Tag Archives: Homeschooling

We are Educated by Our Intimacies –Otherwise known as what we did this summer


Sometimes I worry that my son isn’t getting the education he deserves. We live in a rural area, he attends public school, but the education system is not the best, we don’t have regular access to the internet or public library, etc. But then he surprises me by discovering his passions on his own, and I look for ways to enhance his learning along with those lines, some formal, some informal.

For instance, this summer my son was able to attend both music and art classes as part of a program I was coordinating for a school. While he didn’t learn to play an instrument in the music class, he did learn to listen. Now two months after the class ended, he still mentions how much he enjoyed it. He has me listen to songs the teacher introduced him to in class and talks about their music, meaning, and rhythm.

chalk and pastel drawingcrayon batik

In his art class, he learned how to create a chalk pastel and glue drawing, something I never would have thought to teach him. (To see how it’s done–Chalk Pastel and Glue Drawing.)  He also created a crayon batik drawing. Such exciting and fun art techniques!  While I don’t believe he will necessarily become an artist, art is definitely part of a well-rounded education.

cool rock

As for informal learning, we had several geological adventures this summer. (See Las Cuevas en Cerano and Picking Capulines) My son found some incredible rock formations. Our little home library didn’t have much in the way of rock and mineral books, so I sent the pictures via email to an old college buddy who happens to be a geologist. He did an incredible write-up, complete with diagrams and highlighted areas, about the pictures.  He sent links to geological studies of our area.  My son was fascinated, also incredibly impressed by my friend’s rock knowledge, and learned something in the process.

food prepcookingwpid-cam012412.jpg.jpeg

My son also expressed an interest in learning how to cook this summer. He asked if he could make something by himself, which was ok by me. He spent 2 days leafing through cookbooks until he found a dish that he felt he could make and that we could also find the ingredients for in our local market. He chose spaghetti carbonara.  He asked that I supervise, but not help.  I was happy to oblige. We all enjoyed the result!


Reading has always been an interest of his, however, his new phone, and subsequent game downloads distracted his focus a bit this summer. I had to change my tactics somewhat when I encouraged reading over games. If there were a book I wanted him to read, I would read it through first, and he would see me reading it and ask questions. I would only tell him the bare minimum, piquing his curiosity. When I finished the book, I left it in his room, seemingly by accident. Sure enough, he would pick it up and read it, usually in one long Sunday afternoon out with the goats. Two of books that he especially enjoyed this past summer were Bridge to Terabithia and Hatchet.


My son also nursed an injured heron back to health. Our little guest stayed until its wing healed and then was on its way. Take about a hands-on experience!


Then he wanted to plant a flower garden in a little area that we haven’t had much luck in sowing. Again, he didn’t want any help, just the seeds and spent a happy afternoon planting. Unfortunately, the few plants that did sprout were quickly eaten by escaped chickens. Think it’s time to redesign the chicken area!


He and his young mare Shadow began their joint schooling this summer as well. My husband worked with my son, and the two of them started light training for his horse. While they both are up for it, it’s still a long way to Wordsworth’s
‘proud to curb, and eager to spur on, the galloping steed’; and then, the home-coming:––

First day of first grade!

The first day of first grade!

First day of Secondaria!

The first day of Secondary!

All too soon, the summer ended, and formal schooling began again, this time at what is known here in Mexico as secondaria (secondary). His hours in a structured classroom have increased from 4 to 6 per day. None of us are happy with the current schedule and have looked for alternatives, but have yet to find any that will work for us. Meanwhile, he does enjoy his biology class that is currently learning about the study of genetics (See Goat Genetics) and a woodworking class where so far he has made a complete set of stone-age tools and a doll’s table.

Learning, whether in a formal or informal setting, is essential to growth. It goes without saying that I want my son not just to grow, but to flourish. Sometimes that means creating an atmosphere for learning, and sometimes it means capitalizing on the environment that presents itself. And as Charlotte Mason writes …We know that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child’s circumstances (atmosphere) to forward his sound education; should train him in the discipline of the habits of the good life; and should nourish his life with ideas, the food upon which personality waxes strong.




Filed under Carnival posts, Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Parenting Challenge–Education as a Discipline

Our vacation education project!

Our vacation education project!

Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight. –Charlotte Mason

During the long 2 week vacation that comes with Semana Santa (Holy Week), I started my 10-year-old son on an educational path that involved the book “The Most Dangerous Book for Boys” by Con and Hal Iggulden. With a title like that, you would have thought that he would have dove right in, but it took a little prompting and finally a stern mandate that he was to read one section of the book and complete the activity (if it had one) each and every day of the vacation period. However, I moderated that he could choose whatever topic he wished. So reluctantly he took the book to his room and thumbed through the table of contents, only to return a few minutes later to ask if he really could choose whatever topic. I responded affirmatively, and his excitement was evident. He went back to reading and came back again asking if he could do more than one section a day. Of course, he could.

As we have already urged, there is but one right way, that is, children must do the work for themselves. They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, what we may call the act of knowing. –Charlotte Mason

The first thing he read was about how to make paper airplanes. The house is now littered with the ones he learned from the book and several that he made his own adaptations to. Then he read about building a tree house, although I asked him what he thought he would do with that information since we do not have any trees large enough to support a tree house (cactus is not inherently stable enough to house a tree house.) But he wanted to read it, so he did. I came home from classes and found he had adapted the information to make a second dog house for Cocoa all on his own. (The first dog house, constructed with the help of his dad, has been taken over by 2 kittens and Hershey the new puppy.) Another day, he asked me to bring home vinegar and blotting paper for the newest experiment, a battery made with vinegar, quarters, copper wire, salt, and blotting paper. As blotting paper could not be found, he substituted thin cardboard and set to work. After a failed attempt (he had forgotten the salt) he tried again, his dad looking on. The second attempt also failed, (the light bulb was too large), so he tried again, doubling the number of quarters. He still wasn’t able to make the bulb light up, but he was able to create a spark, so the experiment was deemed a success.

making a battery

Working on making a battery from quarters and vinegar.

The bad habit of the easy life is always pleasant and persuasive and to be resisted with pain and effort, but with hope and certainty of success, because in our very structure is the preparation for forming such habits of muscle and mind as we deliberately propose to ourselves.–Charlotte Mason

My son’s new found enthusiasm for experimentation has sparked my husband’s mind as well. My husband has retooled our moto (motorcycle) wagon and is now gathering materials for making an attempt at a windmill to provide us with electricity since it seems that the powers that be in this area are not interested in their civic duties. My husband has always been creative but slipped into complacency this past year. I hope that his new projects will reawaken what was once a sharp and agile mind.

side car

Moto-cart. Just the thing for transporting!

Physical fitness, morals and manners, are very largely the outcome of habit; and not only so, but the habits of the religious life also become fixed and delightful and give us due support in the effort to live a godly, righteous and sober life. We need not be deterred by the fear that religious habits in a child are mechanical, uninformed by the ideas which should give them value. –Charlotte Mason

Having myself been raised in a religiously strict household, I have taken a more indirect approach to religion with my son. Instead of attending regular religious services, we look for God in the everyday. Instead of forced bible readings, I present tidbits that prompt his own investigations. “The most Dangerous Book for Boys” contains sections on the greatest battles ever fought since the beginning of recorded history. Of course, this included biblical figures such as Nebuchadnezzar. He read the section covering the conflict in the book, then went off with a bible to gather more details about Nebuchadnezzar’s life and times.

It is as we have seen disastrous when child or man learns to think in a groove, and shivers like an unaccustomed bather on the steps of a new notion. This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions. –Charlotte Mason

There are sections on scientists, explorers, inventors, poets, excerpts from Shakespeare, The Declaration of Independence, and the King James Version of the Bible. There are readings on overcoming adversity, scientific discovery and reaching out towards self-awareness. I was delighted to find some of my own childhood favorites included. After all, my own life is based on what Frost tried to say “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference” and it is my hope that my son will find his own path armed with all the knowledge and education that I lay before him.



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Filed under Book Reviews, Carnival posts, Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms, Teaching

Homeschool variation

scarlet king snake

Red touches yellow kills a fellow. Red touches black, a friend of Jack.

As an educator, I have always been concerned about my son’s education. I felt, since the moment he was born, that my principle task as a mother was to help him learn to be a well-adjusted, happy and successful man, no matter where he might live.

When we arrived in México, my son was 4 years old, and according to his Spanish-speaking grandparents, he didn’t speak any Spanish. However, he did understand everything he heard. In order to jump start his language acquisition, we decided to send him to a bilingual kindergarten. I found a position with a private school, and he attended with me. We both liked this arrangement since Mommy was his teacher for 1/2 the day. His Spanish improved immensely.

At 5, we needed to make some decisions about schooling. We planned to make México our permanent home, not just a 2 or 3-year stint. It was evident that there would be things I just wouldn’t be able to adequately teach my son about Mexican culture and language. Thus began our homeschool variation.

My son attends public elementary school from 2 pm in the afternoon until 6:30 pm. His normal subjects include Spanish, Math, Science, Mexican Moral Values, Physical Education and Mexican History, with brief sessions of music, art, and computer classes. So my mission was to supplement these courses with those that I thought he might need. We began a home study course in the mornings and on weekends.

I left Spanish alone. A native teacher is always better than a foreigner. At 10, he speaks Mexican Spanish fluently, without a trace of an American accent. He also is the top reader in his class, having been elected several years in a row to represent his school at various reading competitions.

Math, other than learning the terms in English, again was something I didn’t need to focus too much on since numbers are easily understood in digit form in either language. Anyway, I wasn’t much help with the metric system, having learned the English measurement system when I was a girl. His dad does most of the teaching for this subject. Having worked in both the United States and México, he is able to use both measurement systems well. He and our son used hands-on math in the construction of our home.

I added World History to his morning agenda, using interesting books or fun activities like word searches or hidden picture books. I also had him play Civilization on the computer, which really was his favorite lesson by far. If you’ve never played the game, the idea is for you to grow a civilization from the hunter/gatherer stage to a scientifically advanced one. Your scientific and military advancements depend on the civilization you choose. I think, for this reason, he never complained when we had to gather vinas (a bean type plant) or cut grass for the animals. He imagined he was gathering, just like in the game. Now that his reading ability has caught up to the textbooks I brought with us, he enjoys comparing what he learned from the game to the information in the books.

In line with our world culture study, we recently added Bible lessons as well. We can really relate to some of the early biblical accounts as we too have sheep and goats and have to haul water and make good trades. I found Semana Santa (Holy Week) a good time to present the life and times of Jesus since there are live reenactments of the trial and death in this very Catholic nation. He also is my assistant in designing Spanish Bible games for a local Christian church.

Science has been the easiest by far. We live off the beaten path and every day provides opportunities to study native flora and fauna. I remember the day we saw a dung beetle rolling its dung with his hind legs. Having only ever seen that creature on TV, we were very excited to be sure. We watched it for awhile, then raced home to do more research in the bug encyclopedia.

On another nature walk, we came across a snake that my son was able to identify as a non-venomous scarlet king snake, not its poisonous cousin the coral snake, from his readings. Then there are the butterflies of México, every size and hue imaginable. After the rains, butterflies can be found in groups of hundreds. You can literally walk through clouds of butterflies. No museum trip can match the wonder of that.

With the native vegetation, I am as an avid a student as my son. I have been unable to locate any composite books on plants of México, so am always full of questions for my husband and my in-laws. What is the medicinal value of this or that plant? Is it edible? What animals eat it? Which are poisonous? Can it be made into a tea? How do you eat it, raw or cooked?

We also began our mini-ranching about the time our son started school, so he has had hands-on experience with a number of different animals, much more learning intensive than a day trip to the petting zoo. He has helped with births and hatchings, with daily care and milking, with the selling and butchering. He has learned, along with us, about the interconnectedness of the environment. For example, the horses eat grain then poop. The chickens eat the flies and the undigested grains and lay eggs. We eat the eggs, which gives us the energy to plant the grain that the horse eats. He has also seen the agonizing results of improper or inadequate care and learned how we have a responsibility to our animals to provide adequate food and shelter and what benefits we receive in return.

Of course, his daily homeschool curriculum includes liberal doses of English. He helps me design exciting language games, reads, does his (in his opinion ‘not so fun‘) daily grammar or spelling activity, and uses the language every day with his father or me or my other ESL students. He speaks English without a Mexican accent, although he often spells as if the word were phonetically Spanish. We’re working on that.

With non-academic courses such as physical education, music, art, and computer literacy classes, most Mexican public schools do not have a lot of funding for intensive year-long classes, but they do provide sessions as teachers become available.

My son had an art class working with barro (clay) which is a traditional medium for many everyday items still made and used here in México today. He is also learning Zentangle design from a student of mine in exchange for English classes.

He has had a few flute classes, but he never mastered that well. So now, he takes Mommy piano lessons on Saturday and is progressing nicely.

Our daily lives, with its many activities, provide ample physical activity for a growing boy. For instance, my son’s job is to fill the barrica (barrel) using the hand pump so that we have water to wash with. We tease him about how the girls in his class must notice how muscular he has become because of this daily task. We also love to take family bike rides to the next town and back.

And he has had access to a computer from an early age in our home. We have recently been able to get internet service, and the whole world has opened up for him with the click of a button.

I wish I could provide more for my son. The area that we live in is so backward regarding technology and at times, culturally. But I hope that I am providing enough that wherever he may go, he will have enough knowledge to survive and succeed.

After all, as Joseph Campbell says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” and that should be enough for anyone.




Filed under Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms