Category: Family time

Homeschooling with Minecraft

I’ve been homeschooling my daughter for the past two years now, and it’s definitely been an adventure and a learning experience…for both of us. She’s now eight years old, and she’s got a strong sense of self. A stubborn streak that’s pretty awesome. So you may imagine that it’s pretty difficult to “teach” her things unless she’s self-motivated. Lucky for her, I appreciate and accept her personality and learning style, so “unschooling” is the method we use.

Minecraft is a game that my daughter has taken a huge liking to. And I was quite surprised to find out that it became a bridge for learning. In case you don’t know much about the game, I’ll give a brief overview. In Minecraft you can do what you want. There aren’t goals you have to meet, no “bosses” you have to beat, etc. It’s open ended.

The main things you can do in Minecraft are mine ores (coal, iron, gold, diamonds, etc.) and craft items and buildings. You can play alone or on a server with others. We are part of a homeschool server where parents monitor their children’s behavior. You can set it so there are monsters (zombies, spiders, skeletons) to fight, or not. You explore the game’s “world,” with various biomes (jungles, oceans, mountains, deserts), you find resources (wood, stone), food (cows, pigs, mushrooms), and you “live” or build or dig. It’s up to you.

So what’s this got to do with homeschooling? My daughter got really interested in iron and the things it makes in real life. She wants to know about diamonds, rubies, and other items from inside the Earth. She’s building things in the game and thinking about how to build them in real life. She’s reading the words on the screen and chats with friends on the server. And there’s math involved, resource management, electricity, and more!

She also watches YouTube videos (that I approve) where others are playing the game, so she learns how to do other cool things in the game and is privy to their knowledge base as well. For Christmas I bought her some papercraft Minecraft thingees, where she is building items from the game and working on dexterity, puzzling, putting things together, and creative play. The learning possibilities are endless. At some point she’ll realize she can buy things from other players on the server, so even money will be involved, as well as cooperation.

Before you get too concerned about this virtual reality and her socialization, rest assured that in real life she plays with other kids and talks to many adults. Sometimes she teaches them about Minecraft, other times she finds other Minecraft players just because she walks up to people and talks to them about her interest in the game. Like me, my daughter’s an extrovert, so I find that I have to reign her in more so than try to make her be social. When we get some time, there’s also a weekly group that meets at a local library where the kids bring their laptops and play, either alone or on a server. There are lots of ways to include real life socializing.

Minecraft has been a welcome addition to our homeschooling lives, and I’m excited to see her interested in science, architecture, and computers in general.

Have you played Minecraft? What about your kids? Have you noticed their learning from the gameplay?

Balancing Act

Credit: Kristin Smith

My daughter is seven years old this year, and I’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to homeschool her. I wanted to start when she was five, but she was more interested in going to regular school. It kind of worked for a couple of years, but with our big move, she seemed to be more comfortable with the idea of staying with me. I don’t blame her.

This year is definitely going to be an experiment. I have to make a living solely with my writing business, all while working at home with a young child. In the past, while she was at school, I’d either work for someone else part time or I was a full-time student (with student loan money as a supplement to my writing business). But this is going to be quite the test.

So far, it’s been rocky. When I’ve landed big projects, I’ve taken her to play areas that included wi-fi. That way, she kept busy and so did I. I also stay up late or get up early (or both). My parents moved to Georgia as well, so they’ve been a source of babysitting from time to time. But it’s mostly been me.

The challenge will be keeping my daughter happy and fulfilled while I also seek out prospective clients and work on projects. It helps that I’m not strict about our homeschooling “curriculum.” I’ve chosen to unschool her. We’ve joined a local homeschool group that offers classes and field trips, and we’ve made friends with some neighborhood children. Prospecting via cold calling is pretty non-existent at this point, though. It turns out that the only child of this single parent requires lots of interaction (no surprise).

Creativity is going to be essential if we’re to be successful, but I’m determined. I truly believe that homeschooling is best for my daughter, and that working for myself is best for me.

Have you needed to be creative to balance your work and your family?

Time for a change – What’s next?

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For the past seven years, ever since my daughter was an infant, I’ve lived in Tucson, Arizona. I can’t say that it was “home,” but I lived there for a chunk of time. I’d actually moved to Tucson from Atlanta, Georgia. Tucson made more sense at that time, when I was a new mother and I wanted to stay at home with my daughter.

Thank goodness Georgia didn’t mind me too much. Crayon Writer’s new home is back in Georgia. We drove across country and we’re starting over. How exciting and scary all at the same time!

What lessons did I learn in Arizona? I’m not afraid of spiders anymore, cactus can be beautiful (who knew that they have such wondrous flowers?), and the desert is nice year round…for the most part. I got to know the mother I became, and my daughter grew up in one of the most unique places in the country (nature-wise). I also learned that diversity isn’t just a good thing in nature. Tucson lacks racial and cultural diversity, so it was time to move back to a place that thrives on diversity.

On the horizon for Crayon Writer is pretty much what I’ve always said I wanted. I will homeschool or unschool my daughter, I will continue to work at home and grow my writing business, and I hope to hire an employee in the next 12 months. I’ve updated my business’ website, and I’ve created Facebook pages for this blog and Theda K. Communications. LinkedIn is also something I’m going to become best friends with.

Change is inevitable. Change is exciting. Change is renewing. So join me on my new adventures in a not-so-new locale.

Adventures in sourdough


One of the perks of working at home is getting to do creative, fun projects. My latest project is bread baking. Years ago, before I had a daughter, I used to bake fresh loaves of bread at home. After a while, I decided to try to make my own sourdough. I followed some directions I found in a bread-baking book, and it turned out pretty bad.

The other day I realized that my daughter was old enough to start helping me in the kitchen. I don’t really care for cooking, but I’ve always loved baking. My daughter actually loves both, and she’ll sit still for long periods of time watching cooking shows. So we started baking white bread.

But the sourdough bug hit me again. If you’ve never heard of the process for making sourdough bread, you may think it’s very hard. I wanted to do it authentically, and correctly, this time. No using packaged yeast to get it going. I wanted to grow my own yeast.

Want to know my sourdough starter process? On September 13, I mixed 1 cup of water and 1 cup of bread flour in a bowl (of course I let my daughter help). The consistency was a little like mud or thick pancake batter. I covered the bowl with paper towel (held on by a rubber band), and let it sit on the counter. 24 hours later I scooped out half of the mixture and “fed” the starter with half a cup of water and half a cup of flour. I did this every day for several days.

Now, in the beginning, like 2 days into it, I started getting lots of bubbles and the consistency changed to more goopy, and it started smelling wonderfully yeasty. I thought to myself, “I’ve done it! I’ve grown yeast!” That’s what the websites I’d been reading told me to look for. But then everything went flat, and the smell changed to more musty.

I scoured the internet for information. I seriously think I’ve now read everything about sourdough that there is online (well, not really…maybe just the page 1 results on Google). Thank goodness I didn’t throw it out and give up. It turns out that what I thought was yeast in the beginning was actually a bacteria that causes gas bubbles and such. All I had to do, according to the new research, was continue to “feed” my mixture every day (preferably two times a day, just like any other pet).

About 8 days into it, maybe 9 or 10, I finally got the real desired result. My starter smells like beer, it’s sour, and it doubles itself after feedings. I’m so excited! I even named it Penelope!

My next step is to finally attempt to make a batch of sourdough bread. I’ve been experimenting with regular white bread to get the consistency and softness that I want, so hopefully my practicing will result in a nice loaf of sourdough. And the research I’ve done should help me get a nice sour taste as well. I’ll keep you posted!

Do you bake bread from scratch? Have you tried sourdough? Did you make your own sourdough starter or buy it from a company?

A true garden for children

Love and Joy

A few weeks ago I posted that I decided to send my daughter to a regular public school, despite my strong objections to homework, worksheets, mindless recitations, limited recess, and the goal of separating children from their parents (among other objections). Every time I sent her to school I felt a little shudder. I was on edge, stressed out, and suspicious. Not a fun way to feel every morning.

And then one week they sent home homework, and I let the teacher know I refused to make my daughter do the work. I also told her my concerns about a lot of worksheets and sitting for long periods of time. And I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of constantly telling children their work wasn’t good enough.

Anyway, I finally had enough, and I rescued my daughter from the prison…er….school. Kindergarten is supposed to be fun and carefree, with learning hidden amongst the joys of playing.

I found just what I was looking for! There are a few play-based schools in Tucson, and I found a way to send my daughter to one of the best, which is the closest thing to homeschooling I can find. She now gets to play outside most of the day, while learning is in the form of fun games and one-on-one activities. There are 4 adults for her class of 20 children (the ratio at the public school was 1 adult for 26 children). And the best part is they welcome and encourage parent participation. I’m not shuffled out of the classroom when I drop her off. No one is giving me dirty looks when I hang around. My daughter’s educational experience isn’t a secret. I’m not left wondering what they’re hiding.

She gets to be creative at this school, mixing paints, digging in the mud, planting and cultivating a garden, playing super hero, drawing on herself to be a dragon, telling her elaborate stories to a listening adult. She is being celebrated for who she is at this stage in her life, rather than being told she needs to fit into a certain box. Can you tell how much I LOVE her new school? Last week they even found time to bake bread together…cooking will be part of the curriculum.

Sure, with this much play she might not be reading and writing like a pro when she leaves kindergarten, but who says reading at 5 makes you smarter? Actually, research shows that it’s good to let little children wait a few years before reading. What they need, as little kids, is to play in this developmental stage. Playing helps them learn better. It’s what they were meant to do. In fact, because they’ll be doing real-world activities (field trips, cooking, and more), there’s a good chance that reading, writing, and arithmetic will come naturally and readily…when the children are ready.

The new school is a private school, and it is a little pricey. I’m working on getting a small scholarship from friends/family, but it will still be a challenge to pay for it. (Shameless plug coming up.) So if you support the idea of play-based kindergarten, you sympathize with a single parent household, or you find Crayon Writer to be valuable to you, consider making a donation to my little scholarship fund. The donate button is below, and it’s also in the sidebar to the right.

The best thing about it all is that now I send my daughter to kindergarten with a huge smile in my heart and on my face. I’m SO overjoyed that, surprisingly, I’m almost without words. Almost. I’m so glad I followed my gut on this, though I wish I’d done it sooner. This is going to be a great year for her and for me.

Sound the Alarm (or not)

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I haven’t used an alarm clock in many, many years.

Why not?

I hate them. They’re loud, obnoxious, and they wake me up! I know, I know. That’s the point of alarm clocks. But I find them an intrusive device, and I don’t use them anymore (except on very rare occasions).

You may be thinking, “The nerve of that woman! Alarm clocks are a necessary part of life. Just like wearing a watch.” Well, actually, I don’t wear a watch either, but that’s a story for another time (no pun intended).

My disdain for loud alarms may actually have its roots in high school. I went to a school that didn’t use bells. When it was time to change classes, we changed classes (when the teacher gave his or her okay, of course). We had to use our minds to stay on-time while stopping at our lockers or chatting with our friends.

Sometime during college, I started realizing that I often wake myself up before the alarm goes off. I must have started practicing this skill, and I tried my best to make sure I didn’t have to be anywhere super early. Also, I generally find that I won’t sleep past 8a.m. no matter what time I go to sleep at night.

Eventually I had my daughter, and that just solidified my habit. Babies wake up all the time, and my daughter especially can’t stand sleeping once the sun is up. Surprisingly, I can always go back to sleep when I want, but somehow I can still set my mental alarm for how long I plan to stay asleep.

Waking without an alarm doesn’t work so well when there is a schedule change, though. If I suddenly have to start getting up at 5 a.m., I will set the clock. But worrying about sleeping through the alarm generally wakes me up before it sounds.

Not having to rely on alarm clocks is refreshing. There’s something unsettling about being awoken from a sound sleep by a loud, scary noise. It makes waking up harsh and unkind. I highly suggest giving it a try, maybe starting with a weekend or during vacation.

What about you? Do alarm clocks play an important role in your daily life?

Fitting it all in


Today I took my daughter to storytime at a local library, and we finally got her a library card of her own. Now I have to find the time and energy to fit in some more quality unschooling activities. Luckily, at her age all we really need to do is spend time together, and I can just introduce life to her as it happens.

She’s not “behind” academically either…she knows her letters, numbers, colors, shapes, some words, and some phonics, and some basic math. And with a biologist for a mother, she knows quite a bit about science and nature.

The rest of the day we’ll probably do some pretending, and I might even break out the Chutes and Ladders or Candyland. And if we ever get around to straightening up the house, she can help me fold clothes and vacuum.

As for me, when she’s finally in bed I’ll drag out my school book and start working on some assignments (due on Sunday).

What do you do for your unschooling preschool days?

Single homeschooling writer-for-hire


As I mentioned last time, I decided to go back to school to get my teaching certification. When I enrolled, my plan was to eventually become a classroom teacher. My thought process was that my daughter would soon be starting school, and by being a teacher I would have the same vacations and similar hours.

What I didn’t count on was that the more I learned about the field of education, the more I’d want to homeschool my daughter.

But that’s what happened! So now I’m really and truly on the path to homeschooling my daughter. My method as a preschool homeschooler will be “unschooling.” Lots of time at parks, libraries, grocery stores, museums, and other unstructured activities. There’s plenty for her to learn while just living.

Just to be on the safe side, I recently enrolled her in the neighborhood school’s kindergarten class. But when I interviewed the principal of this “excelling” school, he went on and on about how much the children learn, how well they’re able to read and write, and just gushed about their academic program.

My response? When do they play??

Turns out there isn’t much play in most kindergarten anymore, even though it’s what 5-year-olds need. I dis-enrolled her shortly after.

My plan as a single homeschooling parent? For kindergarten I’m going to enroll her in a play-based preschool that accepts older kids, so when she needs to play with other kids she has a place to go. I’ll take care of the academics.  I will be investigating a play-based kindergarten program I found in town (a charter school), but I have a feeling it won’t fit the bill (besides, they want her to go to school every day). After that, we’ll see.

Am I still a writer? Definitely, though it’ll take a backseat to my studies and homeschooling. At the same time, I’ll need more than just student loans to pay the bills. So stay tuned for my single homeschooling saga.

Are you homeschooling? Have you considered it?

Writing with limited time


Being the parent of a small child can mean that time is a rare and valuable commodity. In my case, my daughter is now four years old, but we’ve had challenges finding adequate childcare. Part of the reason is because, in my heart, I’d rather not send her to school. My dream is to be a homeschooler. But I recognize that she loves being with other kids, and I’m pretty boring since I’m on the computer all of the time.

The other reason adequate childcare has been an issue is because I don’t have the most compliant child in the world. She prefers to do things her own way, which can be a challenge in the preschool setting. Her idea of fun is to do the opposite of what she’s told. Not usually in defiance (though sometimes), but usually because it’s just more interesting for her.

I refuse to “break” her and make her comply for the sake of complying. So I’ve changed schools a few times, and I recently changed teachers. I think this new teacher “gets” my daughter’s spirit, and so things are working out beautifully (for now). Unfortunately, this teacher only has an opening two days a week.

How do I find time to write/work/make money then? It’s tough! And with a child who wakes up at the crack of dawn, I am up early. And I’m not a night owl like I used to be in my younger days.

Here’s what I do.

I do what I can. And I try to push myself to do a little more than I think I can. My latest plan involves scheduling certain activities for each day. Not a rigid schedule, but I won’t try to write on my blog, cold call prospects, follow-up with prospects, write articles, edit articles, and go to the zoo all on the same day. Whenever I try to do that I often wind up doing absolutely nothing. It’s too overwhelming.

How’s it working for me? It’s still a bit overwhelming to try to make myself pare down my million-things list into smaller, more manageable chunks, but it’s a learning process and I’m trying. I think that’s what counts.

What about you? What are your strategies for writing with limited time?

Don’t quit your day job

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You’ve heard this advice before, right? I definitely have, especially when I decided to start my own business. There are certainly those who can handle jumping into entrepreneurship headfirst, but the reality may be that you need to have a regular job while you grow your business.

Recently I started substitute teaching, but I found that market a little over-saturated. So I finally decided to work full-time, and made a serious effort to find a good job.

If you’ve been reading Crayon Writer over the years, you know that staying home with my daughter was a huge factor in deciding not to work full-time as an employee. Now that she’s three years old, I’ve found that we both enjoy time apart.

My new job as a secretary at an accounting firm is a perfect fit! Having a steady income also makes me more at ease, so I’m able to think about freelancing without the panic of, “I need a client NOW!”

Getting used to this new routine has taken some time, but I’m finding it incredibly enjoyable. At the same time, I’ve gotten requests for my freelance and blogging services…self-employment will make a nice side income.

Bottom line: as you start or advance in your entrepreneurial venture, continue to evaluate how things are working for you. Then make necessary changes, and see how that works out. Nothing is set in stone.

Have you re-evaluated your business lately? What kinds of changes have you made?