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This homeschool gig with a first grader and preschooler? Probably the craziest and most challenging thing I’ve ever tried to pull off. The truth is, I think this gig requires a balance of both mad confidence and earnest doubt: confidence, because I have to be accountable to myself for every curriculum/lesson/environment/learning decision I make and therefore must believe wholeheartedly that I am able to make those decisions; and doubt, because I believe nothing (in any part of life) ever grows, evolves, or changes for the better without constant questioning about whether or not the things we believe or the choices we make are right. I am a two-feet-jumper into this pool and have to believe that doing my best and working my hardest will ultimately be enough for these babes.

Isn’t that just like all of motherhood in general, though?

Whether you are a homeschooling family or not, I think most mothers I know understand this feeling. We have to possess enough confidence to perform the role of a mother and yet have enough doubt to be adaptable and willing to let the process of having children shape our character and pound out our flaws right in front of us. We have to be able to meet our children halfway, often taking our own sense of self out of the way so that we can see them in all of their resplendence. That taking the sense of self out the way? Yeah, still working on that one.

It is a humbling process.

I wish I could say that we’ve fully worked out the kinks by this time in the year, but just today one of my children had a full-on tantrum right in the middle of the last thing we were going to do. It happens. For the love of Pete, please can’t we just finish? I almost whined myself. We have choir, dinner, baths, stories, and about a million other things to do… About 30 minutes later the child reappeared after resting in his/her room. It still wasn’t smooth sailing at this point, but we owned up to our weaknesses and worked it out.  Observing my own character struggle often to keep its patience helps to keep me grounded and realistic about what we’re doing here.

So we keep on. The rewarding moments outweigh the blips here and there. We believe in our McGaugh Academy and its vision. As I tell Katie almost daily, there is never, ever shame in not knowing something or in not doing something perfectly. Perfection is not honor. But really hard work and a good attitude is the basis for achieving any worthwhile honor.  We try our best.

Some highlights:


Apple-themed work: Katie read a nonfiction book about apples and completed a four square project about what she learned, and Eric listened to me read Apple Pie Tree and used it as the basis to complete a four square project about how the apple tree changes throughout the seasons. Same project process, age and standard-appropriate texts.


Eric had to sort “Bb” and “not Bb” objects as review before starting on “Cc” for the week.



Both kiddos, hard at work



Unit 2 in our science book is plant bio, so we took the opportunity to make prints with solar print paper. We’ve been talking about leaf shape, parts of plants and their functions, etc.



Katie scored 100% on her first spelling test. I decided to make up our own program, and we’ll see how it works out. I take some words from the National Spelling Bee list for first grade, some words from her reading/writing that need work, and I also give her a few Greek and Latin roots. I am a rather ardent believer in phonics and roots as the basis for literacy.



Caterpillar puzzle

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So, “Cc” is for “crab” also… I had a handprint caterpillar project all ready to go (I had planned to have Eric make a handprint project for all letters of the alphabet). Well, Mr. Eric informed me that he doesn’t feel like having paint on his hands anymore at the moment. So this crab was literally a last minute punt (which fortunately I had once seen on Pinterest). He painted it with a brush and we cut it out. I am now retooling all our alphabet projects to be non-handprint based. There are tons of cute projects out there, so that’s totally workable.



Sometimes when you are having a school break and your mommy is cleaning up/getting out the next activity, your sister dresses you up in her dress and throws you a tea party.







“Cc is for caterpillar” snack


Completing patterns made out of tessellations.




Using puff balls to make caterpillar bodies of various specific lengths (10, 5, 8, 3, etc).

One of Katie’s major assignments this week was Composition #2. We used Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book (a great resource, so ripe for so many different uses) as the basis for a descriptive mode writing piece. We have had this book for a few years and done a couple of things with it, but this assignment was much more rigorous…


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We spent time dissecting the prompt…



We took a day to brainstorm and then wrote the next day. I thought we might have to bring it through a second drafting process, and honestly, I almost had her do a second draft just to emphasize the process of writing. But her first draft was right on. We did tweak a couple of issues (hey, I see you, missing period!), but other than that… And I don’t want to burn her out on the writing process before she’s hardly even begun in her life. 😉

We’ve been working on “doubles” in math, as well as timed accuracy skills tests, and vertical addition.

In history, we have been studying the seven continents, four oceans, natural resources, cities/towns/suburbs, and map reading skills.

For English: proper nouns, “oa” and “ow” words, spelling words, fiction and nonfiction pieces out of her textbook with a plant theme, exclamation points and question marks, definition vs. example, almost-daily journal entries, her second composition (topic sentence, capitals, punctuation, spacing), Five in a Row (Giraffe That Walked to Paris), and more.

I am super excited this week to start on Wee Gillis and to do all the FIAR activities. I love that book, and we’ve got some cool science, art, and poetry to go with it. Plus, Scotland is so rich to explore culturally. We started it today (after reading it periodically this summer), and I am so happy we are rowing it for the next two weeks.

Katie will also be assessed on our history unit tomorrow, and I am excited for the opportunity to move on. (I mean, I love the continents and all, but…) Mostly I am eager because this will be the first week on our new schedule of alternating days/periods for our history and science material. We will continue with ELA/math daily, but I am going to switch up history and science so that they do not both happen on the same days. We just were not getting through our lesson plans until mid-afternoon (hard to run a house/make dinner/do anything but school), and when I looked at how we were zooming through the material I realized that at our current pace, we would be done with both subjects well before the end of the year with months to spare. There might be time/reason to speed Katie up later, but that isn’t what interests us right now. We want a first grader, and we want the luxury of time in order to supplement our core with other topics she is interested in right now. Art. A “baking class with Mommy” as she termed it. Current events (she has been having all kinds of questions about Syria). Chapter books like the original and translated Pinocchio (almost finished). Life skills of caring for our chickens. Time to explore FIAR topics more in depth. Part of the joy of homeschooling is time to pursue various passions/interests. So we’re evolving.



Taking care of our chickens



We have a new bucket for our scratch, one that Katie can reach. She has started to take over a bit more of the chicken chores this week.

And we of course continue to love soccer practice and games, so much a part of autumn. We adore our team. The team always stays a bit after practice to play at the park together for a few minutes. Katie and some of the other kiddos like to play chase. Oh gosh, I remember being in first grade and playing chase! Is she really at that stage now? It’s like a rite of passage, especially when the boys get involved. When I was in first grade at Friends Christian in Yorba Linda, we chased the boys at recess, pinned them to the ground, and kissed them. Oh yes, we did. My favorite boy to catch was Ethan R. Luckily Katie’s version of chase hasn’t quite reached that level yet…


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Go, Katie!

We also got to celebrate my mom’s birthday this weekend, but that would be a different post!

Happy learning to all, and to all a good night!

Are we really three weeks into our new school year? Yes, and thank goodness, because some of the kinks are starting to work themselves out, as I would expect by week three. We are getting into a rhythm at last during the day. I don’t exactly find the work load to be any less for me after the kiddos go to bed, but that may be more a function of my personality than necessity. As Bill often says, I might benefit every once in awhile if I took a moment to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere every once in awhile and just sit down/relax/stop working.

Like that’s likely.  😉 I am a Matics by birth… Work is our hobby. I thank goodness for my morning runs, which are definitely my moments to unwind, plan my life, meditate, and just be all filled up in the warm embrace of introvert-alone time. My music, the sunrise, the cool morning air waking me up, any stress worked out through my legs… When I come home sweaty, I know I am mentally ready to face my workday.

The good news is that the blending of Katie’s and Eric’s curricula is getting easier. Because we did “unofficial” preschool years with Katie before starting with River Springs, I have preschool units and lessons already designed that I can re-use with Eric. I am covering some familiar territory, so that helps. Additionally, there are ways to break down what she is doing and make assignments that he can do also. They can both be doing plant bio, for example, and Katie can be using ideas out of her first grade text (I am extremely focused on teaching her academic language/vocabulary in all disciplines this year), and I can have Eric jump in with apple tree bio (which Katie and I have done before and for which I have materials). They work separately on English (except for Five in a Row) and math, for the most part. History and science are our big crossover points. We’re always working the themes to our advantage.



Apple tree math: gluing on apples and counting them.



One of our Montessori trays this week: lid and jar matching. Katie used to love this one, too, back in the day!



Bb for butterfly this week!


A fun morning snack on our first “Bb for butterfly” day! They asked for it again on Tuesday, also!




Morning snack (usually 10 AM or so). The awesome thing about Bb for butterfly is that, of course, we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar again to go with it. It’s old hat for Katie, but we were able to pull out the examples of exclamation points (part of her English standards this week) as well as the butterfly life cycle (part of her science text in chapter 1 and part of her test later this week) and focus on those elements for her. I love it when things come together. 😉


“Bb for butterfly” out of his handprints

Annual McGaugh Family Apple Tasting lab:






We had never tasted the Envy or Sweet Tango varieties before!







Katie got to start choir again last Monday! She loves Regina so much, and she is feeling so comfortable with our homeschool friends that—at last!!!—she has taken the mature step of attending the class without me sitting nearby. This is a FIRST, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer person than Regina to be part of this momentous step for Katie. If Katie can do this, then doors will open for us to have her take other enrichment classes as her confidence increases. I told Katie as this year started that, if she wanted to do choir, then she would HAVE to do it without me in the house this go-round. Eric is not napping much anymore, and he is so good about sharing time with his sister that we cannot ask him to stay at home and miss out on yet another hour when I could be doing something just with him. Katie seemed to understand this. Eric and I walked around the area of Regina’s house for an hour, and I cherished my one-on-one time with him. We so rarely get to be just by ourselves. I love the three of us together, don’t get me wrong, but Katie had so much one-on-one time before her brother was born. I need those moments with my kiddos when I am just concentrating on each of them individually. Eric and I explored all over and had such a great conversation. Win-win for everyone!

On Tuesday we took a huge break around snack time because the night before, as I was tucking him into bed, Eric was telling me how much he wanted us all to play Play-Doh. So we did:



I love that Katie is around home to still do those “little kiddo” types of things.


Katie’s first official science test… 100%!! Wahoo! She has been studying animal biology, with a huge section on animal classification. She really had to know her stuff.


Sometimes I have all kinds of neat activities ready for Eric at our school table and he begs me instead to play cars. All too often I put him off until later, after I finish guiding Katie through a lesson… Well, this week, we brought the learning to him with a cardboard box parking lot. He had to drive his cars into the numbers I called out. And he thought we were just playing. 😉



Magnetic sorting lab. This horseshoe magnet was IT on the day I gave it to him. He finished his sorting baskets (magnetic/nonmagnetic) then spent most of the day off and on testing just about everything else in the house.



Katie is now working on plant bio for science. We were able to do a flower-labelling craft together.



Eric and I have been working on various juices this week. This spinach-parsley-pear-celery-lemon juice was his favorite. I really liked the red cabbage-blueberry-apple juice also.


We finished one FIAR book (Three Names, about a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie) and started a new one (The Giraffe That Walked to Paris) this week. One highlight of ending Three Names was teaching the kiddos how to play marbles, like some of the characters do in the book. No one—not me, not Bill, not Amie, not Boppa, not Eric—can currently beat Katie at marbles. And we’re trying! She is amazing at marbles! Who knew?? We played again this afternoon, and I ended up with seven marbles and she had eighteen. What?!? Suffice it to say, marbles is her new favorite game.




Eric was delighted to get a marble on one of his turns! He is hugging it here.



We took a day to visit Nana this week. Katie is showing Nana her current mystery book, which she is reading with Amie. Amie reads to Katie in the car whenever we go to Orange County for any reason. Katie and I have also been reading from the “Who Was…?” series of historical biographies at night after I tuck Eric in and in the morning after I run and before Eric wakes up. These books are about 100 pages long, and we’ve finished Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, Walt Disney, Ferdinand Magellan, and Harry Houdini in the past three weeks. We have a few more but are now taking a break from them because Katie wants to read the original Carlo Collodi version of Pinocchio. We are always reading. It is really the backbone of everything we do here, and it allows us to hang our textbook topics onto things we already know about from our children’s stories and chapter books.


Eric brought his friend Peter Pan to Nana’s house.

As part of our studies of Egypt with The Giraffe That Walked to Paris (a nonfiction piece), Katie did a pyramid excavation project to uncover artifacts. The model pyramid was based on the Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu), but it had a sarcophagus that was really more Tutankhamun-esque, so some liberties were taken in the design, clearly. She had a great time! I had had this project tucked away for some time, waiting until we were back in the Egypt mood (Egypt history has been a passion of hers since age three, though she has phases where it is more on her mind than at other times. She decided last month to be Cleopatra for Halloween this year, and with our current FIAR book, the Egypt love is really big right now for her.



First she had to decipher four lines worth of hieroglyphs to figure out where to start chiseling to find the hidden unlocking mechanism. Each hieroglyph corresponded to a letter of the alphabet.


Getting ready to unlock the pyramid top…


Scraping and dusting away the sand to reveal the first artifact. Of course we had Walk Like an Egyptian playing at this time, as well as other appropriately themed 80s songs (Toto’s Africa, etc).




Letting her brother have a turn…


Delighted to find a mummy inside the first artifact, as well as a death mask! Then it was onward to the canopic jars!


Katie’s soccer game at 11:15 this week was H-O-T! But gosh we do love it!



Back at play with her pyramid…She reburied some of the artifacts and wanted to do it again. Eric, meanwhile, was working on our watercolor-oil pastel resist leaf art project (plant bio for the next two weeks)!


Adding salt to the watercolor project for texturing effect.




Before starting her watercolor-oil pastel resist project, Katie got an additional science lesson in how and why that works. She poured oil and then water into a container to see what happens. We tied this into practical life, as well, as we discussed why roads are so dangerous right after the first drops of rain.



This little boy is full of ideas this week. He decided he wanted to make a real-life mousetrap and has talked about it now for a couple of days (ever since we found a mouse nest in our backyard). He had a whole list of parts he thought he needed (bowl, chain, crank, wrench, screwdriver, fork, etc). What goes on in this boy’s mind is possibly beyond me, since I never thought of building a mousetrap or any kind of device at age three. He’s been a little spooky that way this week, I have to say. On Friday he was telling me that one of the marbles was “Earth in my pocket” and that “here was Indiana, and L.A., and Hawaii.” We have astronomy posters upstairs and are always talking about the planets (plus, I guess, what he is absorbing from Katie’s history lessons this week). He told me that we all lived on his marble, including aunts and uncles. I’m like, that’s pretty cool buddy! Anyway, since he wanted to build a mousetrap, I put Boppa on the case. Boppa is a natural-born tinkerer and knows how to invent in his mind, too. I was absolutely stymied about a big crank, but Boppa came up with the idea of making one out of PVC pipes. He brought them over today, and work on the mousetrap officially commenced. In this picture, Eric is screwing the pipes together to make his crank.

We are still doing all four core subjects everyday, though Bill has suggested that I alternate formal instruction in history and science every other day to free up some more time during the afternoon. I might do this, since we seem to be progressing through everything. I guess that is to say, in the next two weeks I think I will still be fine tuning what we do here! Unbelievably, our first progress report period/learning plan period is coming to a close fairly soon!


Week Three is about to begin at our little McGaugh Academy, and I sit here thankful that my kiddos pooped out shortly before their bedtime tonight which allowed me to finish my prep a bit earlier than usual.

I am sipping cardamom tea—all recipes cardamom are my latest obsession. I have my mom partly to thank for this: she recently introduced me to Big Spoon Roasters’ Chai Spice Peanut Butter. It is an artisanal peanut butter from North Carolina, and if you want to indulge in absolutely the most delicious thing you will ever taste, you might want to check out their website. For a girl who watches her calorie intake, I must confess that there were other food items I did without this past week in order to clear out almost this whole jar of yumminess. I would have a tablespoon with a banana as part of breakfast…and maybe I put a bit on some of our homemade challah, just sayin’.

Katie’s favorite restaurant, Pamir, serves a cardamom cherry blossom tea with a green tea base, sugar and whipped cream. I love it chilled, and I have been interested in a simpler cardamom tea I can make at home without dairy or sugar that would work hot or chilled. I steep a cinnamon stick, a few pieces of fresh ginger, and cardamom in boiling water. For no calories, this is a better option for a late-night cardamom love affair than the peanut butter. Having a special autumn tea like this also helps me to cope with Pumpkin Spice Latte season. Yes, I have had tall one…but only plan to have one or two more for the season (pricey, caloric). I used to indulge in those several times a week back in the day, so I need to make new habits for myself and come up with autumn treats that won’t undo all the work I have done to get healthy.

Cardamom it is!

I also made this pistachio cardamom granola, although I made a couple of adaptations (a different oil and not nearly as much of it, for example). On top of 0% Greek Yogurt? Yum!

Now here are WAY too many pictures of everything else I am loving this week:



My Katie Girl had her first go on Splash Mountain! She was so brave and jumped at the chance to sit in front. Her reaction right after the drop? “Mama, I want to go again!!” We were at Disneyland without a crowd, so she and my mom hopped right back on. Love her fearlessness. I, on the other hand, look like I might be about to puke. Trust me, I wasn’t thinking at all about the drop. No, this is the look of a mom who is overly paranoid at the last second that her child is going to go flying out of the log and who is determined to hold on come hell or high-water. We all made it, of course, and now I wish I had been smiling. Katie also rode Radiator Springs Racers again that day, as well as Grizzly River Run. It was a big day for some big rides for this first grader!

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Katie and I flying on Dumbo. I still remember my first ride on Dumbo with this little girl. Man. Time goes by…



So like I said, this happened. I breeched the October wall with this little PSL.


Now this is just a beautiful display of autumn loveliness. I love the Skellington apples!




Storybook Land



Radiator Springs, one of my favorite rides. The animatronics in that ride are mind-blowing.



Alas, neither of us will become the new ruler of England.


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We also enjoyed a visit with a dear friend and one of my first students back in the day as a long term sub before I had any clue about what I was doing in a classroom. Jenn was such a bright spot that term! Thanks for visiting on your trip out from D.C., Jenn!

I never posted about Nolan’s 2nd birthday party! The theme was dino pirates….it totally worked!



Picnic on the grass


From Academic Decathlon, to p.e., to the principal’s office…and now 20 years later.



I love this memory, because we were talking about how great our 30s are, how we wonder about our lives in parallel universes and what would have happened if we’d made other decisions, and how powerful it is to look at the bright side. Reminded me of a few times when we’d have these kinds of conversations all together at Marguerite’s house long ago… Sometimes 17 is truly a magical age to be!





I got the chance to make peanut butter and jelly bar cookies for Nolan’s birthday party. This is one of the few recipes I cannot make, unless I take it somewhere….because I will eat it all until it is gone. I love these. The recipe is from Ina Garten.





Baby Kate’s first ever formal math test happened this week! She did great!


She offered to help fold these kitchen towels for me. She really likes this particular chore!




Chipotle with my dad after getting some new running shoes and gear. I love their veggie bowl.

On Saturday, we had Katie’s first soccer game of the season!



Her team is the same color as last autumn’s team! We love our coach, Coach Becca. She surprised us all by having the kiddos’ names put on their jerseys, which was totally an extra gift as no other team I saw had those on their jerseys. She also had precut matching hair ribbons for the girls on the team. I adore Becca’s enthusiasm, and she also played through college. I think Katie is going to learn quite a bit this season!




We are the Bad Piggies! Love it!



Warm up



Halftime oranges, keeping it old school. Love that, too.



Team huddle


With my soccer girl.




Working on inventing a low calorie, no flour, no refined sugar apple quick bread recipe. It was tasty and satisfied the baking itch, but I also wanted a way to intensify the apple flavor. We did use our homemade applesauce and chopped apples, but I was eager for something more robust.



And today: the team is on the hunt at the store for as many apple varieties as we can find for our annual apple taste test this week!

We ended the day with a swim at the pool and tidying our chicken coop. I am eager for the weather to turn, but we might have a few more weeks to go. Still, we’re breaking out our autumn units at the McGaugh Academy and that makes me happy!

At some point in the last week I had to deal with one of the most difficult people I’ve ever encountered. I am being purposely vague, because in no way do I want this post to be a public “outing” of this fellow human. Here are a couple of additional relevant details: I have only ever had a few interactions with this person, there is next to no possibility of running into this person in town, and there are very few (if any) future scenarios in which we might have to interface.

By “some point” I mean a fixed time and place, and by “deal with” I mean tried my best not to interact with. I’m mature like that.

Truth is, I am one step too close to Amish and too many steps away from Amish to deal with this person in a way that leaves me totally satisfied. When the Amish have a conflict with another person, they offer to wash that person’s feet as a sign of humility and subservience to a greater love. I am light years away from giving this person a pedicure, but I also do take a pacifist approach: unless there is any reason for our relationship to advance, spending time and energy calling him/her out for rude behavior is not logical nor is it good for the rest of the people around us.

I tend to be a greatest good type of gal.

It is no wonder then, that difficult people bum me out, because in navigating their lives they have at some point decided to try to make life as unpleasant and as difficult as possible for everyone else around them. I am sure we are all difficult in our own quirky ways—at least to the wrong, or right, kinds of people. Yet I think we can all agree that some people are much more difficult than others, and in this case I know for a fact I am not the only person who views this particular human as having difficult/antisocial behavior. Popular opinion is not always correct, but in this case at least I know I am not misjudging behavior.

Some people probably get kicks out of being difficult, and bully for them. That might be the case here. My question is this: What good are you planning on leaving behind you in the universe before you die? Because, like, that’s a very real question for me, man, and I wrestle down and dirty with my own character every day. How we treat others, how kind we are, how open we are to the gifts others have inside of them…that’s pretty darn important.

There is a very, very small list of people I don’t like. And you have to WORK to get on that list. I mean, you’ve got to put in some effort to get on that list. I’m the kind of person who looks for the good in other people, even to the point of being called naive or hanging around in relationships (romantic or just friendly) too long simply because I saw something good shining there once. I also don’t make it a practice to compare myself with others, which means I am never assessing a person’s overall worth or holding it up against mine; I believe we all have worth and value, we all have something to offer, we all have a spark. I tend to let comments roll off my back…for the most part. I know the difference between good hearts and a tactless moment—the good heart goes a long way for me. I know the lady that came off as intimidating and brusque in my philanthropy group had a heart of gold and merely a desire for efficiency, and we became friends. I know the snarky friend from college wants the world to be a better place as much as I do, but that she goes about it using hard words while I use gentle words—but that she is choosing those words deliberately with a philosophy behind it, and not just because she is wildly insecure about herself and wants to beat up on people. Makes a difference. I know the power of harsh love from teachers and mentors and actually thrive under those conditions. I have had numerous conflicts—that we resolved—with parents and students. There are not many people I don’t like or don’t get along with, because I go into relationships assuming that everyone has value and that I am not any smarter/better than they are at being a personI find things to like about nearly everyone.

So what makes me classify someone as difficult?

* Difficult people act as though they think they are smarter than everyone else without having enough experience to know how much they really don’t know. Honestly this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever met live their lives in awe of how much they have left to learn to make any kinds of axioms about the world or knowledge. And they certainly don’t go around belittling others or making disparaging remarks about the intelligence of others. Arrogance-without-perspective…ugh!

* Difficult people do not self-assess for their own dogmatism but do not hesitate to call out others for dogmatic beliefs. Occasionally we call this hypocrisy.

* Difficult people spend more time critiquing others than they do refining their own character/reflecting on their own strengths/weaknesses and trying to improve.

* Difficult people appoint themselves as demi-gods who can make pronouncements about the low worth and lack of value in any scenario. Aaaaaaand, based on what qualifications?

* Difficult people give off a vibe of never being satisfied, not appreciating what they have, never being grateful. Without gratitude there is no humility. Do any of us become what we are just by our own sheer will? I don’t think so. Ergo, humility.

* Difficult people don’t truly like it when others are happy or optimistic. They also have a hard time believing that others are happy even when others say they are. They wait for others to fail. They might be jealous, insecure, or hyper-competitive. Ergo, they are missing precisely all of what I think the point of life is completely. Game over.

* Difficult people want to blame others for what goes wrong and give off a vibe of forever being victims. In turn they overcompensate with all of the behaviors above, plus trying to make people fear them with name-calling, smirking, eye-rolling, etc. They also routinely miss the point, indulging in narcissism: many of us don’t fear you, or think much about you, at all…we simply don’t want to pursue your negative way of being and feel absolutely zero need to be liked by you.

So what do we do about difficult people?

I’m not sure. They are no fun. It is my belief that most difficult people have been truly hurt at some point and that, if we could find their real selves deep deep down, we might see someone vulnerable and, dare I say, possibly lovely. But it is not my business, nor my life’s calling, to get past the defensive walls of difficult people. At a certain age, no matter what has happened to us, we become responsible for what kind of character we present to others and, most importantly, how we behave toward others. Bad behavior is bad behavior—rude is rude—even if you are the kindest, most wonderful child that got hurt a long time ago. I feel empathy for you…to a point. Plus we might be dealing with genetics, also. Personality traits are personality traits. Someone who tends genetically to take a negative view of the world will not ever believe that I am being authentic when I am experiencing joy or seeing a silver lining. It is unlikely, even if I were to penetrate the walls of the difficult person, that we could really ever be on the same wavelength.

I was talking with my cousins about having to go spend time with this difficult person, before I went. Beth was wise, Jocey was a counselor, and Kd called me right out about making sure I kept my own pride in check. (“Oh yeah, I bet you are planning on wearing your favorite outfit, thinking about your comebacks…”) My mom, too, reminded me about being loving toward all people and turning the other cheek.

Yeah. But it is SO hard. How do we show love even at the hardest moments? I can’t say I did a very good job. My strategy was to ignore the heck out of this person’s presence. Give this person no kindling. But with no kindling, no kindness either. Maybe kindness would have been best. Maybe the edge to my voice when this person asked a question s/he should have known better than to ask…maybe I am not all the way proud of that. Because I am just one more in the long line of people, probably, who respond to this person with that tone. Maybe when I saw him/her sitting by himself/herself, I should have humbled myself and tried to talk about the last time s/he was rude to me, and worse, to my family member…and tried to show forgiveness.

But maybe distance is an equally viable and good, or a merely neutral, action. I think much about the Prisoner’s Dilemma here. Has this person played enough rounds that we can safely classify him/her as noncooperative? Or would the game restart if I threw a random move of forgiveness (Forgiving Tit-for-Tat seems to fare better in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, from what I recall from the game theory lesson in my sociobiology class in college).

Or maybe the secret is to take the negative energy from a difficult person and transform it into good energy. I had great running mileage and times right around the time I had to interact with this person. Perhaps optimists have a upper hand here: we know how to work magic on negativity to make something good out of it.

I wish I had a solution. Abraham Lincoln once said something about having no enemies because he could make friends out them. Well, that’s a nice idea… Other times, though, I think we do have to stand for something.  It might be reasonable to require people to work on bettering their behavior before they get to have any more of us/be allowed to peer inside us. It might be reasonable to hold people to a standard of social civility.

Is there hope for those of us who wish to master the art of handling difficult people?  What are your stories? Best solutions?

Well, one thing is for sure: First Grade isn’t Kindergarten, and teaching a three-year-old preschooler and a first grader at the same time is no cakewalk.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I love teaching my kiddos, and it is hard work. Probably I partly love it because it is so demanding, and I love a challenge. I’m kooky that way.

We start school by 7 AM, as both kiddos are up-and-at-’em and I come back from my run (up to 5.5 miles is usually what I can fit in before Bill leaves) near 6:30 AM. We all kiss Bill goodbye, wave as he heads to TVHS, and then I take a few minutes to cool down, de-sweat, and start breakfast and tea. Katie works on her math warm-up usually. If Eric happens to be sleeping in, we will free read from one of her chapter books (she is SUPER interested in historical bios right now: we’ve read about Helen Keller, Annie Oakley, Harriet Tubman, and we’re now on Amelia Earhart) until he wakes up.


Much of the morning work takes place in their jammies. We start with Montessori trays (Eric) and math (both kiddos). We do a daily word problem, addition drills, and a lesson from our math book every day. We might also play a math game and/or use manipulatives throughout our math time.

English comes next. Katie and I work on critical thinking (always a warm-up) grammar, spelling, phonics, roots, lit core, Five in a Row, free journaling, and copy work and also incorporate composition writing from another discipline (this week it was history, more on that later). Eric works on his vowels (specifically “A” this week), Five in a Row, and his preschool books (classification, matching opposites, circling the object that is different, etc).

There is a recess/break between math and English, often a long one that involves getting dressed and going outside.  Our huge calendar is now upstairs in the playroom, and we try to get calendar time done up there when we’re dressing. There is another recess after English (sometimes in the middle of English, depending) with a snack.

Then we work on history and science. I used information on one-room schoolhouses from Katie’s core social studies text for a tie-in to our FIAR book and as the basis for a composition this week. Other than that, we are now squarely into continents and oceans, landforms, natural resources, and map/chart/graph reading. In science, we are studying living/nonliving things, and animal classification.

Classification has actually been a focus skill for us this week. All of our critical thinking work has been classification based tasks, I chose our science unit for its classification emphasis, and we used a compare/contrast Venn Diagram as part of our composition writing scaffold with the idea that comparing and contrasting two or more ideas/things is a way to begin to classify them.

Now that we are out of the boxed set, I greatly enjoy the freedom to come up with our own units, lessons, and themes. I am spending most of my free time in the evenings prepping right now, and I do find it very enjoyable. On the other hand, there are some hobbies I do miss at the moment. Still, even this week I am finding that getting into the swing of things is helping to reduce prep time. I know where we’re headed now for several weeks out. It helps tremendously to have our first week under our belt.

We have been ending by 2 PM or even 3 PM. Then I start the household tasks: tidying up, cleaning, putting away laundry, dinner, any errands, planning for the next day, bath time, more reading and playing, phone calls to family, answering e-mails, bedtime by 8:00 at the latest (though I stay up and overdo it) so I can be up by 5:30 at the latest. There truly haven’t seemed to be enough hours in the day this week. But I know we’ll find our balance again, though even when we do we aren’t dealing with K curriculum that can be done in 2-4 hours. This grade 1 business? It’s real, dude, it’s real. The grade 1 standards/objectives aren’t messing around.

I always love mid-September/early October: that seems to be the time for me, in a classroom or in a homeschool room, that I feel the rhythm kick in. Just have to give it time and ride the energy that comes with the start of the year…!

These pictures capture a little bit of what we’ve been up to over here:


Agenda for the first day back. I try to have the kiddos work on similar objectives, i.e. classification, but via different ability-appropriate tasks. Sometimes Eric gets longer breaks than Katie. We’re working that out. 😉


A happy lunch on the first day back!


Eric works on sequencing and pattern recognition with our unifix cubes


Kumon penmanship cards: the letter A


Another agenda sample


Katie got to choose a “back-to-homeschool” special lunch, and of course she chose her favorite place, Pamir!


Eric enjoyed his cardamom scented cherry blossom tea at Pamir


Katie and my mom at Pamir


Sorting blocks first by color and then by shape and then by choice while Katie works on a math problem


Using wiki sticks to form “A”


Katie needed to take a 2.5 hour online adaptive diagnostic in math and reading.  She was a trooper. We took breaks. I feel you, baby, I feel you.


Counting “A” for “ants” (and also practicing scissor work and gluing)


Finding number line ranges for “greater than” and “less than.”


Free journaling. We do this a few times a week. She writes whatever she wants and however much she wants to the questions I pose. I ask only that she pay attention to spacing, capital letters, complete sentences, and periods. Those four elements are our writing objectives for the next couple of months. In free writing, I do not care about spelling right now. As we add spelling words, I will call her attention to those. I always respond to her writing in her journal with my own written thoughts. We enjoy communicating this way. She is really, really interested in the Underground Railroad right now (after reading the American Girl series about Addie, a bio on Harriet Tubman, and Follow the Drinking Gourd this summer). This question asked her to think about Addie and Harriet’s experiences. Some of our other questions are much less heavy!


Sorting more shapes with big tweezers


Katie’s Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the one-room schoolhouse (part of our FIAR book Three Names) and The McGaugh Academy. After several other activities, she wrote her first formal composition on this topic this week. We took it through a full writing process, and she finished the final draft today. We use time in the car to play “the topic sentence game.” We give each other topics and then the other player has to come up with a topic sentence, two examples, and a conclusion…essentially writing a mini four-sentence oral essay. It seemed to help with this composition, though this will be an ongoing set of objectives this year.


We don’t say “I don’t know” or “I can’t” or “I won’t.” Instead we say, “Please repeat the question” or “What does ______ mean?” or “Can you explain it a different way?” or “Can you give me an example?” I am constantly working with Katie on ways to keep our progress moving forward. It is our belief that saying “I don’t know” in answer to a question can inadvertently (or on purpose!) stop the progress and productivity of a lesson. It won’t take us anywhere. It is totally okay NOT to know, but we have to know how to keep going forward when, in fact, we feel stymied, by using more productive language and communicating a specific need. We are working on giving Katie phrases to say that indicate that she needs more from ME, as a teacher, in order to get the information she needs. I am giving her tools to put the onus back on me: how do we ask a teacher for clarification/help when we need it instead of shutting down? A work in progress…


Another agenda


Eric had to use the popsicle sticks to recreate the designs


Cutting out objects to classify as living or nonliving things on his science paper


Sorting “hard” and “soft” objects


Daily word problem


Cheerio stacking on spaghetti, then counting the stacks


Wait, are you eating your assignment?


A for alligator handprint art


Working with charcoal and vanishing points for FIAR


After making an animal classification chart (with information about coverings, habitat, and babies), Katie and Eric sorted some of their plastic figures/animals into the right classifications.


Working with the geometry boards/rubber bands

Then at 2 PM today, it was off to the park with our homeschool buddies for our “Back to Homeschool” party!


Katie entered her first potato sack race


Homeschool friends


Eric and I played “farmer” and these were his flowers. He had imaginary horses nearby, too.

Katie starts soccer practices and games this week (we had our info session last week). She also starts choir next Monday. These are definitely her two biggest passions, and other than that, we are trying to stay committed to keeping the extra-currics few but meaningful. I feel a bit like I am not doing enough supplement for Eric right now (not as much as I could when Katie was his age, anyway), but we need solid hours at home this year to make the first grade schooling truly work for us. We also need to keep time open and free to visit family, another big priority for us. Balancing both of their needs can be tricky, and the biggest challenge this week has been the feeling of guilt that Eric is not getting as much attention as Katie gets right now, nor as much as she got at age three. He is constantly sharing me, and I worry I am not giving him enough—either of my play time, or of enrichment. I am working on getting Katie to work more and more independently so that he can have comparable time. That’s truly the difficult part right now, for sure.

We did school on Monday this week in order to free up a day later this week.

Here’s to the next few days and every day becoming—well, not easier—but at least smoother!