Category: Homeschool

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.

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.

Kindergarten after all

Back to school

For those of you who’ve been reading Crayon Writer for a while, you know I strongly want to homeschool or even unschool my now five-year-old daughter. As a single mother, though, I recognize that we need time apart, so I enrolled her in preschool when she was a little older than three.

Preschool worked out off and on, and I still felt that I was primarily homeschooling. I purposely chose preschools that were strongly play-based, so the academics were light. My daughter has been learning to read and do math at home for the most part, and she’s very smart too.

As the big 5 approached, I started interviewing various play-based kindergartens and even the local public school. In the end, I decided to send her back to her preschool so she could continue to play while I taught her at home.

But to my surprise, a couple of weeks ago my little one announced that she wanted to go to kindergarten, not “play” school, and she didn’t want me to teach her at home!! All of a sudden I had to scramble for a school. The play-based kindergarten programs I found were okay, but either far away or had days that were too short.

Believe it or not, despite my strong objections to the “traditional” school philosophy, my daughter will start at a regular, public kindergarten this week! And she’s thrilled. Me…not so much. My issues with traditional schooling involve homework, grades, testing, “socialization” aka peer pressure and bullying/teasing, and extrinsic motivational techniques.

A little background: I have been a substitute teacher (which included several teacher-of-record jobs) for more than 7 years, and I’m currently in teaching certification program. I know how much standards, grades, and tests are stressed, and I’ve seen what negative effects schooling can have on children. Despite my professional aspirations, it seems to me that school is primarily a method to create conforming citizens who tend to go along with the masses. Not what I want for my child.

On the other hand, I went through public schooling, and I came out with a very open and questioning mind, probably because of my parents’ influence. So it’s likely that my daughter will be similar too.

This week will be the beginning of a new adventure. I’m sure I’ll be a regular volunteer at her school (gotta keep an eye on things), and maybe kindergarten won’t suck the fun out of learning (like I imagine it might).

The important thing is that I’m following my daughter’s lead. I’m letting her have a say so in how she wants to be educated (within reason), which is still in the spirit of unschooling. As long as she’s happy and safe, I’ll let her chart her own path. It’s tough being a parent!

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?

Back to school

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Going back to school while working on your freelance business may be a good idea. Your schedule is flexible, especially if you find an online program. And you can borrow money for your living expenses and tuition, so your work schedule can be eased a bit (assuming you were working in the first place).

About a month ago I took the plunge. Having been a substitute teacher for more than 8 years, I figured it was high time I got my teaching certification. I found an online program at a local small college, and things are moving along pretty smoothly. The only thing I didn’t count on was how much work an online program really requires. Because you don’t have to show up for class everyday, there are a lot of assignments to turn in.

But I think it’ll be worth it in the long run. If I need to have a “real job” at some point, teaching is a career that will allow me to mimic my daughter’s potential school schedule (vacations and such). At the same time, I’m more convinced than ever that I want to (somehow) homeschool her.

Time will tell. In the meantime, my days are filled with studying, taking care of my daughter, and servicing my clients.

Have you considered going back to school? Why or why not?