Fun Hands-On Math Activities

So many times, children (and youth and adults, too) “hate” math because it seems like nothing but a bunch of useless theory. If you can teach your child mathematical concepts through interesting real-life activities, instead of textbook work, they’ll develop a love of math in all its many aspects of life–often without realizing that they are actually doing math.  Here are a few fun activities I have done with my own children and my tutoring students:


Use dominoes to:

– construct structures. Try to make each structure more complex than the previous one. (You can also use blocks, lego type bricks, and other similar shaped objects–and combine them). Encourage the child to “talk through” the process. As a parent, build your own structure alongside and explain your process as you do it. Include how you use analysis, strategy, and probability, as well as other planning skills. Do sketch pre-planning on graph paper or even try using “architectural” software.

Use dry noodles and craft glue to

-build structures such as bridges. Plan ahead. Try different types of noodles (spaghettini, spaghetti, lasagna) to see which are strongest. How can different kinds be combined? Which should be used for spans? For the bridge deck? etc.?


– calculate the number of bricks in a chimney or wall by counting across and down and multiplying. Since bricks are staggered, how many “across” rows will need to be taken into consideration?


– use balls of clay and toothpicks to build models of “square numbers and “cubic numbers” (etc.).
– use paper to design geometric shapes. Draw what you think a 3 dimensional shape would look like “flat,” then cut it out around the edges and try to assemble it into the 3D shape. Keep trying until you understand one shape, then try other shapes. If the child is stuck, cut a cardboard box along the edges so it lays flat. Examine it, and try to reproduce it with paper.

Fractions (and division and multiplication)

– Research and discuss how science has kept discovering smaller and smaller parts of what we once thought were already the smallest parts. Talk about molecules, atoms, electrons, protons … and smaller and smaller…
– Use dominoes or lego bricks to discuss fractions. Count how many there are altogether (start with a small number like 10; later work with larger numbers). Put all of them together to form a “whole.” Then start separating into equal parts. (For example, with 10 bricks, you can have halves and fifths. With 35 bricks, you can have fifths and sevenths.
– Use baking to understand fractions. Double or triple recipes–or halve them. When the product is baked, cut it up into x number of equal parts (think of different ways to do that; sketch them out on paper first; choose the “best” way).

Negative numbers:

– Use a thermometer to understand positive and negative numbers.

Probability and statistics:

– flip a penny or other coin and record the “heads” and “tails” on a chart. Discuss the “probability” of each. (Discuss things like: While theoretically, there should be an equal probability, the different sides of a coin have different amounts of metal due to the engraving, so there are slight differences in weight. How does that affect probability? What if you do the flipping in a windy place or in front of a fan? Would that change the probability? Why or why not?)
– Do the same with dice. Roll one and record/graph how many times it lands on each set of dots. Then do it with two dice, and record and graph combinations.
Predict which combinations will come up most and least; then check against the results. How many times did you have to toss the dice before the result came up even or close to even? What aspects of the dice, the tossing method, the surface the dice land on, etc. could affect the results? Using your graph of combinations and the same pair of dice, play a game like Yahtzee that uses dice. Use what you’ve learned to decide the probability of which dice combinations are most likely to come up when you’re playing the game. Can we use this to create strategies for playing a game?
– Discuss how we use probability and statistics in all kinds of ways. Look through news articles or listen to news reports. How often are statistics used? Are they accurate? Why or why not? How else could the same statistics be interpreted? (This is very interesting when there are elections or other events that use polls).
– Look at a Farmer’s Almanac or seed packets. Discuss how weather statistics are used to determine when is the best time to plant different crops in different places.
– Likewise, examine a tide chart (and go to the shore each day for a few days to observe the high and low tide marks). How is statistics used to determine tide levels and times? Why is it helpful to know these things?
– Go online and record the high and low temperature predictions (plus sun, clouds, rain, etc) for the next week. Record them on a graph. Then, using a different colour, record the actual results. Watch weather reports on TV; learn about “highs” and “lows” and other ways (including historical statistics) meteorologists predict the probability of upcoming weather. Do the same for the path of a hurricane (or tornado or other weather events) from the time it is first spotted forming until it has actually run its course. How did the predictions and actual events compare? What could have accounted for differences? What kinds of stats and probability were used to predict it?

Math and Mapping and Landscaping:

– discuss why mapping a yard would be a good idea (decide the best places to do certain types of plantings based on needs of space, sunlight, soil, etc.; planning the best place to set up a picnic table and barbeque; finding a good place to play croquet or other yard activities; etc.).
– Then map your own yard, recording the information on graph paper. Mark topography, trees and shrubs, soil types, compass directions (important for when different parts of the yard are in sun), areas that are in shade or in sunlight much of the time, and so on. You can even find “micro climates” by placing thermometers in different spots. Then decide how you could put your yard to the best use. This is a wonderful, long term activity! Do experiments like planting the same plant in a shady spot, a sunny spot, a rocky spot and a sandy spot. Keep records; make lots of graphs. Over time, develop some statistics and make predictions based on those statistics and probability.


– Take photographs of an object or scene from different positions: directly above, from different side angles, from below, from close up, from far away, with the whole object or just parts of it. Compare them. How does the perspective change what you see? What did you notice about the object that you never thought of before? Are any of the photos puzzling? Why not show one of the puzzling pictures to several people and see if they can figure out what it is. Why does an object or scene look like it has different sizes and shapes, depending on the angle of the picture? What angle do you think is most accurate, measurement-wise? Least accurate? Why does that happen?

This is Part 1 of a series on fun math activities you can do at home.

You can find a list of all the posts in this series in the “Fun Math Activities” section on the Home Education Tips page.

What are your favourite family fun activities for learning math?

Please do share your ideas in the comments. Thank you!

Posted in adventures & explorations, family learning, home learning, homeschooling, life-long learning, math, math games and activities | Leave a comment

Hire a Tutor or Homeschool My Child?

(This is a response I gave to a question on Quora: “Am I allowed to hire a tutor instead of homeschooling my child?”)

I’d like to approach this question from a somewhat different aspect than the previous responders. (Though I would agree with the other responders that you do need to know the laws around homeschooling in your location).

As a tutor, a former school teacher, and also a former homeschooling parent of 5, I think there are definitely times when you might want to hire a tutor when you are homeschooling your child. As a few examples:

  • Obviously, if your child is studying a complex subject (for example, grade 12 calculus, or a foreign language) which you have no experience with or background in, a tutor could come in very handy.
  • A tutor might also be helpful if you are suddenly faced with a situation like a serious personal or family illness which uses up a great deal of your time and energy.
  • Sometimes, you and your child might be having some interpersonal difficulties in one or more subject areas, and hiring a tutor for a period of time for “academics” could take off some of the stress and allow you and your child to rebuild your relationship in other ways.

But before you rush out and hire a tutor and send your child off for tutoring lessons, consider these options:

  • Perhaps you could actually benefit more from the tutoring than your child might. Assuming you already have some background in a subject but feel you’ve “forgotten too much,” a couple “refresher” lessons for yourself could result in you being able to teach the child yourself—and the cost of a couple lessons for you compared to a series of lessons for the child would be considerably less.
  • If you are having difficulty finding creative ways to teach your child, or if you and your child seem to have different learning styles, or if your child has specific learning differences (special needs) you aren’t sure how to handle, asking a tutor to give you some advice could really help. Or you could ask the tutor to allow you to sit in (quietly observing from a distance) on some tutoring lessons for your child, and watch the tutor’s methods.
  • Do some research on educational methodology, and especially on methods that are successful in the homeschooling situation. Read broadly and ask questions of other homeschoolers. As you research, make notes of ideas that fit with your educational goals and beliefs, and with your child’s personal learning needs. Be willing to experiment with methods till you find what works with each child—you may end up doing some quite different approaches with your different children.
  • If you and your child just seem to need a break from each other or from homeschooling for a bit, maybe:
    • Take a break! That really is one of the great advantages of homeschooling—the ability to create your own schedule.
    • Allow your child to experiment with self-teaching/self-education (aka unschooling). Let him/her choose what he/she wants to learn about, and find ways to do that. Some children are amazingly self-motivated, independent learners, if you just give them a chance.
    • Allow your child to spend time with a “mentor” – perhaps a grandparent or other adult the child enjoys spending time with, or a family friend with whom the child can “job shadow.” While they might do some “academics” together, they might alternatively do a hobby or some kind of “work” together, or travel together, any of which can be really great learning experiences.
    • Enroll your child in a variety of children’s courses (not just academics, but sports, fine arts, etc.) for a while.
    • Join up with a local homeschool support group and get involved in lots of group activities; swap “teaching” assignments with some of the other parents; etc.

There are lots of other options, too. Homeschooling can—and should be—an adventure. Hiring a tutor can at times be part of that adventure. There are times, too, when school may be your best option. Or you might use a combination of all these options, at once or at different times. Use your creativity to find the learning options that work best for you and your family. I have actually written a whole series of blog posts on this kind of topic. If you are interested, you can find it here: Why Children Need Parent-Tutors (Scroll to the bottom of this first post for links to all the other posts in the series).

Posted in home learning, homeschooling, parent-child relationships, parent-tutoring, tutoring | Leave a comment

Thoughts About Multiple Choice/Standardized Tests

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Some time ago, in a half-awake early morning state, I came up with this article outline, and its somewhat cheeky conclusions, which I then posted on a former version of this site 🙂

April 8, 2010 — So I woke up about 6:15 am, and was laying there thinking about things… and started composing an article in my head.  Well, I wasn’t really composing an article.  I was just thinking about stuff and realized it was a potential article.  Especially after I caught myself thinking about it in outline form!  Then I realized I do know a fair amount about a lot of different things – at least enough to write articles about them.
So I thought, maybe I should write down the general gist of this outline while it’s still in my head… so here it is…  (and maybe, after all, it’s just a result of my lack of sleep during the night, but just in case it isn’t, here goes!)

Why Kids Fail Multiple Choice Exams

1.  They don’t “know” the material:

a. They missed the teaching.

b. They didn’t understand the teaching:

i.  It was presented in overly complex language.

ii.  They didn’t have sufficient background knowledge.

iii. There was a personality conflict between them and the teacher.

c. They couldn’t comprehend the material:

i. Reading difficulties.

ii.  ESL.

d. They studied too much or crammed, or…

e. They didn’t “study” hard enough.

2.  They aren’t multiple-choice-test-wise:

a. They don’t realize they must look for the “one best answer.”

b. They don’t realize it is usually best to skip questions one isn’t sure about (and come back later if other questions provide a hint!).

c. They don’t realize that if one must answer every question, the first guess is usually the best guess.

d. They are creative thinkers and see the potential “rightness” in many of the choices.

e. They don’t realize that the root line in the question is key; so they don’t read it carefully enough.

f.They aren’t trained to look for “trick” questions and answers.

3.  They aren’t “interested” in the material or in the testing:

a. It doesn’t seem to be related to their own lives:

i. Culturally.

ii.  Economically/ socially.

iii. Current peer culture.

iv. Family encouragement or lack thereof.

b. It doesn’t seem to relate to their goals in life.

c. They “just don’t care”:

i. They already are conditioned to believe they will fail anyway.

ii. It isn’t considered cool to do well.

d. They are more interested in mathematical possibilities: e.g.: if I choose a) for #1, b)  for #2, c) for #3, d) for #4, and continue that pattern, what are the chances I’ll pass this test? (probably pretty good, actually!)

4.  They have “personal” difficulties:

a. They were sick on test day.

b. They were worried/ distracted on test day:

i. Home difficulties.

ii. Bad news.

iii. In love.

iv.  Big game coming up later in the day.

c. They didn’t have a healthy breakfast.

d. They have personal learning styles which:

i. Don’t support the particular form of teaching style.

ii. Don’t support the particular form of learning style/ activities.

iii. Don’t support the particular form of testing style.

e. They were up all night because the TV was blaring and/or the parents were partying.

Etc. Etc. Etc….

Which is why once-a-year multiple choice standardized tests (particularly; but also multiple choice tests generally), are often very poor indicators of a child’s overall knowledge and understanding; and why determining how well a child is actually learning, or even what they are learning (often many unintended lessons occur while the intended lesson is completely missed!), is a very complex business.
And thus, assessment should take place constantly throughout the teaching, learning, practicing and testing processes.  (Yes, the teaching process too, since that can very often be failing, itself.  Sorry, teachers…been there, done that myself…).
Furthermore, learning really is “proved” at some later point in life when the child has the opportunity to use that knowledge in real ways.  And those ways are not always job-related, or further-education related, believe it or not.  They are more likely to be “proved” in:

  • off-the-cuff conversations with some random person in a coffee shop, or
  • in the understanding of what some one is explaining; or
  • in relating to a movie or story or video game or magazine article, or
  • making a good dinner, or
  • drawing a picture, or
  • making an informed decision about something seemingly quite unrelated to the original learning, or
  • trying out new-to-you foods and enjoying them, or
  • adjusting to new/ different situations

Etc. Etc. Etc….

Which is why most prospective employers, love interests, organization recruiters, friends, allies–and increasingly, higher educational facilities–could care less about the results of a kid’s multiple-choice test marks.
Ho! Ho!  Each section of my notes above could be developed into a lengthy article of its own. Yep, I could even write a whole book.  And it all came out of my head, at 6:30 in the morning when I was still half-asleep.  Based on my own experiences.  I’m an expert!  Yay!
Obviously, I just need to jot down the key points of every conversation I take part in or overhear, every situation I observe, every set of meandering thoughts when I can’t sleep.  Then write them as articles, submit them to appropriate niche sites and publishers – on or off line–and…
Voila!  Instant successful author, writer, millionaire!
(Was I really awake? Maybe it was all a dream?)

Posted in education, evaluation and reporting, exam tips | Leave a comment

Tips to a new home school mom

(The following post was originally a letter from myself to a new home schooling mom who was worried about her ability to educate her children. I hope it will encourage you, too!)

Let me assure you: the majority of children have their own difficulties! Every line you have written here about your son’s difficulties immediately brought to mind memories of my own children’s situations! Let’s start with your son’s unhappy year in kindergarten, which led you to consider home schooling. In my case, my first daughter was obviously very bright, learning to speak in full sentences very early–and yet she “failed” kindergarten! It turned out she was just not “socially ready”– for the classroom situation, that is (

Let’s start with your son’s unhappy year in kindergarten, which has led you to consider home schooling. In my case, my first daughter was obviously bright, learning to speak in full sentences very early–and yet she “failed” kindergarten! It turned out she was just not “socially ready”– for the classroom situation, that is (as many children are not).

She had been very happy at home and in the neighborhood, with her younger siblings and her many friends and cousins, and her parents, grandparents, adult family friends, aunts and uncles, church members … in other words, well socialized into real society. She could carry on a happy and interesting and intelligent conversation with people of any age. She loved listening to us read Shakespeare and philosophers and discuss politics and religion and current events, and would ask intelligent questions and give interesting and thoughtful commentary on all kinds of topics. This was just from being part of a large family, both nuclear and extended, as well as part of community family in the church and other organizations (for example, she came with me to Girl Guides even when she was a tot–I would only be a leader if I could bring along my baby!).

Then she went to kindergarten – and she began being “socialized,” stuck in a room with 25 or so other little people who “just happened to be born in the same year.” She was expected to live her life by a clock, doing things that were considered “age-appropriate.” So, for example, even though she had begun, without any coaching, drawing detailed pictures from the age of about 2, suddenly she was expected to use giant crayons and paintbrushes because supposedly she did not yet have fine-motor abilities! (She also was left-handed – and the teacher aide made her sit on her left hand, and use her right hand for printing and cutting! Another rant topic…)

Sadly, this applied to many things she did in Kindergarten. So basically she sat in the corner for the whole year, intensely unhappy. Her teacher recommended she repeat kindergarten because supposedly she hadn’t learned anything. (Within a year after that, she was reading anything and everything, far, far above grade level–so much for “not learning”–and later, after some years of home schooling, as a teenager she was teaching adults at a BC Government Skills Center how to do website design while her fellow age-appropriate-students were still struggling in grade 11 at school. And those technology skills were developed without a single hour of classroom instruction, or even parent-instruction: she taught herself computer coding and design (and then taught me!). In other words, she had grown up from the start to be interested in all aspects of life and to be a self-motivated learner and participant.

In fact, I was a school teacher, and I did not even realize home-school was a legal alternative until my oldest child was about 9 years old–and the only people I knew then who home schooled were simply having their children sit at desks at home from 9 to 3 daily, filling in workbooks, which seemed pointless to me. As it turned out, we were actually home learning in our entire lifestyle but didn’t realize it. So by the time we started the full learning-at-home adventure, my oldest daughter (the one who failed kindergarten) was at the grade 7 age level. Her little brother, our youngest, had just had a year of kindergarten, and we had 3 other daughters in between. When my children got into their teens, some chose to continue with learning-at-home, while some incorporated public school classes into their learning, some used Learning Centers, and so on. But whatever path they took was their choice, and I gave them great freedom in learning. And sometimes, school is almost unavoidable… like when I was in

When my children got into their teens, some chose to continue with learning-at-home, while some incorporated public school classes into their learning, some used Learning Centers, and so on. But whatever path they took was their choice, and I gave them great freedom in learning.

Three of my children have ended up with “Dogwood certificates,” while 2 have not “officially graduated.” Some have university degrees, others are self-employed or work successfully for companies. Yet they are all successful in their adult lives and now that they are having children of their own, they are making sure that their children really experience lifelong learning.

Your home school/ life-long learning adventure can and should be an adventure, using a lot of imagination and methods. You know your child better than anyone else, and together you can figure out your children’s needs and take advantage of what works for them. For example, one of my girls was very athletic and very competitive, and I arranged with our local neighborhood school for her to be able to take Phys Ed classes at the school and be part of their track and field team.

Also, our children have First Nations heritage, and they were able to go over to the local school to take part in language and culture learning activities, even while officially home-schooling. They also were involved in cultural activities in our community. Some schools are more open to these things than others, but it never hurts to find out. Even if your local schools won’t cooperate with your home schooling, there are so many other opportunities if you only search for them.

Finally, one last observation. When I started to home school, I knew very little about it. But I did know a lot about how to teach school! So the first day of home school, I had my living room outfitted with 5 desks, a whiteboard, a teacher desk, a bell (really!), and a very carefully planned timetable and curriculum. By noon the first day, my five little scholars had informed me that “If we’re just going to do school at home, we might as well go back to school.” So by the end of the first week, the desks and bell were banished, and my careful timetable and curriculum began to crumble away. Home school–learning at home as part of life–became an adventure of discovery for all of us. Sometimes I felt as though I was learning far more than my kids, and a lot of the time, they were my teachers! So don’t be afraid to take time to look around, get ideas, try different things out, be willing to change. And feel free to keep asking other home schoolers your great questions!

Please share your experiences in the comments. Thanks!

Posted in adventures & explorations, family learning, home learning, homeschooling, life-long learning | Leave a comment

Tips for when a spouse isn’t convinced about homeschooling

Tips from one homeschool mom to another about when a spouse isn’t convinced about homeschooling:

(I originally published these tips back in 2008 on a previous version of this blog–but I think they are worth revisiting. What do you think?)

Sometimes it is hard for one’s spouse to get into the whole home school thing, no matter how excited you are about the idea–and you don’t want to let it disrupt your good relationship.

That said, you may be able to bring your spouse around to your way of thinking by “home schooling” outside of school hours for the time being, and even during school hours by being as proactive with the school as possible – volunteering in your son’s classroom and/or on the playground, personally communicating with school staff such as the teacher, administration, secretaries, librarian, etc. on a really regular basis (chat with one or another of them at least once a week). If you are positive with them, trying to find positive solutions rather than being too negative, and being willing to be part of the solution (as long as your son must be in the school), you will likely find that you can get lots of great ideas and positive help that you can use to home school during out of school time now, and in the future when your partner decides to allow you to home school your child. The thing is to let your partner see what you are capable of doing, and it may provide the confidence to let you actually home school.

I think that a really important thing to remember is that learning is a life-long, 24/7/365 journey. Ideally, home schooling is not school-at-home, but rather learning integrated into every part of life. So if you can see it that way, and really aim toward that, I think that your husband will begin to see the value of home learning.

You say your spouse is concerned because your child has “special needs” with sight issues. But it doesn’t matter what a child’s “special need” is – the truth is, all children have one kind or another (or several, for that matter), for no child is truly the “average student” the school system is set up for. It is wise, as you consider home-schooling, to think really, really carefully about what you believe about school/education/learning (and they are not all the same thing!). Talk to your spouse about this too. Ask your partner’s opinion on constitutes a good education. Let this be an ongoing topic of discussion, perhaps a bit at a time. As your partner comes up with personal thoughts about it, start doing things at home that show you can offer that to your child–in a better way than the school is doing it, quite likely!

If you can find ways to do it unobtrusively, involve your spouse in your “practice” homeschooling, too. For example, if your partner thinks “science” is a big deal, start involving your child in outdoor activities that not only are “playing” in nature but are “learning” too. Maybe your spouse likes fishing, so encourage sharing of knowledge (while fishing together, of course)–not only the skill of fishing, but the life of fish, their environment, what they eat, and so on.

As you drive places together as a family, talk about the environment you see and what humankind is doing to the environment. And if your child asks questions, go to the library on the way home, get books on the topic, and read them together. Maybe set up your own terrarium or aquarium, not just as a “pet” thing, but as a learning experience–a family learning adventure–and your partner will begin to see the excitement of your child’s learning, the depth of it (compared to filling in blanks on a worksheet at school). etc. Talk about what you see/hear on the news every day.

This is real home learning, by the way–integrating learning into every part of life–and you can start doing it right now. In fact, you have been doing it all along, one way or another – you are already a good teacher and/or learning facilitator! Who taught your child to walk, talk, etc., etc., etc.? But now, if you really want to officially home school–and get your child into life-long learning rather than 9 to 3 “school education” only–take all those daily activities and consciously encourage deeper learning, deeper involvement, and participation (not just lifting the lid and plopping in information). There is a good chance your spouse will soon see–and experience–the value of home schooling.

What tips would you add about this topic?

Please add your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

Posted in adventures & explorations, family learning, home learning, homeschooling, life-long learning, special needs | Leave a comment

Education and Home School Quotable Quotes

Following are a list of “quotable quotes” about education and home schooling…

which I published on a previous version of this website–way back on March 27, 2008! Some blog posts are evergreen, worthy of being resurrected 🙂 I hope you enjoy these quotes and facts from many different sources — and many different viewpoints. Some you’ll agree with, others you may not (and be warned: some are written with a degree of irony/satire!). But all are worth thinking about…

Wendy Priesnitz, Canadian homeschool leader: [Education] “nurtures independence of mind, thought and action… children learn best when they choose what to study, when to study, and for how long… the best learning is spontaneous learning or self-directed learning.” and “…learning of complicated concepts occurs spontaneously as a result of desire and curiosity…”

John Holt, America’s pre-eminent thinker on alternative education: “Most of what I knew [of value], I had not learned in school or in any other school-like environment.”

Kelly Green, Canadian home-educator: “In an ideal world I would prefer to see a collaborative, co-operative effort whereby children and families could take part in the public education system instead of being subsumed by it; where we could have access to gyms and music lessons without being held accountable for every moment of the day… keeping your child out of school is perceived [by some] to be a form of abuse and it’s up to the parents to disabuse the system and the rest of the community of this notion.”

Lara Murphy, university student and former homeschooler: “The spirit of independent inquiry and critical thinking was already well-established [from my home-schooling experience]. In that sense home schooling is much closer to a university experience than it is to high school.”

Nancy Gibbs, reporter, Time Magazine, October 31, 1994: “…there’s no such thing [as traditional homeschoolers] anymore. A movement once reserved largely for misanthropes, missionaries and religious fundamentalists now embraces such a range of American families that it has become a mainstream alternative to regular public or private education.”

Jon Reider, associate director of admissions at Stanford University: Many colleges are eager to welcome freshmen who bring different experiences of learning. “What it really boils down to is getting a sense of a student’s intellectual drive.”

Robert Sternberg, Yale University psychologist: says there are three types of intelligence: 1. analytical, acquiring and memorizing information, usually of others’ ideas (typical of school-type methods) 2. creative, which cannot be measured by objective tests yet is highly desired in the real world 3. practical, also immeasurable, yet crucially important in later life. Education should teach us how to live.

Debra A. Bell, former high school English teacher: “80 separate studies have shown that pupils taught individually achieve 30 percent higher on standardized tests than do their peers taught in a classroom setting… most of these children are taught [formally] for no more than one to two hours per day by parents with high school diplomas only. Besides individualized instruction which honors the child’s internal timetable and his specific needs, homeschooling also affords parents and children the freedom to explore all subjects creatively and thoroughly. The homeschooling parent knows that all of life is a learning experience… No one cares about a child or understands his needs better than his parents [who have already taught him] to walk, dress, eat, and how to use the English language. Why do parents suddenly become unqualified when their children reach age 5? The truth is, they don’t.”

Facts about education: In Canada, homeschooling, sometimes combined with formal religious education, was the educational norm until the late 19th Century. In BC, free public education was decreed in 1872 and made mandatory in 1873. But by 1892 barely 60% of children were attending school. Taking all of a society’s children away from their parents for compulsory public schooling has historically been the exception, not the norm. While it is true that some earlier civilizations had formal educational systems, for all or more often a select group of their children, these schools were inevitably a way of indoctrinating society into a particular brand of religious or political thinking.

Dr. Brian Ray, president, National Home Education Research Institute: “The tutorial method of teaching has always been the superior method. Home education epitomizes this method, providing essentials for success — a close student/teacher relationship, family — consistent values, motivation, flexibility, and individualization.”

Inge Cannon, executive director of Education PLUS: “Many [colleges and universities] actively recruit home-educated graduates because of their maturity, independent thinking skills, creativity, and extensive academic preparation.”

G.K. Chesterton: “The State did not own men so entirely even when it could send them to the stake, as it sometimes does now when it can send them to the elementary school.”

Dr. Chester Pierce, Professor of Education, Harvard University: “Every child in America entering school at the age of five is mentally ill, because he comes to school with certain allegiances toward our founding fathers, our elected officials, towards his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural Being, toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It is up to you teachers to make all of these sick children well by creating the international children of the future.”

Brian Watts: “Adam Smith never took a course in economics, but his writings have been classics on the subject for a long time. Karl Marx never took a course in economics or political science, yet he has had a profound impact on both those disciplines. Charles Darwin never took a course in biology; he had a degree in theology, and that obviously did not do him much good. John Dewey never took a course in Education — which means that he himself would not have been qualified to teach in any of the public schools that he promoted! Who is to say that parents are unqualified to raise their children?”

Profs. John Anderson, Lynne Reder, and Herbert Simon of Carnegie-Mellon University: “All evidence indicates that real competence only comes with extensive practice…. The instructional problem is not to kill motivation by demanding drill, but to find tasks that provide practice — while at the same time sustaining interest.”

Robert W. Weisbery, Temple University psychology professor: “There is evidence that deep immersion is required in a discipline before you produce anything of great novelty. Before you look at significant achievement, expect to see 10 years of deep immersion to gain knowledge.”

A homeschool mom: “The important thing is not whether they learn Math Facts or the Rivers of South America or any other data. The gift that is in your power to give them is an awareness that whatever they need to know can be learned, and a sense that life only becomes more enjoyable as we learn more and more about the world around us. You don’t have to “teach” them this — live it, show them, pursue your own interests and share your genuine pleasure at the new things you learn every day.”

A homeschooling parent: “When [your child] is grown up, it won’t make any difference at all what age he was when he learned to read or add or tie his shoes. Nobody will base a hiring decision or university admission on that information, his potential mate will not care one way or the other, and his mortgage application will not ask for this particular detail about his past. We don’t have any idea what’s going on in his mind as he drives his trucks around the sandbox, but I bet he’s laying down neural networks like crazy, and any alternate activity that we “plan” for him probably won’t be as effective.”

Wendy Priesnitz, Canadian homeschool leader: “…the essence of learning [is] recognizing patterns, generalizing about them, then applying that learning to other situations. This moving from the whole picture to its details, beginning with concrete experience and moving to abstract rules, is almost opposite from the process we think of as teaching.” and “Rather than an adult-prepared curriculum, what learners need most is time to muddle — opportunities to explore, to investigate their questions and ideas. Learning is a process of figuring things out, making connections, getting ideas and testing them, taking risks, making mistakes and trying again.”

Dr. Anthony Coletta, Ph.D., What’s Best for Kids: “In the 1990s many decisions about education… are based on the needs of adults, rather than on the child development knowledge already in our possession… Policy decisions about education are in fact based more on economic, social and political factors than they are on this reliable body of knowledge…. stress, low self-esteem, poor learning attitudes and discipline problems… [are] a direct result of… the movement to teach kids earlier, create standards for each grade level, and hold kids accountable [which] is counter-productive when applied to the lower grades, because of widely variable maturation rates in children under 8.”

Charlotte Mason, foundational British educator: “This horse-in-a-mill round of geography and French, history and sums, was no more than playing at education; for who remembers the scraps of knowledge he labored over as a child? and would not the application of a few hours in later life effect more than a year’s drudgery at any one subject in childhood? If education is to secure the step-by-step progress of the individual and the race, it must mean something over and above the daily plodding at small tasks which goes by the name…. Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education that if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information.”

Stephen Moiozo: “Homeschooling isn’t: The same kids in the same room doing the same thing at the same rate in the same way to achieve the same results because they’re the same age.”

Robert Frost, poet: “Education is… hanging around until you’ve caught on.”

Joyce Eynon, president of the Canadian Home and School Federation: “What’s really important is for parents to get involved with their children’s’ education. Every study ever done shows children do better in school if their parents are involved.”

Alan Kay, Computer pioneer, who is given credit for inventing the personal computer, begs educators to remember that if schools cannot solve a problem without computers, they should not try to solve it with computers.

Charlotte Mason: British educator: “Though system [the observing of rules until the habit of doing certain things, of behaving in certain ways, is confirmed] is highly useful as an instrument of education, a ‘system of education’ is mischievous, as producing only mechanical action instead of the vital growth and movement of a human being.”

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. author of Cultural Literacy: “To be culturally literate is to possess the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world…. Only by piling up specific, communally shared information can children learn to participate in complex cooperative activities with other members of their community…. In an anthropological perspective, the basic goal of education in a human community is acculturation, the transmission to children of the specific information shared by the adults of the group or polis…. In contrast to the theories of Plato [the specific contents transmitted to children are by far the most important elements of education] and Rousseau [we should encourage the natural development of young children and not impose adult ideas upon them before they can truly understand them]… only by accumulating shared symbols, and the shared information that the symbols represent can we learn to communicate effectively with one another in our national community…. A people is best unified by being taught in childhood the best things in its intellectual and moral heritage.”

Susannah Sheffer, author and unschooling advocate: Parents need to “model for their children a life of interest and exploration, so that the family lives with the understanding that learning is not some mysterious thing only children do, but rather an integral part of being alive.”

John Holt, Unschooling advocate and author: “…there are no experiences from which we learn nothing. We learn something from everything we do, and everything that happens to us or is done to us. What we learn may make us more informed or more ignorant, wiser or stupider, stronger or weaker, but we always learn something. What it is depends on the experience, and above all, on how we feel about it.”

Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher and mentor: “I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less ‘showily.’ Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself…. Teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”

An unschooler: “Anytime that, without being invited, with being asked, we try to teach somebody else something… we convey to that person… a double message…. I am teaching you something important, but you’re not smart enough to see how important it is. Unless I teach it to you, you’d probably never bother to find out….[And] what I’m teaching you is so difficult that, if I didn’t teach it to you, you couldn’t learn it.”

Aaron Falbel: “We adopt the ‘educative stance’ when we feel it is our right and duty to manipulate others for their own good.”

S.S. Macauley: “The truly educated person has only had many doors of interest opened.”

John Holt: Schools teach that “learning is separate from the rest of life. If you want to learn something of any importance, you must get it from a teacher, in a school. From this, it follows that understanding is not an activity but a thing, a commodity. It is not something you do or make for yourself, but something you get. It is scarce, valuable, and expensive. You can get it only from someone who has it — if he is willing to give it to you. You can’t make your own; if you do, it’s no good, you can’t get anything for it. Some people have much more of this valuable knowledge than others, and because they do, they have a right to tell the others what to do. Since other people will tell you whatever is important for you to learn, your own questions are hardly ever worth asking or answering.”

Source unknown: Once upon a time the animals had a school. The curriculum consisted of running, climbing, flying and swimming, and all the animals had to take all the subjects. The duck was good in swimming; better, in fact, than the instructor. He made passing grades in flying, but he was particularly hopeless in running. Because he was low in this subject, he was made to stay in after school, and drop his swimming team in order to practice running. He kept this up until he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable, so nobody worried about that — except the duck. The eagle was considered a problem pupil and was severely disciplined because although he beat all the others to the top of the trees in climbing class, he insisted on using his own method: flying. The rabbit started out at the top of his class in running, but he had a nervous breakdown and had to drop out of school because of so much make-up work in swimming. The squirrel led the class in climbing, but his flying teacher made him start his flying lessons from the ground up instead of from the top down. He developed charley-horses from over-extension at take-off and began getting C’s in climbing and D’s in running. The practical prairie dogs apprenticed their offspring to the badgers when school authorities refused to add digging to the curriculum. The turtle was placed in a slow learner class and spent much of his time in detention for failure to comply in flying class.”

What quotable quotes about education and home schooling would you add to this list?

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What’s a Pen and Paper Mama?

Every time I hand out one of my business cards or take a Pen and Paper Mama Services deposit to the bank, someone is sure to ask me, “What is a pen and paper mama?”

Well, let me see… Oh! I know! It’s me!

A mama, of course … to 5 children of my own and any others who happen to wander into my life, and then to my 9 grandkidlings … and even to some of my many school and tutoring students over the year (some of whom have accidentally called me “mom” instead of my name!).

Did I mention “tutoring”? Well, that’s part of the “pen and paper” bit of my business title. I’ve been a teacher (elementary and secondary, public and independent schools) and tutor (all ages, multiple subject areas, often with emphasis on special needs) and homeschooling parent, tutor, and consultant, too. Lots of paper and pencil work there! You’ll find loads of information on many aspects of tutoring and life-long learning and parents as their children’s best tutors here on this site. Here’s a list of topics.

And then there’s the editing part of the business. I love to help other writers with their writing and publishing and marketing … lots more pen and paper there (and yes, computer work, too, naturally). You can find out more about that at my site,, dedicated to writing and editing.

And you’ll find some examples of my own writing at my various websites. I love to write–only sometimes I get so busy working on other folks’ writing that I fail to focus on my own writing. But I’m determined to change that, starting today! I’ll still be helping other writers through tutoring and editing–and writers’ groups and conferences and workshops–but my own writing will start each of my days!

Pen and Paper Mama! Onward ho!

Posted in adventures & explorations, Editing, home learning, life-long learning, parent-tutoring, tutoring, writing | Leave a comment