About Alice

I'm a part-time pediatrician and full-time mom of two boys and one girl.

Musings on Homeschooling


Six weeks into the school year and I find myself once again reflecting on what is going well and what needs to change. This is now my eighth year homeschooling, which makes me sort of a veteran. But it’s my first year with a seventh grader which makes me sort of a newbie. I think the biggest thing that has changed for me as a homeschooler over the years is that I spend less time reflecting and worrying about particular curriculum and more time musing on the bigger lessons and issues.

This year I have three main lessons I’ve been musing on:

1)Remember why we are homeschooling.
I‘ve written about this before but this year I’m thinking about it more in terms of what homeschooling offers that school elsewhere doesn’t. There are definitely things that my kids miss out on because they are homeschooled. So I’ve been thinking about what is it that we do better than school elsewhere and maximizing those areas. That might mean that we need to take a day off to hang out with friends who are moving overseas for a year. Because we can. Or it means that we get sidetracked when doing a paper chromatography experiment and never get to the next thing. It means taking more field trips. Doing more art and science. It means letting kids who need it have a little extra free time.

2)Remember that it’s HOMEschool.
We live in an area with a lot of homeschoolers. There are co-ops that vary from a few families getting together to do nature study to places that offer full-day drop off options multiple times a week. There are constant emails about park days and field trips. There is a whole city full of museums that offer free classes (not to mention just the option for field trips on our own). And add to that all the many businesses that offer homeschooling classes or options (parkour, swimming, survival skills, painting, orchestra, botany) and we could easily be booked all day every day outside the house. When I see an offering that one of my kids would enjoy part of me wants to sign up right away. I tell myself “hey, this is why we homeschool”. And a little bit of that is true. But it’s also true that if we are so booked that we are never home or never find time to get to Math that we have lost what is essential about this lifestyle we have chosen. It’s all about picking and choosing. As much as field trips and outside opportunities are great, it’s also essential to have the time to just be.

3)Remember that my primary job is teacher.
Homeschooling can be tough because “school hours” creep into all hours of the day. When we’re reading aloud before bed, am I “teacher” or “Mom”? When we’re talking about something we learned in history during dinner is that “school”? The good thing about homeschooling is that it integrates into the rest of our life. The flip side is that the rest of life can start to creep into homeschooling. “Just one quick email” can turn into 20 minutes on the computer. The laundry does need to get folded and the house does need to be vacuumed but school has to happen first. I’ve also really been reminded this year that my kids like me.They like spending time with me. Sometimes this means that I sit with someone who doesn’t really need me while they practice piano. Or I read a history lesson out loud even though the student can read perfectly well on their own. Two of my kids are extroverts and they especially do better when school is done with more discussion and collaboration and just plain company. And even the introverted seventh grader who lately seems to feel too big to snuggle up in bed for nightly read-alouds uses time on the couch reading a Latin lesson together as an excuse for a little closeness.

My final thought is sort of more about why I still blog. I’ve been blogging for about seven years. I don’t have that many followers and my posts have gotten more and more infrequent. Just like I periodically reexamine my reasons for homeschooling, I periodically reexamine my reasons for blogging. The one that seems the most important right now is to provide myself with a record of these kinds of musings. Every now and then I’ll scroll back through my own old posts and find that I was struggling with the same things four years ago. In some ways that is depressing. In others it’s helpful, because of the most part I find my own advice helpful.


It also reminds me of the passage of time. The seventh grader that is now taller than me wasn’t so long ago just getting his training wheels off his first bike and memorizing The End by A. A. Milne. And his sister who wasn’t even born when I started this blog is now memorizing the same poem in celebration of her sixth birthday.


When I posted six years ago about John turning six I said something to the effect of how it would be nice if he could “stay six forever and ever” (to quote the Milne poem). Now, I’m glad he didn’t. As much as I enjoyed him then, I find who is becoming even more exciting. There is something in us as parents that wants to capture moments in time, perhaps that is why we take so many photos. But really, it’s the journey that is the real joy. More than anything, homeschooling for me has been a wonderful way to be on this journey together. And for that I am very grateful.

Thoughts from a Weekend Away


I recently got to go on our church’s women’s retreat. It was a great time of fellowship and prayer and great food and laughter. The planners also gave us a lot of time alone which was fantastic as an introvert. The first morning I took a walk alone through the fields surrounding the retreat center (it was on an old plantation). The phrase that kept coming to me was: “Be still and know that I am God.”


I thought about that phrasing and what it means. The obvious was that it was great to get away alone and have the time to just walk and think and read and reflect. A weekend free from distractions is a rare and beautiful gift and it was truly a time to “Be still” and think on other blessings in my life.


I also thought about what it means to be still in my everyday life. Again the obvious answer would be that it would do me good to reserve some space in my days to be quiet and just spend time with God. However, as I mused on the words I felt that there was a deeper meaning.


I tend to be more than a little bit of a control freak. If you know anything about Myers Briggs tests I am a “J” to about as much as you can be a J. That means I like schedules and checklists and plans. I do not like being late. I do not do well with unexpected interruptions. Some of that is good. I tend to get a fair amount done and I’m good at organization and administration. But this also means I spend a lot of time worrying about what is going to happen if we are off schedule or worrying about things I can’t control (like the weather or sickness or someone else’s behavior).


I don’t want to change who I am. But I do want to be more open to what God brings in a given day. I want to be able to respond with compassion with needed instead of impatience. I want to rest in knowing that I don’t have to be in control of everything. (And that if I was really in control it would be a really bad thing. Really.) I want to Be Still.

Chicago with Kids


We spent the beginning of September on a week long trip to Chicago. The excuse of sorts for travel was a pediatric conference I attended, but we turned that into a week long family vacation. Long car trips have reputations as being hellish experiences with kids. I have found that I (mostly) enjoy them. Yes, by the end of the day everyone is grumpy but many of our funniest memories are from long car trips. We pack up a stack of audiobooks, some not so healthy snacks and make sure to take plenty of quick breaks.


I wanted to post all different photos from my previous Chicago post but this one photo deserves a second post. On the way home I asked all three kids what were the top three things we did were. All three put the Mirror Maze at the Museum of Science and Industry at the top of the list. It was a great museum in general but the mirror maze was a unique experience for all of us.DSCN0893aI think I’ve shared this tip before, but many science museums and children’s museums offer reciprocal membership benefits. (Zoos and Aquariums also often offer the same thing). Before a trip, we will look for museums we might be interested in visiting and then look for another museum somewhere in the country to join that offers the best reciprocal benefits. It takes some research on H.’s part but it has gotten us some great deals at museums in several cities. In Chicago, we got free admission to the Museum of Science and Industry and to the Field Museum.


Another great deal to take advantage of if you are a Bank of America customer is the Museums on Us program, which offers free admission to participating museums around the country on the first weekend of the month. We were able to get free admission for all of us to the Art Institute of Chicago.


I would say our kids usually have mixed feelings about art museums. One hates them, one likes art but is just too active to want to look at anything for very long and one is fine as long as she can dance and sing in the middle of the gallery. Before this trip, a swim team friend recommended the books The 68 Rooms by Marianne Malone which tells the story of a boy and girl who shrink and have adventures inside the Thorn Rooms at the Art Institute. I think the kids would have been mildly interested in the rooms before listening to the audiobook, but having listened made seeing them so much more fun. In fact, they surprised me by enjoying it so much that they went back the next day while I was finishing my conference. The book served as the hook to get them to the museum. And then while they were there they happened to see so much more. The Thorn Rooms were voted one of their top attractions as well.


The third favorite attraction was more difficult and more variable. I think for H. it was taking a long bike ride along Lake Michigan. The kids enjoyed that as well, especially going down the sledding hill on bikes. We of course enjoyed the Crown Fountain in Millenium Park and the three kids got completely soaked. I think Ruth and I both picked the water taxi ride we took one night as one of our top three things. (Water taxi = cheap version of river boat tour.) We took one from downtown out to Chinatown to eat dinner one night and then came back at night when we could view the sparkling skyline at it’s finest. Navy Pier and the Ferris Wheel topped H’s list.


At the risk of being corny, I would say that all the things we saw and did were really the chocolate syrup on top. (Photo from Margie’s Candies, home of enormous sundaes and amazingly good caramel.) The real value of the trip was just being together. We are together a lot at home but there is always something special about being away on a vacation. All of the other distractions are gone and we can just enjoy each other. That was less true this trip as usual as I was at a conference part of each day. However, H. and the kids had adventures in the mornings on their own and we had the rest of the afternoon and evenings together. As our kids get older I’m reminded again and again how important these kids of concentrated times together are.

Previous Kids and Travel Posts:

Tips from a trip to Pittsburgh with a 2 yr old and a 4 yr old 
Tips from a long car trip to New Orleans with a 3 yr old, a 6 yr old and a 9 yr old (part 1)
And New Orleans, part 2
Niagara Falls and Toronto with Kids

Medieval Girl Power

My August selections for Amy’s Newbery through the Decades challenge were two books by Karen Cushman that I have had on my list to read for a long time: The Midwife’s Apprentice and Catherine, Called Birdy. And I’m so glad I did. I loved both these books.

I loved Catherine and Beetle, two fiesty but completely believable medieval girls. I think it would be fantastic to read both books together with a student and compare the different Beetle, discovered homeless and hungry and sleeping in a dung heap by a village midwife, is in more obvious dire circumstances. However, if you compare her story to Catherine’s, the daughter of minor nobility who is struggling against her father’s schemes to marry her off to the highest bidder, Beetle has more freedom. I also really liked that Cushman allows both girls a happy ending but one that fits in with the time period.  These two books are definitely going on my list to read and discuss with my kids.

Read Aloud Thursday

Ruth and I have spent the summer working our way through Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. I loved these books as a child and I love sharing them with Ruth. I’ve heard and read various modern criticisms of the books. There is the whole “true” story issue of the Ingalls family and the ongoing argument over who really wrote the books (Laura or her daughter Rose Wilder Lane). I suppose those are valid and interesting arguments especially for books that have become such iconic pictures of American girlhood. However, I haven’t really been engaged in the controversies. Maybe it’s anti-intellectualism to admit this but whether Laura really wrote every word or whether she sugar-coated her childhood doesn’t make me enjoy the books any less. The other criticism I’ve read is that of racism, in particular in the Ingalls family attitudes towards Native Americans. I can see how reading the books as an adult can be troubling but I haven’t found it to be a big issue for us. When we read statements like “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” I stop and say “Hmmm…why do you think they would say that?” or “What do you think about that?” and we talk about it briefly and then we move on. I have found my kids are very capable of liking Laura and her family but realizing that they said and did things that we don’t agree with and that were wrong. I read the books on my own as a kid and I remember feeling bad for the Indians who were being forced off their land even as I also felt bad for Laura’s family when they had to move at the end. Ruth is enjoying them also and looking forward to being able to watch the TV series that we have on DVD. I told her that we first had to read through On the Banks of Plum Creek, because the book always has to come first in our house.

The boys and I have been working our way through Lloyd Alexanders Chronicles of Prydain series. This is one that I somehow missed as a kid. I know we had the first book (The Book of Three) on the shelf but for some reason I didn’t think I liked it. No idea why. In some ways it’s too bad because I would have loved these when I was younger. However, it’s been really fun to discover them with the boys. We’re at a very exciting part of the fifth and final book, The High King. If you or your kids are a fan of fantasy these are a must read. They are also quite funny and beautifully written with vivid descriptions, wonderful characters and poetic language.

For Amy’s Newbery Challenge, my May selection was Elizabeth Enright’s Gone Away Lake. I decided to use it as our lunchtime book and we finally finished it a week or so ago. It seemed only right to pick the sequel, Return to Gone-Away for our next lunchtime book. I love Elizabeth Enright’s books, which are about as far from fantasy as you can get. My favorites will always be the Melendy series but these are also wonderful pictures of an ordinary childhood and all the extraordinary things that make that up. In some ways, reading these books is like being Portia and Julian and discovering the long-lost Gone-Away Lake. They portray a world that feels familiar and yet exotic in it’s old-fashionedness.

For our current audiobook we are listening to The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone. A friend recommended these mysteries to us when she heard we were going on vacation to Chicago. They take place in the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. Two friends discover a key that gives them the ability to shink down to dollhouse size and explore these tiny miniature rooms. So far, this one feels kind of slow. We are enjoying it but it feels like not much has happened. I think that’s partially our fault as we’ve been listening in the car but for various reasons have had less time to listen so the story has become somewhat fractured for us. I would definitely recommend it though, especially for kids who like mysteries or are fascinated by other “little people” kinds of stories.

So that’s what we are reading together. What books have you been enjoying this summer?  Head over to Hope is the Word to see what other people are reading and to share what your family is enjoying.

Fun Friday

Even after 7 years of homeschooling there are things I “always” want to get to but somehow never seem to get done on a regular basis. Last year, I was intrigued by the idea of Fun Fridays on Amy’s blog. I was intrigued but still didn’t really implement it in our homeschool. The main issue for me is that we have a schedule that really allows for only two full days of school with me home. Two other days I work part of the day. The other day  of the week we do a co-op. Friday happens to be one of our full days at home and so is usually one of our longer and fuller school days.

However, this year I would really like to have Friday be a little bit different. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like but my plan right now is to have Fridays be a mix of Science, Art,  Poetry Teatime, and other special activities.

IMG_2176Today, I had the boys do some work on their current unit study (architecture with H.) and do a little bit of math. Then we all got together to do art. We are traveling to Chicago in a few weeks (hence the architecture unit study) and plan on going to the Art Institute. There are many things we could have studied but I decided to focus on George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte because it was relatively easy to come up with a last minute art project. (Just being honest) I decided to do a project from MaryAnn Kohl’ s Discovering Great Artists. First, we used Q-tips and acrylic paint (tempera would work fine but we didn’t have any) to make dots on index cards. We first did only dots of one color on each index card. 


Next, after letting the first set of dots dry, we used a Q-tip to put dots of a different color in between the original dots. We used only red, blue, yellow, black and white paint. The idea was to see if the card began to look more like two colors mixed together from far away. It’s important not to let the paint mix together on the paper if you do this. It would also probably work better with smaller dots. Our cards still mostly looked like dots from across the room. But when we went outside, we were able to walk far enough away where the dots disappeared and we saw orange instead of red and yellow dots. We had a brief discussion about the technique and also about how with computers and TV screens, basically everything uses the concept of pointillism. Next week, we’ll do a larger painting but this was enough for today.


After art, I surprised the kids by asking if they wanted to ride bikes to lunch. They were all excited about the idea. Ruth has recently “graduated” to using John’s old bike that has gears and hand brakes and she is very excited about her new skills. Note that John is wearing a backpack. IMG_2187

The backpack was to carry his books so that he could read during lunch. We enjoyed a delicious pizza picnic lunch at our favorite local pizza place. Sadly, I was the only member of the family even mildly challenged by the mostly uphill ride home. 

Once home, we gathered for science. We’re going to focus on chemistry this year. We did a few experiments out of Adventures with Atoms and Molecules. This is more at the level of Ruth and David than John but he likes science so was happy to join in. The experiments are all very simple and the book includes some brief explanation/discussion that you can use for slightly older kids. I am also going to have John and David go through Ellen McHenry’s The Elements and we did a few pages in that as well.


I had then planned to do a poetry teatime but the kids all really wanted to finish playing Elemento, a new board game I picked up for this year, that they had started yesterday. So, I decided to scrap poetry and let them play.

All in all, a good day. It felt pretty fun and we still got some good work done. And I managed to include at least one thing that each of them had put down that they wanted more of on the first day of school (art, books, bike rides, time outside, doing things with siblings).



The Uncommon Reader

I picked up The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett on a recent trip to the library where I was alone and had more time than usual to browse in the non-juvenile section. (I would say adult section but that seems to imply an all together different type of book.) It was an appropriate introduction to a book that begins with Queen Elizabeth II stumbling upon a traveling library on the palace grounds while chasing a wayward Corgi. Her Majesty feels obligated to take a book with her and thus begins her introduction to the pleasures of reading.

This slim novella is a quick read and all together delicious little book. Witty observations on society and culture and class are woven into musings on the nature of reading itself and what it means to be a reader as Her Majesty goes from being a reluctant reader to someone who ignores all her other duties in order to finish her current book. She is aided by Norman, a fellow reader and servant brought up from the kitchens to be her personal amanuensis. Her mildly villainous personal secretary Sir Kevin is perplexed, irritated and finally conquered by this new interest of the queen’s.

The book is full of great quotes on the joys of reading but I’ll finish with one of my favorite:

What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.

Ah, isn’t that the truth? The days certainly aren’t nearly long enough.

And it begins…


Yesterday was our first day of school: 1st grade, 4th grade and 7th grade (yikes!). We’ve been off since May 8th so everyone was ready to get back into the routine. We don’t have a ton of first day of school traditions but one is to take a photo with a sign showing their current grade. And yes, the 4th and 7th graders are on the opposite sides from their signs.  Our other enduring tradition has been to start the school year with a healthy breakfast.


No, not really. But we do have the tradition of letting them pick breakfast. This year we sort of picked for them as we wanted to try Duck Donuts. Let me just say, if you’ve heard the hype about these donuts, it’s all true. Every word. I’m not even a huge donut fan and I wanted to lick the box clean. I’m not sure what makes them so good. They are baked fresh and were still warm when I got home with the box. (And can I say I think I deserve some kind of award for driving 30 minutes with a box of delicious warm sweet smelling donuts on the seat beside me and still making it home with every donut unnibbled?) They were all good but my favorites were the maple-bacon, lemon and cinnamon-sugar.



Our last tradition is that we usually go somewhere and do something fun in the afternoon on the first day of school. This year H. took the kids to the Building Museum to experience their summer installation, The Beach. The Building Museum is a fantastic museum that we love to go to. The past few summers they have done some kind of temporary installation in their very large interior space. Two years ago it was mini-golf, last year was a giant maze and this year is The Beach which is basically an space filled with polystyrene balls. The kids loved it. H. is doing a mini-unit on architecture to start off the year so this also sort of qualified as educational. Sort of.

IMG_2161A new thing I did this year was to ask the kids to each write down three goals for the year and three things that they want us to do more of in our homeschool. I then met with each one alone and we talked about the goals. The responses were very interesting to me and I hope to them. Two of them had goals for themselves that were very similar to my own goals for them. I expected more elaborate things that they wanted to do but for the most part they asked for relatively simple things. One wanted to do school outside more and more art. One wanted more bike rides and more books. Ruth? She wanted more sparkly stuff. So I let her get out the glitter and make some sparkly pictures.

I also usually do a treasure hunt for school supplies/small gifts but decided not to do one this year for various reasons. This was not looked upon well. Ruth listed “treshur hunt” as one of the things she wants more of in our homeschool. It may have to return next year.

So, you can’t win them all. But overall it was a good first day.