Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction

The Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction, Michelle Parrinello-Cason, writing, SEA Homeschoolers

Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction

Think of Writing like Cooking

From Dr. Michelle Parrinello-Cason

I’m a big fan of using metaphors to take the mystery out of writing instruction, and that’s what I’m going to be doing in this article.

One of the things I hear most often from families trying to figure out how to teach writing in their homeschool is concern. Concern that they aren’t doing “enough.” Concern that they’re “late” or “behind.” Concern that some particular skill isn’t developed adequately.

I hear these concerns—and, as a homeschooling mom, I feel them myself—but I’ve got an idea that I think will take some of the stress out of writing instruction.

To better understand the ages and stages of writing instruction, let’s think of writing like cooking.

Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction: Setting Our Goal

You don’t know where your kid is going to end up. Perhaps they’re going to be a world-class author of bestselling books or a researcher who publishes in peer-reviewed journals about their life-changing experiments. They may need mastery of formal, professional, and polished writing to meet their goals. Or they may not.

What you know for sure, though, is that they’ll need the foundational skills of communication. Whether they’re heading to college or not, whether they’re heading into a writing-intensive career or not, whether they like to write for fun or not, they’re going to need some basic foundations. Everyone benefits from the clarity, critical thinking, organization, and depth of exploration that comes with writing practice. It’s a universal skill.

Now think about cooking. You don’t know if your kid is going to end up a world-class chef. Perhaps they’ll go on to compete in cooking competitions or open their own restaurant. Perhaps they’ll create new and innovative recipes that change the culinary game. They may need the mastery of formal, precise, and decorative baking skills to meet their goals. Or they may not.

What you know for sure, though, is that the foundational skills learned through cooking are translatable to other areas in life. Being able to read and follow a recipe, converting amounts mathematically, experimenting with flavors, practicing hand-eye coordination, knowing how to feed themselves nutritionally-sound food, and developing safety strategies for knives and ovens—these are all skills worth developing for everyone.

Our goal then — whether we’re talking about cooking or writing—is to provide our learners with the foundational skills they need to follow the paths that interest them most. We don’t want to cut off any options for them, but we also don’t want to hyper-focus on perfection before they’ve had the chance to learn the basics. We want to foster an appreciation for exploration and skill-building.

Let’s get going.

The Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction, Michelle Parrinello-Cason, writing, SEA Homeschoolers

The Early Years: Birth through Preschool

Cooking in the early years is mostly about appreciation for the process. We include our kids in the kitchen as we cook there ourselves. They eat food, and they explore its many textures, flavors, and appearances.

They see you as a model. You cook, you eat, and you prepare food and provide it to them. You describe food when they see it and teach them that the mashed potato and the French fry have the same origin. Your behavior and direct instruction provide a foundation in understanding.

When we do include kids in the actual cooking, it’s usually messy and requires either a lot of support or low expectations. But we include them anyway because we know that the skills and interests they’re building are worthwhile.

That’s what we should do for writing, too.

To set the stage for strong writers, these early years should include cultivating an appreciation for and joy in words and language.

The absolute best thing you can do to help with future writing and reading habits at this stage is read books—lots of them. Picture books, board books, audiobooks, chapter books—explore it all. Read that favorite story over and over again. Have a spot in the house where piling together with a book to read aloud just feels right and necessary. Get library cards and use them often. Have bookshelves that are accessible to little hands.

One thing that adults don’t always think of as part of their child’s education is their own modeled behavior, but it really matters for developing a love of language. Let them see you read, and them see you love it. That means read what you love and in a format that works for you. Graphic novels, page-turning thrillers, magazines, gardening books, cookbooks—explore it all. Let your kids see you as a reader.

Of course, this is also the age where you introduce letters and letter sounds and basic handwriting practice. There are tons of great tips available for these practices in the many, many preschool curricula out there. Find some that work and use them, but remember that creating wonder and joy around reading is just as much a foundational skill for writing as these more technical aspects.

At a Glance:

  • Read, read, and read some more
  • Model a love for reading
  • Make books accessible and enjoyable
The Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction, Michelle Parrinello-Cason, writing, SEA Homeschoolers

Early Elementary: Kindergarten-Second Grade

As kids develop more physical skills and longer attention spans, cooking can be a lot more meaningful. We’ll teach them how to safely use the knife and follow simple recipes. We don’t, however, expect that a dish come out perfect.

If a kid at this age makes cupcakes, for instance, we’re likely not expecting them to be iced evenly. They wouldn’t likely make their way into a display case of a bakery. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious!

Continue building a great foundation for writing through that practice and appreciation for reading.

Great books, mediocre books, silly books, serious books—read it all. Keep the read aloud traditions, and—as your learner develops their own reading abilities during these years—provide them with access to choose their own independent reading selections. Don’t worry about keeping them “on level.” Reading under their level builds confidence. Reading above their level stretches their skills. Listening to audiobooks is reading. Reading graphic novels is reading. Reading is worthwhile in all its forms.

Introduce writing as a low-pressure experience. Write paragraphs describing personal experiences. Write letters to people you love. Make lists and take notes. Tell stories. Remember that writing doesn’t just mean pen to paper. It also includes playing with puppets and creating stories with Legos. Making a speech and recording it on video is writing. Drawing pictures is writing. Typing is writing.

Incorporate writing into other subjects. Have your learner write about how they would feel to be in a particular moment in history. Write down the results of the science experiment. Make writing a regular, meaningful part of day-to-day life.

As your writer’s interests and attention span allow, you can focus on some specific writing skills as they arise. Talk about capitalization conventions and how writers put periods at the end of sentences. Model these practices in your own writing and when you scribe for your writers. Do not make a big deal out of it when they don’t immediately translate these skills into their own writing. Do not make every piece of writing require perfect polish. Let most of their writing exist in its rough draft form. It teaches them that, first and foremost, writing is about ideas.

We understand that getting in the kitchen and making a mess is a great way to build the interest and early skills for a lifelong cooking practice. Writing skills happen the same way.

At a Glance:

  • Read, read, and read some more
  • Make writing a low-pressure activity
  • Remember writing takes many forms
  • Make a mess
The Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction, Michelle Parrinello-Cason, writing, SEA Homeschoolers

Late Elementary: Third-Fifth Grade

At this point in cooking, you might start adding in some more refined requirements and expectations. Your young chefs will probably start to master specific recipes they can complete without your assistance. They may start mixing together their own concoctions—some will be delicious, and some will be . . . well, not delicious. Experimentation is important, and this stage adds the consideration of external expectations. What kind of food will other people like, too?

In writing, now is the time to start introducing some basic academic writing conventions. These should remain low stakes and occasional. Not every piece of writing requires rigorous standards around mechanics and grammar. Much—perhaps even most—of your learner’s writing should remain informal, not evaluated on its lower order concerns like spelling and punctuation.

Occasionally, though, introduce a formal assignment that does need to be polished and perfected for an audience. Use these assignments to identify the areas that need the most attention. Help writers start to develop their own revision process. Teach them to read aloud and listen for errors and missing words.

The biggest goal of this age and stage is to get them comfortable with the idea that sometimes—but not always—writing comes with higher expectations. It’s like baking cupcakes at home vs. baking them for a professional shop display. At home, it doesn’t matter if the icing is uneven and the wrapper pulled off a big chunk of the cupcake. It’s still delicious. If you were putting them in a shop display, though, you’d be more careful and deliberate with what you put forward. You might even have to make cupcakes you wouldn’t normally make—specific flavors and themes that meet your customers’ demands.

This is the time to start exploring that concept with an occasional assignment. Just make sure that it always has an authentic context. Tie it to a lesson in another subject. Write about a character from that history chapter. Summarize that documentary. Write a letter about the social justice lesson. Writing needs to be meaningful.

At a Glance:

  • Introduce occasional higher-stakes requirements
  • Start to consider audience more formally
  • Write in multiple subjects
  • Make writing meaningful and connected to ideas
The Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction, Michelle Parrinello-Cason, writing, SEA Homeschoolers

Middle School: Sixth-Eighth Grade

At this point, those home chefs probably have some pretty sophisticated skill sets, but they may have developed unevenly. They might be very skilled at particular kinds of cooking but not have much practice in others. They may still need supervision during tricky or risky practices, but they’re likely getting comfortable with creating their own plans and following more complex recipes.

This is the time to really start to understand academic writing conventions and their requirements. Helping a learner nail down these concepts now means that their high school years can be spent exploring the effectiveness and finding their personal voice rather than being overwhelmed by the demands.

Build on the work from the Late Elementary section by incorporating more and more formal writing assignments with specific expectations in terms of form, format, and goals. Support the development of an individual and rigorous revision process by requiring multiple drafts with feedback at each stage. Break writing assignments down into steps that help learners choose topics, research, outline, brainstorm, draft, revise, and polish with purpose and intention.

Continue to do a mix of formal and informal writing assignments that don’t always require such careful attention to grammar and mechanics. It’s important to remember that writing is always about ideas first. The polishing is important for some circumstances, but the ideas are important all the time.

Most importantly, if you can get all the basic skills introduced in these stages, writing at the high school level can really be about exploration, developing critical thinking skills, and discovering ideas.

Think of it as sending your chefs off with a familiarity of a range of cooking styles and techniques even if they have their favorites that are more heavily leaned upon.

At a Glance:

  • Mix informal and formal writing assignments
  • Focus on developing a flexible and personal writing process
  • Experiment with different formats and goals
  • Introduce assignments that create new expectations
The Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction, Michelle Parrinello-Cason, writing, SEA Homeschoolers

High School: Ninth-Twelfth Grade

Ideally, this would be the stage where a chef could start to explore their own recipes and explore unique flavor combinations with confidence and bravery. Sure, sometimes things are going to fail, but someone who has experience in the kitchen and strong foundational skills won’t feel deterred by an experiment that doesn’t work out.

That’s how we want our high school writers to approach their craft: unafraid to think outside the box and prepared to improvise when a new idea strikes.

In order to get there, high school writing should be about pushing the boundaries of the comfort zone and continuously asking writers to consider different audiences and purposes. The more complex, engaging, and authentic the writing experiences can be, the better.

Continue to explore the connection between reading and writing by making writing a component of different subjects. Remember that writing takes many forms, and creating infographics, video reports, and speeches all count.

Build authentic writing experiences where a real audience sees the finished product. Send letters to elected officials and post flyers in the park. Make street art and publish podcasts. Teach your writer that their voice matters and find an audience who wants to hear it.

Research becomes a key focus of writing at this stage, and knowing how to find credible sources and incorporate them meaningfully into their own writing is one of the most important skills a high school writer can develop.

Teach them that writing sometimes has to follow academic writing conventions to perfection. Cover letters and resumes can’t afford to have a typo or a punctuation error. Help them learn when it matters most.

At a Glance:

  • Make research a major component
  • Write across different subjects
  • Create real-life audiences
  • Write in various forms and formats
The Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction, Michelle Parrinello-Cason, writing, SEA Homeschoolers

Ages and Stages of Writing Instruction: Final Thoughts

It’s never too late to learn writing skills. We’re all communicators by our very nature, and these are skills that we’ll develop more when we have situations that call upon them in a meaningful way.

The most important advice I can give for families working on writing is to meet your learner where they are and don’t worry about any official timeline. We all develop skills in their own time and place. The more we practice, the better we become, and the absolute most important thing you can do is provide your writer support to practice often.

Just like cooking, writing is a lifelong skill. Some of us use it daily and with joy—we’re constantly looking at new ways to practice the skill and make it a key part of our lives. Others may do it begrudgingly and only when necessary, but it’s still easier to do when we have a strong foundation behind us.

Start wherever you are and build skills with the confidence that they’ll serve your learner well today and for the rest of their lives.

Michelle Parrinello-Cason is the founder of Dayla Learning, a place for “homeschooling the humanities with humanity.” Michelle has a PhD in English and more than twenty years of experience as an educator, including six as a full-time college professor. As a homeschooling mom of two, Michelle has embraced home education as a place to put the principles of trust in students, critical thinking, and flexible engagement with the world into practice. She offers secular online classes and materials for English, philosophy, and literature and likes to teach through a pop culture lens.

Check out our article, Ages and Stages for Teaching Science.

New to Homeschooling? Check out our How to Homeschool 101 Article.

Ages and Stages for Teaching Science

Ages and Stages for Teaching Science, Blair Lee, learning science, secular science, science, homeschooling

Ages and Stages for Teaching Science

From Blair Lee, M.S.

In her book, Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Guide to Learning and Brain Development from Birth to Adolescence, Jane M. Healy states that understanding a child’s brain and the way it develops is the key to understanding how they learn.  While Healy does not specifically discuss the ages and stages for teaching science, she does discuss the current scientific theory on nervous system development and relates that to the ages and stages of learning for young people. Each child is different. They access and process information differently, and they learn using different strategies. There is, however, some broad understanding of brain development that can, as Healy states, be a guide for what to expect at certain ages and stages.

In Ages and Stages for Teaching Science, I will cover the ages and stages for science learning. This article developed from a talk I gave at the SEA Online Conference in August 2022. We received numerous requests from attendees that I write an article based on this specific information, which is only part of a more general-learning science talk. If your child does not fit into the classic ages and stages, remember this is a broad discussion, and there might be overlaps or outliers at every age and stage.

Ages and Stages for Teaching Science at the Elementary Level

Get kids excited about learning science.

Learning how the natural and physical world works is fascinating for students at this age. Channel their enthusiasm and choose relevant topics and information that fascinates them. At this age, confidence is key. If a child has a learning challenge involving writing, reading, or fine motor skills, pull those out of science work. Focus on the important information that kids need to learn so that they can begin understanding how the natural and physical world works. If you give them feedback about their science work, make it positive. Focus on the things they have learned and have come to fully understand.

If your child moves beyond a science level and wants to do more and engage more fully with what they just learned, go for it. This type of engagement is where a love of learning comes from, and if you want your child to be a lifelong learner, the first step is helping them to love learning.

Sometimes, parents get nervous about homeschooling science, even at the elementary level, because they feel they are not “good” at science. You will want to work on these nerves if this sounds like you. Your children can sense that you’re nervous about teaching something, and it can negatively affect the way they approach and feel about learning the subject matter. If you’re nervous about. teaching science for this reason, find good resources to help you teach and learn right along with your kids.

Ages and Stages for Teaching Science, Blair Lee, learning science, secular science, science, homeschooling

Focus on the foundational fundamentals

In the later years, there will be a shift to focus on the processes, procedures, and practices used by scientists. Be wary of using science materials that rely primarily on processes over facts. To critically evaluate science topics and find materials that apply to processes, procedures, and practices. in a meaningful way, learners need to understand the facts that are the foundational fundamentals explaining science. To understand what is really happening in the natural and physical world, learners need to be able to put together the pieces of the puzzle that define science systems.

A focus on the foundational fundamentals will include facts, memorization, and knowledge gathering. Scaffold the knowledge students are acquiring in a way that helps them put together the pieces of what they’re learning . It is important to include some work involving the processes, procedures, and practices of science. This should be done with explicit explanations, walking learners through what they should be doing for each step. It is essential you use evidence-based science materials so that your student learns the basic facts of science.

Engage the hands and the head

This is not to say that there isn’t a hands-on component: science at every age and stage should focus on the “doing” of science. Coming to understand the natural and physical world requires active thought that incorporates kinesthetic work as learners think through science information coupled with observations. Young learners will enjoy science more if they’re up and moving around while they engage with the material. They will also learn at a higher level, as they come to master what they’re working on through different learning processes and pathways.

Check out this article Vetting Secular Science Curriculum for help ensuring your are choosing evidence-based science materials with your children.

Ages and Stages for Teaching Science at the Middle School Level

Get students ready for high school science.

Critical thinking and executive functioning skills are an important part of success. For high school science, and honestly all academic endeavors, the time to begin working on these skills is in middle school. If you begin working on skills such as notetaking, identifying ideas a hypothesis is based on, understanding the difference between inference and direct observation, and others, by the time they get to high school, learners can apply these skills in a way that brings sound reasoning and logic to their studies.

Ages and Stages for Teaching Science, Blair Lee, learning science, secular science, science, homeschooling

Weaving science practices and procedures into the foundational fundamentals

In addition to building on foundational fundamentals, middle school is a great time to begin working on the practices and procedures that scientists use as they conduct science. It is critically important that learners come to understand the type of work that goes into developing scientific theories and arriving at science facts. It is likely that the basics for this were covered at the elementary level; however, it is at the middle school level that you should expect the teaching around this to be more explicit about the science work that is being done.

A good middle school science course should walk through the parts of the scientific method and offer examples of how it has been applied to real-world situations. Within this walkthrough, learners should be asked to report data and bring reasoning and logic into their discussions about labs and activities they conduct. This should be done within the context of a written lab report, based on lab work that students are doing. Look for course materials that use a scaffolded approach. In teaching the basics of this very formulaic type of nonfiction writing, middle school students should be taught about the specifics of what is being looked for in the hypothesis, data, results, and conclusion. This type of thoughtful teaching supports the teaching around how scientists arrive at scientific theories.

It is also important to work on learners’ metacognitive skills, in particular, the ability to retrieve, apply, and discuss retained knowledge. Ask questions, arriving at a hypothesis based on what academic material learners have already been exposed to. Help them learn to apply what might not seem on the face of it to be related to the things they are studying. It can be beneficial to students to be shown how to take a narrow view when looking at something, then open that up to a broader view, especially if you encourage them to retrieve and apply knowledge they’ve been exposed to previously. If you’re worried that you won’t be familiar with what they’ve learned, open a dialogue and have a discussion. Something as simple as you thinking about your thinking out loud can be a real benefit to young people as they come to understand, through modeling, the thinking process of someone who has had more academic experience than they have.


For middle school students, I recommend giving a first assignment to evaluate their knowledge. Look at where they are and scaffold them to grow from there. One of the most important things that you can do for middle school students is to help them internalize a growth mindset: a mindset where your learner comes to understand that it is the acquisition of information and knowledge that’s of primary importance, not the time it takes to learn it.

Ages and Stages for Teaching Science at the High School Level

Get students ready for college and work.

High school is the perfect time to work on the executive functioning, critical thinking, and metacognitive skills your learner will need once they graduate from high school. These skills are often critical for future success. So, why not teach them? Science is a great discipline to weave in many of these skills. High school science requires scheduling, the ability to read and disseminate texts, the ability to pull primary principles out of a large body of text, the ability to think critically and logically, and the ability to build on prior knowledge in a way that benefits what you’re working on.

High school students are ready to have big discussions about science. Teach them how to determine if a source is credible or not, and what to look for in a credible source, for example, peer reviewed articles. Make real-world connections outside of science to what they are learning in science. Many of the issues we are facing in the world today have their basis in science.

Ages and Stages for Teaching Science, Blair Lee, learning science, secular science, science, homeschooling

High school science skills

High school students are ready to think about the big picture and begin applying the science skills that they’ve been working on before high school. Look for high school students to apply reasoning and logic when reading and reporting science information. Ask students to make connections to what’s happening in science outside of their studies.

As a part of that, I feel we owe it to students to do them the courtesy of making sure they have an adequate education around important science topics such as climate change and microbiology. If something is important for negotiating the natural and physical world, including learners’ individual health, it is important that we teach the information they need, even if it’s an uncomfortable subject to cover.

Within their science studies, learners should use logical deduction based on prior knowledge when developing hypotheses. They should be able to pull data from tables and graphs to use in support of conclusions. Frankly, this is a skill that should be incorporated beyond just science studies. If the data comes from sources other than academic texts, discuss how information can be misconstrued, and why it’s important to use reliable sources for data. Students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of science practices and procedures in written form using a lab report. Lab reports should incorporate a logical progression, where conclusions relate directly to data.


I recommend using a mastery approach for evaluations with high school students. A mastery approach gives students the opportunity to go back and work on subjects when it is called to their attention that they haven’t achieved grade and stage level mastery. Let’s be honest, no one learns everything the first time they are exposed to it. A mastery approach to evaluations acknowledges this and uses a growth mindset. For high school students, a mastery approach also gives them the opportunity to earn the grade they want. Remember, high school students need grades for their transcripts in all core classes. A mastery approach gives students who are high achievers the opportunity to be in control of the grade they earn, especially if you create a situation and a system so that you can accurately determine if they take the time to go back and learn the material.

The ages and stages for teaching science is not just important for people who have been teaching science each year. If you haven’t been engaged in science all along, and you’re worried that you have not addressed some of these issues at an earlier age and stage, don’t worry about it. You can only start from where you are. There is no time like the present to get started. Many of the points made within the Ages and Stages for Teaching Science don’t just apply to science. In addition, no subject is an island. There are learning skills that make sense to teach in science that are important for students to be able to apply in all subjects.

New to Homeschooling? Check out our How to Homeschool 101 Article.

How to Handcraft a Unit Study

How to handcraft a unit study, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers,, guides, history of Chaco canyon

How to Handcraft a Unit Study

From Blair Lee, M.S.

A handcrafted education is one that focuses on the unique strengths, challenges, and passions of learners and their families. It is common for homeschool parents to want to develop unit studies focused on these passions.

Unit studies can be a fun and engaging academic strategy that incorporates many academic disciplines and skills. They are great for working on the mastery of skills such as writing and reasoning. They can also add excitement to your studies. Unit studies are especially meaningful when they are handcrafted by you for your learners.

But (and it’s a big but!) how do you develop one? If the number of people asking this in the SEA Homeschoolers Facebook groups is any indication, this is a challenge for many of you. During the past 20 years, I have written hundreds of unit studies to use with my son and grandchildren, in the curriculum I develop, and in online classes.

In this article, I will share the process I use when developing unit studies. In addition to offering information about developing unit studies, I will share one I developed when I wrote this article. The best way to learn is by doing, and I found myself having to write a new unit study in order to explain how to write them! Why don’t you get out a pen and piece of paper to begin planning as you read.

Start with a Topic

How to Handcraft a Unit Study Step 1

When Albert Einstein said, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler” he could have been talking about your initial topic for a unit study. This should be a maximum of 1 to 4 sentences or even 1 incomplete sentence. If you have a couple of paragraphs or a page worth of notes, that is not your topic; that is an outline in paragraph form. Until you are experienced in writing unit studies, you will need to be very strict with yourself about keeping the topic tight to your initial topic. Even with all my years of experience, or maybe because of it, I still keep the focus of unit studies narrow to keep them cohesive and manageable rather than chaotic.

It is important that the topic is interesting for your children. It is just as important that you are interested in the topic of the unit study. There is so much research that goes into developing a unit study, at least until you have some experience, so you will want to be excited about the topic. I also recommend starting with a topic you feel academically competent teaching. Writing your own unit study is curriculum development. If you are nervous about teaching a subject, it makes it much more difficult to develop curriculum in that subject area.

Initial Topic: Blair’s Unit Study

The Indigenous History of Chaco Canyon

This is a great topic. It is narrow in focus, but robust enough to build a project around. It is less than one sentence. The subject matter is of interest to me. We traveled there this year and it had a profound impact on me. However, this is not the perfect topic, as you will see.

How to handcraft a unit study, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers,, guides, history of Chaco canyon
Image Credit Blair Lee


How to Handcraft a Unit Study Step 2

The next step is to make some organizational decisions. There are 3 important decisions to make before going any further.

  1. How many weeks are you allotting for your unit study? I recommend your first unit study span 2 to 4 weeks. One week is usually not enough time to delve deeply into a subject. However, do not let it run more than 6 weeks. The amount of planning that is required to keep it cohesive and focused becomes more complicated with every week you add. I understand the desire to conduct a semester-long unit study. However, until you have the experience associated with understanding everything that goes into developing a couple of them, it can be challenging to be successful.
  2. Will the unit study be ancillary or the primary focus of your studies? This can affect the length of time spent on the unit study. A unit study that is ancillary primarily focuses on one or two subjects. When I develop science curriculum, for example, the chapters of each unit, make up a unit that is focused on a science topic. They are designed to be ancillary to other studies. A unit study that is the primary focus encompasses all or most of a learner’s studies while you are doing it.
  3. Is there enough information to make it worth spending more time planning a unit study for this topic? You will want to conduct some quick online research of this topic. Make sure there is plenty of information, and that the information is at a level your kids can understand. Occasionally, I will find a topic of interest that I consider adding into a course I am writing, only to find that the amount of knowledge needed to understand it makes it a poor topic to include.

Pre-Planning for The Indigenous History of Chaco Canyon

The Indigenous “Culture” of Chaco Canyon

  1. Three-week study
  2. Primary focus
  3. There is plenty of information
How to handcraft a unit study, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers,, guides, history of Chaco canyon
Image Credit Blair Lee

Choose a Primary Discipline and Secondary Disciplines

How to Handcraft a Unit Study Step 3

Choose one primary discipline for the project. Be strict with yourself if you want the focus to be on multiple disciplines. Yes, you can weave in other subjects; but they must support the primary discipline. These subjects are the secondary disciplines, At this point, you may need to tweak your initial topic if necessary to make it a better fit with the discipline.

Once you have figured out the primary discipline and topic, before planning, complete some additional, quick research. If you cannot find good information that is age and stage appropriate for your learners, I recommend you rethink the focus of the topic to something with more information. For example, little to nothing is know about the culture of the inhabitants of Chaco Canyon. The information I found was mostly conjecture. Much more is known about the history of Chaco Canyon.

Image Credit Jim Lee

Primary Discipline: History

Main Topic: The Indigenous History of Chaco Canyon

For several reasons, I changed my topic to the History of Chaco Canyon from 850 CE to 1250 CE. The topic of culture fits neatly into history. Narrowing the time span will make the unit study more manageable and less likely to become unwieldy. This time span better reflects why I am interested in this as the topic of my unit study.

  • Quick research of topic
    • 900 BCE first dated evidence
    • 200 CE first dwellings
    • Borders the Navaho Reservation

Through this research, I learned that people were living in this area at least 2,922 years ago. I had to decide if I wanted to change my date. I did not, because I wanted to focus on the period when most of the dwellings have been dated to. I also found great information about Chaco Canyon on the website of a neighboring Navaho organization, which I can use to help with planning.

Next, choose the other academic disciplines you want to weave into the unit study. For each discipline, ask yourself how it fits with the primary discipline. If you cannot answer this, consider leaving it out. Adding topics that do not easily connect will make the unit study disorganized, which should be avoided. Put a question mark next to any topic that might be difficult to find information for as you proceed (as I did in the list below). Add academic skills/activities you want students to work on. Unit studies are a great way to work on mastery of skills.

Secondary Disciplines

  • Science
  • Construction & Architecture
  • Archaeology
  • Linguistics?
  • Writing
  • Literature & Nonfiction Reading
  • Geography

Before investing more time, make sure these work with your situation; for example, multiple learners at different levels or an only child.

How to handcraft a unit study, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers,, guides, history of Chaco canyon
Image Credit Blair Lee

Flesh Out the Topics into a Bulleted List

How to Handcraft a Unit Study Step 4

One reason I developed a unit study was to use as an example in this section. I do not know what area your unit study focuses on. Therefore, this section will be devoted to choices I made for the history of Chaco Canyon from 850 CE to 1250 CE.

You can see from the example that the focus of the planning goes back to the primary discipline. Every discipline can be broken down by the types of topics included in a study of the discipline. You can see from my list that I am interested in the linguistics and politics as a part of this history.  I could not find substantial information about these, so I would not include them in my unit study. When choosing topical information, keep it tightly focus on the primary discipline.

For the secondary topics, I have an example of possible sub-topics to include for each secondary discipline.  The reason for doing this before going into detail for the primary topic is, one – to decide which ones to keep and which, if any, to cut, two – to see how the pieces fit together, many of these cover the history and make that planning easier, and three – to see if there are any thematic elements I want to use as focal points.

Start with the Primary Discipline

This bullet point list will be fleshed out later in this process. The topical information that will be chosen will tightly focus on the primary discipline. For example, I do plan on quickly referencing the people who lived in this area before 850 CE and the people who lived there after 1250 CE, but it will be brief.

Other Topics Included under History

  • People
  • Culture
  • Linguistics?
  • Technology
  • Politics?

Again, I wrote a question mark after all topics that might be difficult to get information about.

Learning Skills

While planning, decide if you want to intentionally include learning skills as a part of your project.

Then Work on the Secondary Disciplines

Secondary Disciplines: The Indigenous History of Chaco Canyon

    • Science
      • Was climate change responsible for the decline of this civilization
      • Fossil evidence of plants and animals in the area
      • Pigments from local soil
      • Changing geology to the river that runs through it
      • Geology of the Colorado Plateau
      • Radiometric dating
    • Construction & Architecture
      • Building with stone
    • Archaeology
      • How archaeologists build a story from their digs
    • Linguistics?
      • Is there historical evidence of the linguistic group of the residents of Chaco Canyon?
    • Writing
      • Research and write a paper on topic related to Chaco Canyon
    • Literature & Nonfiction Reading
      • Find books focused on Chaco Canyon in nonfiction and fiction categories
    • Geography
      • Colorado Plateau
      • Routes people traveled from to reach Chaco Canyon
    • Culture?
      • Who were the peoples of Chaco Canyon?
      • Where did they go?
      • How did their society function?
    • Art
      • Pottery making

This is a big list. To have a manageable project, I will have to either make cuts to this list, weave multiple topics together, or keep activities short. For example, I saw a video a while back that linked climate change to the decline of this civilization. That would be a good (and brief) way to focus on that specific topic.

How to handcraft a unit study, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers,, guides, history of Chaco canyon

Decide on the Hands-On Activities

How to Handcraft a Unit Study Step 5

It is a good idea to decide on a hands-on project before serious planning goes into the unit study. If one of the secondary disciplines lends itself to a fun hands-on activity, you will not want to cut it. This also helps to ensure that you have enough hands-on projects within your unit study.

There are lots of pottery shards in Chaco Canyon. Even though I am not artistic AT ALL, I would definitely include pot making in this unit study. That is what YouTube tutorials are for.

Image Credit Blair Lee

Hands-On Activities

  • Pigments from local soil, paired with
  • Pottery making
  • Building with stone
  • How archaeologists build a story from their digs
  • How the geography has changed over time, much of this change has come about because of weathering and erosion, so this is part geography and part geology.
Image Credit Blair Lee

CUT, CUT, and then CUT some more

How to Handcraft a Unit Study Step 6

Until you have gained more experience, make cuts. Actually, the more experienced you are the more cuts you make. I have entire chapters and labs fully written that have never made it into books.

Do not let the unit study become overlong or unruly. You see an example of the first topic I deleted, linguistics. It will likely be joined by other topics as I continue to plan in more detail.

The First of Many Cuts

Linguistics: Is there historical evidence of the linguistic group of the residents of Chaco Canyon?

I could not find solid information about this topic.

Start Planning It Out

How to Handcraft a Unit Study Step 7

Now, it is time to begin planning each week. Develop a detailed weekly/daily schedule. If this is haphazard, your unit study will be chaotic. You have probably guessed by now that chaotic unit studies are to be avoided.

At this point, you need to make some structural decisions. This unit study will be chronological, as history often is.

It is a good idea to start the unit study with a hook. Take the time to plan something fun that gets everyone excited about the topic. A field trip to a museum or even a visit to Chaco Canyon would be a great way to start a study of the history of Chaco Canyon. Pottery making would be fun, too!

As you build your outline, be mindful that learners have the knowledge and skills required to study the topics. If they do not, you will want to teach the requisite knowledge and skills early on (after the hook, of course).

While planning, ask yourself if you missed anything in your previous outline. I realized I left two important topics out: a Geography lesson focused on the area, as well as the areas in North and South America where some of the artifacts found at Chaco Canyon were discovered. I also left off pictographs and petroglyphs, which will be included in the hands-on projects section.

Image Credit Blair Lee

Calendar It Out

How to Handcraft a Unit Study Step 8

You are not done yet! Now you will need to put this information into a calendar. Keep making cuts if the unit study is running long. You will also want to write down discussion questions. You can even plan when to discuss them.

Blair's Schedule

If your goal is to have a cohesive unit study, you want to start with a solid plan. It is okay to tweak the plan, and fall down rabbit holes once you get going, but a plan that you can refer to, fall back on, or stick to rigidly (depending on your homeschooling style) will keep this from becoming chaotic.

As you can see I have chosen a chronological approach. When planning a unit study for a subject that does not lend itself to this approach, I recommend referring to doing some research to investigate how others structure a course of study on this topic.

Blair's Week 1 Plan for The History of Chaco Canyon Unit Study

Week 1

The parentheses contain notes to myself.


  • History of this area to 850 CE
  • Basic geography of the area
  • How do archeologists know? Digs, dating,
    and fossil evidence
  • Find a book/articles and start reading

Hands-on/writing/field trips

  • Visit a museum of man (docent tour?)
  • Short research project about what life was like before there were machines (Perhaps do this when learning about building with rock, instead of here.)
  • Mapwork of the area
  • Archeological dig (I will set something up for the kids in the yard.)
  • Find radiometric dating activity

Weekly Resources

List the resources you will use this week.

Books, article links, supplies, lab, and activity plans

List the links and titles as you find them.

If you use this guide to handcraft a unit study, I would love to hear from you. If you like, feel free to customize and use this one.

This is part of The Learner’s Toolbox from Blair Lee. The Learner’s Toolbox is a multi-part series in the SEA Homeschoolers Magazine and SEA Homeschoolers Online Conference Series that focuses on learning skills that are essential for lifelong learners.

New to Homeschooling? Check out our How to Homeschool 101 Article.

Want to know what SEA Homeschoolers is about? The SEA Homeschoolers Team collaborated on a list of 27 WE BELIEVE statements so you would know the answer!

Eclectic Academic Homeschooling

Eclectic Academic Homeschooling, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee,

Eclectic Academic Homeschooling

One question we get fairly often is: What is an eclectic academic homeschooler?

SEA Homeschoolers is an Eclectic Academic Homeschooling Group

The word “academic” in our name, is there to help people decide if this is the right group for them. However, it can be a little messy sometimes, because we are an eclectic academic homeschooling group. An important tenet of eclectic homeschooling is to use the method that works best for your children. And whatever that is, is the best method. Which means we are soft around discussions about methodologies. Every single one of the SEA Facebook Admin is an experienced homeschooler, and we have observed through our own experience and through being around this community for years, that there are a lot of different approaches and methodologies that work. Read on to learn more about eclectic academic homeschooling and contact us today.

Use The Method That Works Best For Your Children

My advice is that when people push about what you should use, take that with a grain of salt. They are simply telling you what works with their child. Under no circumstances does that mean it will work best for yours. It doesn’t even mean it will work best for their children the entire way through. Children change and the method that works best for children to learn from generally changes too. A great question to ask when people push a non-academic path is, “How old is your child?” I know of many cases where someone radically unschooled a 6- or 7-year-old, only to choose a more academic approach as their child aged. And if using curriculum and worksheets is working for you and your child, do not listen to anyone who says derogatory things about that. You are homeschooling your child, and you get to do it your way.

Father helping his daughter with school work.

SEA Homeschoolers Is a Great Place to Discuss Innovative Academics

This group started as a place to discuss innovative academics. I wanted to create a place to talk about how we can take learning and make it something special that promotes and benefits our children’s unique thinking and learning styles. In this group, we see learning as a meaningful and empowering endeavor that is important to engage in to help children on their path to getting to be who they want to be, so they can live their one wild and precious life. We are not an anti-intellectual group. This is not a group that eschews learning. Because of that we do not eschew teaching, either. People are adults a lot longer than they are children. As the founder of SEA Homeschoolers, I believe that an education is an essential component for helping children to get to live the adulthood they want to live. And if you are homeschooling, it is a responsibility you have taken on. I feel strongly that it is important to have places, like this one, where we can discuss innovative, academic homeschooling to help with the nuances, ups and downs, struggles and successes, tips, and advice for meeting the responsibilities of home educating our children.

Mom on a laptop at the kitchen table.

The Curriculum Question for Eclectic Academic Homeschooling

A second, related topic we get a lot of questions about is our stance on curriculum. When I founded SEA Homeschoolers, I had already written several science courses that were then and still are used in our community. I am the primary science author for the R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey line. I have written science curricula and books focused on Project-Based Learning for SEA Press. I have written a book (that is taking forever to get out in publication — but it will be out one of these days) for the National Science Teaching Association. Many of you might not even realize that the founder of this group has written an extensive amount of science curriculum. It should come as no surprise, now that you do know that overall, I think curriculum is essential to ensuring children learn important core information in a way that is adequate and accurate. Generally, curriculum written by people who have experience in the areas they are developing materials for does a better job of meeting those metrics. Even if you just use it as a reference, it is important to know what should be learned and when.

Father working with his son on school work.

Ensuring Your Children Are Learning The Important Foundational Fundamentals

I used curriculum from start to finish while homeschooling my son. Not for every single subject, but for most. I am not an expert in all the areas where my child needed to learn. As the primary person choosing what my child learned, I felt a strong responsibility to ensure he got his information from people who honestly understood what needed to be learned in that area. Sometimes we stuck strictly to the curriculum and followed it exactly. At other times, we used it as a guide for what should be learned and “riffed” off of it, using it for the topics that should be learned, and then learned them in our own way. Does that mean curriculum is always the answer? I am not saying that either. But it is a lot harder to ensure your children are learning the important foundational fundamentals if you do not use curriculum written by experienced professionals.

Kid working on school work at the table.

Did using curriculum and choosing an academic path ruin my son’s childhood? He would not say that, and his opinion is the only one I care about in answer to that question. In fact, last year my child (now 21) thanked me for sticking with academics when he wanted to eschew them. When he was 10 and then 15 and didn’t want to learn math anymore, I told him that was too bad because math was not an optional subject. He just completed his first econ class in college on his way to getting either a Business degree with an environmental engineering focus or an Environmental Engineering degree with a business focus (he is doing an internship this summer where he hopes to figure that out). He would be the first to tell you he is happy his mom didn’t let math be optional. When he was 16 and spent an entire month fighting with me to let him just hang out with friends and not do school, I would not let that happen either. He appreciates that I held the line there as well. As with many eclectic academic homeschoolers, my child had a lot of say about his education in ways that were profound and empowering. What he didn’t have a say over was whether he learned or not, or whether he got a well-rounded education focused on important topics. Those last two sentences, in a nutshell, are at the heart of what eclectic, academic homeschooling is all about.

The Mission and Purpose of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers

What is the mission and purpose of SEA Homeschoolers? It is to provide a community filled with information, resources, and support to help your family on your eclectic academic homeschooling journey. Its reason for being is a place to discuss innovative learning and academics that empower and facilitate. At SEA Homeschoolers, we recognize what a big responsibility the education of our children is. Along with you, we have chosen to take that on. We do not want you to feel alone. Through our many voices, this community can help you with the heavy lifting of figuring out what your child’s education will look like. At the same time, your child is a unique individual. My final recommendation is that you take the advice that resonates with you and ignore the advice that doesn’t. There is absolutely no one-size-fits-all for learning.

Here is a freebie download from Blair Lee to help you handcraft a secular, eclectic, academic homeschooling journey. To learn more or get started, feel free to contact SEA Homeschoolers.

New to Homeschooling? Check out our How to Homeschool 101 Article.

Want to know what SEA Homeschoolers is about? The SEA Homeschoolers Team collaborated on a list of 27 WE BELIEVE statements so you would know the answer!

30 Travel Tips for Worldschooling

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“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag

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Machu Picchu, Peru, 2012

Travel is a big part of our homeschooling journey. When we can, we worldschool. When worldschooling we incorporate travel throughout our children’s journey through learning. My husband and I want our son to be a global citizen. We want him to understand that many different cultures have looked at situations and come up with equally viable answers, one not necessarily better than the other. We want him to experience and appreciate different cultures and this big beautiful planet he lives on. We started traveling with Sean when he was two years old. Over the past 14 years, he has been to 15 countries and traveled to many locations in the United States. Here are some travel tips I learned along the way. 

Worldschooling Tip 1. You might never come this way again.   If it’s raining outside, cold, or you’re tired, even if the kids complain, do not let it stop you from going out and seeing the sights. I like to tell Sean, he will thank me when he’s 30.

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Spain, 2015: It was rainy and chilly.
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It was worth seeing even in the rain.
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When you worldschool, you understand how much there is to learn by being where the history happened.

Worldschooling Tip 2. Worldschoolers, travel enough to know to unexpected and be patient with whatever happens. “The best laid plans of mice and men go awry every now and then.” It doesn’t matter how well you plan, something is going to come up. Life is short, you can’t have one second of it back, so why spend your time while traveling angry or annoyed. Some of the best times we had while on the road happened when something went wrong.

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The plane we were supposed to take from Lima for California broke. They only had one flight out a day for California.
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Jim is not happy.

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Three days later, it was all smiles. The next day we flew home.

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And then there was the time we got stuck in a rain storm while driving through Chartes, France at night. We liked the town so well we stayed there 3 nights.

Worldschooling Tip 3. Tipping differs depending on the country. Tipping is common in some countries and not in others. French servers are insulted when Americans tip. Irish servers hear the American accent and put you at the best table while giving you the best service. Before leaving on your trip find out what the tipping policy is in that country. If you’re traveling, though, and it feels too weird not to tip, go ahead and tip. What’s the worst someone can say about you for doing it, “That you’re too generous?” I wonder if there are some worldschoolers who do not tip? I don’t think I could be on the road long enough to break that habit, but maybe. 

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Worldschooling France, 2005

Worldschooling Tip 4. No, it’s not going to be just like it was back home. This is a good thing, but it can cause some homesickness, especially for kids. Be prepared for it. If your kids are worried about their pets or want to check in with family or friends, Skype is a great tool to use to stay connected. This is one of the most important lessons kids who worldschool learn. It is an essential understanding of a global citizen. 

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Cuzco, Peru
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Jaipur, India
not like home 3

Worldschooling Tip 5. Be as impulsive and free-spirited as your personality will allow. Worried you might make a fool of yourself? You might be right, but wouldn’t it be worse not to get the full experience. And hey, they’re not laughing at you, they’re laughing with you. That’s what I tell my son. There were a couple of years when he was too worried about how he looked to just get up and let himself go. I didn’t let that stop me though. Now at 16, he joins in the fun.

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Worldschooling 101: Whether you are dressing in a sari with a bindi or charming a snake, you will have more fun if you just enjoy the ride.

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Delhi, India: This is one of the women I worked with on the literacy project. As a way of thanking me, they surprised me on the last day by dressing me. This still brings tears to my eyes. 

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This is the monument where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. After this photo was taken, I stood at the base of it and recited the Gettysburg Address from memory. Sean will appreciate me more when he is older. 😉

Worldschooling Tip 6. Where should we go next? When we travel, we only have a loose plan. We like to go to places we have never been before. Because of that, we aren’t sure until we get there, what we are going to want to see and experience. I like to ask locals, “If you could tell someone one place in your country not to miss, what would it be? And why?” I’m not looking for the touristy answer with this either. We prefer non-touristy locations. Sometimes it is just happenstance where we will head next. I might be looking for craft beer and see the name Mammooth Beer. Why would there be Mammooth beer in a store in Granada, Spain? I had to know. It turns out they have been digging up mammoth fossils nearby. Then I learned about Orce Man. On the way out of Granada, we took a detour to see the 1.8 million year old hominid fossil. They had to open the museum for us. No one else was there. Later I learned that Orce Man is very controversial. Archaeologists swear it is a real hominid fossil. Creationists are sure it is a hoax. I am so glad I saw that beer!

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Mammooth Beer In Granada!
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Adventures in worldschooling. Is it a man? Is it an ape? Is it a donkey?

Worldschooling Tip 7. Where should we stay? When we travel, we do not want to stay in the hotels with all the other foreign travelers. Before leaving home, we do some research to learn where people from that country stay when they take their vacations. Doing this we meet more local people, and it costs less.

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Worldschooling India: At a Homestay in Jaipur India
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This is a common type of cook top in India.
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Homestays are the Indian equivalent of a B&B.

Worldschooling Tip 8.  Get an International Driver’s license. Unless you are positive you will not be driving, you probably want to get an International Driver’s license. While you’re at it check to see if your auto insurance covers you when driving a rental car in another country. In the United States, International Driver’s licenses can be gotten at AAA offices.

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Before leaving for France and Ireland. Jim also wanted to get a license before going to India, but I told him there was no way! Driving in India is crazy!

Worldschooling Tip 9. Leave the lesson books at home. The first time we went on a major trip with Sean, we spent a month in France and Ireland. I brought along books for him so he could continue his studies. That was in 2005. I have to laugh at myself now. It is not a mistake I’ve ever made again. I spent an entire month lugging heavy books around that we were too busy to use.

Worldschooling Tip 10. Make it educational. That’s not to say we don’t make it educational. You don’t have to run around to see all the sites to make it educational either. Simply by traveling, observing, and interacting with other people and cultures is an educational experience.

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One type of worldschooling is roadschooling. There is a lot to see in your own country.
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Old Faithful in Yellowstone, Wyoming: We started 10th grade with a 5 week driving trip. Sean is studying geology and environmental science this year. We drove from California to South Dakota. From there we drove to Yellowstone, then out to the West Coast of Washington State and down the volcanic chain along the Pacific Ring of Fire studying plate tectonics and their effects.

Worldschooling Tip 11. Check out bookstores. It is really fun to see what people in other cultures are reading. If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you can read English. Lucky you. I have never been into a bookstore in another country where I couldn’t find something that had been translated into English.

Worldschooling Tip 12. Learn a few phrases in that language. There are some phrases you really need to know. Do not assume everyone is going to speak English. Even in countries where many people speak English, we have never found that everyone we wanted to ask a question of spoke English.

  • “Does anyone here speak English,” is probably the most important phrase to know. I have used that phrase mainly while entering the country. Just remember, you are going to be tired and stressed from hours of travel. Unless you are fluent in that language, you will probably struggle to say exactly what you want if there is any issue.
  • If you have any dietary restrictions, make sure you know how to tell someone about them. I am a vegan, and I never leave home without being able to tell someone that in their own language.
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Catching some Z’s in the Carpathians, Ukraine.

Worldschooling Tip 13. Try to get on the sleep cycle. Jet lag is a problem. The younger your children are, the more important this is. If at all possible, try to sleep while you’re traveling too. Because it is inevitable that when you first arrive, you will be tired and burned out, we always have a place booked to stay for the first three days of our trip.

Worldschooling Tip 14. Pack light and make the clothes you do pack comfortable.

  • You are traveling with your children, for most of us that means we do not need a suitcase full of fancy clothes. The longer you were going to be on the road, the more important it is that you have clothes you’re comfortable in. Ask yourself, do you really need that bulky camera, the heavy laptop, or three pairs of high heels? Or would you be better off taking your pictures on your phone, using an iPad, and only bringing along sandals and walking/hiking shoes?
  • Only take shoes that have been broken in. Most of us do a lot of walking when we are traveling. It is a big mistake to have new shoes with you.
  • Make sure you pay attention to what the people in that area wear. I didn’t have to dress conservatively when I was in India or Dubai, but I felt more comfortable doing so. Often when you are traveling, it’s nice to just blend in. To do that you want to be dressed in a similar fashion to the people of that country.


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Cuzco, Peru: We hiked (and in Sean’s case rode a horse) to Machu Picchu. Even when I wasn’t hiking, I dressed casually. The hiking boots I am wearing were broken in perfectly.

Worldschooling, worldschooler, worldschool, worldschoolers., seahomeschoolers.comCasual and comfortable is a great combination when traveling for weeks. Just remember, unless you stay in the same place the entire time, you will be carrying your clothes with you every time you move from one location to another.

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I have hiked mountains in those flip flops! Really!

Worldschooling Tip 15. There are a few things every worldschooler should pack.

  • Earplugs: Even if you have never used earplugs before, you should pack some for your trip. Most people are used to the night noises at home. The night noises when you travel are going to be different, and this can keep you or your kids up. There is nothing worse than being tired the entire time you travel.
  • Hand sanitizer: The germs are different where you are going. That makes it really easy to catch infectious germs your immune system has never seen before. When that happens you can get sick. Make sure you bring small bottles of hand sanitizer, and use it often. The most common places to pick those germs up are handrails, elevator buttons, and money. Most people do not wash their hands after touching those three things. Use hand sanitizer whenever you or your children touch them. I very rarely get sick when I travel. 
  • A first aid kit: You are traveling with children. It’s a good idea to be prepared with Band-Aids, Neosporin, and necessary first-aid supplies.
  • Plugs for that country: You don’t want to get to a foreign country and find out you can’t charge any of your electronics. Do not assume you will easily find these plugs when you are out of the country. That has not been our experience. 

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Worldschooling Tip 16. Make sure everyone has a bit of cash. One of the most annoying things parents deal with is their children constantly asking them to buy things. We solved this by giving Sean a set amount of money he can spend. How much depends on where we’re going and how long we’re going to be there. Doing this also cuts down on the tension from you telling your child you can’t believe that’s what they want to buy. It’s their money so they can buy whatever they want with it, even if it’s not something you would buy.

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Worldschooling Ireland: Sean bought that hat in Galway, Ireland, much to my husband’s chagrin. The next day we were in a pub, and Sean went to peek into the adjoining bar. The bartender came over and told us we had to see what Sean was doing. He had pulled out and was playing a harmonica he also bought on the trip. After that he passed the leprechaun hat around so people could throw money into it. He made 42 euros!

Worldschooling Tip 17. Is your passport up-to-date for the rules of the country you are traveling to? Do you need a visa? In May, 2015 we traveled to Spain. We were also planning on traveling to Morocco. The trip was planned months before we left. We all checked our passports to make sure we didn’t need to renew them. Two days before leaving for Spain, I happen to read the information sent to us from our airlines months before. It informed us that when traveling to Spain our passports would need to be valid for at least three months beyond our intended departure date. My passport expired one week early to meet that date. We actually ended up changing the date I was to fly back by one week. Then when we got to Spain changed my departure date to its original date and time. In addition to that, we couldn’t go to Morocco, because I wasn’t sure I would be able to get back into Spain. How much stress did this add to the beginning of our vacation? I had a serious cold sore by the time I got to Spain.

Worldschooling Tip 18. Journal daily. The first trip we took out of the country with Sean was to Costa Rica. We had been home just a few months when I realized we were starting to forget many of the details from that trip. We had taken lots of photos, but I couldn’t recall many of the details with those alone. Since then I always journal every day when we travel, and blog about it . We love going back through the journals. I have encouraged Sean to journal daily as well. Some of his entries from when he was young are pretty funny.

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This is the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland. Sean didn’t almost die, but it was a bit scary to be so high above the ocean on a windy day.

Worldschooling Tip 19. Take pictures of flowers. It is lovely to have a photo record of flowers from around the world. 

Worldschooling Tip 20. Try local specialties. One of the best things about traveling is the food. I am one of those people who are very curious about food. I have had some interesting conversations with people about what they are eating. Many times people gave me a bite of food from their plate. The irony of this is, I am a bit of a germaphobe, but I just go for it.

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It was a little spicy, but so very yummy. Yes, that is street food I ate in India!
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Chernivtsi, Ukraine: I have a sweet tooth. I love to try desserts wherever we go. It is surprising how much desserts vary for different parts of the world. We made friends with the people who owned this restaurant in the park when I got to talking to them about food.
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Worldschooling Ukraine: Aperitifs in Carpathians. It was a strange brew. I kind of liked it, so all the Americans handed me theirs. 
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Coca tea in Peru

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Worldschoolers see the coolest things! Guinea pigs running around the house eating leaves from a coffee plant…

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and hand roasted coffee beans. I definitely want a cup of that coffee!

Worldschooling Tip 21. Meet and talk to local people. I have been told by one of my stepsons that I like to have random conversations with random people all over the world. This is a trait that has brought pleasure to all of us, as we have found ourselves in interesting and unique situations.

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Worldschoolers in Hungary: Whether it is getting us invited into someone’s wine dungeon in Hungary…
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wine, palinka, and dinner. They did manage to find someone who spoke English, which was nice but not essential. After some palinka nothing is essential.
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or into a high security building in the Ukraine my traits of being gregarious, curious, and really liking people have opened many doors for us while on the road.

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Worldschooling Tip 22. Bring both digital and physical copies of your passport, visa, driver’s license, birth certificate, health insurance card, and important phone numbers. An important tip: The best thing to do is to take pictures of all of these and save them on your phone. It’s a good idea for everyone who is traveling together to have copies of these on their phone as well.

Worldschooling Tip 23. Volunteer. Volunteering as a part of your adventure is a great way to learn about an area and to meet local people. It can take work to find opportunities if your children are younger, but they are available. The academic enrichment your children will gain through volunteering can’t be duplicated in any other way.

Worldschooling, worldschooler, worldschool, worldschoolers.,
Sean volunteering at the Vidya, Munirka school in Delhi, India

Worldschooling Tip 24. You are with your children, so you want to make sure everyone can stay in contact. Before you leave, make sure your phones are set up so that it is easy and as inexpensive as possible for all of you to stay connected.

Worldschooling Tip 25. Plan activities for everyone. When traveling with a group where there is a range of ages, the best thing to do is to take turns planning activities.

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When Sean gets to do things like this…
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and this…
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he is happier about doing this!

Worldschooling Tip 26. Whether you are worldschooling or just on a vacation, you are better off seeing fewer places and getting to know them, instead of cramming as many places as possible into your trip. This is especially true if you are traveling with children. There is a movement called slow travel. When you slow travel, you spend a week or more in a place, and take the time to get to know that place and truly enjoy it. Slow travel leads to a much greater appreciation of where you are, and keeps all of you from feeling rushed and stressed out.

Worldschooling, worldschooler, worldschool, worldschoolers.,
We spent a week in Baltimore, Ireland to recharge.

Worldschooling Tip 27. Read nonfiction and fictional books about and/or from that country before you go. You can do this in the car while you’re traveling too. If you happen to travel through La Mancha, Spain, and you realize you are the only person who knows the story of Don Quixote, you have some reading to do aloud for your fellow passengers while traveling toward Seville.

Worldschooling, worldschooler, worldschool, worldschoolers.,
I read this to Sean leading up to our trip to Peru.

Worldschooling Tip 28. Make sure you have downloaded good music, videos, and books on tape. Sometimes when parents travel with kids they are concerned their kids will want to be plugged in the whole time. It has happened to us, so before we go I always lay out the ground rules for how much time can be spent on the electronics. On the other hand, part of travel is getting there. It is nice for you if your kids have some way to check out when they’re sitting at airports or in the car. This helps prevent you from going insane during these times.

Worldschooling Tip 29. If you are on the road for any length of time, yes, you are going to have to wash clothes. I have found you’re better off not getting too behind on this.

Worldschooling, worldschooler, worldschool, worldschoolers.,
Hand washing clothes and worldschooling goes hand in hand!

Worldschooling Tip 30. Just do it! I have people tell me all the time that they would love to travel like we do. They want to know how we manage it. We start by treating travel as if it is a priority, then we save, plan, and make it happen. 

Worldschooling, worldschooler, worldschool, worldschoolers.,
Across the street from Leonardo da Vinci’s house in France.

If you can think of any tips I missed, add them to the comment section. Who knows, maybe I will use your tip on our next adventure!

Read more about Worldschooling & Secular Homeschooling

The Friendly American

1406266378Blair Lee loves to read, cook, laugh, hang out with friends, and homeschool. In 2015, she co-founded Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers SEA Homeschoolers on Facebook. Blair writes for the Real Science Odyssey Series,  as well as blogs and magazines. Blair speaks about eclectic, academic homeschooling, science, and travel at homeschool conventions. You can follow her at Twitter, and Facebook.

The Other Science Crisis: Climate Change

The Other Science Crisis: Climate Change

Everyone, everywhere is talking about the coronavirus right now and for good reason. But this Earth Day, let us remember that there are at least two major science crises going on right now:

  1. The global warming that is causing the climate crisis
  2. Of course, the coronavirus

The science explaining the coronavirus is not yet well understood. The science explaining climate change is. And there is no time like the present to learn the science of climate change. In part because,

“Scientists have long warned that climate change will impact not just our environment, but also our health by increasing rates of infectious disease.” (Ibrahim AlHusseini)

Long after a vaccine has been developed for the coronavirus, the climate crisis will be an ongoing problem. We need to be working to find solutions for it. The first step to doing that is to understand the science explaining it. Whether your kids are home for a short time (school under teach this issue) or for longer, make this the year your family learns what climate change is, how it happens, and what you can do to help.

To celebrate Earth Day, SEA Publishing has put The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course on sale for almost 80% off (April 22-24, 2020). Check out the book the National Science Teaching Association calls, “a much-needed resource for understanding climate change and gets into the details of climate change in a way that increases understanding for both kids and adults alike. This is a great, user-friendly book for all of us who need to understand the complex issue of climate change.” 

Check out this article from Blair Lee about the melting glaciers of Peru.

Pandemics – Unit Study

Pandemics - Unit Study

Pandemics – Unit Study

Several days ago Pandia Press reached out to Pandia authors & SEA Homeschoolers Samantha Matalone Cook, Amy Sharony, Lindsey Sodano, and Blair Lee and asked us to collaborate on a unit study focused on the history and science of the causes, cures, and responses of pandemics. Here it is as a direct download. We worked to create something usable for a large grade range. Much of the science is excerpted, rearranged, and edited (to be specific for this topic) from RSO Biology 2. All the rest is newly written. Even the science has some new labs and activities focused on protecting yourself against pathogens that is suitable for all grades.

This link is a direct download link to the Pandemics – Unit Study.

Please feel free to share anywhere and with anyone you want.
Much Love during this stressful time, Blair

Want to create your own Unit Study? Check out How to Handcraft a Unit Study from Blair Lee.

Pandemics - Unit Study

Learn the Science of Microbiology from Blair Lee, M.S.

Pandemic - Unit Study, SEA Homeschoolers
Pandemic - Unit Study, SEA Homeschoolers

Really, I wish more parents would use this course!  ~ Andrew Hessel

Microbiology is awesome. Blair Lee covers all the topics, the illustrations are terrific, and the activities and worksheets are fun and engaging. Blair really knows the material and presents it well. I think it’s a terrific resource and really see the effort and time put into it! Any kid working through this book is going to have a solid basic understanding of microbiology. Really, I wish more parents would use this course!  ~ Andrew Hessel, Chairman of the Board and Co-Executive Director Genome Project-Write and a fellow at the Institute for Science, Society, and Policy at the University of Ottawa

Whitney Voltz (verified owner)  

Can I give this course 6 stars? 🤩 The other day someone asked my rising 6th grader what subject was her favorite and she said microbiology. It’s all because of this series. So much hard work and thought has gone into this course. The descriptions are clear, there are lots of pictures and images and the videos are phenomenal. The science projects mainly use objects found around the house or at the grocery, and her step by step instructions make it so much easier than hunting for projects on the internet. Ms. Blair breaks down complex subjects like cellular structures, viruses and bacteria in a way that’s accessible to kids—and families. The program is easy to navigate—we had some trouble on the technical side and SEA publishing got back to us quickly and went above and beyond to solve the problem. Science curriculums are hard to put together—we are so glad to have this ready-to-use program. I highly recommend it to anyone with kids in the corresponding age range!!

Venessa McBride (verified owner)  

This was such a great purchase! I feel like I’m juggling a lot of things right now and we were still able to do this microbiology course without feeling overwhelmed. It is well organized and very engaging. It kept my middle schooler (and me!) interested and learning. This hasn’t been a “mom do I have too?” course, instead it’s been a “mom when are we doing more?!” course. That can be hard to come by with teens. We are looking forward to more science from Blair Lee.

Homeschooled Children Are Fearless about Their Ability to Learn New Things

Homeschooled Children Are Fearless about Their Ability to Learn New Things

Homeschooled Children, Eggs in NestI have a story I want to share with you. My 18 year-old son, homeschooled since first grade, wanted a summer job. He gave it some thought, looked at what was out there for an 18 year-old and decided he wanted to apply for a job as a sous chef.

“What?” I asked in shock. “You have never shown even the slightest inclination to learn how to cook, despite me trying everything I could think of to change your mind.”

“Well,” he replied, “If I get this job, your desire to have a son who knows how to cook will be answered.”

So, he went and interviewed at a restaurant he thought he would like working at. He felt like the interview went well. They toldHomeschooled Children, Mono Lake him they would get back to him. They were looking for someone with some experience, so my husband and I told him even with a good interview he might not get the job. When they didn’t call him back in a couple of days, he called the restaurant and asked if he could come in and work for half a shift so they could see that even though he didn’t have experience he was a fast learner and good at paying attention.

Homeschooled Children, Bodie CaliforniaThe restaurant owners liked his attitude and had him come in. You will not be surprised to find out that he got the job. He started three weeks ago, and he loves it.  He even cooked for me on Mothers’ Day!

Homeschooled children are fearless about their ability to learn new things.

This, to me, is such a homeschooled kid story. When I pointed out to him that he couldn’t cook, my son responded by telling me he knows how to learn what he doesn’t know.  Then when the owners didn’t call him back, he called them and asked them to give him a try, because he also believed he would be able to learn what they needed him to. It is a trait of homeschooled kids to be fearless about their ability to learn new things. They grow up understanding that they can learn anything through doing. These are the most important traits of a lifelong learner and very common traits of homeschooled kids.

Homeschooled children grow up understanding that they can learn anything through doing.

My guess is, this year, you had some parts of your homeschool journey that were stellar, some that were mediocre, and some that didn’t work well. We did too. I also know it can be hard to evaluate how your journey is going to turn out from the beginning or middle of it. As long as you kept your eye on what really mattered, and I believe you did (even if you aren’t sure), one day you will realize you raised an individual who can tackle anything he or she sets his or her mind to, because your child has an intimate connection with the unique way he or she learns. And once a person know that, anything is possible.

Homeschooled Children, Mono Lake
The view of Mono Lake from The Mono Inn

Much Love,

Blair Lee

Reposted from the SEA Homeschoolers Magazine

Stargazing Supplies for The Stargazer’s Notebook: a Unit Study

Stargazing Unit Study, based on The Stargazer's Notebook by Blair Lee, MS. Secular astronomy curriculum

A Stargazing Unit Study: The Stargazer’s Notebook

When I was writing R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 the idea for The Stargazer’s Notebook came to me. The Stargazer’s Notebook focuses on learning about the universe by observing the night sky. It is an astronomy unit study presented in the guise of a stargazing unit study. I didn’t want kids to just learn the science of astronomy from a book. My hope was that kids would get an understanding of the universe by making direct observations. I felt this would greatly enhance students’ passion for and knowledge of the subject. For two years, my son, my husband, and I stargazed once every month, saw every special sky event we could, and got up at 2 a.m. to see every meteor shower.

I am a scientist, so my life has been filled with scientific inquiry and learning. From the standpoint of family, the two years of stargazing were the best for both of those. My family and I took road trips so that we would have the best viewing of meteor showers. We hosted a solar eclipse party for the families in our neighborhood. Several friends made a point of showing up for dinner time on the nights we were stargazing. These friends would bring their own chair, blanket, and snacks to share.

There are some tools you might want for stargazing. None are really essential, but some almost are. Others are worth it if you want the “whole” experience. Still others are fun, but definitely optional.

Essential Supplies for a Stargazing Unit Study*

The Stargazer’s Notebook: The visible universe is vast and so is the amount of information about it. The Stargazer’s Notebook provides the ideal instruction manual, planner, journal, and cosmos laboratory for the astronomy student, amateur stargazer, and anyone else wanting to learn more about the stars, planets, and celestial objects that occupy our skies.

Stargazing Unit Study, based on The Stargazer's Notebook by Blair Lee, MS. Secular astronomy curriculum, astronomy unit study

The Night Sky Planishere: Apps on your phone are great, but they can not completely substitute for a star map (a planisphere). Make sure you get the correct latitude range of planisphere.
stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

Red light flashlight: I have used this flashlight every time I have stargazed. It has a red light setting and a white light setting. After your eyes have adapted to the dark, you can ruin the adaptation with a blast of white light. Red light does not have the same effect.
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If you are using the ebook version of The Stargazer’s Notebook you will want a clipboard for the Night Sky Maps.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

Almost Essential Supplies for a Stargazing Unit Study*

Binoculars & Tripod

If you want to be able to do things like see the individual stars in the Beehive Nebula or the moons of Jupiter and rings of Saturn then you will want binoculars and a tripod. You might wonder where the telescope is on this list. I found binoculars to be much easier to use and more practical than a telescope. There are things that you need a telescope to see. If you do choose to go out with a telescope, make sure you have practiced using it before going out. 

Celestron Skymaster Binoculars:

I have the 20 x 80 binoculars

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

The Stargazer’s Notebook is written for ages 10 to 100. Here is a selection of books to bring younger learners up to speed.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

The couple of times I went out without a reclining chair and a warm blanket, I regretted it. Recliners are almost essential for stargazing! It is really nice to be able to lay on your back comfortably and warmly when observing the night sky.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study
These chairs with backpack straps are great for taking when you need to find the perfect location.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

Essential for a Stargazing Unit Study? No. Fun to Have? YES!* 

I wouldn’t take it out stargazing in case it adds light pollution, but a glow-in-the-dark constellation blanket for dreaming about stargazing adventures is fun to have.

How could stargazing be complete without your very own set of pens from NASA to use to chart the stars!

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

No evening spent stargazing would be complete without drinks, snacks, and theme music.

SEA water bottle: Do not forget the water in re-usable bottles. That way you are taking care of planet Earth while observing the rest of the visible universe.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study







SEA drink tumbler for hot drinks: My husband takes coffee out, my son is a hot chocolate guy, and I have to have tea!

Numi Turmeric tea with ginger is the best for staying warm on a chilly night.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

Fair Trade Hot Cocoa Mix for those who like it a little sweeter.
stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

Use these vegan cupcake toppers for a fun treat on nights you stargaze. It is super yummy with this recipe for delicious chocolate cupcakes and white buttercream frosting, both vegan and the cupcakes can be made with gluten-free flour.
stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

What stargazing unit study would be complete without solar system lollipops? I want Saturn!

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

The night could not be complete without theme music to get everyone in the mood. I have spent more than one night with family and friends discussing the likelihood that there is music on at least one other planet in the universe.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study


*This post has affiliate links in it.

Passionately Engaged: A Scientist’s Journey

Woman in Science Blair Lee - Scientist

Passionately Engaged: A Scientist’s Journey

Women in Science: Why I Became A Scientist

by Blair Lee, M.S.

My journey to becoming a scientist is one a homeschooler can appreciate. I became a scientist by falling down a rabbit hole while pursuing an interest that grew into a passion. I come from an entrepreneurial family. One that, for the most part, thinks the only reason to get a science degree is to become a medical doctor. I have always loved to read and write and if you’d asked my family what I was going to be when I grew up most of them, including me, would have said that I would become a book editor, attorney, or author. Science was not on my radar before college.

When I went to college I had no idea what I wanted to major in. So I took five classes in five disciplines my first semester: math, speech, science, English, and history. I very quickly fell in love with science. There is something about how the real world works that captivated my imagination. Take chemistry for instance, when you look at the relationship between energy, matter, and atomic particles it borders on magical. Except that it’s real.

The area I found the most captivating was how small changes on the molecular, atomic, and subatomic level can have large ranging consequences. Topics like evolution, the Big Bang, the destruction of the ozone hole, and radioactive decay are fascinating. I challenge anyone to look at how atomic particles behave, interact, change, and make matter to not be intellectually engaged. It is just so cool! When it comes to sheer coolness factor, Harry Potter and his cohorts have nothing on science.

Another thing I love about science is its changing nature. For example the theory of evolution, Darwinian evolution focuses on observations but doesn’t include genetics, because Darwin didn’t know about genetics.  Now that scientists understand the mechanism driving evolution, genetic variability and mutation, genetics has become the centerpiece of evolutionary biology. I love how in science that the more we understand, the more we know what we don’t know. There is no end to what is left to be discovered. Studying science is endlessly engaging as your brain keeps having new information to work through and to include for a deeper understanding, but you never get to the end of what there is to learn.

One of the side notes to having very little science knowledge when I started college was that I had to spend a lot of extra study time learning the basics. During the first year, I was cramming all the time and making myself a pest during my professor’s office hours. My need to go back to the basics and learn not just science concepts and facts but also how science worked is how I came to write the style of science books that I write, where there is a focus on foundational fundamentals and basics and on how science is best learned not just as a discipline but as an active endeavor.

I graduated with two bachelors, an Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution degree from the biology department and a general chemistry degree. I was officially a scientist. After that I went to graduate school. This was a turning point in my life, and one of the most angst filled. I had planned and dreamed of graduate school. It turned out that I did not like the day-to-day grind working in a lab. What I did love was the teaching I was doing as required by the chemistry department for their first year graduate students. But… I had never wanted to be a teacher! Maybe after I got my PhD… but before… NO!

It took a serious bout of reflection about what was important. Was my doctorate more important or was it more important to be passionately engaged? So, I got out with a master’s degree in chemistry. While I was in the process of doing this, I received a phone call from a professor I had. He had taken over the chemistry department at a local community college. He offered me a job. I knew I made the right choice almost right away when I started teaching.

You might be wondering why I didn’t switch from a PhD in environmental chemistry to getting a PhD in science education. It didn’t occur to me to do that for years. I actually wrote a query letter to two PhD programs after I finished R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2, and was offered a spot at one of them. In the intervening years since retiring from teaching I have focused on affecting the conversation and methodology surrounding how science is best learned. I started writing science courses, because I think if you are going to discuss how things should be different you should give solid, practical examples. After being accepted into a PhD program I had a decision to make. I decided to turn the spot down and keep writing science courses and pushing for change within the secular homeschool community. I think there is a revolution in education happening right now, and much of the energy for it is coming from this community!

I think it’s really important that science literacy becomes a focus of education. You don’t have to look further than climate change denial to understand how important science literacy is. At this point in my working career I am devoting my time to developing materials that give a solid foundation in basic science concepts, where the focus is on how science is best learned as an active endeavor where a concept is presented and immediately followed by a direct application of that concept. Through this work I’m hoping that more people will have ownership over how the natural and physical world works.

Science is a discipline where the answers are open ended. It is the discipline that explains the fabric of how the natural and physical world work. Scientifically it makes no sense that you would be more fascinated by science if you have an X and Y chromosome as opposed to two X chromosomes.

As an undergraduate and graduate student in college, I was the only female in some of my science classes. I was in those classes because the discipline fascinated me. It didn’t matter to me what the gender of the other students was. Probably because of how interested I was in the material, by an overwhelming majority, my male colleagues, professors and students, were welcoming and encouraging. But if they hadn’t been it would not have bothered me.

My advice to any female who wants to become a scientist is to go for it. If you choose a physical science such as chemistry, you will find that most of your fellow classmates are males. As happened to me on a handful of occasions, you might even run into men who wonder why you, a female, are pursuing science. The best advice I can give you is to ignore them. If they don’t know why you are there, then they probably don’t find the topic as fascinating as you do. A better question would be what they are doing pursuing science.

Other posts by Blair Lee

A Science Lab in Your Home
Why Neutral Science Isn’t Neutral

Academics after a Traumatic Brain Injury & with Post-Concussive Syndrome

secular homeschool conference School Choice Week 2018: Academics after a Traumatic Brain Injury & with Post-Concussive Syndrome

Academics after a Traumatic Brain Injury & with Post-Concussive Syndrome

In 2011, my son was in a serious ski accident. He sustained a traumatic brain injury resulting in a severe complex concussion. Overnight everything changed, academics, activities, personality, and more. It wasn’t something we dealt with in the short-term. Because of the impact, there were long lasting effects resulting in post-concussive syndrome. I homeschooled him at the time. Whether you homeschool or not this talk is for you. Post-Concussive Syndrome is something many parents deal with. There are some very basic things I learned while facilitating my son’s education during this time.  This talk offers tips for how to manage academics if your child has post-concussive syndrome.

secular homeschool conference School Choice Week 2018: Academics with Post-Concussive Sydrome

Blair’s Bio

I am the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. I homeschooled my son for 12 years. Over the past two decades, I have been involved in science education, first as a community college professor and secondly as an author of science courses. Now, I write concept-rich, hands-on science courses for  secular homeschoolers, co-ops and small classrooms. These include mainstream science while presenting the accepted facts, theories, and models as would be recommended by the majority of practicing experts in each field of science.

I am a passionate advocate of innovative academics where the focus is on how subjects are best learned. Much of my understanding about this comes from my years spent in science education. Science is best learned when there is a thoughtful pairing of information followed directly with a hands-on application of that information. This philosophy is also reflected in my science courses such as, The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course. In addition, I am an author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Series.

Let’s connect on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Good Reads, and Amazon.

November 2017 Letter from the Editor

Blair Lee - Letter from the Editor, Secular Homeschool Conferences

Secular Homeschool Conferences hosted by Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers

In this issue we are celebrating the 3 annual conferences Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers hosts! Two of our secular homeschool conferences are online and one is an in-person conference. Each of the online conferences has a themed focus. These conferences are an important part of our commitment to providing support for the secular homeschool community. I have been involved in education, both traditional and non-traditional, for many years. The only things I miss about being involved in the traditional school setting are the insight, connections, and conversations with other educators. The many Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Facebook groups provide much of this type of support. The conference talks fill in the rest. I consider the on-line secular homeschool conferences to be a community service, designed to give homeschooling educators new insights into what other educators are doing.

The talks for our January conference will focus on homeschooling neurodiverse (or neuro-atypical) children with different degrees of learning and attention challenges. The talks will be free to attendees thanks to our friends at Sequential Spelling!

The Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Conference Committee is hard at work on the July in-person conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The best price of the year for tickets to this conference runs from December 1 through December 7.

I want to thank you as a subscriber to the Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Newsletter. It is an easy and important way that you support us. As a thank you for your support, we have a special giveaway this month! We will give away three conference tickets to the Atlanta Conference: 1 adult ticket, 1 teen ticket, and 1 child ticket!

Much Love, Blair

Secular Homeschool Conferences

Blair Lee A Science Lab in Your Home? It Really Isn’t that Hard. Trust Me, I’m a Chemist.

A Science Lab in Your Home, Blair Lee, Saber Tooth, Orce Spain

A Science Lab in Your Home? I am always caught off guard when homeschoolers worriedly ask me about setting up for and performing labs at home. It makes me think of how I came to write my first book, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Chemistry 1I asked a good friend of mine, who was also homeschooling, what 3rd grade chemistry looked like. She told me it was terrible. She couldn’t find any good resources and was struggling with labs and how to structure the topics. I started rattling off how I would do it. Her response, “That’s easy for you to say. You are a chemist who taught chemistry!” The purpose of this talk is to help you get over your concerns about having your child perform lab science at home. I promise you, it is easier than you think.

A Science Lab in Your Home? It Really Isn’t that Hard. Trust Me, I’m a Chemist


Blair Lee M.S. is the founder of SEA Homeschoolers and author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Series. Blair has been handcrafting the education of her non-linear thinker for over 11 years. During that time, she has learned as much about how learning happens from him as he has learned from her. Blair is a passionate advocate of innovative academics using secular materials. Through her speaking and writing, her goal is to empower homeschoolers to dare to be innovative and create something unique and academically-rich when handcrafting their child’s journey through learning. You can follow her at You can learn more about Blair Lee’s “Evolution in Homeschooling” here.

The Science of Climate Change Explained

The Science of Climate Change Explained, Blair Lee, Secular Homeschooling at SEA Homeschoolers

The world is in the middle of an environmental crisis.

The first step to solving this crisis is to understand the science explaining it.

Climate change, Global warming, The greenhouse effect: You hear these terms a lot, but what do they mean? Are they the same thing? Do they somehow relate to each other? If you are wondering about this, you are not alone. And you might be surprised to learn that the science is actually fairly simple. The real issue is there are several pieces that need to be brought together.

Understanding global warming and climate change starts with the molecules that make air. Air is a mixture of gas molecules. The main gas molecules in that mixture are nitrogen and oxygen. The air has other gas molecules in much lower concentrations including, argon, carbon dioxide, neon, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide. But even in low concentrations, the air contains a huge number of these molecules.

1 liter of dry air contains 25,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules
Type of gas molecule The number in 1 liter of dry air
Carbon dioxide 10,075,000,000,000,000,000
Methane 46,075,000,000,000,000
Nitrous oxide 8,250,000,000,000,000

Though the gas molecules carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide might be in air in low concentrations, they have a big effect. These molecules, called greenhouse gases, absorb (trap) energy from the sun and transfer this energy to air in the form of heat. The warming effect from these molecules is called the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect has been important for the evolution of life as we know it. Without the greenhouse effect the average temperature on Earth would be -18 oC (0 oF). At that temperature it would be so cold, that the water on Earth, including in the oceans, would freeze, and life as we know it would not exist. Greenhouse gases do not just keep the air warmer during the day, they continuously radiate heat, thus warming Earth even at night.

Illustrator: Alina Bachman

Trap, Absorb, Transfer:  You will see all three of these words used to describe how energy from the sun when it comes in contact with greenhouse gases warms the air. It can be confusing. These words are not synonyms. How can they be used interchangeably to explain something in science?

When energy waves from the sun come in contact with a greenhouse gas molecule, the bonds between the atoms of the molecule vibrates and transfers the sun’s energy, in the form of heat, to the air. In effect, this traps or absorbs energy from the sun that would escape into space if greenhouse gas molecules were not present. It can be thought of as heat absorption through vibration.  

The sun radiates the same amount of energy to Earth each year. The average global temperature is a result of the amount of heat energy absorbed by molecules less the amount that is reflected back into space. Greenhouse gases are the primary molecules that transfer heat energy from the sun. Fluctuations in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the air lead to fluctuations in the amount of the sun’s energy that is absorbed, therefore causing fluctuations of the average global temperature.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, over two hundred years ago the amount of greenhouse gases in the air began to increase. The Industrial Revolution was a period in human history when animal and human power was replaced by machines. Machines are powered by a chemical reaction called the combustion reaction. The combustion reaction takes gasoline, oil, or coal and combines with oxygen to make energy that powers the machines. In addition to energy, the combustion reaction releases greenhouse gases and water vapor.

Illustrator Alina Bachman

 Global warming can be thought of as a simple budgeting phenomenon where

more heat-trapping molecules in the air cause the average global temperature increase.

During the past two hundred years, people have come to increasingly rely on machines and machine-made goods and services. This has led to an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the air. More greenhouse gases mean that more of the sun’s energy is transferred as heat into the air. The increase in the amount of transferred heat is causing an increase in the average global temperature, though the increase is not uniform. This temperature increase is called global warming.

Map courtesy of NOAA
Illustrator: Alina Bachman


Global warming is causing climate change

Some of the confusion with understanding climate change and recognizing that it is happening now is that many people treat the terms “weather” and “climate” synonymously. The difference between weather and climate has to do with the amount of time each is measured. Weather is a short-term measurement, measured in hours and days. Climate is a long-term measurement, measured using weather data averages collected over 30 or more years.

Since the Industrial Revolution, there has been a long-term increase in the average global temperature which matches the increased concentration of greenhouse gases. While the increase in the global temperature might not seem like much at 0.94°C (1.69°F), it must be remembered that this is an increase in the long-term average.

Graph Courtesy of NOAA

The increase in temperature is an average across the globe. Average long-term temperatures have increased by more than this in some areas, notably the polar regions, and less in equatorial areas. Global temperature is not the only thing affected. Earth is experiencing an increased incidence in powerful storms, rising sea levels, and changing ocean chemistry to the detriment of many ocean organisms.

The Science of Climate Change Explained - Blair Lee, M.S., Secular Homeschooling at SEA HomeschoolersEarth is 4.56 billion years old. Over its long history, the climate has changed many times. So why is it a big deal now? What is different about the current climate change is the rate at which it is occurring and the fact that one species, humans, is causing climate change. The rate the climate is changing is outpacing the rate of evolution for many species. The evolution of new traits takes time. Under stressful conditions, such as rapid climate change, those species that need more time to adapt are at risk of extinction. The rate of extinction is increasing as the rate of global warming and climate change increases. The current rate of extinction is happening so fast that scientists believe Earth is in the middle of the sixth documented mass extinction.

This doesn’t sound very hopeful does it? But don’t despair! Each of us can take some simple steps to slow the rate of global warming and climate change. The first and most important step is to understand what is happening and why. Next, use less energy from sources that generate greenhouse gases. In the short-term, you can help by reducing your energy consumption, such as using mass transit or driving energy-efficient cars (hybrids or electric vehicles), stop drinking bottled water and use reusable containers, change to energy efficient light bulbs, recycle, choose foods from near-by sources, and eat less meat. In the long-term, we need to end our dependence on the fuel sources that generate greenhouse gases: coal, gasoline, and oil. This can be accomplished by investing in and using alternative sources of energy.

One person or one country did not cause the current environmental crisis. Just like the warming causing climate change, this is a global problem. We need a global solution; with all of us working together to stop or slow the rate of global warming that is causing global climate change.

People are pretty smart.

If everyone came together, we could solve this problem.

Blair H Lee MS has been involved in science education for over two decades, first as a college professor and then as an author of science courses. She is an author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey. She is also the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers.  Check out Blair’s new book The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course for kids ages 9 to 15. The 92-page course weaves 18 hands-on activities throughout the straight-forward science-based explanations of global warming and climate change.

“The Science of Climate Change is a secular program containing peer reviewed, objective science. Even children who don’t yet consider themselves to be “good at” or engaged with science will be able to interact thoughtfully with the material presented here.”

      Rebecca Pickens, home|school|life magazine

Other articles about secular homeschooling by Blair Lee

A Science Lab in Your Home
Why Neutral Science Isn’t Neutral
Stargazing Supplies
The World is Melting focuses on the melting glaciers in the Andes.

The Science of Climate Change Explained - Blair Lee, M.S., Secular Homeschooling at SEA Homeschoolers

Review of R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2

Review of R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 from Pandia Press brings top quality secular science into your home or classroom in an engaging hands-on manner. Scientist and author, Blair Lee, has a conversational writing style that opens up serious science topics to students in a way that invites them on a journey through learning. The combination of thorough science education, fun labs and activities, and the author’s ability to share vast amounts of information without overwhelming a novice makes RSO Astronomy 2 an excellent course for both students who love science, and those who do not. The writing style, uncommon for a textbook, paired with the rigorous academic material it teaches allows this course to meet the needs of students throughout the publisher’s recommended 6th – 10th grade range.      

The student text for this course functions as textbook, workbook, and lab book all in one, which makes organizing this course quite easy for students, parents, and teachers. The text is divided into three units, each containing four chapters,and a unit exam. In each chapter, students will learn through thought provoking written lessons as they build a solid foundation of science concepts. These lessons are thorough, teaching not only astronomy, but also explaining the chemistry, physics, and math needed to truly understand the material. Students will explore these concepts further with hands-on labs, activities, and scientific models. There is an outstanding focus on scientific modeling woven through the entire course. Students will not only learn how and why scientist use scientific models, but also gain a deeper understanding through using existing working scientific models, as well as creating and developing their own. Some labs in this course require written lab reports, this formulaic writing is an important skill every student should learn. There are also labs with math components, as math and science often go hand in hand. All of the math is clearly explained and examples are given. This is an excellent example for students of how mathematics is applied in subjects beyond their math studies.

Through the twelve part Famous Science Series, students develop and expand research skills while learning interesting history related to astronomy, including topics like famous scientists, scientific discoveries, and space crafts and programs. While the questions in this series will help guide student’s research, how that research is done is left more open ended. This allows you to easily adapt these assignments to the appropriate level for your student. My 9th grader found researching Edwin Hubble for chapter 2, William and Margaret Huggins for chapter 4, and Tycho Brache and Johannes Kepler for chapter 6 quite fascinating. He will be expanding what he learned in the Famous Science Series into more formal research papers on each. The “Show What You Know” section at the end of each chapter gives students a chance to demonstrate the knowledge they’ve gained and provides parents and teachers with a quick and easy way to assess if students have a solid understanding of key concepts. Because each chapter builds on the one prior, this also lets you know if any information should be reviewed before moving on. Doing the “SWYK” section orally led to some long and fascinating conversations in my house.

I have often heard people ask if a teacher’s guide is really necessary, in this case my answer is absolutely yes. The teacher’s guide for RSO Astronomy 2 is so much more than just an answer book. Of course it does include answer keys and lesson reviews, but also guides to help with scheduling, grading, learning goals for each chapter, details on the math used in various labs, and more. Need a more detailed explanation or want to dig deeper into a topic? Each chapter in the teacher’s guide includes lists of books, videos, websites, and/or podcasts to explore. This pair of books provide an exciting and solid astronomy education regardless of your own science background.

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 is presented in a way that is open, inviting, fun, and user friendly for students, parents, and teachers. Yet it never over simplifies or compromises on the quality of the academic material. Whether your students dream of a career exploring the universe or just enjoy gazing at the night sky, upon completion of this course they will have a thorough understanding of the core principles of astronomy and the processes used to develop those principles…and will certainly have some fun while learning it.  


Sign up here for a chance to win R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 Student and Teacher Guide!
The Winner will be announced September 10, 2017.       

Check out our post on observing the Perseid Meteor Shower here.