Inspired by Angie: Solving a Homeschooler’s Dilemma

Recently, Angie, a Homeschool HappyMess reader, sent me a series of questions that I thought might make an interesting post, and so with Angie’s permission, she and I will together tackle the intricacies of designing a homeschool curriculum..

A climbing Angie:  Allia, I have been following your blog and am inspired beyond measure.

A leap of faith

Believe me, I am grateful for your confidence in our humble homeschool.  Homeschooling is a leap of faith.  You have to believe in yourself and believe in your children.  It is my hope, through this blog, that people can see themselves bringing inspiration and creativity to their own children’s education.

A Bounce hand paint

Mine is one step in an effort to right the wrong of boring, stultifying education whose tenants of secular equality for all has whitewashed history and distilled learning to nothing more than a series of meaningless platitudes, creating a generation of children with no interest in reading and little ability to write, let alone create.  Break out the paint, glue and glitter, read original documents, apply literature to history, perform a science experiment…together we can explore the planet.

Angie:  I have a few questions:  Do you use the literature to guide the history lessons or do you teach history in a chronological order (like other classical homeschoolers) and choose literature that corresponds with that time in history?

I am a strong believer in the benefits of teaching history in chronological order, after all, that is the order in which it all happened.  Like domino’s, each event was the catalyst for the next, each shift in beliefs, a result of the immediate past.  That being said, I have found that if followed too literally, it is difficult to ever get out of the Middle Ages, let alone Ancient Mesopotamia.  So, although I enjoy reading A Childs History of the World, by Virgil M. Hillyer, and my children love The Story of the World (especially on tape), by Susan Wise Bauer, sometimes (often) I will jump around.


Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.  Hall of Armour

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. Hall of Armor

HappyMess boys wearing "real" armor!

HappyMess boys wearing “real” armor!

I am an even bigger believer in grabbing opportunities as they present themselves, and building a quick mini-lesson around an exhibit, or a play or an article in the newspaper.  History, and science are so much more interesting when a child can see the immediate application of the knowledge.

Joan of Arc, MET

Joan of Arc, MET


HappyMess kids studying Joan of Arc at MET

HappyMess kids studying Joan of Arc at MET

History at the MET

History at the MET

Museums are a great place to learn about the past.  Here we find that ancient peoples had similar aspirations as ourselves.

History books that we have enjoyed include:  The American Story, by Jennifer Armstrong and A Young Peoples History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. There are countless wonderful books about ancient Egypt and Greece and about every corner of the world.  I like to choose books with engaging pictures as I usually begin every History lesson with shared reading.  Initially, it is the parent, or teacher, who breathes life into the history lesson.  A good history lesson is like a piece of theater, filled with anticipation, suspense, surprise and resolution.

We have found that many literature books dovetail nicely with our studies.  When reading historical literature we concentrate on understanding the feelings of the characters, asking ourselves, Why did they make these choices? Respond in this manner?  How is this different, or the same from our experiences, desires, actions?  Frequently we will read a book that is so compelling, we will read the literature first and then research the time period afterwards.

Celadon pottery at the MET

Celadon pottery at the MET

This was the case with A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park.  We read the book, chose a quote as our school motto, and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to view original pieces of celadon pottery.

A wonderland boook picturesOh..and built an entire book club, around that experience, and created an Outreach Program, Wonderland BookSavers, that has so far, since September, donated 4,000 books to needy children both in the US and abroad…

A doc filmand created a 7 minute documentary film and a Destination Imagination theatrical presentation…see the importance of just one piece of quality literature…?

So, what was the answer?  Usually I am running at least two concurrent history programs.  One is plowing forward through time, looking at facts, geo-political factors, resulting changes, etc., the other is inspired by current events, great literature, museum exhibits or lectures on a topic.

Additionally, Homeschool HappyMess kids participate in National History Day each year. This leads to very in depth research into a specific topic.  This year we are focusing on the TET offensive and the media misinformation that surrounded that event, causing the American people to further turn against the Vietnam War.

A TET 1A TET 2 fall_of_saigonA 1968-Tet-Offensive-3Our older children have created a theatrical piece in which the “war fought in the living rooms of America,” literally comes home through investigative journalism.  They recently won First Place for their local presentation, and are off to the State competition next month.  Working on projects and competitions allows the student to “own” a piece of history.

We are also engaged in learning the fine art of the “research paper,” through a project on the Economy of Ancient Ephesus, as an offshoot of the study of Latin and a subset of the history of the Roman Empire.

History is the wonderful and terrible story that envelopes us all.  There are 1,000 ways to study, memorize, examine, and theorize about history.  Choose any path, as they say, “All roads lead to Rome.”

Angie:  How do you relate the sciences?

Well, we again take several different approaches to the study of science, for younger children I am content with doing fun experiments and visiting hands-on science museums and randomly choosing interesting science books or biographies from the library.  My goal is simple:  awaken curiosity and provide answers about our physical world.  Science and history can often be studied in tandem, as is the case with Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Copernicus.  Science, like history, is not a series of facts but a series of people.

A Truth at farm

leaf classification

leaf classification

Our 3rd grader is also following the BJU curriculum.  This provides many interesting facts and experiments in a more organized fashion.  Again, we read books, biographies and enjoy the world.  As our students get older we follow specific studies so they can learn the basics of chemistry, biology and physics.

Angie:  How do you go about choosing your reading list for the year?

A Bounce libraryI love classic literature. Generally those books, which have been known and loved for decades, are well written, use correct English grammar, have interesting vocabulary choices, reflect clear values and tell a compassionate story that resonates with young readers.   In other words, they are worth struggling with and will make your student a better reader and a more thoughtful person.  My annual reading list is comprised of those pieces of quality children’s literature which are at the appropriate reading level.  I mainly choose books the child can read himself, but also include a few that can be read aloud and discussed.  For our book club we have focused on books that reflect a message of personal growth and responsibility.  These books have included A Single Shard by Park, from which we took as our motto, “One hill, one valley, one day at a time…,” Old Yeller, by Gipson, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Carroll, Classic Poetry, Ancient Greek and Roman Myths and now, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan.  With each book, our book club performed a community service project…but that is a long story for another day…

Angie:  Also, a fun one:  is your schoolhouse an outbuilding or connected to the main house? 


HappyMess schoolhouse visitors

HappyMess schoolhouse visitors

In this case, since homeschooling has taken over our lives and thus, every corner of our living space I think it might be more accurate to say that our home is a modified outbuilding connecting to our schoolhouse.

Angie, I hope this helps.  Thanks for your faithful reading!  Allia

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is sharing the experience of growth with an unseen, but forever perspicacious community.

7 Responses

  1. I enjoyed this post quite a lot, Allia. I’m actually in the process of writing up a series of posts in response to questions I’ve received about how we homeschool, and I love reading how things work in your family (especially since you’ve got more years of experience with a wider range of ages than I have). I think I’m going to link to this post from my blog, so that I can share another homeschooling voice with my readers.

    Thanks for sharing your answers to Angie’s questions here!

    • I would happy to have you provide a link to this article. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to explore the world with my children. I am sure other families will enjoy the same experiences. Allia

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. Thanks so much Allia! You have been a tremendous help; it’s such a scary jump into the ocean when you decide to homeschool, as it can only be truly be done in the deep end. If it weren’t for blogs such as yours it would be so much harder for newbies like myself. Thanks again!
    Angie Gren

    • Angie,

      Like a cold swimming pool, it is only scary for the first minute or two. After than, homeschooling becomes as natural as sharing all the joys of living with your favorite little person, your child. Enjoy!

  3. […] You’ll find Allia’s post here: Inspired by Angie: Solving a Homeschooler’s Dilemma […]

  4. I am among your new readers referred by CJ and the parent of a 6th grader. My daughter plays with CJ’s children..

    I applaud your success at building bridges, Allia–not just sharing information with other home schoolers. You go far in explaining your mindset and mission to public schoolers (like my family) and to others who may feel that the downside of home schooling has risks that outweigh the benefits.

    Of course, I have come a long way by talking with CJ (through her Blog and in person). I see well-behaved and motivated pupils who are articulate, ahead of the curve in many ways and probably not lacking in any scholastic areas.

    As I see it (presented in a very abridged fashion). . .

    A] UPSIDE (I bet that you could add volumes to this list)

    1. Convey family values better than local gov or community schooling
    2. Adapt to the child more personally and individually. Focusing on weak areas or fostering strength
    3. Completely eliminate the potential for bullying — at least at school
    4. Flexible hours (at least in emergencies)
    5. No shortage of staff resources. No cutbacks.


    1. Lack of frequent and diverse socialization. which arguably helps to build awareness, tolerance and understanding (people skills)
    2. Lack of classroom resources & athletic resources
    3. Parents can’t be experts in every discipline: Even in 3rd grade, teachers specialize in areas for which they are most proficient or personally motivated. A parent can certainly teach Egyptology, but perhaps a social studies teacher with Egyptian heritage, or a teaching assistant who spent a year on an archaeology dig in the Sinai can contribute more vividly to that unit.
    4. Fewer opportunities for completely new adult perspectives and methods–experienced by pupils who move between classes taught by older teachers, foreign teachers, and by newly certified teachers.
    5. Eliminating the “potential for bullying” cuts both ways. Can a home schooled child deal as effectively with abrasive behavior which will inevitably intersect with their lives. I.e. Are they sheltered from “street smarts”?
    6. Fear of eventual integration: This would be my biggest concern. Although CJ tells me that HS do just fine when slip-streamed into high school or college, my limited experience with close friends suggests that this is a big problem.
    7. Motivational Lulls: Despite annual filings and occasional inspections (in some states), I would imagine that home schoolers must be constantly vigilant that they are comparing curricula with state standards, measuring progress and ensuring an eventual integration into high school or college culture.
    8. Extra-Curricular Activity: I understand that home schoolers have every right to present their children to the football team, chess club, swim team, intramural debates, etc. But I bet it is more difficult to keep up with the broad spectrum of activities, advocate for the ones that are not properly communicated, overcome fear or subtle ostracism, etc.

    Having known CJ for almost 2 years, I am on the fence. I won’t pull my daughter out of her school room, but I respect and support CJ’s decision 100% (probably because her very positive result speaks for itself). But deep down in my heart, I was only a bit surprised that my “Downside” list was longer than the “Upsides”. And, if I were to continue, it would probably be twice as long again.

    • Ellery,
      You certainly have given plenty of thought to the issues involved in choosing an educational program for children. I am relieved that you see me as a bridge builder, as it is indeed my goal to speak to all parents, not uniquely those that homeschool. I don’t believe you need to always choose one path or another, there are many small roads that are open to all of us. Public schoolers can attend lectures, participate in contests and reflect parental values if they choose. Likewise, my children participate in many local activities and are in no way “sheltered” from the mainstream. Naturally, if I wrote this list my Upside would certainly rival the Downside, and I would suggest to you that there are dozens of adults from whom my children have learned, including college professors and museum curators. But let’s not quarrel about which method is the best. Rather, let us work to ensure that parents have their eyes open and ensure that their children are educated in the beauty and the wonder of our earth.


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