Our October homeschool review: pumpkins and witches.
November 08, 2011

At the end of last week, I began writing my review of our pumpkins and witches home-school unit.  (Which was, for the record, an enormous hit.)

It took forever.

I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote so much that when I started adding pictures my computer basically threw its hands in the air and stormed out of the room.  It took me over an hour last night to put in three photographs simply because my computer had a small nervous breakdown every time I tried to scroll up or down on the document.

So I stopped while I was ahead, turned it into a PDF, and here, if you’re really interested in ten pages of rambling mumbo-jumbo about how our unit went (which I am because the less legwork I have to do with subsequent children the better, but I can totally see how basically every other person on the planet would not be at all), then have at it:


I have no idea how to improve this process.  People have asked me for song lyrics and for outlines of the stories we tell and for a more exhaustive book list and for art recipes and for photographs of our nature journal and…I would love to share these things, but it’s actually much more difficult than I expected.  Difficult doesn’t bother me; I just need to figure out a way to make difficult worth it.  When I start including recipes and lyrics and stories, it very quickly goes from 10 pages to 10.4 billion pages – and I need to learn a more effective way of creating PDFs with images, something that doesn’t make my computer burst into tears and call me a bitch.

It’s also very difficult for me to gauge where to draw the line between things that I want to record for my own personal records and things that other people really have no interest in.  In the practical life section, for example, I wrote that Donald and I are teaching Charlotte how to set the table.  This is not exactly the sort of thing that other people care about, but it’s something that I recorded because next time we have a two-year-old it will help us to know which of our ideas worked and which died painful, tormented deaths.

In conclusion, please give me any and all suggestions.  If this is something you are interested in, I would love to hear what you would find helpful.  Would a different format work better?  Would you like more pictures?  Do you need me to be more concise or are you okay with me writing the equivalent of an encyclopedia?  Is this better bundled with each unit or better bundled at the end of a season?

An idea that Donald and I have toyed with is basically creating a PDF that has three main parts: a rough outline of what we planned, a review of what actually happened and what worked or didn’t work (this can’t be avoided simply because we need it for our own records), and an area that contains stories, lyrics, art recipes, resources, etc. for those who are curious.  Basically something with a table of contents and a predictable lay-out so that it can be easily navigated and so that everyone can find what they’re interested in and discard the rest without too much effort on their end.  Would that be a better set-up?

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  1. By Sarah on November 08, 2011

    the most important thing is that YOU have the records. We will all get over it. I think the PDF thing sounds fine. You are doing a great job

  2. By on November 08, 2011

    hi Sarah ! thank you so much for that file. i have to admit i wanted to ask you about 95877899 questions when you posted your October Homeschool plan.

    i don’t think writing a lot is a bad thing, it’s quite easy to just scroll down to the subject we wish to read about, if need be.

    maybe what would help you have a consistent review is making different boards for the different subjects, that should always contain the same kind of informations:
    what, how, what worked, what didn’t, a couple of pictures…
    i think if you’re planning on printing those files, it’ll be easier to look back at them if they all have the same layout…
    as far as finding a better way to make pdfs, i’d use adobe InDesign.. i don’t know if you use it already but it really is a nice text & image friendly program in my opinion.

    i would love to read the songs you sing and poems you read.. i know it’s asking a LOT of details, sorry…

    anyways, i think you did an EXCELLENT JOB, really, and thank you !!!

  3. By Sarah on November 08, 2011

    just read the PDF. honey, this child’s only problem as an adult is going to be how to fit in all the wonderous stories of her childhood on a daily basis. You help me to remember that learning should be an experience.

  4. By on November 08, 2011

    well, to answer my own request, maybe all i have to do is get off my lazy bum and google the list of poems and stories you listed .. hehe

  5. By on November 08, 2011

    I didn’t take a look at it, but from your description, I thought I’d give you some tips as a UX Designer:

    1 if the photos are causing problems, look at reducing the resolution, you can also adjust the settings whan you make the PDF to reduce file size.

    2. Maybe break it up into multiple files? An outline & overview in one file, another file for recipes, another for lyrics. You could scatter your images throughout the various files so that you’re not working one one big file.

  6. By on November 08, 2011

    I love reading about what you are doing with Charlotte!! I would love to know the lyrics to the songs, poems and nursery ryhmes that you tell on a daily basis. Although I do not have children yet, I have a feeling I am going to be saving or bookmarking all of your homeschool plans for future reference. What you do with her is unbelivable!! Keep up the amazing work :)

    P.S. Your blog posts can never be too long ;)

  7. By Lindsey on November 08, 2011

    I don’t have kids and I just read the whole thing and loved it :)

  8. By Amber on November 08, 2011

    This is fantastic, Sarah! Wow! I am really impressed!

  9. By on November 08, 2011

    I really appreciate you posting this, I taught for several years and am a nanny now for a little girl who is just about the same age as Charlotte and we are trying to establish a rhythm for our days.  It is great to see what has worked well for other kids around the same age.

    The pdf is great and quite helpful, I think that if it works for you the format is great.  If you are looking for a different tactic I can offer the method I used as I was developing a French curriculum for a Montessori school. 

    I made a list of all of the areas I would always touch on (Greetings/Circle work; Gross Motor; shelf work were some of mine) yours would probably be the bolded sections like Circle, Garden, Kitchen etc.  I would outline the general routine (like you did for the art section) and copy and paste it from one unit to the next so that I didn’t need to keep rewriting that info.  Before the unit started I would do bullet points of what I planned to do (-Garden rock markers; -pumkin farm tour) As I worked through the unit (or at the end) I would put in notes about what element worked well and what did not work, I would record what I would like to add in next time we do the same unit and (for me) in a different spot, I would record goals for the next month (more related to skills than to unit mastery—so maybe setting the table would be a carry-over type of skill.)  Maybe using different colors for text would be helpful, one for plan and one for reaction?  Or italics for reaction?

    It seems to me that a lot of the information you provided was background info (like how you define nature education visits) and those things could go into a separate pdf for people to refer to.  Things like the structure of circle time could go there also so that after each unit you would just what stories and rhymes you used and then Charlotte’s reaction. 

    Personally, I love hearing the stories about Charlotte and your life intermingled with the information but if you just want to record the ideas part for other people then you could record things like how your garden is doing in a different place.  If you just want a catchall type document to look back on to see where you were this time last year than continue the way you have it. 

    The way I addressed the songs and rhymes issue was to name them within the unit plan and then I had a separate document/book where each one was listed in alphabetical order on a separate page.  While it used a lot of paper, it was great because some would get reused with multiple units (a food one might get used in spring during planting and then again at harvest) and people could download or access that as well. 

    I wrote this assuming you wanted to streamline the process a bit for yourself and I think that publishing 3 pdf’s each time sounds stressful—I would keep one that has the plan and reaction together but perhaps cut back on the narrative if you want to speed things up (I like it but I know it is time consuming) and one master pdf that includes general routines that you follow, perhaps publish a new one annually with updates as to how the routine changes as Charlotte gets older and family life shifts.  Then have one place to hold all of the songs/stories etc.  If you did this part as a web page you could link to the book resources or just provide links to other sites with the information if you didn’t want to retype everything in a cohesive way or if you wanted to put that project on the back burner for now. 

    I simply love projects like this one and I hope this was helpful! I do really appreciate that you share so much about your lives with us, I have been working on my own path towards simplicity in my life and seeing how beautifully it can work is a great motivator.  Thanks for all you do!

  10. By on November 08, 2011

    I have a 17-month-old and started reading your blog a few months ago- not only for the humor, but also for the knowledge. I know every mom has her own faults, but you really are a super hero. I am amazed at how intelligent Charlotte is. And that is obviously due to your and Donald’s pro-active parenting. Every bit you write gives more knowledge to those of us who are learning from you as well. You could have written 10 times more and still not have covered everything we would want to know. One question I do have for you is what led you to your parenting? Did your parents take the same approach with you, or did something later in your life spur you to this route? I don’t know if you’ve covered this somewhere in your 235989513 blogs I’m sure I will never have the time to catch up on, no matter how much I may try (hehe), but I’m just curious. There are so many things you attempt that I never would have thought possible with someone so young! But it gives me hope that, yes, he can do this! And it’s not too early to try!  Keep writing!!!!

  11. By Theresa on November 08, 2011

    I love this. I have a daughter who is about 2 and a half (she actually looks a little like Charlotte and when I ready your blog, she thinks the pictures are of her sometimes) and I enjoy so much reading about how you parent your daughter. Everything you put into it is amazing and however much you are willing to write, I, along with many others, will be willing to read. I liked the PDF that you had, but more pictures would be great just because they are fun. I really liked the idea from Nicole about having some things separate for people to refer to. It would take a while to create a master list of rhymes and recipes and your routines, but once it was there, it would stay and you could always add more.

    Or just do it the way you do it now because it still rocks. I would love if you added the rhymes and recipes and whatnot onto the end but, as someone else said, we could research them ourselves. Basically, please keep doing something like what you are doing because I really look forward to reading it. The end.

  12. By Sarah S on November 08, 2011

    I love the PDF! My kids are older and I still got a some ideas from it. This is a very rich homeschool experience and I think you put it down very well.

    comments - If you want to decrease the size, you could skip the pictures. Stories and recipes and such could be put in a separate document with table of contents since Il’m guessing you’ll be using some of the same stories every month and overall, after you do it for a few months, you’ll develop sections that just repeat over and over again. The first one of these types of things is the hardest. Plus, as different kids come along it will be interestingto see how they respond to it. This is a great work and Charlotte is a lucky little girl!

  13. By on November 08, 2011

    I absolutely love that you are sharing all of this.  I thought the PDF was wonderful.  I have been using a lot of your ideas in our home with my 2 year old and have seen a big improvement in his development!  THANK YOU!!

  14. By on November 08, 2011

    Thanks for sharing!  Although I’m not interested in my children learning about witchcraft, I will definitely refer back to homeschooling ideas that you post in the future!

  15. By Jeneva on November 08, 2011

    I read through the entire PDF and love it. It would be awesome to get a recap here with the attached PDF but other than that, just do what it easier for you.

  16. By on November 09, 2011

    I just read it all over and was not overwhelmed by the information at all! I was not even going to attempt to open up the file because your post made it sound like this onslaught of information that I could never find my way through, but it was organized and easy to read through.

    As you said, there’s some stuff in there that doesn’t really matter to readers outside of your home, but I understand that it’s a document meant for you to reference in the future - that you’re just nice enough to share with the world for anyone who’s interested and looking for help/ideas.

    Could be helpful to create a link on your page somewhere that references back to a list of the PDF’s to make it easier to find in the future (maybe listed by month/year).

  17. By Sarah Christensen on November 12, 2011

    Just Duckie - I’m sorry that it’s taken me a few days to respond to your question; I wasn’t sure what the right answer was at first.

    I think that it’s a combination of both.

    For one, I was raised in a very similar fashion to how Donald and I are raising Charlotte.  My parents believed that they were raising adults, not children, so they always treated us with respect and talked to us as equals.  They made many of the same decisions we do: no tv, no corporal punishment, no processed foods, etc.  I think one of their strengths, however, was that they were more lenient than I am about those rules, especially outside of home.  I have a really hard time letting go, but my parents are firm believers that it’s important for kids to learn about outside influences in moderation.  I need to work on that.

    Anyway, my mother was also a very hands-on mother.  She stayed home until my youngest sister went to kindergarten and while she was home, we were always engaged in art and science activities.  We were always reading books and poems, she would help us dissect dead animals we found in the yard to show us how their bodies worked (we weren’t allowed to touch because of disease), she gardened with us, etc.  It’s much easier, I think, to set up my life this way because it’s what I remember from my own childhood and it feels very comfortable as a result.

    So definitely the way my parents interacted with me is a huge factor in how I parent my daughter.  And since we live so close to my parents, they are an enormous influence in Charlotte’s life too.

    As well, when I was in college, a few things happened.  First, I met Donald’s family and there were women in his family nursing older toddlers.  This is definitely the greatest influence his family has had on my parenting - my family doesn’t really care about when children are weaned, but his family are huge proponents of breastfeeding and this really stuck with me.  When I was pregnant and newly postpartum and looking for support, the women I found who, like Donald’s family, supported extended breastfeeding were also usually very crunchy.  They cloth diapered and worried about chemicals and sent their kids to Waldorf schools, etc.  The way that they related to their children and parented undoubtedly influence how I relate to and parent Charlotte.

    Next, when I was still in college I nannied for a very crunchy family.  The mother stayed at home full-time and educated her children at home until she felt they were ready for school - generally around six to eight years old.  I was there alone when she ran errands or whatever, but also there with her just helping her do her thing.  She had a story-time routine very similar to what I do with Charlotte.  I LOVED IT.  Loved loved loved it.  I loved how creative the kids were and in large part I felt that it was because their imagination was so nurtured.  She also was very active with her kids - she took them places, showed them things, talked to them constantly, and just set up exploring stations in the yard.  They had access to art supplies all the time, etc.  Another huge influence.

    And last, when I became a mother, I happened to meet several mothers over the course of the first year who parent very similarly to how I do.  That has been an enormous influence if only because among the mothers I know are very supportive.

    I hope that helps?

  18. By on November 16, 2011

    Thank you so much for posing this, Sarah! I am so incredibly inspired! I had been pretty turned off to homeschooling because of the way it was done in my home growing up, but this is a way I could see myself doing it. I have a lot of soul-searching to do. Thank you.





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