One of the most frequent questions I am asked about our homeschooling paradigm is whether or not we have a structured learning day. (This is not, by far, THE most frequent question—the most ubiquitous question regards the “socialization” of my children, and I have been composing a blog entry in my head to address this for over a year). I cannot speak for every homeschooling family, because we’re all so different and subscribe to different pedagogies (classical, Montessori, Waldorf, unschooling, Jeffersonian, etc.) but at the McGaugh Academy, we thrive on a structured day. That structure and routine gives us something to fall back on when we’re not feeling like doing our work, so we feel it is very necessary. Structure carries us through mornings that are rougher to start. That said, we’re also flexible if a field trip, learning experience, or family opportunity comes up. Most of the time, though, we wake up and start working through our core subjects in a methodical and predictable way.

So although we truly believe—and practice the idea—that learning occurs ALL the time and every moment is a chance for teaching, when we have a school break we take the break by releasing ourselves from the predictable structure. Oh, we keep learning. And sometimes we actually do our curriculum just for fun or to give us padding for later. We do, however, put our structure to the side for the holiday. Katie is, for example, allowed to watch cartoons first thing in the morning for a change! She loves that! We also have more time to read “for fun” books (she is currently almost finished with her first American Girl series), as opposed to our Five In a Row (which we love) literature. We usually fit in both anyway, but during break we can just lose ourselves in the chapter books as much as we want to.

We also packed in the field trips and family visits this week! We wholeheartedly view the community as our classroom. Everyone is our classmate. Everyone can be a teacher. Every experience is an opportunity to learn. Our classroom may not have four walls, but it is still a classroom. Bill and I don’t make a distinction between learning and fun—learning IS fun. At least is always has been for us, LOL! Our goal is for Katie and Eric to be lifelong, engaged, self-directed learners. We have to show them how to do that in the real world.


Last week we headed to Los Angeles, and we met our friends Rosa and Dan and their son Nolan at Exposition Park. We saw the Endeavour and the Cleopatra exhibit. Katie was getting over a 24 hour, very virulent, stomach bug and she was a trooper. She was in tears the night before because she’d had her set on seeing the Cleopatra exhibit (one of her very passionate special interests is Egyptian history), and we weren’t sure if we’d have to leave her home or not. We were glad we made the choice to take her (even though she was sick that morning). Her stomach recovered, and she had a blast!



Bill and the Endeavour! When Eric saw it, he called out “Space shuttle! So big!”



Here we are with our Cleopatra tickets.



Humbling. I think of all those hands that carved those stone, hands that have now perished and turn to dust. Makes our time here seem so fleeting, you know?



Eric got into it, too. The kiddos loved the self-guided audio tour of the exhibit.



A blurry picture, but I love it because it captures Katie’s intent focus on the audio tour. We had spent time studying Cleopatra before going to the exhibit, so much of the information was either familiar to her, or built upon prior information. She had even spent time pretending to be Cleopatra and dealing with the Romans.



I said, “Look, Katie! It’s the bust of Caesarion!” Katie’s response? “Mama, I know!!!” This was a piece we had studied…



From across the room, Katie saw this and said, “Look, it’s the head of Cleopatra’s father!” (on the sphinx). I actually had to double check the placard, but she was right.



Testing out Egyptian technology…



Katie had fun with this, too. We love hands-on opportunities!



Strolling around the rose garden

On Tuesday, we headed to Orange County to visit Nana and my aunts, as well as Great-Great-Uncle Ross:


We are so thankful for our time as a family, and we are thankful for the chance to teach our children how to care for and love our elders and how to embrace life’s cyclical nature.

On Wednesday we went with our friends to Pennypickle’s Workshop, the children’s science museum in Old Town Temecula. We love that place! Unfortunately, I forgot my camera! The workshop is set up as a house where Dr. Pennypickle, an inventor and scientist, lives. Every room is filled with all kinds of feats of engineering, hands on activities, and things to touch, touch, touch. Everything is based around scientific concepts (magnetism, wind, light, etc).

Then on Thursday we had Thanksgiving!



Ready to see our family!



Eric tries to eat the pumpkin…nom, nom, nom!



It was Baby Chelsea’s first Thanksgiving… Just last Thanksgiving, my cousin Beth announced her pregnancy. This much-awaited, miraculous little girl is finally here having family parties with us! So thankful! Everyone was loving on her, and she got to spend time with her great-grandmother Dot. In other good news, cousin (well, cousin-in-law, but my family doesn’t make too much distinction) Mike is engaged to his love Rocio. They are marrying in January. So good to see our family expanding!



My K-Dizzle, Kades, Kd Horne!



Ma Mere Bear!



Catching up with Meredith!



And Katie discovered something really awesome-sauce this Thanksgiving: she can her head. She has been reading aloud for quite some time now (before starting K), and through her K work we’ve seen her sense of phonics strengthening as well as her sight words. She has been gaining confidence all year. Up ’til now, she has read everything out loud (except for a few times…but when I’ve “caught” her reading to herself, she always gets shy and uncertain and pretended she can’t—I don’t know why…she just marches to her own beat)! But on Thanksgiving, she suddenly gained the confidence and the desire and spent a good portion of time just reading to herself. Every once in awhile, she would sound out a word out loud… In the days since Thanksgiving, she has now been practicing this skill. I love watching her world open up wide… There is nothing like reading a good book.



Eric headed toward a food coma, with a turkey-grease stained shirt. Keepin’ it classy, folks!



Katie ADORES her great-uncle George. She couldn’t wait for him to arrive!



Eric loves Great-Aunt Diane’s soup as much as we do. Tradition!

On Friday, we were supposed to see two friends (a former student of mine, and my friend Lauren and her kiddos). Eric spent most of the wee hours of the night and morning have sickness on the order of Katie’s stomach bug. As with Katie, I put him on the B.R.A.T. diet right away (thanks to Bill taking an early morning run to the store), and it seemed to help him clear up by the evening. I swear by that diet.

All morning until his nap we tended to him and did several loads of sickness laundry, but when he finally went down, we took out our Christmas decorations. Fortunately he woke up feeling better and was able to help, too.




Santa Katie!

On Saturday, we decorated some more (put up the kitchen tree and the kiddos’ room trees) and went on our annual date with my mom to The Nutcracker. For me, The Nutcracker really rings in the season right after Thanksgiving. I don’t think I will ever tire of it.



Ready for The Nutcracker



Feeling festive!



This was Eric’s first ballet, and his second live theater performance overall. I’ve been coasting for years now on having Katie live-theater-trained (we’ve enjoyed going quite a bit together), and so it was a little nerve-wracking to return to teacher/training mode, but Eric is doing so well! This is definitely a skill for which we have specific objectives, and in a highly social and public venue. I used to get so nervous about my formal observations and teaching evals when I was in the classroom, but sometimes the intensity of those pales in comparison to teaching my children proper social behavior in front of everyone, LOL! But we have to start sometime… I was so relieved when Katie was theater-trained, not only for her sake but also because I love attending the theater myself—and if I want to go, she needed to be able to come with me. My dream is to take them both to Ashland for the Shakespeare festival not next summer, but the following. I was pregnant with Katie last time we went.

Anyway, I think Eric benefits from watching his sister as a model. He was fascinated by The Nutcracker, especially the curtain going up and down and the rats. Pushing nap time, he did fall asleep shortly after the pas de deux, but he made it through most of it. In the car on the way home, he kept giggling and saying, “Me see Nutcracker!” He has been playing with our nutcracker at home since the performance, and we also turn on the music and the kiddos like to pretend to put on the ballet.

This production of The Nutcracker is a good one for live theater practice. The stakes are high enough to keep me “on” as a teacher, but so many kiddos are there with their adults that I am not totally stressed, either. I know I can take the children out, if need be, without too many glares. 😉 As it happened, an older woman actually complimented Eric on how well-behaved he was. Yay! For only his second experience, I’ll take it!

It went so well that Bill and I bought tickets to A Christmas Carol for a family date. We’re still doing the Sunday matinee (that seems to be a good training session, generally, lots of kiddos). Katie and I have seen it before, and I am hoping Eric engages with it, too!



Katie in her green velvet Christmas Eve dress with her pink room tree. I love her hair with green…



The kiddos on Saturday night with his-n-hers jammies, next to Eric’s room tree. We love to sing carols, read Christmas stories, and look at all the ornaments. This is, for sure, a magical time of year.

On Sunday, we had our annual Thanksgiving II at my mom and dad’s house down the street. My brother and sister (sister-in-law) came from L.A. to join in the festivities! I love that Bill can take a panorama. My dad’s chin isn’t usually so sunken in, though!



My mom made an excellent Thanksgiving meal, and we all enjoyed leftovers today!






Eric loved the rolls, especially.

After dinner, the kiddos played dragon tickle monster with their aunt and uncle, and we helped Uncle David move some of his books out of his old room (David and Ashley recently moved to their new house).

Today we’ve been back in our homeschooling routine, easing in a bit!

Hope everyone had a beautiful and happy Thanksgiving week!