Send Valentines!


As we come to the end of the month of January, I am on the lookout for ideas for crafts involving Valentines! I love making Swedish woven heart baskets and filling them with treats. We happen to have a chocolate candy maker in our town, so I’m right in line when the time comes to fill the hearts. If you haven’t made them before, you can search the internet for videos on how to make them or follow printed directions for them. It’s tricky at first, but you will soon master it!

My favorite website for craft ideas is The Toymaker . Marilyn Scott-Waters is an amazing artist and her generosity in sharing free materials is something to be admired. She shares her Valentine craft ideas here:

It’s also fun to write and send an acrostic poem using the word LOVE.

I like to send word searches, too. There are many to find on the internet in shapes of hearts! Here are many sites to try.

So get started crafting and sending good wishes and loving thoughts to the people around you that you care about!



The Virtual Heart of Writing

by Lawrence Williams, Ed.D

“At its virtual heart, technology uses writing as a powerful means of bringing parents, teachers, and children closer together.” ~ Lawrence Williams, Ed.D

Many of us have concerns about the impact of technology upon human beings, and upon our children especially. One of the greatest of these concerns is that technology will dehumanize us and make us less caring about each other. This is certainly a valid concern, and no amount of virtual socializing will take the place of the social sophistication that comes from face-to-face interactions. But I believe that the most profound and meaningful use of technology is as an aid to communication. At its virtual heart, technology uses writing as a powerful means of bringing parents, teachers, and children closer together.

With the proliferation of the internet, many online schools (“virtual schools”) began to appear, but writing and communicating didn’t seem to be an integral part of the curriculum. Many of these schools emphasize programs that enable students to complete their work online or to interact with a “learning program” that combines information with multiple-choice tests and automatic grading by the computer. In our view, this is the kind of dehumanizing application that has negative effect upon children, for it takes them away from the heart-to-heart interaction with other human beings that is a critical part of our growth and development as learners and as persons of integrity.

Photo credit: Betsy Sproger (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Betsy Sproger
(Oak Meadow Archives)

At Oak Meadow, instead of developing programs that take the place of parents or teachers, we’ve chosen to focus on technological tools that make it possible for parents, teachers, and students to interact with each other more effectively, wherever they may live. One of the most difficult aspects of homeschooling for many children (especially those of high school age) is the lack of peer interaction. We have designed and implemented some courses that bridge this gap through the use of online collaboration and class discussions. Since virtual schools are relatively new, there are very few guidelines for the best way to create effective online learning communities. We are all too aware of the many pitfalls to avoid, but the potential benefits for supportive and effective communication drive us forward with enthusiasm.

I have had the privilege of witnessing very productive, compassionate, and enlightening online classroom discussions that confirmed my belief that students can use new technology to its best advantage. I have seen students from different backgrounds, cultures, and geographical areas overcome their conditioning and their separateness to reach out, cooperate, collaborate, and strengthen each other. Every minute of every day, this same thing is happening around the world with individuals of all nations, races, and cultures. One by one, we are discovering that beneath all the superficial differences, we are all simply human beings, trying to do our best, trying to realize our dreams.

Photo credit: Audrey Joyner (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Audrey Joyner
(Oak Meadow Archives)

This is all happening through our writing. Yes, technology provides the platform, but writing, one human being to another, is what connects us. Although technology is opening more opportunities for communicating, writing is an art form that will never be replaced by technology. Writing lets us communicate our individuality and reach out into the world. Writing is a path to self-knowledge and creative expression. Taking the time to write, whether by pen scritch-scratching across paper or fingers clicking across a keyboard, is never a waste of time, in my opinion.

I am often amazed at what appears on the page when I let myself write freely. Encouraging our children and students to write freely is a gift we can gift them, one generation to the next. Journal writing, letter writing, notes jotted on a pad of paper by the phone or scribbled in the margins of a book – all these represent a human being making a mark on the world, Ideas, goals, and dreams all take one step closer to reality when written down. Feelings and ideas gain substance and validation when shared through words.

Photo credit: The Marsella Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Marsella Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Taking the time to write well, especially writing something by hand, is akin to the “slow food” movement; it is the nutrient-dense version of texting, tweeting, and online social chats. There is a delicious richness to writing that we take our time with. It develops nuances and blossoms into not just mere information but true communication. I urge you to practice “slow” writing yourself, even if your children give the impression that you are being old fashioned or out of touch for eschewing electronic devices in favor of pen and paper.

Taking the time to write shows a desire to connect. Trust me, when someone sees a handwritten note tucked in a lunchbox or backpack, or finds a scribbled message among the luggage while traveling, the sense of connectedness will be recognized and savored. Notes of all types — including the electronic kind – — are a connection between two individuals, and making human connections is what enhances and brings purpose to our lives.

We’ll continue to move forward into the brave new world of technology, finding its virtual heart and embracing the new opportunities it brings, while never forgetting the simple joy of the written word. Write well, write often, and make your mark on the world.

Lawrence Williams, Ed.D is Oak Meadow’s Co-Founder and President.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Living Education, the educational journal of Oak Meadow.

Riddle Fun!


What room can no one enter? (answer below)

I think riddles can be a lot of fun! They can be silly, or challenging, and often they are a tricky play on words. Our family enjoys riddles! Sometimes we have “Riddle Fun” dinners in which everyone, young and old, brings a riddle to the table.

“Scientists get to solve puzzles every day, because science and research involve finding solutions from the clues that we are given. Just like with brainteasers (or brain teasers) and riddles, the answers to science mysteries are not always easy to see at first. With time and effort, they eventually become clear.” From NIEHS website

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has hundreds of riddles and brainteasers you might enjoy sharing with friends and family members.

Try this one: What can travel around the world while staying in a corner?

Answer: A stamp!

Now, what’s the answer to the riddle above?

A mushroom!


Adjusting to Homeschooling Mid-Year

Making the decision to switch gears and begin homeschooling partway through the school year takes courage and faith. Whatever you were doing before wasn’t working, and whatever you are beginning hasn’t had time to feel routine yet. Here are ten suggestions to ease the way, whether you’re homeschooling independently or enrolling in Oak Meadow’s distance-learning program:

  1. Different philosophy; different approach. Students who have been in school have likely become accustomed to an institutional approach where work is prescribed to the class as a whole and the teacher’s attention is divided among many students. Shifting to a creative thinking approach can be challenging for a student who just spent last semester trying very hard to figure out how to succeed in an institutional setting. In contrast, Oak Meadow’s approach is flexible and creative, and homeschooling can often allow for one-on-one support between parent and child. Switching gears to this degree is quite an adjustment and might bring stress or frustration. Be understanding and acknowledge those differences as needed.
  1. Commit to riding out the transition. There is a progression in learning as your child adjusts, but it may take a few weeks or more to be able to look back and clearly see the progression. Don’t expect to see results right away. Trust the process and really commit fully to seeing it through for six weeks or so before you assess whether it is working for your child. Learning really does take place, even if it might not feel that way in the moment, and a few weeks’ perspective can make all the difference in understanding.

    Photo credit: Cindie Young (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Cindie Young
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Go easy on yourself and your child. You’ve just left behind an educational environment that wasn’t working for some reason, and now you’ve switched to an entirely different approach. During this adjustment phase, don’t get too caught up in whether every single item was done properly in each lesson. What’s the main concept or what are the key skills being addressed? What is most important for your child to grasp before moving on to the next lesson? Make that your focus, and give everyone points for effort as you navigate this new way of learning. Students beginning mid-year may need to go back to previous lessons if they aren’t understanding something in the current lesson.
  1. Consider downshifting or deschooling. Your child might need to ease into the new model slowly, and some children, particularly those who experienced trauma in their previous school experience, will benefit from a period of “deschooling.” This can be like an extended vacation from school, with plenty of nourishing rest, time to daydream, healthy activities of the child’s choosing, and supported emotional processing. It can be very helpful for some students to have a buffer like this between leaving their old school and beginning homeschooling. Often they will let you know when they are ready to jump back in again.

    Photo credit: Kim Bessent (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Kim Bessent
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Keep good boundaries with those in your life who resist the idea of homeschooling. Even well-meaning loved ones can undermine confidence by demanding evidence or reassurance that your new educational plan is “working.” It is fine to say things are going well without elaborating. Let your child know that you will be keeping his or her educational details private. This allows your child to relax and focus on learning without worrying about what the relatives or neighbors might be thinking.
  1. Structure and support are key. Set up a solid daily and weekly routine as a starting point. You may need to adjust it many times, but begin with a strong plan. It is easy to get sidetracked, so do your best to stick to the plan. Set aside focused time each day for academic work. Find a good place to work with your child where you can both be comfortable. If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider consulting with one of Oak Meadow’s experienced teachers, enrolling in our distance-learning program, using a tutor, or asking an experienced friend for help.
  1. Be resourceful and independent. Reach out to others. Make friends with your local librarian; it’s a great way to find out what resources are available and connect with other homeschooling families or groups in the area. Explore online resources. Oak Meadow’s social media offerings are a good place to start. Our Pinterest boards offer many inspiring hands-on ideas, and Facebook is a great place to connect with other homeschooling parents and find validation for this journey. There are many online groups for homeschooling parents. Seek support from like-minded people wherever you find it.

    Photo credit: Brenda Massei (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Brenda Massei
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Go outside! Oak Meadow’s organic approach to learning encourages families to learn out in the world. This means spending plenty of time outside in nature and interacting with others in your local neighborhood or community. Fresh air and the soothing sights and sounds of nature are a good antidote for stress of any kind, including the positive stress of the important transition from school to homeschool. Schools tend to be very social places, and you will want to be mindful of how your child’s needs for social interaction are met while homeschooling. You might find this benefits you as well as your child.
  1. Be patient. It takes a few weeks or more to settle in. It will be a little while before you get your bearings and find a good rhythm for your homeschooling days and weeks. Don’t panic! It’s okay if things aren’t perfect. There is a lot to be learned from trial and error. Have fun with the process!

    Photo credit: Ruby Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Ruby Enge
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Trust yourself. Remember that you are the expert on your own child. The decision to begin homeschooling was made in response to something your child or family needed enough to warrant such a significant change. Why did you choose homeschooling? Remind yourself of these reasons often. Continue to nurture your connection with your child, especially during this vulnerable time when he or she is weathering such a big transition. And remember to take good care of yourself as you adapt to your role as home teacher.

Do you have experience with switching to homeschooling mid-year? What was your experience like? What insights and suggestions would have been most helpful to hear during that time? If you’re going through it right now, what do you most want to know? Please comment with your thoughts so that others might benefit!

Ellis Island

New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The sonnet written by Emma Lazarus that is on the base of the Statue of Liberty

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about immigrants. In the 8th grade Civics course with Oak Meadow you will study about the early immigrants that came to the United States to have freedom from political oppression and a new life of opportunity. People from other countries have been coming to the United States since its founding and in the beginning there were no laws or regulations about who could come. People of all nations were welcomed. Immigrants brought farm workers to work the soil, artists and craftsmen to supply communities with resources previously unavailable, and many special customs. Our experiences tell us that when many people of different cultures gather together to create communities, there may be challenges that arise because of differences. Around 1880, laws were passed preventing people with mental or physical problems from entering the United States. From that time on, many considerations, rules, and laws about foreigners entering the United States have been passed.

Today the United States has very strong immigration laws and policies that impact people wanting to cross our borders and live in the United States. There is a rigid screening process and a strong background check procedure that has been set up to protect our citizens. I feel proud that we have the values of opening our doors to people that are willing to enter the United States and become upright, responsible, and valuable workers and citizens.  Referring to Syrian refugees, in November of 2015, a Senior Administration Official said, “Slamming the door in their face would be a betrayal of our values. Our nation can welcome refugees desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. I recently read that Iain Levine, Deputy Executive Director for Program at Human Rights Watch said, “Yes, governments need to bring order to refugee processing and weed out militant extremists, but now more than ever they also need to stand with people uprooted from their homes by ideologies of hatred and help them find real protection.”

The New York Library collection of photographs of immigrants that passed through Ellis Island can give one an idea of how many people from so many different cultures and backgrounds found their way to the United States. Perhaps you have a relative that came to the United States. I do! My grandparents came through Ellis Island as farmers from Hungary. They courageously found their way to farm land in New York state and worked hard to become successful cherry farmers. I feel so grateful that they had the opportunity to come into the United States and start a new life!


This One is for the Birds!

Photo Credit: Manuela Vega (Oak Meadow Archives)

In Oak Meadow’s k-4 coursework, constructing bird feeders is a common part of the craft projects related to the science lessons. For the northerners, it’s especially important to feed your feathered friends in winter. If you do this, they will be sure to sing for you all summer long.

Keep regular bird feeders full of seed. Now that it’s wintertime, try something new. Little yellow goldfinches like sunflower seeds, and they will sing their praises for such a treat. “Per-snick-ity, per-snick-ity!” Did you know that birds, in general, like a small slice of apple? Orioles like oranges, too (peeled, of course, and preferably cut in half). The house finch loves cherries, and so do robins. Redheaded woodpeckers, who call out, “Queer! Queer!” have reason for this warble, because they like boiled potatoes. The big, bold, black and white evening grosbeaks like nutmeats and cranberries. Suet tied on a tree will bring many birds, as will corn. And so will this –

Fancy Finch Feeder

Use a piece of wood at least a foot long. Leave the bark on, if you like. Screw a sturdy ring on one end, and then drill several holes down and around. The holes need to be big enough to hold small paper cups. Fill these cups with several mixtures, such as suet and birdseed, suet and nutmeats, suet and peanut butter. Place the cups in holes you made. Hang your feeder near a window (but not where cats can climb). Then watch the rosy finches feed on this Fancy Finch Feeder.

Isn’t wintertime wonderful?


Happy New Year!

A New Year’s Round

Ring it in ring in the new year
Bells are ringing bells are ringing
Peace and love throughout the new year
Joy! Joy! Joy!

~from The Runaway Christmas Tree by Christine Lavin

The New Year is upon us and it is time to start anew! The New Year presents opportunities for all of us. Our families have been created and have evolved, our parenting roles have been established, and our experiences as a home teacher have provided a new sense of personal growth and commitment.

Being a home teacher may be your first “formal” teaching experience. However, informally, you have been “teaching” your children from the very beginning: to walk, talk, dress themselves, ride a two-wheeler, etc. The list goes on and on, and you will continue to do so for the entirety of their lives. As your children learn, you may find yourself also learning more and more about how to successfully and creatively combine the role of parent and teacher. Most of us already feel comfortable with this arrangement, however, because much of our parenting has included a natural and innate form of teaching.

Your own unique and invaluable approach to the art of teaching unfolds more each and every day as you deepen your role as loving parent and guiding teacher. Oak Meadow’s many years of working with teachers and parents-as-teachers have produced some invaluable guidelines that may also enrich your individual approach to the teaching process.

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

A former Oak Meadow teacher, Ellen Hall, shared these guidelines below:

Clear your time and space. How many great discoveries have been lost to a phone ringing? How many carefully set moods and wonderful stories have been interrupted by the doorbell? Once I began turning off the phone for that special hour or two and leaving a note on the door, the sense of completion and fulfillment was very satisfying. If you have younger children who tend to distract attention from focused learning, plan this time around their naps. Even twenty minutes of uninterrupted time is a great start.

Become comfortable with each other. Talk or joke a little with your child during the lessons; open up to each other.

Start with something simple and familiar. Start by doing something with your child that is done well, so that your child can experience validation of the innate intelligence within. Critical comments in the beginning only lessen the enjoyment. The constructive criticism can come later when the confidence is solidified.

Introduce new material. Be sensitive to the skill level in the subject you are introducing. Introduce the new material as clearly as possible in its entirety. If there is interest shown, capitalize on that by breaking the process up into parts.

As you begin to put these guidelines into practice, the most important fact to remember is that the overriding consideration is always the need of the student. This should never be lost to the form suggested. In other words, what helps the student in learning should be the primary focus, whether it fits the guidelines suggested above or not.

 In this New Year, I wish you more personal fulfillment and satisfaction in your teaching endeavors. So, ring in the New Year with Peace and Love, and may you have JOY! JOY! JOY!

As the New Year Begins…

Close your eyes and take a deep, slow breath in. Now gently exhale.

Take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come on this journey.

Photo credit: Brenda Massei (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Brenda Massei
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Think about this past year. What growth opportunities did the year offer up, for yourself or your child? What have you or your child learned to do that stumped you or seemed impossible just one year ago? Did anything happen that you could not possibly have predicted?

Last year at this time, what were your biggest parenting concerns? Were you grappling with decisions about how best to support your child’s needs? Was your confidence about your educational path strong, or was it faltering? Were you puzzling out the logistics of the components your life and experimenting with the best fit for yourself and your child? Or were things falling easily into place?

Photo credit: Charlie Siegel (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Charlie Siegel
(Oak Meadow Archives)

What twists and turns has your family’s path taken over the past year? What discoveries have you made?

What things were going smoothly at the start of last year? Have they continued to go well? Were you at a point where your hard work seemed to be making a difference, or were you just beginning a new leg of the journey? Were there challenges ahead that you had not yet encountered?

Now think about how those same things are going now as you begin the new year. What challenges do you anticipate in the months ahead?

What do you wish you had known a year ago? If you could go back in time and talk with the person you were then, what would you tell them about what lies ahead? Would you offer reassurance? Would you be able to give them some insights to save time and energy and heartache by making a different choice?

Photo credit: Vanessa Rappolt (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Vanessa Rappolt
(Oak Meadow Archives)

What did you learn about yourself this past year? Did you find that you are more courageous and capable than you realized? Did you become aware of weaknesses in a way that opened up possibilities for new and perhaps better ways of managing things? What challenges have you been able to turn into growth opportunities?

What did you learn about your child? Were you surprised, delighted, frustrated by anything you discovered over the course of the year? Did you become aware of weaknesses that need to be addressed or strengths that can be celebrated? Who is this older child that he or she is becoming? In what ways do you think your child might grow between now and the end of the next year?

What are your hopes and wishes for the year ahead? What are your fears? If you could talk with the person you will be in one year, what do you hope he or she might say to reassure you?

Now take another deep breath in. Exhale gently.

Photo credit: Adam Hall (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Adam Hall
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Tell yourself what a good job you’ve done over this past year. The year was not perfect, but no year is. Affirm the ways in which you honored your child and yourself through some of the choices you made. Acknowledge the challenges you faced with courage, the things you weren’t expecting that showed up anyway, the personal marathons you bravely ran without knowing for sure where they would end. Give yourself credit for excellent effort, a job well done, and a life well lived.

You have made another year’s worth of progress on your journey. Celebrate the satisfaction of that accomplishment!

Now take one more deep breath…

…and face the new year’s journey.