Homeschooling in the Face of Remote Learning

Many are looking at homeschool options for their children and wondering if they can go it alone.

The purpose of this post is to move you from “I am not sure…” to “I think I can!” through a description of carefully chosen curricular materials that are relatively cheap, easy to follow, and the highest quality. 


Most homeschoolers proclaim the curriculum they’ve chosen is the best all around- for good reason- they chose it based on criteria they established: faith based, easy to follow, equipped with ready-to-use materials, etc.  As an instructional coach (who helps teachers learn about best teaching practices), a reading specialist, and a certified math teacher, the criteria I used to choose the curricula for my kids is different. I have chosen resources that effectively teach students how to meet learning standards in a classroom setting, and then modified these for at home use. 

Math: (K-8)


Description: Engage NY is the same curriculum as Eureka Math, which meets standards in Alignment and Usability according to EdReport’s metrics. These highly scripted lessons are complete with student and teacher resources that you can access as a PDF or in Word (in case you’d like to make modifications to suit your learner). 

See more here:

Cost: Free

Notes: Teacher and Student Resources are both available for free. Although the lesson plans are lengthy and scripted, they are mostly engaging (particularly K-5), and very rigorous. The largest cost here will be printing costs if you choose to print all resource items at home. 

Writing: (K-8)

Lucy Calkins and TCRWP Colleagues Units of Study

Description: Lucy Calkin’s is the writing guru in the world of Writer’s Workshop. These resources are completely scripted, so you don’t have to worry about what to say or how to plan a lesson. Additionally, all the mini-lessons are intended to be only 10-15 minutes, with lots of time to write. 

Cost: $200-$310 (per grade level)

I was able to find parts of these units online and buy them USED for a cost of about $100 for a whole year of learning. 

Notes: Lucy Calkin’s Units of Study take some time to prepare.  I recommend reading the lessons in their entirety and then making the anchor charts and copies to go with each lesson. I do my weekly planning on Sunday and then make the anchor chart for the day in the morning while my kids have breakfast and “get ready for school.” 

Reading: (K-8)

Lucy Calkins and TCRWP Colleagues Units of Study

Description and Full Disclosure: Lucy Calkin’s Units of Study: a workshop curriculum for reading, allows students to engage in lots of reading practice. This scripted program is much like the writing Units of Study, which is why it’s my choice for this list. Once the teacher learns to use and teach from one of the resources, the other becomes easier to use. Full Disclosure: I have only taught sample lessons from these units, as the School Districts I taught in did not utilize the curriculum when I was teaching. However, some of the highest performing districts in our area use the Units of Study with great results. 

Cost: $230-310 (per grade level) 

Notes: The Units of Study for Reading are newer, and less available for “Pre-owned” purchasing. More than anything, when teaching a child to read, you want the child to practice reading as much as possible. 

Other Notes: 

We used tons of other resources this Spring and Summer as we continue on our Homeschool Journey. I have purchased LOTS of books that my kids choose online and downloaded many resources for science and social science. I will continue to link to resources as we move forward and learn together. 

my mask making journey

Like many, I started making masks before they were suggested by the CDC. I provided these to home healthcare workers and others who needed to cover their allotted mask at work. 

The pattern I found was free and was made by a nurse for nurses. It can be found here:

I wanted to make high quality masks that could endure washing and sanitation, since they will be needed for the foreseeable future. The problem was that sewing the pattern took a…loooong time. 

So I invested some MORE time to make tools to make the job easier. These tools are worth sharing since they expedite the process and make life a little easier.

Although all the videos I made are helpful, this is the most popular, since you can take a 8.5 x 11″ piece of cardstock, a Cricut or Silhouette machine, and create a super useful tool that makes pleating masks super easy.

Visit here for the PDF version of the jig to print on cardstock and score to make folds.

Visit here for the svg file to use with a vinyl cutter. Be sure to scale the mask so it is 10 inches across the width of the mask.

Visit here to download a Silhouette Studio file to print right from your Silhouette.

Other videos about tools I’ve used can be seen below. Visit the youtube version to see links and comments.

Let me know if you have comments or feedback. Back to sewing. 

Compliments that Teach

This is one of my favorite things to write about because everyone loves a compliment! 

Teachers love their students. Students love compliments. So teachers should love compliments, right? 

I am not sure how many people use them to teach, but I have found them to be a powerful teaching tool. 

When I was reading How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, I found their work on giving compliments eye-opening. The authors explain that parents should describe the child’s work rather than assign value. So instead of, “Wow- that is really good!” a parent might say, “I see that you really included a lot of detail in your project.” 

They also suggest that one should highlight new learning with the compliment. For instance, when I read my 4 year olds writing, which is a string of non-related letters, I try to notice new letters in her work and tell her that I notice her new additions. 

In education, a teacher can notice what a student has done well and name it for them. 

“I saw you included dialogue in your story. Wow! That is just what writers do when they tell a story.” 


“You really took time to use all different colors on your project. Artists use colors in different ways, so I appreciate that you are trying different combinations in your work!” 

Effort is valued- effort and approximations are what take people to the next levels of learning. Learning involves compliments, but it doesn’t always have to include a perfect product. 

TPT- Makerspace Lesson 1

My first item is on Teachers Pay Teachers! I am super excited to help support teachers, so these resources will continue to be created and shared. 

Here is the link

Please let me know what you think! 

Improve your STEAM teaching with these 3 easy steps

Teachers need at least a little part of their day to be easy. Believe it or not, these three easy steps will not only make teaching a bit easier, but it will also increase student learning. 

  1. Be real: Too often, teachers decrease the work students have to do in an effort to save class time. But all that extra preparation takes time, often planning time. When students are responsible for all parts of making and learning, they learn important skills like project management, organization, and planning. Most importantly, the time saved could be used to do this next easy step. 
  2. Plan to teach skills: Teachers teach skills all the time: reading strategies, math processes, mnemonics. By teaching skills in a makerspace or STEAM classroom, teachers use their instructional time wisely, because most skills can be transferred to other content areas. I am not talking about cutting cardboard or applying glue. I am referring to skills like questioning, testing, iterating, clarifying, and empathizing. This list is a great place to start, and could be the focus of lessons for extended periods of time. Imagine teaching kids how to clarify wants, needs, project aims, and success criteria. All opportunities for refining the skill of clarifying. 
  3. Fail forward and in front: People learn through imitation. Ever watched a child learn at home? They do exactly what mom, dad, or big sis does- almost to a fault. When teachers admit they don’t know answers, or have never done something before, they demonstrate these brave learning behaviors for kids. When the teacher openly tries something new, kids watch and practice doing new, uncomfortable things too. 

Anchor Charts for Examining Systems

I wanted to share my adventures teaching K-2 grade students about systems at a homeschool cooperative.

Last week, students had the chance to look at simple systems: a pencil, marker, and crayon. We recorded observations to make the anchor chart you see below.

Each time students shared ideas with their partner, they laid down a poker chip to ensure equal participation. Then, I called on students at random to share what had been said in their duo.

Students really liked noticing patterns, which happened spontaneously and without prompting. I think maybe because all three drawings were crammed onto one poster board. 

Here is the design challenge I issued: Students took apart a pen and to make a new casing using design elements they observed on the pencil, marker, and pen.

The second anchor chart is for next week, to review the steps we took when examining systems.

Please leave your comments below. 

Makeaspace…for makerspaces

Makerspaces are a place to learn something new, work on projects, collaborate, and share ideas. I whole-heartedly disagree with all the marketing, materials, and consumerism surrounding the maker movement today. Makerspaces combat consumerism by teaching people how to fix, tailor, or improve everyday items. 

I recently had an experience where my open source ideas were deleted and prevented on social media, because people are in the business of selling their own product. In response, I started makeaspace, a facebook group meant to provide a space for individuals bringing makerspaces to education to connect. 

Check it out

Midwest Makerfest

Nick Ole’s display for Spacelab

I tried my hand at spinning wool into yarn- which is way harder than it looks. My kids painted with coffee and made a mystical creature. They played with Imagination Playground blocks and engaged in engineering and arts all day. 

Last Saturday, our family traveled to Peoria for Ignite Peoria/Midwest Makerfest. If you are into making and live near Central Illinois, it is worth the drive. Exhibitors show off traditional crafts like spinning and weaving, high-tech tinkering, and all things STEAM related.

Makers make all kinds of things- this celebration of all things making really “made” our weekend. 

so you want me to teach STEAM?

How many educators have been introduced to STEAM teaching by a principal saying, “I need you to teach 80 million sections of STEAM in 40 minutes or less each week for the rest of the year.”?

And what do teachers say? Yes- of course. Teachers always say yes.

So then, the hunt begins. Teachers spend grant money and their own funds on projects, materials, set-up instructions, tools and technology gizmos. Teachers pour effort into finding lesson ideas they believe will best help students learn STEAM concepts. The efforts are tied together with hope and the understanding that this all a big experiment.

There are some positives to the big experiment approach. It gives teachers autonomy and creative control. Often, joining resources from various sources allows the teacher to introduce varied concepts and types of lessons. Teachers model the ideas they are teaching. Try it, if it doesn’t go exactly right, we can always try again.

These lessons, carefully cherry picked by teachers, make up a larger effort to teach kids about STEAM. But STEAM learning is more than STEAM concepts and an engineering/design process. Jo Boaler asserts mathematics learning is made up of procedural learning, conceptual understanding, and problem solving. STEAM learning is also multi-faceted and requires many skills and strategies that enable kids to innovate.

I have two proposals for the courageous teacher that took on this massive job. These are meant to support your efforts and empower you.

  1. Start with what you’ve got (or can get for free).
  2. Teach skills, not just concepts or the making process.

Start with what you’ve got.

Teachers spend so much personal time trying to make their classrooms a better place and their lessons more meaningful for students. By starting simply, there is more time to inventory supplies, plan to use these materials, and create a list of needed items.

Let’s move through these steps together.

Find out what you already have access to.

Check the teachers’ copy room and front office. Is there cardboard you can have? Are there die cut machines no one uses anymore? Are there boxes of fabric leftover from bulletin boards that kids can use to make prototypes? Is there anything you can use? Be sure to source pencils, cardboard, and if possible, hot glue and duct tape.

Then, organize materials. Miscellaneous craft supplies can be sorted into categories and stored together. Cardboard can be piled up in a large recycling tub.

Next, look at what you already have and create a list. This list will inform projects you can easily plan and what you need to ask for in the future. In other words, use what you have in front of you to inspire project ideas to for students. Feeling stuck or overwhelmed by cardboard? Start here.

Use your inventory and ideas to make a wish list. Go crazy. Dream big.

There are multiple pathways to access your dream classroom and curriculum. Ever heard of Donors Choose? Donors love to fund meaningful STEAM education initiatives. If it’s a big dream, break it down into smaller pieces: donations are made when teachers meet their goal. Or, go low-tech, and use an old chalkboard or laminated poster to inform parents of donation opportunities. Hang it in the office with a box underneath. The box should full more quickly than you’d expect. Consider having an open donation once a year. Invite families to donate craft supplies, old technology no longer in use, broken toys, and anything else they’d like to be rid of. Keep what you want, and donate the rest.

Once you have your materials, store them in a way that is modular, mobile and easy to access. I’d recommend clear bins on an old rolling projector cart (or two!) if possible. Bins that stack in various configurations are helpful, but may be expensive. Rolling carts with smaller open compartments also provide easy access to materials. The more that is in-view, especially in a maker-space style STEAM classroom, the more access students have to materials.

People share various free/low-cost projects all over the internet. Besides cardboard construction projects, you can invite students to take apart broken technology and battery-operated toys. Sometimes called a “breakerspace” kids love to take apart the hidden insides of tech and toys. (Just be sure to teach proper safety procedures and rules.) As students take items apart, they can salvage battery holders, DC motors, and switches to repurpose later.

Another free idea is to teach students how to work effectively in groups, by asking questions, holding one another responsible for learning, and requiring equal participation. To bolster STEAM concepts, you could also teach systems thinking and look for systems within the classroom and school. Authentic engineering and design often focus on solving real-world problems. Students can spend time researching problems in their school, community, or region and make a prototype out of cardboard. Complete thinking around this problem might also include a presentation of the solution and explanation of how it solves the problem. All free. All can be taught within a making/STEAM project, or in isolation. All skills that are based on 21st learning standards, which leads to the next proposal.

Teach skills, not just concepts or the making process.

Let’s say you have chosen to make a balloon-powered car in your STEAM classroom. It’s cheap, seems easy, and can be used to teach kids concepts and engineering.

For the purpose of our discussion, the focus will be on what you could teach, rather than how to do the project.

Science concepts: potential energy, kinetic energy, physics (Every action has an equal and opposite reaction), etc.

Engineering concepts: wheel alignment, various capacities of air in the balloon, body design, material choice, etc.

Engineering process: look, brainstorm, try, test, fix (iterate), test again, continue process.

Most teachers have a handle on NGSS and connecting learning standards to lessons. This is important, but well-within a teachers’ area of expertise. But what if a teacher begins to layer generalizable skills into each lesson?

Academic skills: questioning, noticing patterns, clarifying, identifying parts and their function, predicting,etc.

STEAM classrooms already provide many of the contexts that can be difficult for authentic classrooms to achieve: real problems, open exploration, multiple pathways to learning, and integrated subject matter. Teaching academic skills maximizes student learning. As you plan to integrate academic skills, start small with skills that generalize to any subject area.

If it is helpful, run through these questions. We’ll use the skill “asking questions” as an example. Do students ask questions in Science? Do students ask questions in technology? Do students ask questions in engineering? Do students ask questions in art? Do students ask questions in mathematics? As an added bonus, do students ask questions in reading? The answer is yes.

Asking questions is a skill. If you are familiar with reading, you might be familiar with QAR- Question Answer Relationships. These questions are either based on the information in front of students or based on the interaction between the student and the information presented.

Using the balloon powered car as an example, students could ask a variety of questions using QAR as a frame.

Right there: What happens when the balloon deflates? How far does the car go?

Think and Search: How does the distance traveled relate to the capacity of the balloon? How does the size of each car’s wheels relate to the distance traveled (assuming the balloon has the same amount of air each time).

Author and Me: When else have I seen something move because of the movement of air? What else uses air displacement as a source of power?

On my own: How else could I use a balloon to power movement? How can I make my car faster?

The possibilities are endless, and kids will stretch the limits. My examples draw a clear connection to algebra concepts and draw out vocabulary. As kids learn more vocabulary, their questions will use them and hit on more mature concepts. Please feel free to leave feedback or email me at

I am writing this to empower you. The teacher who said yes to the unknown, who may or may not have vast expertise in STEAM, who ultimately is in it to teach students the best they can.

Each month, our company is publishing STEAM-focused skill based resources for teachers. Our first set of resources will be available August 1. Please visit for more information.