non-profits in the Sacramento Region. During the event, NAEF will be competing for prize challenges throughout the day. Incentive partners who are providing a pool of pro-rated incentive dollars to amplify every donation.  Donors can be assured that their investment will go farther!  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Taking Care of You

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom of a second grade boy and administrator of the Natomas Charter PACT homeschool Academy. You can contact her at

Many of us have started to feel the wear and tear of running the household, raising kids, teaching our kids, driving to workshops or sports, and trying to be a good spouse or partner.Where did the enthusiasm and anticipation for the new year and new curriculum go? You are not alone.

Homeschool teachers and classroom teachers face this struggle. Yes, even the "professionals" go through cycles of anticipation, disillusionment, and rejuvenation. As a mentor for new teachers to the profession,  I often show my "newbs" the chart to the right and tell them that all teachers feel this way, go through these emotions. It doesn't mean that you aren't meant to homeschool or that you are not doing a good job.

It means that you have put your heart and soul into an imperfect process. It means you care so deeply for your children that you want the best for them. It means you are a thoughtful, reflective teacher who is constantly thinking about the how and why of teaching.

It means you shouldn't quit!

It also means that you should take care of yourself! The teacher (and parent!) side of you needs a break.

Take a 10 minute bath, check out a book from the library for YOU to read to yourself, connect with a friend online, attend a church group you enjoy, go to Target all ALONE, or walk for ten minutes at night before the sun goes down. The point is that you need to do something for yourself before you can be fully present and ready for the rest of your day or the rest of your school year.

This Spring Break, instead of trying to charge through two more weeks of learning, we have taken a total break. A TOTAL break. My son can hardly believe it. Each morning he asks me, "No school work today?"

I have also taken a break from lesson planning, assessing, getting his work ready for the next day, answering work emails (okay maybe a few emails!), and thinking about how to be better, more.

Yesterday, I played with Robert and his friends, laid out by the pool, and watched way too much Housewives. I don't think I did anything productive. Oh wait, I did mail out a letter.

Giving in to my need for self care has felt a lot better than giving into my own self doubt.

So take a few deep  breaths this Spring Break. Enjoy a moment for yourself. Give someone an extra hug. Enjoy a moment with your favorite cup of coffee or sit in the sun.

Next school year, is only a few months away.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If You Are Nervous about Homeschooling, Don't Be: Lessons Learned

Kirsten is an Administrator at PACT, a home school charter program that is a part of Natomas Charter School. PACT offers all students a campus to call home, site based enrichment workshops, a variety of curriculum choices, access to special education programs, and a credentialed teacher who serves as an Educational Adviser.
image of mother working with children on the floor
Working with my son and his friends at a 
PACT community Science Challenge.

In the past week, I have spent a lot of time fielding phone calls and emails from parents who are considering homeschooling their son or daughter. Many of their concerns and fears are the same that I had two years, when I made the decision to homeschool my son. During my first year of homeschooling I made some discoveries that I always share with them.

My first discovery was that I needed to build a strong team. As a working mom, I had to figure out childcare. I recruited my mom and dad to take him one morning a week. They had no interest in teaching him, so I worked with him on his school work after I got home. I reserved educational videos or games for the weekday mornings he spends with Grandma or Grandpa. I also hired a college student to work with him for two days a week for a few hours while I am at work. This combination allowed me to keep my childcare affordable, maintain control over his curriculum, and give me peace of mind while I was at work.

I learned to lean on others. My Educational Adviser is a credentialed multiple subject credential who is well versed in a variety of homeschooling philosophies,a variety of curriculum, learning styles, etc. I leaned on her at the beginning to make sure that my curriculum and expectations were appropriate for my son. I had to adjust to a 7 year old’s attention span and try new things without fear of failure. She encouraged me to try more hands on activities and integrate things he already enjoyed doing with academic subjects. I also learned that it does not take 8 hours a day to teach one child. After subtracting the waiting in line time, waiting for others to finish time, busy work time, and recesses it left 2-3 hours at home to move through the academic content that we needed. This left a lot more time for my son to explore the outdoors, jump on a trampoline, read, talk, draw, and explore other creative outlets.

The biggest surprise discovery was that time was not hard to fill. As part of the PACT program, my son took several on-site workshops. These hour long experiences gave him a taste of drawing, dance, music, and etymology. He worked with students in a variety of age groups and made friends. Many of these friendships extended to outside of the classroom. We started a Lego Club and held weekly build meetings for PACT students. Later in the year, he joined the Minecraft club. I found that I actually had to cut back and limit ourselves when planning our day.

My team also included the wider homeschooling community. We are lucky in Sacramento to have several Facebook groups, local co-ops, and meet up groups which are active. I will soon be speaking at the Adventures in Homeschooling Conference to share with other homeschooling families ways to integrate technology into their lessons. I never knew the homeschooling community was so large and active until I became a part of it.

As we reevaluated our own family's educational choices at the end of last year, it seemed the only one who was not questioning our decision was our son. When he overheard us talking about the decision to stay at PACT or go to a more traditional classroom model, he adamantly stated, “No, I am staying at PACT. I like it there.” That was the end of the conversation and will be as long as this is the model that fits his needs.

If you are thinking of homeschooling, please feel free to contact me. or stop by the PACT campus at 1172 W. National Dr. Suite #30 Sacramento CA.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Boogers, Work, and McKinely Park

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom of a second grade boy and administrator of the Natomas Charter PACT homeschool Academy. She homeschools her second grade son and works 25+ hours a week. You can contact her at

3:30am comes early, but it is the only time during the day that my son, my husband, my staff, and my dog do not need me. I throw off the blankets and slip into my shoes. No need to get dressed. Don’t judge, but I sleep in my workout gear... it forces me to work out!
5:30am “MOOOOOM!” A quick look at the clock. I walk upstairs with wet hair and no makeup. Too early, but too bad for me. After Robert grudgingly takes a bath and gobbles down breakfast, I finally get my first cup of coffee and pull out my son’s Independent Work folder. He knows to open it and start on it when breakfast is over.
6am I answer emails as he works on a drawing of a dog. I have discovered that using “Draw then Write” books is one way to get him to work on fine motor skills. Every two assignments he completes means a 10 minute break so there are no arguments this morning. Independent work this morning is working on math fluency, a pronoun worksheet, and working on a poem about love that extends our work with Edward Tulaine by Kate DeCamillo. We are reading it as part of the PACT’s participation in the Global Read Aloud.Meanwhile, I answer morning emails and update the PACT Facebook page. Soon, his independent work is completed. After a spelling pretest and math lesson on order of operations (I don’t remember learning that in the second grade...) we move on to writing workshop. Today’s lesson? Showing not telling. I found the lesson online and tomorrow we will use this strategy to revise his fractured fairy tale involving the “Three Little Pigs” and Minecraft.
Science is one of my favorite things to teach. I notice Robert is struggling to label a diagram of the nose and I turn to one of my favorite websites, Kids Health to search for a video and visuals.The diagram is a take home from his science enrichment workshop at PACT. The workshops are not meant to be an entire curriculum, but often they spark a lesson that takes on a life of it’s own. He notices a “Booger Quiz” banner on the side and I make a mental note that tomorrow we will be learning about boogers.
The clouds part, I hear angels singing, and the sun shines down on us, we are DONE with school work at home! How can we be done with school work already? Do we do enough? Check out this weekly schedule to see what we will accomplish this week and see what we have done in the weeks before.
8:30am A snack of peanut butter and apples for both of us as we settle into our laptops. I am back on email, Robert is playing Minecraft. We have been whitelisted on several kid safe Minecraft Homeschool Servers, but I like to be next to him when he plays. If somebody has stolen his items or accused him of griefing, it provides a great on the spot digital citizenship learning opportunity. He has also learned about 1st and 3rd person from Minecraft, so I try to spy on him to figure out other ways to turn his passion it a learning experience. (I wrote about Minecraft and Point of View here)
10am Homeschool Park Play Date at McKinely Park! The bright sun cuts through the cold November air. I have been lucky enough to find several great homeschool groups on Facebook. I try to meet up with other homeschooling families at parks as often as possible. Playing at 10am in the morning is one of the benefits of homeschooling my son loves!11am Off to Grandma’s for lunch and fun while I head into work. On Mondays, I work on campus from 12:00-4:00 as a school administrator for the Natomas Charter School PACT program. On today’s docket? Tours for new homeschooling families, researching new curriculum, and calendar planning.  I eat lunch at my desk. Time to eat is one thing I have had to compromise as a working and homeschooling mom.
Robert joins me at PACT around 1pm for his art class, Masks and Mobiles and then Tae Kwon Do. One of the reasons that I homeschool through PACT is that I do not want to drive all over town for classes. PACT has a campus where they hold a variety of enrichment workshops. He has several workshops with the same kids, so PACT also provides him with a sense of community. He takes drama, science, and literature workshops. We also started a Lego club last year that focuses on social skills and cooperative groups. (You can check out a schedule and course listing here).7pm All electronics off for family reading. Yep. I am a nerd. No cell phones, no tv, nothing. We go to the library three times a week and load up on books. One of the unexpected benefits of homeschooling has been that the amount and types of books Robert reads has greatly increased.8pm Robert’s bedtime. After a short cuddle, the dog climbs on Robert’s bed and it is lights out for them. This is time alone with the husband. We do what hundreds of couples do each night when the kids are in bed and the lights go down low... we watch tv! I will fall asleep by 8:30 for sure. Hey, 3am comes early!What does the day look like when you homeschool and work? 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Families Learning Together- The Experience Worth Creating

Tracy Chatters is the PACT Academy Coordinator and homeschooling Mom! This week, PACT staff hacked the traditional Science Fair by adding in Engineering Challenges. In addition to Science Fair boards and presentations, families were invited to participate in two engineering challenges and an Egg Drop with a Twist. The event resulted in a fun family evening where taking risks took center stage.

This week we had family science and engineering night at PACT. More than one hundred people gathered to experiment, struggle, try and try again and to persevere. Our challenges could not be contained to one room and we spilled into the hallway. After all, when your project includes spaghetti, a marshmallow, painter's tape and directions to build the tallest tower you possibly can, there is a lot of challenge for everyone!
As I stood in the room surrounded by thoughtful joy and curious questions, I realized I was standing in the sweet spot of the perfect educational experience. I was in the middle of "that" moment right before the ah-ha where everyone is scratching their heads and wondering, feeling the frustration of building but motivated by the challenge. Our youngest engineers at one or two years old, to our grandparents full of wisdom were all looking at the timer and wondering if one more adjustment might make their structure sturdier or topple it over. Teams contemplated taking the risk, unsure of the reward, teams glanced furtively at the timer then their towers and then the timer again.
Sometimes the experience alone is the learning opportunity. We didn't have to articulate a goal, have a contest or rewards or even enforce the rules. Everyone participating was motivated by the opportunity and wanted to do more and do it to a little better. I watched moms and dads who turned their kids loose to build with others, leaving mom and dad to build alone. This was a night were everyone was hands on!

The observer and data collector in me was fascinated by the moms sitting back and letting dad do the building, only to laugh and step in to fix the mistakes at the last minute. I was equally interested in watching the dads who don't normally have the opportunity to build with their kids. They seized the moment, pulled up a carpet square or a skinny desk and set to work playing, building and experimenting. 

There was not a grumpy face in the room, even when towers collapsed and spaghetti broke. Everyone stuck it out, from our kids with frustrating learning challenges to our oldest "too cool" middle schoolers who normally watch from the side but this time couldn't stand to miss out on the fun and joined in.
It is difficult to say what everyone learned as a group, because each experience was different within each family. I watched a dad learn that mom was far more competitive than he imagined and another mom learn that dad was delighted to lay belly down on the classroom floor because that is what his kindergarten son wanted. I saw siblings stop bickering and team up to ensure they could beat their parents. All through the room, magic was happening in big groups and small, as each person contemplated and built and examined and built some more. 

At the end of a school event, we always debrief to make notes for next year. This year, my mental note was to not change a thing. I don't know if everyone there could articulate what each learned, but I know one thing for sure. Each one would come back for more the next time. Sometimes, just providing space and time for the experience is all that's needed for a beautiful night! 

Monday, February 9, 2015

My Toolbox for Crafting a Custom Writing Program, Without Reinventing the Wheel

This is part 2 of a series surrounding how I am improving my own writing instruction this year. My goal is to create a 2nd grader who likes writing. If you missed steps 1-2 click here!
After Robert started doing his self directed writing each day, I knew it was time to move forward with direct instruction. 
What do I use? The tools that I use are free, easy to obtain, available to the PACT community and reproducible. These are three of my current favorites. (for right now!)

  • Evan Moore Daily 6 Trait Writing (your advisor can print this off for you!) I cut this up and take the good parts. Used on it's own I found it was just an exercise and did not improve his writing.
  • The Sacramento County Library
  • Pinterest and Google (of course!)
How do I decide what to teach? I read his self directed writing. I noticed one of his strengths is that he has a strong voice. I can always tell how he feels about the subject of his writing, but we have never talked about it or how to recognize the voice of other authors. 
Below is my first week of focused writing instruction using his self directed writing as a jumping off point.

Student self directed writing from previous days
Variety of books from library (a nice list of appropriate texts is listed on the Bats lesson plan)
“Noisy Poems for a Busy Day” Robert Heidbreder (Sac Public Library)

I start each day with his free journal write and then move into what you see below. I try to keep it to 15 minutes and use interesting topics and books. The point is to ENJOY the process, right?

Day 1: 15 minutes
I simply started by reviewing the definition of “voice” from the Bats lesson plan and adding our own examples. Then, we read the first “Bat” example. I did way too much expressive reading and he focused on my vocal interpretation instead of the actual words. I had to go back, re read it and take out my expressive reading. This time, he picked up on the author’s words instead of my tone and was able to identify what the author said that showed us how he feels about bats.

Day 2: 15 minutes
We continued the lesson from readworks by reading two different passages about snakes and searching for words that clued us into the author’s voice. Finally, we went back through his own self directed writing journal and re read his selection on Nerf guns. He said that his own use of “great, awesome, and fun” showed that he has a positive attitude about playing Nerf guns and is a fun person. 

We also read a few poems from “Noisy Poems for a Busy Day” and pointed out the voice of the author.

I noticed that many of these poems included onomatopoeia and decided to throw in a mini lesson.

Day 3: 30 minutes 
I defined the term onomatopoeia for Robert and gave him some examples. Bzzzzzz, ruff, squeak, ect. Then, we re read the poems we read the day before and pointed out examples. Then, we chose an animal, the dog, (of course) to write about. We brainstormed all of the sound word we could think about that a dog might use. This was a fun session and lasted longer than usual. Mostly because we were crawling around the living room floor with the dog, growling and whimpering.

Day 4: We read some more poems. Then, I told him we were going to write a poem about dogs using the sound words we brainstormed yesterday. When he started to write, it looked like a narrative. He started on the left and wrote all the way to the right. DUH! We have never discussed poetry before. I brought the poetry book back up and asked him what he noticed about poems. "They don't take up whole lines" "They are shorter". We started our poem over again using the poems in the book as a model.

Snore snore. she is sleeping
try to wake
her up.


He loved the poem, I didn’t have to do a lot of prep for these lessons, and at the end of the week I was confident that he had gained two new ways of thinking and talking about writing.

Note: While reading the poems and other picture books this week with Robert, I noticed that many include talking dogs or items that take on humanlike characteristics. This led to my next lesson on personification. I can blog about it, but I am more interested in what you want to hear! If you have any questions or comments, please post! Blogging is a little bit like talking to yourself. It feels a little silly and conversations with others always feel better!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

If You “Know” You Should Be Doing More Writing

I love to write. I blog, I make lists, I teach writing to high schoolers. My 2nd grader does not like writing. It is easy to see why. Every writing activity used to come with “Write neater, Write more, You spelled that wrong!” I came to the realization over winter break that I had to take some of the suckiness out of it. This series of blogs will record the steps I am taking to  increase the amount and quality of writing instruction we do as part of our day.
Step 1: Stop Criticizing
I stopped commenting on his handwriting during all activities except, handwriting. We started Handwriting Without Tears this year. This is the only time of day that I stress neatness and teach letter formation. I stopped any other handwriting criticizing cold turkey. I had to bite my tongue, chew gum, and resist with all of my heart. I also stopped commenting on spelling except during spelling. During all times that he is composing from brain to paper, I do not worry about spelling. I do not even comment on it. If he happens to self correct himself, I say “great job noticing that!”.

Step 2: Make it interesting, engaging, and daily.
I bought a cheap primary handwriting sketchbook from OfficeMax. Half the page is blank for pictures and the other half has lines on it appropriate for his grade level. I started out by offering a subject and writing down words he might need. After day 4 we dropped this, as he did not need suggestions and since I wasn't commenting on spelling there was no anxiety about it. He chooses if he wants to draw a picture or not.
If we run into problems with the “what to write” I have seen lots of good ideas for idea generation on Pinterest and created a Pinterest Board to store them. So far, so good.
Each day, he writes the date and has to fill half a page. If he can not fill half a page, then he writes his name over and over. He has only chosen this option once. He writes about whatever he wants to write about. So far he has written about barf, his dog, being sick, Nerf guns, Disneyland,his friends, playing Monopoly with his Grandpa, and a dream he had.
I use this time to do my own writing.
I may write down my schedule for the day, work on my blog, respond to emails or make a grocery list, but I write.
Finally, he reads it out loud to me. Reading it aloud allows him to notice his own mistakes. If he wants to fix it, we fix it. If not , we let it go. We celebrate what he wrote. If it is supposed to be funny, I laugh. If he writes about how much work he has to do each day and how mean his mom is, I look at him with a serious face and nod. I don’t criticize or suggest. I make positive comments, “I like how descriptive it is” or “That sounds just like what happened!”
The results?
So far we have increased his self directed writing by 100%. It has become part of our daily routine. The benefit has been the ability for me to see his strengths and weaknesses. Before this, it was difficult to know exactly what to work on with him. From his daily journals, I have been able to find direction. This has lead me to integrate the 6 Traits and mentor texts. Doing this has been easier than I thought and I am already seeing the changes. Next time I will share the easy way to start working with your kiddo's writing.

If you have found ways to increase your student's self directed writing, please post below I would love to hear!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Why We Will Homeschool Another Year

Studying the moon with oreos
Studying the moon in first grade
Kirsten Spall is a high school English teacher turned homeschooling mom. she is also one of the Administrators of the PACT Homeschooling Academy

My son entered kinder above grade level and completed the year having learned nothing new except how to hate himself, “Mom I suck, I am the bad kid.” My heart broke for a good kid who needed a chance to grow. It became apparent that the traditional classroom and school culture was not going to be a peaceful or positive place for my son to learn what he needed to learn. I reluctantly made the decision to homeschool.
We are now in our second year of homeschooling. This December when open enrollment began and charter schools started their application processes, I started to look at site based programs and considered ending my own homeschool journey.
However, in the last two weeks, I have come to the realization that homeschooling is where we belong (at least for another year!) and I want to share why, in case some of you are also struggling.
My son is thriving.
Due to the accepting culture at PACT and the PACT staff, he is getting what he needs and loving it. Parents of his new PACT friends are more concerned with personal growth than being “good” or normal. Since they homeschool as well, we have a chance to get to know each other and the other kids. Social learning is enhanced through class sizes of under 16 and a wide range of school wide events and clubs. In Lego club, they build, play and listen to Minecraft parody songs. In Friendship Club, he performs random acts of kindness to see how it feels and shows off his dance skills.The focus on campus is developing the whole child, because I am doing the academic work at home.
He is being challenged academically on a daily basis and we can let his interests lead his learning.I am continually surprised at the amount of progress he has made academically in areas that would not be available to him in the traditional classroom setting.  In art last month, he was asked to make a mask. He chose to research and create a World War II gas mask. This year he used Minecraft to build American monuments as part of an online history class. Later, for his science workshop he chose to create a three foot nose and become an expert on mucous.
He smiles, hugs his teachers and friends, and has started to find joy in school and learning.
Student in a corn bath smiling

Family and flexibility
The life that we built that allows us to homeschool has had the surprising side effect of making more time for family and making family life easier. At 7:00 each night we are not struggling to cook dinner, get homework done, and get ready for school the next day. He doesn't balk at "homework" because he hasn't already spent 8 hours a day at school only to come home to find more of the same.
When my son is sick, Instead of negotiating and stressing about who will stay home from work, the team I assembled to support me in my working, homeschool mom life continue their normal routine! 
Family life is front and center. We are kinder, more patient, and understand each other better. I am not ready to let go of the flexibility and family life that homeschooling provides.

We have already made major financial and personal sacrifices
Two years ago I left a full time job that I loved and was good at. I threw out my plan to complete a Masters in Online Teaching and Learning. Last year, we sold our dream house and moved into an apartment to make up for the missing income. I gained ten pounds from baking as a way to teach math and fractions. 
You know what? My apartment complex has a gym. Plus, I can do and have all those things when my son is older. At some point, in the near future, he will be in high school or college. I will have twenty years left until retirement. I think that is plenty of time to get back to what I was doing!
My son values his homeschool experience I suppose we could get lucky and find “that program” or “that teacher” who will provide him with an environment that he will love and thrive in. My charter school has a great site based academy with warm, professional teachers who make learning engaging and meaningful. It is lead by an incredible administrator whom I admire. Many of my non homeschooling colleagues ask me when he will return to a “real” school. On hard days, I think that my goal should be to get him back into the classroom.
However, what we are doing is working. When my husband and I  talk to our son about returning to a normal classroom, he says, “hmmm. Maybe in fourth grade I will try another school. I want you to be my teacher again.” Then, he goes on to list all of the people, teachers, activities and things he would miss about home schooling. Minutes later he is talking about the workshops he thinks we should offer and what he wants to learn about next year. 

He definitely does NOT want to take ballet and he thinks that we should hold more military focused workshops. Perhaps, he says, " that talks about how to survive in a Zombie Apocalypse." Why not?

It seems that he had already made a decision and it was me who had yet to surrender to it! I would love to hear about why you will keep homeschooling!