Homebound: a free online conference for homeschoolers & suddenly-at-home schoolers!

March 19, 2020 @ 5:42 pm | Filed under:

Exciting news: something very cool is happening next week.

When Julie Bogart of Brave Writer heard I was planning to do a Prairie Thief readaloud for kids stuck at home, she asked if I’d like to be part of an event she was cooking up with Susan Wise Bauer: a free online conference for homeschoolers and suddenly-home-from-school families. I’ll let Julie explain:

Announcing: HOMEBOUND
March 23-27
A FREE Online Conference for homeschoolers and “suddenly-at-home” schoolers!

I called Susan Wise Bauer and we put our heads together. We realize many of you won’t get to go to a convention this year, and many others of you are brand new to educating at home (while also working from home!). Susan and I know something about both of those. We reasoned: why not do a free conference online? Everyone will be available! :rolling_on_the_floor_laughing: No soccer practice conflicts!So… we invited several friends to join us and we’ve got an entire week of events online planned for you AND your kids!

The lineup:

• Poet Amy Ludwig Vanderwater doing daily workshops for kids keeping writers’ notebooks
Jim Weiss telling stories!
• Melissa Wiley [hey, that’s me!] reading her novel The Prairie Thief aloud
• Josh MacNeill (Neurologic by Lakeside) helping us cope with trauma and boredom
• Charnaie Gordon (Here Wee Read) teaching about empathy through diverse picture books
• Kate Snow (Kate’s Homeschool Math) helping your kids practice and master math facts
• Rita Cevasco (Rooted in Language) helping us know how to grow readers at home, esp those w learning challenges
• Ainsley Arment (Wild & Free) will share about reclaiming a child’s wonder

The Prairie ThiefSUSAN will share her convention lectures: Homeschooling a Real Child, and Why History Matters. I’ll (Julie) give my convention sessions: Home, not School and Word Play: Creating a reading and writing rich lifestyle. ALL details are here: Homebound Conference.

It’s free, but you must register for each session. We need a headcount. All webinars will be recorded for free replay.We are so excited to do this with you!!!

My daily readaloud session will be 4pm EDT/1pm PDT. Here’s the direct link to register for my sessions. And the main page with the schedule and all the details is here.

Suddenly homeschooling? Don’t try to make it like school.

March 17, 2020 @ 6:58 pm | Filed under: , ,

I just wrote an epic Twitter thread with advice for parents who have suddenly found themselves thrust into homeschooling situations due to COVID-19. I promised to compile it here for easy reference, so here it is!

Dear Suddenly & Temporarily Homeschooling Parents:

I’m a work-at-home mom of six who has been homeschooling for over 20 years and I’m here to help if you have questions! I call my family’s learning style “Tidal Homeschooling” in recognition of natural ebbs and flows in life and learning.

One of my kids is high risk for respiratory issues, so our family began social distancing about a week before it went national. This is definitely a low tide season in our homeschooling life! Lots of art projects and games. Gardening. Poetry. Baking. Music. A bit of mellow math.

The Prairie Thief by Melissa WileyAnd readalouds, our absolute staple! Grab a copy of Finn Family Moomintroll or By the Great Horn Spoon or Stella by Starlight or Bronze & Sunflower or The Fourteenth Goldfish or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon or The Girl Who Drank the Moon or…(I could do this all day.)

As you can see, I’m bananas about middle-grade fiction. That’s what I write! Starting next Monday I’ll be reading my novel The Prairie Thief out loud every day at 4pm EDT/1pm PDT. Details coming soon—you can sign up for my newsletter and get more book recommendations. Also this blog! The archives are crammed with book recs for all ages and other fun learning resources.

Challenging but full of delight

I’m seeing a lot of tweets right now about the struggles suddenly-homeschooling families are experiencing and I get it. I’ve homeschooled through book deadlines and killer workloads and breast cancer and kids in the hospital and you name it. What I’ve learned: relationship is the most important thing.

Carve out some work time for yourself & a family quiet reading time if that fits your schedule. Dig out old toys the kids outgrew—nostalgia is a major entertainment aide in times like this. Play board games. Make slime. Find art & craft supplies from projects you meant to finish—let the kids have at ’em. That bin of quilting supplies I’ve been hoarding? Yeah, turns out I’m never going to be a quilter. That fabric is fair game for cooped-up kids now.

We’re getting ready to launch a massive D&D campaign—I’m DMing. And the kid who likes gardening is helping me repot plants. The kid who likes games is roping siblings in to play. Lots of Wii action too.

Don’t try to make it school at home

If they have packets of schoolwork they have to do, don’t let that be the thing that pits you against each other. Working one on one often takes less time than group learning. (Group learning has its perks too. We’re sorely missing our homeschool co-op these days.) Get gummy bears or pretzels for lesson time because chewing helps people concentrate. No, really, it’s a thing. Keep lesson time short for now, and if they’re writing, you write too! Good time to start your plague journal.

Homeschoolers all over the internet are sharing resources right now. Brave Writer’s Homebound page is a fabulous place to start. Or follow Julie Bogart on Instagram. Read her book The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, & Life. We’re all brave learners now!

Feed yourself, too

Follow Holly Wren Spaulding on Instagram for poems and thoughts to keep you sane and grounded. I also recommend Commonplace Podcast and The Slowdown—vital listening for my peace of mind. And the Poetry Unbound podcast!

Makers gotta mess

Use up the paints and good paper you’ve been hoarding. Or use printer paper and a ballpoint. Get messy. Do round robin drawings where you draw a bit, your kid adds to it, you add more, you all laugh hysterically & make sweet memories. Get out the family photos. Make videos!

Watch science videos. Watch Bill Nye! Find Cyberchase on PBS Kids! (More magical nostalgia for my gang.) SING, sing as much as you can. Youtube search any song + karaoke—now’s the time for your family to find that perfect song they can belt out. It’s a life skill!

But what about their homework?

If they have math to do: here’s the thing. There are loads of ways to learn math. If a concept isn’t making sense, ask for help here or on Twitter. You’ll be bombarded with creative ideas.

Don’t try to make it “school at home.” The dynamic is SO different. You can do math in bed & foreign language while loading the dishwasher. Make beanbags (remember that fabric stash? If you don’t have thread just staple them) & toss them while chanting times tables. The beanbags won’t last but the memories will.

I wish I had time to ____(it’s time to fill in that blank!)

Find out what each kid has been yearning to learn. Ukulele? Coding? Cake decorating? Let that happen now. Ransack the cabinets. Try Creativebug or Skillshare for classes. Millions of tutorials on Youtube. Let them go deep if they want.

Or let them chill out if that’s what they need. Down time is a precious commodity and lots of kids don’t get much of it these days. Read comics. Crumple aluminum foil & have a catch in the living room. Tape toilet paper rolls (if you scored any) to the wall to make marble tunnels. (I would say fill a pan with rice and hide “artifacts” for littles to find, but maybe you should save your rice for eating.)

Dive deep

All I want to do right now is embroider—I have a couple of TOTALLY ABSORBING stitching projects—but I have a heavy workload at the moment so I have to squeeze it in. Find out what your kid’s (and YOUR) embroidery equivalent is and let now be the time.

A school day includes making lunches and walk/drive/bus time and moving between classes and tests and homework (one of my six goes to public school, I get it)—remember, all those minutes are free now. So you don’t have to expect homeschooling to take as many hours as school-school. In our “high tide” times (structured learning), we knock out our work between nine and noon. Afternoons are free time for my kids and work for me. I have college grads—it worked fine!

My one school kid is in tenth grade. His teacher sent me a packet of schoolwork but said the only thing to make sure he keeps up with is the gratitude journal. Three things a day. I loved that idea and made them for my younger kids too.

This thread got long! I have a bajillion ideas but they all come back to leaning into the together time as much as possible, diving deep into personal interests, keeping a daily rhythm that suits your family (including your own work time), and lots of readalouds for all ages.

All roads lead to learning

Another thing we do! (See? I can’t stop.) My family uses The West Wing as a spine for 10th grade civics. It’s a springboard for all sorts of research topics. You can do the same thing with any show.

Any kid interest can be that springboard. Homeschoolers call it “rabbit trailing.” I’ve written a ton about it here at Bonny Glen over the years.

Schoolhouse Rock. Downton Abbey. The Importance of Being Earnest. Horrible Histories. Fun in themselves, and also: springboards!

Mad Libs. Hot Wheels on the stairs. Jim Weiss stories. Baby books! Seriously. My 11yo son happened upon all our old Sandra Boynton & Byron Barton board books the other day & hauled them all upstairs for a giggly rereading session.

Here to help

Hit me up for ideas anytime. I know it’s challenging to do kids and work in the same space & same time frame! But it can be joyful, I promise. Forget about subject categories and just explore stuff. Let the teens sleep late. Let the tweens learn fancy hairstyles on Youtube.

Make a family Minecraft kingdom. We had one and my kids kept filling my house with pigs, and one of the tweens had a long-running Monty Pythonesque retort competition with my husband via the wooden signs.

My parenting life got hit with a 9-month children’s hospital stay when my oldest was 2yo (leukemia, she’s 24 and healthy now) so I had to learn fast and young how to make life fun for my kid and me in social distancing situations.

Holler if I can help with anything. As the mom of a medically complicated kid (and a person with a dodgy health history of my own), I sincerely thank you for doing your part to flatten the curve.

Preorder my new book, The Nerviest Girl in the World!

Preorder THE NERVIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD, coming August 2020

Three things on Leap Day

February 29, 2020 @ 11:00 am | Filed under: ,

watercolor painting of a green moth

1.

I was looking for something in Dropbox and found a bundle of design elements I bought for my website a zillion years ago. Lots of pretty watercolor images and other goodies. There don’t seem to be any designer credits in the files, though surely there was documentation somewhere? I haven’t looked through all the files—much of it looks like things easily created in Canva now—but there was a folder full of watercolored butterflies, moths, leaves, and other bits of nature. I grabbed the image above to brighten up this post, and it turned into a twenty-minute effort to find a designer name in order to credit the artist. I mean, the entire purpose of a design elements package like this is that you’re allowed unlimited (and uncredited) use of the images. But someone made this art and it bugs me not to be able to say who.

Those lost minutes exemplify my theory that everything in modern life takes a minimum of 20 minutes longer than than you think it will. Especially internetty things. We’ve built a rabbit warren and we’re forever getting lost in meandering tunnels. And every seemingly simple task involves half a dozen steps, at least one of which will rack up your extra 20 minutes.

2.

As of yesterday, we are now a one-vehicle family. Since our move to Portland, I don’t drive much at all. Our old Saturn was out of commission for a long while, but we got it running again last fall and decided not to renew the minivan lease when it expired. This after I did the math and realized just how much each infrequent van trip was costing us each month. I’d rather take a Lyft if I’m going across the river, anyway—I loathe hunting for parking downtown. And we do most of our daily errands on foot now: possibly my most favorite thing of the many things I love about living here. Groceries a block away. Dozens of cafes, pubs, and restaurants within walking distance. Two bus lines moments from our door, making it easy for my older kids to commute to work and school and Powell’s Books and other essential destinations. I could even walk to my doctor’s office if I needed to. I don’t tend to, because it’s next door to a grocery store I like, and the walk home is uphill. But I could.

Of course this means we’re now three seats short for a whole-family excursion, but an occasional rental (or two Lyfts) is still a lot cheaper than keeping the Odyssey.

Scott and I had been worriting over the end-of-lease busywork for a while, and yesterday’s turn-in appointment felt a bit anticlimactic—we’d had no one big family moment where we said goodbye to the minivan that bridged our time between San Diego and Portland. It’s just suddenly…gone. Along with (we just this minute realized) my I’d Rather Be Reading Betsy-Tacy license plate frame. Whoops. Scott’s making a call to the dealer as I type. Fingers crossed!

3.

I got the stitches out of my nose on Thursday! And things are looking pretty good. Still in my jammies this morning so no pics:) There’s one small bump of scar tissue on the bridge of my nose that I’m worried is going to hang out and look like a perpetual pimple, but other than that I’m really quite amazed at how well the incisions have healed already. The scar is a faint red line zigzagging along my nose, and it’ll fade. There’s still some swelling so that my nostrils aren’t in exactly the same places they used to be. In a few weeks I’m supposed to start kneading and massaging the tissue daily to help break down scar tissue and restore the original shape. I’m hoping that means the one little scar bump will flatten out as well? If not, it’s only noticeable in profile. I’ll live. 🙂

I’m not yet able to put sunscreen on it, which means I’m going to have to overcome my aversion to wearing hats long enough to get my walks in—spring has arrived in full force and I need to be out in it! Cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, daffodils, grape hyacinths, hellebores—oh it’s a magical time! Rilla just noticed the neighbor’s clematis vines have climbed into the hedgehog tree. The tree (a dogwood) hasn’t yet begun to leaf out, but its bare limbs are clothed in a green shawl embroidered all over with starry white flowers.

Oh gosh, that makes me want a leaf-green shawl I could stitch all over with little white flowers. —Because that’s what I need: another stitching project. I have so many going at once right now! I spent some time reorganizing my studio this week, and now everything has a place again and I know what I’ve got in progress. A few things are quite close to being finished. Why am I still writing? There’s stitching to be done!

Show-and-tell is my love language

February 24, 2020 @ 6:39 pm | Filed under:

Last week, I had surgery to remove a small amount of basal cell carcinoma from my face. Not my favorite experience in the world, I must say! But not terrible, either. I shared the adventure on Instagram Stories and saved it in a highlight on my profile, and I’ve poured all those slides into a gallery at the bottom of this post.

Short version: I’ve had a small red patch on my nose for a while; I asked a doctor about it 18 months ago and he said it was just a pigmentation change, nothing to worry about; he was wrong. In November I noticed the patch was a bit bigger and it had begun flaking. I asked my new primary care doctor about it, and she too didn’t think it was likely to be anything worrisome, but she referred me to a dermatologist just to be sure. Good thing! He did a biopsy and it turned out to be basal cell carcinoma. That’s the better kind of skin cancer—it doesn’t metastasize—but you still need to have it removed. The most common procedure is called Mohs surgery and it’s a trip! I had it done last Thursday. The surgeon removed a disk of skin from my nose, checked it for clean margins, took another slice, and whew, that was enough to get it all. Sometimes it takes several more rounds to get that clean margin.

Then he did the repair, which is a bananas process! He made a series of small zigzagging cuts all the way up my nose and then shifted the skin down a notch so that the bottom zag covered the surgical hole. Then he stitched me up. I’m on day five now, with stitches running the entire length of my nose. I spent the weekend swollen and bruised, but today the swelling is almost gone and my black eye is yellow. 😉

I’ll have a scar right down the side of my nose for a while but Mohs scars fade to nearly invisible over time. (Could be months or a year, I’ve heard conflicting accounts.) I’m super curious to know what my nose will look like when the dust settles, but for now I’m amazed at how well it’s already healing (even if things look a bit lopsided at the moment), and I’m glad to be cancer-free once more. Sheesh.

(No, really! That’s the short version!)

Instagram Stories version:

Tell me three things

February 19, 2020 @ 9:33 am | Filed under:
photo of a female northern flicker

Northern flicker in our backyard

Click the player below (or this link) to listen to an audio recording of this post. Sorry about the slight rustle behind the title of this post—I didn’t catch it until now and I’m about to head out the door, so I’m just leaving it as is. The rest of the audio is better quality!

Because I’m queen of overcomplicating plans for myself, I enjoyed the “An Ordered List” episode of  Amy Cowan’s Creativity Matters podcast, in which Amy examines a simple “tell me three things” practice:

Back in Episode 353, I talked about the “3 things” idea after reading Tell Me Three Things, a YA book by Julie Buxbaum. I have come to really appreciate the practice of “3 things” and the way it can be used to bridge the distance, break through a silence, invite someone to share, or open a door. I notice this approach has become increasingly common as a formulaic approach used by marketers, thought leaders, and writers, in newsletters, at Instagram, and on podcasts. The number may vary (e.g., 3, 5, 10), but this idea of an ordered and finite list sets the parameters for the sharing and the receiving (listening, reading, seeing). More and more I see “a list of things” come into my inbox as newsletters, the list format providing the structure and scaffolding for the sharing of sometimes random details. It isn’t a new wheel, but it is a wheel that works, and I enjoy the order of it. There is such beauty in a simple list.

For a long while I’ve been trying to keep Lynda Barry’s daily diary format (with intermittent success), which in my case is boiled down to lists of Things I Did Today and Things I Saw Today, plus notes on what I read, watched, or listened to, and an ‘overheard’ section for any funny or intriguing bits of conversation I’ve picked up, including kid quips, which are my favorite part. Sometimes I’ve aimed for a specific seven or ten items in each list, but mostly I just do bullet points and list as much as I can remember from the day.

For me, this practice is more about recording the bits and pieces I’m likely to lose if I don’t write them down—a yellow-rumped warbler at the feeder, our first!; a new leaf on my hoya plant (it’s a very slow grower, you see); hearing my friend Jennie say, “I’ve only ever once held a dolphin skull in my hand.” That line is enough to call back up the whole conversation—Jennie and her sister Julie, and my friend Ben’s mom Carolyn, whom I’m enjoying getting to know; the four of us sitting in a booth in the OMSI cafe with seats sliding gently from side to side on caster wheels; conversations about art and photography and the sisters scuba diving into a cave full of dolphin bones—and afterward picking up ramen with Rilla to take home, and Rilla looking around at the small tables, the window full of plants, people leaning over giant bowls of broth and noodles, the neat trays of paper-wrapped chopsticks and jars of spice—watching her take it all in, her hair in little twists behind each ear, her purple-glitter nail polish, her sparkling eyes—oh! all of it from one Jennie quote in my notebook!

It’s a good practice, but I had to write “I’ve been trying to keep” rather than “I’ve been keeping” because I’ll sometimes let it lapse for days at a time, a whole week even, and I may try to go back and fill in, but you can’t really—the entire point (for me) is capturing the things I’m not likely to remember a week, a month, a year later.

I’ll remember having lunch at the brick-oven pizzeria with my friend Lisa yesterday and even the main drift of our conversation—words seem to file themselves in a more accessible part of my memory—but will I remember the prosciutto and arugula piled high on our pizza, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette? The glow of the oven behind Lisa’s shoulder? We talked about our radiation tattoos and our creative practices. We arrived on opposite corners outside the pizza place at the exact same moment, and since the light was against me we stood smiling at each other across the wide boulevard for long minutes as the cars rushed by. Now that I’ve written that moment, I’ll have it for keeps.

Tell Me Three Things would make a terrific format for blog posts, and I may keep it in my pocket for times when I’m not sure what to write about. I didn’t think I knew what to write about today, but just mentioning the Three Things gave me 700 words’ worth of things to say.

I would love to hear your Three Things for today, if you’d like to share them.

Topics covered during a six-minute drive to Trader Joe’s with an 8yo boy

February 10, 2020 @ 5:26 pm | Filed under: ,

Another delicious flashback from my FB memories. This was a mere three years ago, in February 2017, on a shopping run with Huck. 

Topics covered during a six-minute drive to Trader Joe’s:

—Did it rain last night or is that condensation
—Wait, I thought “morning dew” meant poop
—Discussion of various spellings/meanings of do/dew/doo
—Ice/water/steam, water vapor, why condensation happens
—Is that guardrail crumpled from a car crashing into it
—Why are they called “action figures” instead of dolls
—Where do I think the monkey will be hidden this time
—Are peanut butter crackers sweets
—Sewing, pros and cons
—What to spend birthday money on: probably K’nex
—That bus is too long to be Steven’s
—Why does Steven ride the bus
—What does “qualifications” mean
—Qualifications for being on American Ninja Warrior
—Really nice job parking, mom.

Would you be interested in audio versions of my posts?

February 8, 2020 @ 12:43 pm | Filed under:

photo of a clump of yellow crocus in bloom

Allears.cc invited me to try their new audio recording studio for bloggers. You read your posts aloud* and embed the audio into them. I love the idea of the increased accessibility and thought I’d give it a try. I did a test recording with a post from last week: Astonished at the Voices of Willamette and Wren.

* To clarify: the audio is in addition to the usual text post.

I practiced it once and then recorded. I can hear where I loosen up midway through and of course I like the looser, chattier part better! But I think rather than make myself bananas with trying to get it perfect, I’ll just go with good enough—since the whole point is easy layering-in of an audio option. Easy means don’t overthink it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on audio recordings of blog posts!

These FB memories are GOLD

field of crocuses blooming in Wilshire Park, Portland, OR

Feb 4, 2018. Wilshire Park, Portland, Oregon.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m scooping things up from Facebook memories.

Feb 3, 2009 (A couple of weeks after Huck was born)
Just said goodbye to my parents (sniffle) and now I’m alone, possibly for the first time, with my OH MY GOODNESS six children.

Feb 4, 2009
Off to a busy start. Speech therapy, piano, Journey North. Nothing like diving right in!

***

Feb 3, 2010
This moment caught: 9yo sketching amaryllis, the 2 boys playing w/ trains. 11yo reading about B. Franklin. Teen reading Gulliver. 3yo sings.

***

Jan 27, 2013
Kids tearing through the room, shrieking, swords aloft, while Scott softly strums the ukelele, singing sweetly: I Wanna Be Sedated

Feb 4, 2013
Aw, how cool is this? The Journey North Mystery Class coordinator wrote me to say thanks for sending so many new families their way. Thanks to YOU guys for joining the fun! You know who you are.

***

Feb 3, 2014
In my statcounter this morning: search hits for “done with downton abbey” and “downton abbey season 4 not believable.”

Feb 3, 2014
Dear new lady in yoga today who said to me, “You’ll understand once you hit 30”: I LOVE YOU.

Feb 4, 2014
Sticky short film preview: “Exiled from the tropical paradise where they evolved, a tiny population of remarkable stick insects dodged extinction by hiding under a single windswept bush on the world’s tallest sea stack for 80 years. Thanks to a dedicated team of scientists they’re now living safely in captivity, but when can they go home?” (2020 note: I never did see the whole film. Must remember to look it up.)

***

Feb 3, 2017
In the car on the way to piano lessons, there’s a heavy sigh from the backseat.

Rilla: Sometimes…sometimes I just wish I were a mantis shrimp.

Feb 4, 2017
Just read the 2009 NYT obit for Eleanor Perenyi. Have decided that being remembered as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener” is a worthy life goal. I’m sure I have a book of horticulture essays in me somewhere.

Feb 4, 2017
This one’s too long to paste: a detailed note about books I was reading/half-reading after two frenzied months of reading Cybils YA Fiction nominees. “Books I have read 1-3 chapters of since January 1st, most of which I do mean to finish eventually.” (Note to self: would be fun to do an update of this post. Which ones did I actually finish?)

I’m in a weird place right now where reading is concerned. I do this sometimes–read the beginnings of too many things and find it hard to settle down to finish something. I could have read three books in the time I’ve been pinballing between a dozen.

I try to be patient with myself when this mood hits, once or twice a year. It’s very common for me to rebound from Cybils reading this way—that fierce two-month drive to read a staggering volume of books. It’s compounded this year by—oh, let’s just say by many factors unique to 2017.

***

Feb 4, 2018
This one reminds me it’s time to visit Wilshire Park to see if these beauties are back in bloom. I’m guessing yes: we’ve got crocuses popping up all over the neighborhood.

There’s a reason “These people crack me up” is one of my most-used categories

February 3, 2020 @ 8:22 am | Filed under: , ,

Reposted from Instagram:
Shutterfly keeps sending me ‘remember this’ emails and this one from 2011ish is cracking me up. These faces explain why I’ve lived much of my adult life in fits of helpless laughter.

***

I keep forgetting I set up an IFTTT to automatically save my Instagram posts as drafts here. I know it’s redundant for a few of you, but I worry about losing (eventually) things I post to platforms that aren’t my own. I have such an urge to archive everything.

In the comments of one of last week’s posts, my friend Chris shared his very smart strategy for dealing with all the stuff he’d posted to Facebook over the years:

Every day I went through the “On this day” page and deleted just about everything. After a year, I had dramatically cleaned up Facebook.

This is brilliant. I’m thinking of following Chris’s example, and capturing anything worth saving over here. There was a good one yesterday, a hilarious moment I’d totally forgotten about from when Huck was seven:

In my house this morning: a breadcrumb trail of Angry Birds cards leading from my bedroom, down the hall, through the kitchen, through the patio room, to the wide-open back door.

Me: “It’s freezing in here!”

Huck: “That’s what the trail is for. To show you what a cold day it is.”

I’m still laughing!