Reality, Math and the Homeschool

{From the Archives, but too good not to share on a day when I feel flattened by helping my daughter with quadratic equations}

Ever heard stories about kids in high school coming down with panic attacks and cold sweats before geometry? Or who crammed for weeks upon weeks to meet college math requirements for graduation? That was me.

Last month, a well meaning teller gave me a sweet little hand pat along with a pamphlet about women learning how to be in control of their finances. This was after I responded to her question about one of our accounts with, “Oh, I have no idea. My husband handles all of that. Should I call him?” Lovely.

Dayton Art Institute

Dayton Art Institute

Being the self-analyzing person that I am, I have determined that this all stems from numbers not meaning much to me in general. In my education, as beautiful as it was, I honestly lacked a context of understanding real world problems. I also missed out on the beauty of mathematics in every day life, how it was nestled into things that I cherished like the rhythm and measure of classical music (or more likely for me in those days, Nirvana), the pretty spiral of a shell on the beach or the symmetry of a pinecone’s perfect decent from its tip, not to mention the proportions necessary for making perfect whip cream. 

Pinecone by hulihoo

Pinecone by hulihoo

And right in the middle of my own weakness, I am questioning, as I always do, “Can I teach my children…with this gapping hole in my own knowledge?” Do I delegate, do I refer them to someone else? Maybe. Probably.

My plight with math has been a long one, and although I don’t see a natural end in sight, I am beginning to see the beauty of its nature and the logic of things all around me. I think, in many ways, being unsure is equipping me to teach this subject with greater gusto. I am more determined to prepare my children well for a world where numbers are inevitable, and to bring a sense of wonder to their math studies. I am more apt to teach this subject from a place of humility and am pricked by the sense that I need to have the same heart approaching all our other studies.


I’m on the prowl for life-giving resources and experiences that go beyond equations on paper and I am discovering  and learning because of my duty to teach. Along with my children, I am finding with new eyes the way math infiltrates life around us and my own educational ‘hump’ is becoming smaller in the process, and a little less daunting day after day.

What areas are daunting to you as a teacher of your children? How do you combat them and carry on?

Our favorite Math resources:

Teaching Textbooks

Family Math

Living Math

Chicago University Press Math Classes at The Potter's School

On Learning to Read {All About Reading Levels}

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."

- Fredrick Douglass

No matter where we find ourselves, when homeschooling moms gather in one place, you can count on a couple of things. First, we can not stop talking about curriculum and sharing ideas, curriculum catalogs and the talking about all we are learning! And second, it becomes obvious rather quickly that we each have something knawing at us that we long to have relieved by conversation with our "colleagues."

Homeschooling can truly be isolating.

The farther I walk down this path, the more I see that this choice requires a certain courage to keep going. We will all inevitably question whether we are doing enough, whether we are doing it right (coincidentally, there isn't just one right way, but that's a story for another blog post!)  We question whether the work we put our hands to each day is producing good fruit, if our children will learn what they need to and cultivate a strong character; if the daily distractions and diversions that are inevitable will overtake us, or if the beautiful mess of learning and home all mingled together will become the sweetest of memories. This journey is so full of wonderful, but those fears seem to lurk.

We are each so hungry for tips and tricks and wisdom- we drink up how life is going in the homes of others, we entrust our own stories to one another and we embrace bonds where others can see those fears in us and combat them with truth. Those big hugs from others in the trenches and words from moms who have gone before us? Priceless. I hope that wherever you are in teaching your children to read, and whether you homeschool or not, that this can be an encouragement to you! Its my big hug to you as I share a little of what we've learned along the way.

So onto what I'm learning about reading levels.....

When our children are reading fluently and independently, everything else about homeschooling changes because we can set them on the path to educational freedom. 

Charlotte Mason said, "there is no education, but self- education," and when a beautiful relationship with books is forged, the real learning has only just begun! 

I think teaching our children to read is equally the most delightful and one of the most stressful aspects of homeschooling. The pressure's on because it is so foundational. There are, of course, a million ideas about how this is done best and we've tried at least 9,999,999 of them over here.

 Under my own roof, I have had an early reader who was enjoying Charlotte's Web by the end of Kindergarten, a severely dyslexic child who would run to the bathroom and throw up after reading one paragraph of Dick and Jane because it was so disorienting, a wily and quite typical boy who struggled to sit still for any formal instruction for a while longer than I was comfortable with, and the baby of the bunch who was taught to read mostly by older siblings while I was freaking out about whether they were doing all right (update: they were!) 

In my moments of worry, I talked to other wiser women. One of my friends had a son who didn't want to read independently until he was nearly 12 and at then at age 14 was a national merit scholar. Another encouraged me to remember to keep the love of learning and reading paramount and for goodness sakes, just relax. And yet another reminded me that in some educational philosophies  (Waldorf, most notably) formal reading instruction didn't begin until age 8.  Do you see the trend here? Everyone who had gone before me kept saying, "its going to be all right." And now I'm telling you : It is. Its going to be all right.

Ultimately, what I see in my own home is that no two children are the same, and that my approach needed to change to suit the beautiful design and personality held by each of them.

I'm going to share all week long about what tools and ideas we have implemented for different learning styles, my favorite picks for programs we have used and how I kept myself from having a heart attack in the process, but today- I want to share one of my favorite tools with you!

Ever wonder what grade level the book your child is reading actually falls into? There's a chart for that! 

There is such a wide range of development and reading levels in each grade, but it has really helped me to take a deep breath and keep moving forward to be able to plot how my children are doing for their assigned grade levels. Its simply another tool we can use to be excellent in this role and equip ourselves as our children's teacher. 

When you determine the level of any book, the key component you are looking for is the Lexile Score. That score corresponds to a particular grade level nationally, regardless of what system of letters or colors your own region or school district may implement. Its a handy device because not only can it help you assess what level your kiddos are reading at, it can help you pick books that will fit their level or just above to challenge them.

To determine the  Lexile Score, google is your friend! For Charlotte's Web for instance, simply enter this into your  search bar:  Charlotte's Web lexile score 

The score?  680L

For The Cat In The Hat?  150L

The Lexile Score is not only available online, but also in your local bookstores and libraries. I've actually found Barnes and Noble's website to be so helpful! Ask those sweet ladies behind the counter to help you find the Lexile Score on the covers or copyright pages of the books you check out as well, then compare it with this grid to correspond to grade level.

Voila! Look how smart you are, mama!

The Lexile Score and grade level correspondence chart

The Lexile Score and grade level correspondence chart

Awakening Wonder

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Mornings here....

Look quiet and cozy lately. We are all waking just a bit later, going just a bit slower. Its a bit of a fog really, this is the time of year that always finds me questioning if what we are doing in our homeschool is enough. The days feel a bit lazy, we've settled into our rhythm enough to know how to bend and break the rules, and then we begin to lose our sense of routine altogether.  We've been plugging away at learning goals long enough to see the gaps (right along side the progress, but the gaps tend to stick out most to the isolated mothers teaching at home, don't they?) After the sparkle of the holidays fade, I can even find myself feeling a little stuck. I know my children feel it too. We reach a place each winter where wonder has faded and we are just going through the motions.

When I feel like this, I tend to freak out that we might not meet our yearly goals and its really easy for me to think we need to do more workbooks, toughen up our load of the fundamentals and in every way make our lessons even more dull. After a week of torture, I'm typically ready to quit, I'm researching charter schools on the internet and then...and then.... I circle back to where I should have began in the first place- in quiet prayer.

Inevitably, the quieting of my own heart is the game changer. Renewal in those moments always comes when I ask one question: Why are we doing  this, why are we really, pouring ourselves into days schooling at home? Why did we get into this in the first place? And, is it central to how we are living out our present? Our yesterday and tomorrow? The answer that follows, usually poured out among the pages of my journal, becomes the vision and sustaining force for the rest of our school year. 

Maybe this is what January is for? To shake us up and settle us down into something true, to traumatize us as we reach the end of our own wills and to give us cause to fight for lasting vision.


So why are you doing this? Have you asked yourself lately? 

To connect with hearts. To inspire. To live beautifully. To let learning spill over and mingle with real life. To avoid the stodgy classroom. To experience flexibility and adventure together. To watch eyes brighten right in front of you. To reclaim your own education. To meet out of the box needs. To be together. To embrace home.

My reasons might be very similar or very different from your own, but  I'm guessing we could all use a reminder of them. I'm often asked what books inspire me, and I keep coming back to the same old few. Like true friends they remind me, year after year, about the "why" of homeschooling. Spending time in their pages refreshes and awakens wonder in my heart to keep me going. In no way an exhaustive list, here they are. I pray they can awaken the same wonder in you and help you kindle your mid winter spark. 

For the Children's Sake 

Transformative for our family.  Susan Schaeffer Macauley is the daughter of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, whose theological and practical writings have greatly impacted us as well. She shares her own family's journey toward finding an educational philosophy that embraced Biblical discipleship and dignified children. A must read.

Educating the Whole Hearted Child

Written by our dear friends and mentors, no other book has changed the course of our family's life (save the Bible) like this one. It is life-giving, casting a vision for home and learning that has literally steered the course for us. Intelligent, practical and wise, it is the book we visit again and again.

Charlotte Mason Companion

This book nurtures my heart as a mom. I feel inspired and cared for every time I visit its pages. Poetic and gentle, reading it at once gives practical wisdom you can implement right away, and leaves you feeling as if you've just had coffee with a dear friend. Highly recommended. 

When Children Love to Learn

A wonderful follow- up to Schaeffer-Macauley's book, this is written by the celebrated educators and founders of Ambleside International Schools. It offers a practical curriculum approach using Charlotte Mason's methods for children learning in school or at home. Also wonderful for traditional educators and parents!

A Home Start in Reading

So often in the little years, the task of teaching reading feels monumental. This book simplifies and gives a practical step by step approach you can implement right away (at any stage of teaching a child to read). This year, as I teach two older children, the task of teaching reading to my younger two, who need a very intentional and watchful eye, is overwhelming to me- this book is worth its weight in gold. So thankful for Beechick's frank and common sense style. Like having a mentor or reading specialist right along with you.

Read for the Heart

My friend Sarah is a brilliant storyteller. After a childhood grounded in delightful literature, there is no one I trust more to help me pick a title for my own children. She has compiled the loveliest collection of books for every topic and area of study here in Read for the Heart. If your children are longing for inspiration through story this winter, you'll find titles to share with them here. A must have for every family library.

So what would you add to the list? What are your go-to's that nourish you along this road? What do you pull out again and again?

July Nature Notebook


Download the July Nature Notebook

Hello friends! I can not even believe its time for another installment of the Nature Notebook! This month's download is inspired by my favorite Hermit Crab, Pagoo! Whether or not you head to the seaside this season, I hope you can capture a bit of the wonder of fresh breezes and summer sun from your own corner of the world. 

Happy July! And thanks so much for being here.

On Nature Study {With June Printables!}

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Download the June Nature Notebook

One of my favorite things about where we live in New York City is that we are right near Central Park.  Whenever I long for the mountains of Washington or worry that my own children aren't going to have the romping outdoors kind of upbringing that I did, we can walk across the street and envelop ourselves under the treetops, dip our toes in the pond, search for worms or lady bugs, and generally get pretty dirty. Nothing feels quite as 'normal' to me as being outside.

There is something so beautiful about spending time out of doors together as a family, our imaginations seem to take off and we each, in our own way, feel so connected to God and all He has created for us to enjoy- The Earth is full of His glory and we are able to experience him in a different way, see his handiwork, and praise him anew.  

I have always loved studying and exploring nature with my children, but as wonderful as it is, I think it can be a little mysterious to most moms! In our family, we spend an afternoon a week outdoors with notebooks, watercolors or colored pencils, a field guide, our magnifying glass and a big blanket as our home base. The children all collect treasures that I keep near me in a small basket. They take turns exploring our surroundings and drawing the landscape at large, or perhaps a particular plant or animal, rock or shell. We look up what they have discovered in our field guide (We use The Handbook of Nature Study- my favorite!) and learn about the name of our finds and some tidbit about it. 

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Sometimes we go looking for something in particular that we are studying- trees and roots or wildflowers, birds or a type of rock. The wonder of it all really lies in the adventuring together and the beauty of discovery.

Summer is a great time of year to get outside with your own crew! To encourage you, I've put together a Nature Notebook for you full of printables to help you explore. It includes: 

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-Journaling pages and questions to ask about your surroundings

-A June Calendar with beautiful cut-outs to track the weather

-Graphics to study the parts of a flower

-A poem for June, and a place for your child to collect June adjectives and create a poem of their very own.

You can view and download the entire Nature Notebook as a free PDF by clicking the link below: 

Happy June friends! 

June Nature Notebook

Summer Reading Log

Summer Reading Log

So, lists are my thing. Not surprisingly, I've passed on my love of all things written down to my children. I find lists can really help them (and me!) to keep track of life, of school, and keeps goals front and center. We are working hard at reading fluency around here with a few of my babes, and the dawn of summer brings a whole new paradigm of "school" time in our home. To keep track of some of our summer learning goals and to serve as a journal of their accomplishments, I created this handy little reading log for them to post on their bulletin boards. 

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Something Beautiful Born of Something Buried

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I buried my blog.  

Something in me has been stirring for a good long while- rumbling in my belly : A vision of rest. For the parched, for the weary, for my sisters who feel alone, for the ones who feel the squeeze of motherhood, the disillusion of a life that doesn't look quite like they thought it might, or maybe, like me, the hectic pace of a large city. We need water. We need a thirst quenched deep, and a tall glass just won't do. 

I buried my blog for a while to let my thoughts swirl and while it was underground I thought about just letting it go to seed- I thought about how I really want to spend my days, carry out my minutes, fill my home and I said out loud no less than a few times that I was done with this business of sharing my heart  with you all. I just craved quiet. 

And somehow in the interlude, in the place where my cries met God's beauty, he whispered that you just might need some quiet too. The very thing I was to create was the kind of place I desperately long for: a place where we can gather beauty together, where we can find safety to pause and inspire, to foster eyes that see the light... to remember who we truly are.

Kick your feet up and catch your breath. You are welcome here.

Here's a bit more about what I'm up to : About

Having a Ball- Cinderella on Broadway

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Oh how I love a good fairytale! The girls and I had the chance to attend Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Broadway last week and had a ball! (Pun absolutely intended). I wasn’t really sure what to expect, since I’m mostly familiar with Disney’s animated version- and I always wonder what kind of effects will be brought to life on stage!

The show opened with a battle scene that was incredible and drew my girls in right away. It was certainly appealing to little boys in the audience as well, which I’m sure consoled all their mothers who had set them up to come to a Princess show. If you are a boy mom, your guys will love it, straight out of the gate!

The storyline had some serious heart: after being away at University, the Kindom’s Prince returns, naive to the plight of the poor in his kingdom. Cinderella not only delivers the plot we expect to see one stage (glass slipper, fairy godmother and happily ever after included) but also reveals a girl who has compassion on those who are undervalued or marginalized, as she is such, and who wants to lend her voice to restore the Kingdom’s kinder days. This Cinderella is not a passive princess, but a girl of action, using her charm to help her fellow villagers.

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Maia and I snapping a photo at Intermission

Although the musical had substance, it was really just a whole lot of fun! This is a show that is unpredictable and entertaining for all ages! Certainly not a kids only show, parents will join their children in amazement for the on stage costume transformations and flying fairy god-mother, giggle quite a bit and likely tap their feet to tunes like “Possible” (my crew are still singing!)


I don’t know why I am always so surprised by the caliber of Broadway shows, but I continue to be stunned.  With a stream of Broadway revivals, somehow this show has really hit the mark.  The story really would have appealed to Jones just as much as it did the girls, with no lack of gusto from the male cast members. The show has struck a great balance between being light and fun, but also not quite as fluffy princess as I was expecting. Cinderella felt fresh, colorful, sharp and clever.

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Meeting the Cast after the show- such a treat!We had a chance to meet the cast after the show as they fielded questions from bloggers and their children. They were so great with the kids, many of whom could not differentiate between their real lives and their characters. My favorite interaction was with a young girl who wanted to talk to the actress playing Cinderella’s stepmother about her bullying behavior- she wanted to be certain she was truly sorry! Precious.

The cast seemed to have a sweet comraderie together in real life- and they love their characters. I think their passion and warmth translate to the entire show- they really are enjoying themselves every night! You don’t want to miss them in action- definitely add Cinderella to your theatre must see if you live in or are traveling to New York. You can purchase tickets here.

Hope With Feathers was not compensated for this post, but did receive tickets to the show. As always, all opinions are my own. Thanks to The Moms for inviting us to join you!!

On Learning to Read as a Grown-Up

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“A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink of it deeply, or taste it not, for shallow thoughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking deeply sobers us again.” ~ Alexander Pope

We live in a soundbyte world. 

Sometimes I feel like I’m walking in an endless Times Square, lights flashing, constant buzz, everyone crying out to be heard…marketing their ideas and wares in the way that will grab my attention fastest and longest, enticing me to stay just one more minute to take the cream…

Writers and bloggers are achingly aware of this.

We care about the spaces where we write and live and welcome friends and strangers, and we do our best to create words that matter, words that capture….and we should. It is a noble pursuit to craft and labor and honor the time you spend in our little corners. It is right that if we have a message we are passionate about sharing, we do our best to share it well. 

But how does it feel to be the reader?

Among all the noise, all the headlines, all the messages coming at you today, how will you choose? How will you truly engage and really read, and really know, and take away something all your own today?

As I wander myself through library pages and blog posts, much of what I connect with is a reflection of my own soul. When a writer echoes a part of me in their words, that always draws me in…because like most people, I want to be understood, I want to be known. {I will probably never tire of hearing about myself this side of heaven, ahem} But, I’m finding now that its more important than ever to develop the art of knowing and to discern what I take in.

Beyond connecting with I want to hear, I’m also concerned with how I measure its value and digest its meaning, because if I miss this, I miss the opportunity to grow.

As I teach my children how to read, not for phonetics and fluency, but for meaning, I’m finding clarity in how I want to approach learning to read as a grown-up. I want my babes to drink deeply from the words they encounter, to measure them against the truth they know and hold.  I want their own impressions to be forged deep, to be marked with ideas that are unique to them and to their experiences so that they add to the conversation that has already begun.

Because the cream, really, is that sweet spot of connection, isn’t it?

You know the place.

It’s where our knowing and understanding collides fully with the ideas expressed by another, and soon we share something together…a troupe banded by the experience of words striking deeep and becoming a part of us. Community grows this way, with words exchanged and shared and digested together. 

The thing is, its hard to share what you do not know.

So how do you learn to read as a grown-up? How do you learn the art of knowing? 

The Four Questions (adapted from the work of Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren)

1. Read. Keep Reading. Read some more. Immerse yourself in the work of great minds, of those who have gone ahead of you, of those you admire, esteem and even disagree with. Just don’t stop. Carve out time to apprentice yourself to great writers and great ideas. Read actively and with intention.

2. Ask What is this About? What is the main theme or idea, what is the message? What details are important and how are they being shared?

3. Determine if it is true. Measure what is being said with the Scriptures, with what you know and believe to be true about humanity, yourself, and the world that is being shared. Dig in to the details and don’t be afraid to disagree. {Conversely, don’t be afraid to have your opinions and thinking challenged and changed}

4. Decide if what you have read is significant. Why is it important to you? Why is it important to others? If you find it meaningful, Share it. Add to the conversation. Respond. 

Friends, don’t won’t waste your reading. Engage it. And engage the communities you are a part of.

11 Beautiful Books to Read With Your Children


Charge! Die you horrible dragon!” My son was screaming, shrieking really, chasing our dog with sheer delight as he catapulted his body down our narrow hallway, nearly toppling over his baby sister {ahem}.

“ I did it, Mom! I really got him, and there was fire and his teeth were really pointy and he was trying to bite me…but I GOT him!”

Five-year old antics aside, my son’s heart was alive- light and pride nearly bursting through his wide eyes and giant grin. He has conquered, he was the hero- he was St. George, victorious in battle, the epic scene so palpable to him after our afternoon story.

Good books will awaken you like that. They make you believe you can conquer and soar and be more than you ever thought possible before.  Good books reflect ourselves idealized, and a part of something big…something great…We become woven into an epic story that our whole being longs to have be a reality.

Because our real selves, the ones knit together by the God of the Universe, redeemed and clothed in alabaster grace, truly are a part of an epic story- and an epic battle.

The spark that lights up my boy’s heart as he imagines himself as St. George, when kindled and flamed, can grow along with his frame, along with his heart and mind, helping to ready him for all that our King calls him to be mighty for in his own life. Stories inspire- words and ideas sustain us….

Join me for the rest of the story at The Better Mom today.


Thank you to Lifesong Photography for the lovely photo!

Finding Light {At Mom Heart}

Finding Light {At Mom Heart}

Sometimes when I am on my best behavior,  I can make a game out of the tasks that come with the  keeping of a home. Other times (which I think are more often) I remind myself of that awful nurse in The Velveteen Rabbit. You know, the one  who had no love or understanding of the soul and beauty of the nursery? The one who never understood  the real magic that lay behind The Skin Horse, the beloved Rabbit or even the mechanical toys. I always looked on her with such pity as a child. Did she even know she had been this close to something so wonderful and so rare and that she had missed it? How dreary to be that type of grown-up.

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The Three Period Lesson

The Three Period Lesson

February’s chill burrowed its way into the confines of our apartment and I’m convinced a bit of it settled in our brains as well…turning them to mush by all accounts! The warmth of Spring  that unearths tulips and bulbs, can also be quite effective at removing the kind of the homeschool daze I pack on in the Winter. One of the ways I’m re-focusing is by reminding myself of some basic teaching methods.

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My Top Eleven Read Alouds {So Far}

My Top Eleven Read Alouds {So Far}

We love to get lost in books around here. I’ve been hunting for some new ones to read to my whole crew…and I mean my whole crew. We love to cuddle up on couches, on the floor or under the covers with big cups of tea and a great story. It is really the sweetest moments we make together. There are several great read-alouds in our rotation, but we are looking for something new to all of us, not just the younger kids. It got me thinking about how much I would love to know what all your favorite read-alouds have been, so I can run to the library and snag them up and start reading!  

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