Life on a Melting Planet

Life on a Melting Planet, Climate Change, Salkantay Peru, Blair Lee, Global Warming, seahomeschoolers

Life on a Melting Planet

“Earth is warming!” “Glaciers are melting!” “The level of the ocean is rising!” We have all read these headlines, and yet, what do they mean for us? It was a hot summer, but how hot is too hot? Few people live where there are glaciers, so how many glaciers can there be? Even for those of us who live near the ocean, what’s a few centimeters? Won’t that be like a really high tide? I am being facetious with these questions, but even for someone who understands the science of climate change as well as I do, the immediacy of the headlines did not feel pertinent to my life.

That changed on a recent trip to Peru. Thirteen months ago, family friends called to talk about the hike into Machu Picchu my husband, son, and I took in 2012. Strenuous hiking in remote areas is one of my husband’s and my favorite ways to vacation. This hike, called the Salkantay Trail, through mountainous terrain at altitudes spanning from about 7,000 feet to over 15,000 feet above sea level (the average is over 12,000 feet) is our kind of hike. So, when our friends decided to go, we went with them.

We traveled to Cusco (altitude 11,152 feet) a week before the hike to acclimate. Global warming and climate change were not on my mind for that first week. Catching my breath was! On day five in Cusco, I could climb the stairs built into the hillsides throughout the city, with only a few stops. By day seven, I was ready to hike the Salkantay trail.

Salkantay Trek: Days 1 & 2

The trailhead is a three-hour drive from Cusco. There was a traffic stop along the way for a large highway project where they were fixing damage from a landslide. I did not know it then, but damaged roads and trails were to become a common theme over the next week. Another common occurrence would be bridges that were either washed away or submerged.

Once we arrived at the trailhead, we hiked about 6 miles to our lodging. As I hiked, I noticed there was quite a bit of water flowing from the peaks. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I also didn’t make any connection when I learned about the landslide that had damaged part of the road where we walked 12 years earlier. For that reason, we used a different trail. On day two, we took a day hike to Humantay Lake. Humantay Lake is a glacier fed lake at an elevation of 13780 feet. Once again, we took a different path to it. This time, because of the amount of water flowing down the mountain.

Life on a Melting Planet, Climate Change, Salkantay Peru, Blair Lee, Global Warming, seahomeschoolers

Humantay Lake in 2023. It is a glacier-fed lake at 14,300 feet of elevation. What will happen to glacier-fed lakes and the surrounding ecosystems when the glaciers have all melted? It is going to happen. We should be working on those solutions now.

Salkantay Trek: Day 3

Days three and six are the most strenuous days of the six-day hike. The hike on day 3 is over nine miles long over Salkantay Pass at an elevation of 15,190 feet. Between the distance and the slow hiking speed (the elevation really slows you down if you are not used to that altitude), there is a lot of time to think.

I realized that there was water running down the mountain everywhere we had hiked over the first three days. It was running down the mountain in streams and rivers and making swampy areas in fields. Both times we hiked on the shoulder of the rainy season, so water was to be expected, and I understand that the weather for two years will not be the same. As I made observations, it felt like more than just differences in the weather.

At first, as we neared the top of the pass, I didn’t even realize how close we were. In 2012, there was snow on the ground and glaciers in the peaks, creating glacier-fed lakes. The lakes were still there, but the snow was not, and the glaciers were much smaller. I concluded that the source of the water running downhill to lower elevations was melting glaciers and snow.

2012 at the summit.

Life on a Melting Planet, Climate Change, Salkantay Peru, Blair Lee, Global Warming, seahomeschoolers

2023: It isn't very noticable from this photo, but there was much more snow in 2012

Life on a Melting Planet, Climate Change, Salkantay Peru, Blair Lee, Global Warming, seahomeschoolers

2012 at the summit: another glacier-fed lake

Life on a Melting Planet, Climate Change, Salkantay Peru, Blair Lee, Global Warming, seahomeschoolers

2023: The same lake from a different angle. As you can see, all the snow is melted.

Life on a Melting Planet, Climate Change, Salkantay Peru, Blair Lee, Global Warming, seahomeschoolers

Just after we reached the top, there was a landslide accompanied by an avalanche. We had been hearing what sounded kind of like thunder, but kind of not too, off and on for about thirty minutes, when the large slide took place. We could see snow spraying up along with the rockslide. It is awe-inspiring and scary to be that near to. There was so much rock and snow, and it was loud when it slid. It also went on for several minutes.

As the slide occurred, I started connecting the changes we observed to the effects of global warming and climate change. Glaciers erode mountains. Glaciers contain huge boulders. Intact glaciers function like cement. When they melt, the rocks and sediments they contain are released causing landslides.

As we descended on the other side of the pass, we saw the evidence of a slide that happened on February 23, 2020. This was the second large landslide caused by glacier collapse to happen in the area that month. On February 23, a glacier carrying the rocks contained within it collapsed into a lake. This displaced a huge amount of water. The water and debris from the glaciers triggered an enormous debris flow causing mudslides and flooding miles and miles away. People were swept away and killed, buildings were destroyed, the course of rivers were changed, and bridges washed away.

Huge boulders were strewn across an area where we picnicked eleven years before. There would be no picnicking now. In 2020, the slide happened when people had been picnicking in the same spot. They were killed during the landslide. Our guide kept us together and got us through this area.

2012: The tent where we picnicked. This area is now covered with huge boulders and debris.

The Glaciers of Peru

If you were asked to list five countries with glaciers in them, Peru would probably not make the list. It sits just below the equator, after all. That ignores that one quarter of Peru is mountainous. Glaciers do not just form at and near the Poles at high latitudes. They also form at high altitudes like those found in the Andes Mountain range.

The Andes Mountain range spans 1.301 million square miles. For comparative purpose, the United States is less than three times the area of the Andes at 3.8 million square miles. The largest state, Alaska, is 6.7 hundred thousand square miles. The Peruvian Andes are home to seventy percent of the world’s tropical glaciers. A tropical glacier is a permanent ice mass located within the tropics, typically between 10° north and south of the equator. Despite the hot and humid climate, these glaciers exist at high altitudes, where temperatures are low enough for ice to accumulate and persist. Tropical glaciers play a crucial role in the environment. They provide a vital source of freshwater for organisms including millions of people in the tropics, especially during dry seasons. Their meltwater sustains rivers, wetlands, and forests, supporting diverse plant and animal life. They act as sensitive indicators of climate change, highlighting the impact of rising temperatures on global ice reserves.

People who study the effects of global warming have been documenting the loss of glaciers for many years. This link takes you to a video explaining about glacier loss in the Bolivian Andes. The video is ten years old, and states that there had been a 43% loss by area of glaciers. In November 2023, the National Institute of Research on Mountain Glaciers and Ecosystems announced that Peru has seen a 56% decrease in its glacier area over sixty years. The loss has accelerated over more recent decades as Earth has gotten warmer.

This timelapse video from NASA shows melting glaciers in the mountains of Tibet. Glaciers are melting in all mountainous regions across the globe. This is having a major effect on these ecosystems.

Salkantay Trek: Days 4 through 6

We would hike over 26 miles during the following three days. We walked along the path of the debris flow from the landslide in 2020 throughout this distance. During this time, I thought a lot about what I was seeing. I also thought about the way people compartmentalize events based on things like “the human toll.” But what about the majority of landslides? Those that do not fall into lakes and trigger large debris flows. They are still occurring as glaciers melt. The amount of water flowing downhill coupled with collapsing glaciers indicates these glaciers systems are starting to fail.

Days four and five took us through a cloud forest. I had to wonder what will happen to this ecosystem when the glaciers melt. Every river was flowing hard. Many were brown with sediments and nutrients. We saw several bridges that were washed away or submerged. In rivers, streams, and across flat areas, there was water everywhere!

Life on a Melting Planet, Climate Change, Salkantay Peru, Blair Lee, Global Warming, seahomeschoolers

We took a different path on Day 5, because the bridge we were supposed to cross was partially submerged.

The rivers were flowing to the Amazon River and then into the Atlantic Ocean. This is something most of us learned in elementary school. But I want to pause, so you can think about what is happening. Global temperatures are increasing. For that reason, glaciers are shrinking. They are not growing or staying the same size. Some glaciers “feed” lakes. Even those that do not feed lakes are a source of water where they are located. Their presence has a big impact on ecosystems. The Andes Mountain Range is on the west coast of South America. When glaciers in this mountain range melt, the water they contain is relocated to the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast of South America. In addition to water, sediments and nutrients are also being transported to the Atlantic Ocean.

I found myself wondering, “what will happen to these mountainous areas when the glaciers melt?” Without these glaciers, these areas will be warmer and dryer. What will happen to the organisms that are adapted to the current climate conditions? Can they adapt to the new conditions? If not, they do not have anywhere to go. And what about the people who live and farm in this area? How will they survive? We are going to find out because the glaciers in the Andes Mountains are melting.

Water is flowing from glaciers through the cloud forest. I wonder what will happen to the cloud forest when this area dries, as it inevitably will as the glaciers melt.

What We Can Do Is to Educate Our Children about this Science!

I do not think there is anything we can do to stop the glaciers from melting. We can’t stop the affected ecosystems from changing, either. Other than working to have a small carbon footprint, there is not much we can do to slow or stop global warming. This is the sort of thing that makes this issue seem hopeless. I get that.

If we take the Glaciers of Peru as a symbol for climate change, it is a compelling one for why we should all commit to teaching our children the science explaining the related topics of the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change. Because even if we cannot stop it, we are going to have to deal with the fallout, and understanding the science helps us identify the fallout areas before they reach emergency levels. Understanding where we are headed and why allows us to implement preventative measures to mitigate the impact of climate change, protecting communities and ecosystems from the worst consequences.

The world is melting. This is going to have a profound impact, not just on areas where there are tropical glaciers, but everywhere, including where you live. We need to arm our children with the knowledge that will help them negotiate and understand the changing world.

Check out The Science of Climate Change from Blair Lee, M.S.

“The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course is an incredible resource for students and their teachers to learn about what causes climate change and what we can do in our everyday lives to solve this problem.”  National Science Teachers Association.

10 Teaching Tips for Homeschooling Elementary School

10 Teaching Tips for Homeschooling Elementary School, Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers

10 Teaching Tips for Homeschooling Elementary School

For more information focused on learning theory and cognitive science, check out Blair’s article, Homeschooling Elementary School.

Tip #1: Work with learners at their level: To meet the needs of the individual, you should meet them where they are. For example, I have a grandson in 2nd grade and a granddaughter, his cousin, in 3rd grade. Math comes easily for him, but not for her.

You can check out how I work with him here.

When I work with her, instruction is focused less on the step-by-step process and more on direct problem solving. Where my grandson looks at 68 + 17 and knows the answer right away, my granddaughter struggles to come up with the answer without manipulatives. (Unfortunately, no one realized she needed these until I started working with her.) My grandson does sometimes draw diagrams, but he has never needed manipulatives. The introduction of manipulatives into math for my granddaughter took her from a struggling math student to one who is beginning to comfortably complete her math homework.

You might be wondering how to figure out their level. If in doubt, I recommend a MAP test or something similar. It is an adaptive assessment that measures where your student is in math, reading, language usage, and science. The test also provides detailed, actionable data about what a child should be working on.

One of the most important things you can do for elementary learners is to take the time to get to know how they learn. Slow down if you need to. Even if that means slowing the scheduling and pacing of lessons. Once you figure out how your children access and process information, their academic work will speed up.

Tip #2: Scaffold learning: Scaffolding is an important part of meeting learners where they are. The amount of scaffolding and support each student needs will vary. It is important to provide the support and guidance a learner needs. I know that sometimes it can feel like a time suck, but you will be able to gradually reduce the level of support as they become more proficient.

Tip #3: Keep it positive: Some days, this is easier said than done! I will admit to taking a “vacation” day now and then when I reached frustration overload. The issue is that a nurturing culture of thinking is most likely to evolve in a positive and supportive learning environment. If patience is a virtue you struggle with, it is probably a skill to work on mastering as your children work to master academic concepts.

Tip #4: Make learning fun and engaging: Elementary-aged students are more likely to learn and remember information if they are engaged in fun and interesting activities. When students are enjoying themselves, they are more likely to be motivated to pay attention and participate in class. When learners are engaged, it makes what they are learning more memorable. And hey, you are involved in their learning! You will enjoy teaching more when learning is fun and engaging.

Tip #5: Social and emotional learning: The brain regions responsible for social cognition and understanding others’ perspectives develop rapidly for this age cohort. This is essential for developing social skills, empathy, and an understanding of social norms and relationships. As with all learning, the teaching you get around these is important. Social and emotional learning can benefit children’s ability to communicate effectively and build positive relationships with others.

10 Teaching Tips for Homeschooling Elementary School, Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers

Tip #6: Diversity matters: Using diverse resources in elementary school is important. Especially with homeschool kids, most of us live in a small community of people with whom we interact. It is important, as our kids are beginning to make sense of the world, that we expose them to different perspectives and cultures. This can help them develop empathy and tolerance for others. It can also help them learn about the world around them in a more nuanced way.

A few examples of how you can include diverse resources are to ask in the SEA group for diverse resources, look for curriculum that positively portrays people in marginalized communities in positive ways, and use first-person, own-voice resources.

Tip #7: Critical thinking: In a world absolutely full of adults who do not have adequate critical thinking skills, do not assume your children acquire them without intentional teaching. It turns out that elementary school is the perfect time to begin teaching these skills. Starting at about age six, children begin to transition from preoperational thinking to concrete operational thinking. This means that they can think more logically and systematically about the world around them. With intentional teaching, they are better equipped to analyze information and make logical connections when forming conclusions.

Tip #8: Let them move: Every ten to fifteen minutes, when I taught live online science classes to elementary learners, I had the class get up and move. I would tell students things like, “We have been sitting long enough. Let’s prove that Earth’s gravity is still working.” Or, “What do you think will happen to your breathing rate if you do ten jumping jacks?” We would jump up and down, or do jumping jacks, and then get right back to our lesson, which sometimes related to the activity but often didn’t.

The kids loved it. They probably thought it was for fun. My real reason was to keep their brains engaged and focused. I was familiar with cognitive learning theory and what it has to say about the connection between attention and movement. According to the theory (and my observations while teaching), when students are physically active, their brains are more alert and engaged. This can help them learn and retain information more effectively. Movement also helps to improve memory. When students learn new concepts or skills while moving, they are more likely to remember them. This is because movement helps to create new neural pathways in the brain, a key component of learning. Movement also releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting and stress-reducing effects. This also helps with focus and attention.

It is not just jumping jacks and proving gravity works that benefit from movement. Pairing active, hands-on work with learning benefits the acquisition of that information. For example, when hands-on work is paired with science, students are much more likely to master concepts than if all learning is done watching a video or reading a chapter.

Tip #9: Organization is important: I have bad news for those of you who function best with chaos. Being organized and prepared will help immensely when homeschooling. Some children need organization and a schedule to succeed. I recommend having a schedule that you stick to within reason. (You are a homeschooler, after all!)

As a part of this organization, have clear expectations for what you expect in terms of academic performance. Be clear about these and communicate them to your children. You will also want to be organized when it comes to record-keeping. Even if you are not required to keep records, you will be glad you did when you want to evaluate the progress your learner is making.

Tip #10: Evaluations: Students need feedback on their work to learn and grow. If you have never taught before, you might struggle with feedback in the form of evaluations. A good starting point is to reflect on the purpose of evaluations. My personal philosophy is that evaluations should nurture students, helping them to see themselves as learners while at the same time helping them grow. That sentence sounds lovely, at least to me. The problem is, it can be challenging to give feedback that helps someone grow. To do that, you are going to have to point out the academic areas that they need to work on.

My recommendation is that you start with the positives. Make those genuine. Next, pick 123 things that your student should work on next. I feel that three is the maximum number of new skills for someone to be working on at any given time. More than that is overwhelming, and while you can lightly touch on more than three, it’s unlikely that mastery of them will happen with more than three.

Pay attention to improvements in what they’re working on. Give concrete scaffolding help until there is mastery of a skill. Then you can add the next one to three skills. Be very positive when there is improvement. Be careful; a mistake that is easy to make is to see a little bit of improvement and then stop paying attention. Don’t do that until you feel there is a mastery of the skill.

This is part of a series from Blair Lee.  Check out the SEA Homeschoolers Magazine and SEA Homeschoolers Online Conference Series to review what neuroscience tells us about learning in the middle school years.

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

For more information focused on learning theory and cognitive science, check out Blair’s article, Homeschooling Elementary School.

Homeschooling Elementary School

Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers

Homeschooling Elementary School

Homeschooling elementary school is a perfect educational setting for developing a personal philosophy based on the intellectual life you want for your children. I encourage you, as your child’s primary educator, to take the time to reflect on what you hope for your child’s “intellectual life.”

The Wonder Years

Over the years, I taught and tutored students in grades 1st through college. There are high points in teaching every grade, but it is the elementary students I miss the most. It is just so fulfilling and fun to work with this age group as they discover the world around them! Their innate curiosity and eagerness to learn make teaching them an adventure filled with AHA moments and new discoveries. Their unique perspective on the world, unburdened by preconceived notions or biases, leads to observations and insights that will keep you thinking and, in live, online classes, on your toes!

As every homeschooler of this age cohort knows, however, it’s not all fun and games. It is easy to worry as you work to understand how your children learn. We worry if we are adequately meeting their needs where they are strong, and we worry if we are providing the right kind of scaffolding where they struggle. This is complicated if your child is neurodiverse. Compounding this is that at the same time they are learning to read and write, they are also learning how to handle their big emotions and frustrations when things don’t go exactly as planned. And yet, this is the age I miss the most. They are genuinely adorable, and it is special to be there when someone learns something for the first time.

A Multimodal Approach for Balanced Learning, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, Guide

Your Educational Philosophy

One thing that is challenging about teaching these early grades is that it is often your first foray into teaching. I encourage you to really give some thought to your educational philosophy. This passage resonates with me as a reason to do some big-picture thinking about what you want for your children’s learning. I think this is especially important when working with young learners, as they are exposed to more formal learning for the first time.

Vygotsky (1978), writing about the importance of the sociocultural context of learning and providing models, stated, “Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.” This is one of our favorite quotes because it provides a powerful metaphor for what it means to educate. With what kind of intellectual life are we surrounding our students? Is it hardy, inspiring, and complex? How are we fostering the growth of their intellectual life? What are our students learning about learning in our classrooms? How are we engaging them in the processes of thinking, learning, problem solving, designing, debating, and citizenship? How can we move beyond merely imparting knowledge and passing along tips for how to achieve high marks on external exams so that we are preparing students, not for tests, but for life? ~ The Power of Making Thinking Visible, Ron Ritchhart and Mark Church, p. 24

The book is targeted at traditional school educators; however, there is an educational philosophy in this passage that is useful in any educational setting. Homeschooling is a perfect educational setting for developing a personal philosophy based on the intellectual life you want for your children. I encourage you, as your child’s primary educator, to take the time to reflect on what you hope for your child’s “intellectual life.”

Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, educational philosophyAsk yourself:

  • Ritchhart and Church used the adjectives hardy, inspiring, and complex. What adjectives do you want to use to describe your child’s intellectual life?
  • How will you cultivate your philosophy and shape your child’s learning to reflect your chosen adjectives? This is no small task. I recommend you take the time and thought needed for this. Make it personal. It is great to get input from other sources, but as the person crafting your children’s intellectual life, you want it to be true to you and what you hope for your children.
  • What are your children learning about learning? How are you mentoring your children to become skilled learners?
  • How are you creating a culture of thinking? A culture of thinking refers to an environment where curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge are encouraged and valued. In such a culture, we encourage children to ask questions and engage in deep thinking.
  • How are you mentoring (apprenticing) your children in the process of thinking, learning, problem solving, designing, debating, and citizenship? You might align these with certain disciplines, or you might choose to teach these as their own subject and then weave them into other subjects.
  • How is your child’s learning preparing them for life? When I went through this exercise, I focused on the importance of being a “well-learned” adult. This is personal, of course. But I used well-learned instead of well-educated because I feel well-educated does not put as much focus on the process of learning and the skills needed to be a strong lifelong learner.

When answering these questions, it is important to take neuroscience and neuropsychology into account.

What Brain Science Tells Us

A young child’s inquisitiveness and desire to learn are understandable when you consider the anatomy and physiology of the human brain. According to Ronald McKay, PhD, of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, what makes the brain so powerful is that it is sort of hard-wired and sort of not hardwired. The brain is hard-wired to learn in the sense that the basic architecture is there, ready to be used for learning. The brain is not hardwired in the sense that it is flexible, making it profoundly adaptable in the context of learning, which occurs based on what it is exposed to.

That makes the early years of education important, as the quality and content of that education are engaged in shaping the brain’s architecture. As children learn, synapses form. According to Roberto Malinow, MD, PhD, synapses are the sites of communication between nerve cells. It is through nerve cells that the brain communicates. This communication mediates our actions, thoughts, and learning. Synapses are relevant when discussing learning because when you learn something, it’s because synapses have been modified. The communication between nerve cells holding learning in the form of memories has been modified, and it will stay modified unless synaptic pruning occurs.

Research shows that the brains of elementary-aged children are highly adaptable and capable of forming new neural connections. This underscores the importance of early education in shaping cognitive abilities. During these early years of education, children’s brains undergo significant growth and change, laying the foundation for their future learning abilities and creating sites where knowledge is accumulated and built upon. This is a time when children are rapidly acquiring new knowledge and skills, and their thinking is becoming more complex. Synapses are forming, and the architecture of the brain is shaping itself to hold learning. Based on changing anatomy and the effect this has on physiology, it is not surprising that studies show that when intentional instruction is structured, scaffolded, and targeted for the learner, learning outcomes are greatly enhanced throughout a person’s life (How People Learn, p. 103–104).

I really think homeschooling would be great for our family but, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers
Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, Synapse density
  • Synapse – The site of communication between nerve cells
  • Synaptic Pruning – a natural process as a part of brain maturation where the brain removes synapses that do not communicate with others.
  • Myelination – sheaths are laid down to protect synapses that are not pruned.

Before You Can Lose It, You Have to Have It 

In the context of middle school learners, researchers adhere to the “use it or lose it” principle. Meaning, starting in early adolescence, synapses and connections that are used survive and flourish, and those that are not used are pruned. This has significant implications for the importance of learning in the elementary grades and how learning in the early years has long-lasting effects on future learning. In the “Use it or lose it model,” learning must be present to be used.

I find the analogy of a messy room helpful for understanding this. Starting in the late elementary grades, the brain begins a process called synaptic pruning, where synapses and connections that are unused are pruned. The synapses and connections that are well-used are not pruned. They are strengthened in a process called myelination. It is as if the brain is a childhood bedroom that is getting its first major cleaning. Toys and games that are not used are thrown away. Those that are well used are kept and strengthened.

If your child doesn’t play with Legos anymore, the Legos are gone. If they do still play with Legos, the Legos are kept and made better than new. But what if your child was never exposed to toys that teach design and engineering skills, like Legos? The implication is that as the architecture of the brain restructures around the skills and information that are well-used, design and engineering skills are not a part of this because they are not present.

Play and Unstructured Learning Are Important

In the homeschool community, especially in the early elementary years, it is common to see people advocate for a focus on play and unstructured learning. Both are certainly important as essential aspects of a child’s development. They can be educational and intellectually stimulating, creating synapses and connections. Play provides opportunities for social, emotional, and cognitive growth. It also often involves solving problems, which is valuable for developing critical thinking skills. Unstructured learning fosters a child’s creative thinking. Because unstructured learning is self-directed, it can create a high level of interest in the act of learning. The issue is that play and unstructured learning are chaotic when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Without some planning and structure, it is easy for there to be holes in a person’s education.

Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, play and unstructured learning
Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, structured learning

Structured learning is an education system with defined paths for learning, objectives, and a formal hierarchy. A basic way of thinking of this is, “In order to learn C, first you need to learn A, and then B.”

Structured Learning

Play is important, and so is structured learning. The science explaining how people learn does not support an either/or position like the one that is pervasive in the homeschool community. If you provide your child with formal academics in kindergarten through fourth grade, you are not ruining their childhood or making them hate learning.

What you are doing is supporting the development of their brain as a learner. You are aiding them in acquiring knowledge and information that will form a solid foundation for their knowledge base. Structured learning intentionally ensures that students are exposed to fundamental concepts and skills in a logical sequence. This foundation is essential for more advanced learning in later years. You are also making a value statement about your feelings and relationship with the acquisition of knowledge.

Cognitive Learning Theory as a Part of Your Educational Philosophy

Cognitive learning theory promotes the idea that students, especially those in the elementary grades, learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process. People learn by doing, by exploring, and by making mistakes. When you work with students, it quickly becomes evident that learning best happens when the heads and the hands are engaged.

Guiding Literalists to Learn Abstract Concepts

Children ages 6 to 10 are literalists who interpret language and concepts in concrete ways. That is not to say they are not capable of abstract learning. However, there is a range, with some elementary-aged children being extreme literalists who require thoughtful and intensive support to engage in abstract learning.

Abstract learning is the ability to understand and use concepts that are not concrete. For example, the concept of “number” is abstract, as is the concept of “letter” and the sounds associated with them because they are not something that can be seen or touched. Other abstract concepts include things like “love,” “justice,” and “freedom.”

Their developing brain is the reason for this. The prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in higher-order thinking skills, plays a key role in abstract learning. The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until early adulthood, but it does begin to develop in early childhood. Your child’s ability to think abstractly correlates with the development of their prefrontal cortex. Children learn abstract concepts by building on their concrete experiences. If this is an area where your child needs more work, use concrete examples and hands-on activities to help children understand abstract concepts.

Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guiding literalists to learn abstract concepts

Ways to Scaffold for Abstract Learning

  • My #1 recommendation is to use curriculum that does this work for you.
  • Language arts: Use concrete examples to help children understand the relationship between letters and sounds. For example, you could show children a picture of a cat and point out the individual letters in the word “cat.” You could then make the sounds of the letters and have the child blend the sounds together to form the word “cat.”
  • Language arts: Explain that there are some words that do not follow the typical phonics rules. These words are called irregular words. You can provide a list of irregular words to memorize, or you can teach strategies for decoding irregular words.
  • Language arts: To teach the concept of similes, read stories and poems that use similes and have children identify the similes.
  • Language arts: Use metaphors and analogies, and discuss what they mean when you do, to help children relate abstract concepts to their own experiences.
  • Math: A child might learn the concept of “number” using manipulatives for counting.
  • Math: To teach the concept of addition, use concrete objects, such as blocks or beads, to help children visualize and understand the process of addition.
  • Math: To teach the concept of fractions, use fraction circles or other manipulatives to help children understand the different parts of a whole.
  • Science: Make and use diagrams or models that help children visualize what they are studying.
  • Science: Include experiments that do a good job of highlighting concepts from what they are studying.
  • Social studies and history: Work on hands-on projects that do a good job of highlighting concepts from what they are studying.
  • Social studies and history: Have big discussions about abstract concepts like justice and equality.

Homeschooling Elementary School: Academic Disciplines

Learning to Read and Reading to Learn, Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers

There is solid evidence that genetics is a factor in the ease with which a person learns to read. As an aside, I come from a family of early readers. My paternal grandfather, my father, my son, and I all just started reading at the age of three. Family lore has it that we taught ourselves to read at three. The genetics of reading are even more interesting than that when you think in terms of evolutionary biology and the human brain. For most of human history, reading would not have been an important skill. It was not until the mid- to late 1800s that literacy became more common. Understanding and producing spoken language is how our ancestors communicated. It would have been important. From the standpoint of evolutionary biology, it is not surprising that humans acquire sophisticated spoken-language skills with ease. Decoding written language and connecting that with speech, on the other hand… it is a testament to the profound abilities of the human brain that we can read.

Learning to Read and Reading to Learn

The acquisition of reading skills is a complex cognitive process that involves multiple brain regions and is associated with structural changes in the brain. If you do not provide structured learning for any other discipline, I urge you to do it for reading. If the goal of reading is to understand what is being read, reading can be considered THE foundational skill almost every other subject relies on. Research that spans decades indicates “a strong scientific consensus around the importance of phonics instruction in the initial stages of learning to read.”

Spoken Language

The first step in learning to read is to understand and produce spoken words. Language is incredibly complex. It is important that young children have an intuitive understanding of it before being asked to decode alphabetic symbols.

Learning to Read

Reading involves decoding written symbols (letters) and associating them with the sounds of spoken language. Children typically begin with basic phonics, learning letter-sound correspondences and blending sounds like s + h is sh and c + h is ch to form words. As they progress, children develop sight-word recognition and reading fluency. Next, they work on reading comprehension, which focuses on understanding simple and short texts.

The acquisition of these skills is associated with extensive changes in regions of the brain. Processing phonological information activates one area of the left hemisphere. Recognizing and reading common words (sight words) involves a different area. Along with changes and activation of the brain’s architecture, continued work on reading results in the brain strengthening synapses that connect different parts of the brain. This enhances the efficiency of communication between regions of the brain involved in reading.

Reading to Learn

The transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” is a critical milestone for a young learner. It signifies the shift from acquiring basic reading skills to using reading as a tool for acquiring and applying knowledge across various disciplines. They develop reading fluency and automatic word recognition. This means they can read with greater speed and comprehension. In the upper elementary grades, students encounter more complex information in their reading in disciplines such as science, history, and literature. Understanding this, curriculum developers write materials that are more advanced compared to those written for early elementary grades.

The transition comes with accompanying changes in the brain. The brain is more adept at recognizing words, understanding text, and making connections to prior knowledge. As children read to learn, their brain connections used for reading become more specialized, and the processing of written language becomes more automatic.


Follow this link to read an excellent article about reading acquisition.

It is important to note that reading instruction should not stop once children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Too often, we stop providing reading instruction for this grade cohort. Children need continued support focused on reading skills and comprehension all the way through the elementary grades.


There are the same benefits for brain development when learning the writing process as with any other subject. Like reading, writing is a complicated process. You have to get your ideas and thoughts from your brain, down your arms, and onto the page. When I transitioned from writing on paper to using a computer, it took me months until my writing was of the same quality. Now, I am trying to use dictation software occasionally; let’s just say my skill level is not there yet. My point in sharing this is to highlight how challenging it is to bring all the skills together for writing.

Personally, I find some writing programs to be cavalier, missing much of the basic, explicit, early instruction found in the curricula of other disciplines. I think writing programs for elementary students should teach both the mechanics and the craft of writing. I feel cognitive science supports a step-by-step approach, starting with words and quickly moving on to sentences, and so on. My point is not to review writing programs; it is to alert you that young learners might need more support and scaffolding than is in the writing program you are using. If that is the case, give it to them. For example, if your child is not ready to write, you can help them use language as a means of telling stories by taking dictation for them as they work on the art of oral storytelling.

Numeracy (Number Literacy)

Do you love numbers? I did, right until homeschooling my youngest. As much as I loved it, he loved to hate it. It is less than infinity, but the number of times we fought about math is countless.

As with reading, numeracy (mathematical skills and understanding) is an important skill set that starts with decoding numbers. Learning builds from there in a systematic and logical progression. In addition to the basics, students become better able to identify patterns, think abstractly, and visualize and understand spatial relationships. As they work on retrieving facts and information and strategize about problem solving, their metacognitive skills improve. Problem solving is also important for teaching the skill of organizing your thinking in a linear fashion. The brain undergoes changes while learning.

A Multi-Subject Approach: Science, History, Art, Etc.

In elementary grades, structured learning focuses on developing essential academic skills, such as reading, writing, and math. This is important. Brain research supports early literacy initiatives. They show that the brain is particularly receptive to language during the early years of elementary school. The areas of the brain responsible for language and communication continue to develop in 6- to 10-year-olds. This development is associated with improvements in vocabulary, grammar, and the ability to understand and express complex ideas.

Math is also emphasized in elementary school because it plays a central role in cognitive development. Mathematics provides a foundational framework for understanding and solving problems. It is an important part of developing critical thinking, logical reasoning, and abstract thinking.

Too often, however, subjects like science, history, and art are either not taught or incorporated into ELA. There is plenty of research into the problems with this in science. Given the information about the brain and how learning happens, it is no surprise that, based on national test results from 2019, “Fewer than 1 in 4 high school seniors and a little more than a third of 4th and 8th graders performed proficiently in science.” It is fair to assume that all subjects that have been eliminated as the focus has shifted to math, reading, writing, and test-taking have seen a similar decline in literacy that is comparable to the declines observed in science.

As homeschooling parents, we can change these numbers for our children. Which is why I strongly recommend you use a multi-subject approach when working with your children. The subjects you choose to have your children learn create synapses that are strengthened over the years as your children consistently learn in these subject areas. In this way, your children will “have it and use it.”

For this age and grade cohort, a seminar approach is not optimal. I recommend an extended study that focuses on one subject or discipline. This can be quarter-, semester-, year-, or several weeks long. This is important because young children are building the initial foundation for knowledge. They are making connections and building on what they are learning.

Skilled at Learning

In addition to academic subjects, it is important to teach emerging students learning skills. In researching for this article, I came across numerous educators advocating for intentional instruction of metacognition and executive functioning skills in elementary school. To understand why, think about what happens for young children around the skillset of learning. We have expectations about and assessments for reading, writing, and math without teaching the skills of learning. We just sort of throw kids into school and expect them to have a skillset around learning without explicitly teaching these skills in a careful sequence of logical steps to master them.

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guides

An Example of Weaving Learning Skills into Learning

Intentionally teaching learning skills is important. I worry, though, that in the stress and business of everything else, figuring out how to add learning skills to the list of things to be worked on will seem overwhelming for parents. To help, I am sharing an example from work I did with my grandson, who is in second grade.

My grandson was working on math homework. The solution was straightforward for him to calculate. That wasn’t what he needed help with. As a part of each problem, he was asked to “Show How You Know,” by writing down the multiple steps needed to calculate the answer and drawing a diagram supporting it. He understood how to draw the diagram, but he wasn’t sure what the multistep process was.

Two other adults had looked at this and decided he should ask Grandma Blair for help. The issue was that there were no explicit instructions for adults or kids about the specific learning skills that would make this exercise meaningful, which is why I was asked to work with him. The other adults just wanted to help him through the steps. However, since he didn’t understand, that amounted to telling him what went where. They thought I could improve on that.

The exercise was a good one. I could see connections from this sort of problem to solving problems in science in the future. To help show what I did, I organized it into bulleted points.

There were four problems.

  • I started by looking over the assignment and then telling my grandson that I felt sure he had the skills to write the steps down. I also acknowledged that it was tricky to think that way without practice, which he was going to get from doing this assignment. I was mentoring him to approach this assignment with a growth mindset.
  • Then I showed my grandson how you use sample problems to solve current ones. The sample problem was on a previous page. We folded back the page so that for the first problem, he could reference the sample as he worked through the steps. (Actually, I started by telling him it was not “dumb” to write down the steps when you already know the answer, 😉.) When I folded back the page, his eyes got big as if I had done something major, and he said, “I didn’t know you could do that!” Using examples of work done correctly is a skill that should be taught.
  • Next, I had him read the instructions on the sample and the problem he was working on to make sure they were asking for the same process. Whenever I work with young people, one of the first things I ask them to do is read the instructions. This is a skill many people go to college without having.
  • Then, I had him write what he was given, including the units (cm) that were used in the sample. As I did this, I told him to always start by writing what you are given and to always include units, especially in the answer. This is an organizational skill that is important for later science classes.
  • Before putting pencil to paper, I talked to him about what he was being asked to calculate and the process he used. This helped him work on his metacognitive skills.
  • Now, he was ready to write the steps. He was able to do this on his own at this point. This was the first of four problems. When answering the second problem, he used the first as an example. Throughout the process, I had him tell me each step as he wrote it down. This was a multimodal approach where I added an auditory component to a reading and writing exercise.
  • He was able to complete the final two problems without using an example. To help with his metacognitive skills, I told him the goal was that he could write down all the steps without using an example by or before the last problem.
  • He was really proud of himself, as was I. After completing the problem, he was quick to show his work to other adults. Like me, they praised his effort and work. Genuine feedback is an important part of creating a culture of thinking where children understand that the academic work they do and the effort they put into it are noticed and valued.

If adding learning skills seems overwhelming, I hope this example helps. My guess is that you have been working on learning skills without even realizing it. It took me about 15 minutes to work with my grandson. During that time, he set and met a learning goal by writing the steps for two problems without a sample. He self-regulated his thinking when he changed his attitude from “This is dumb” to engaging in the work as he became aware of what the purpose of the lesson was. He worked on problem-solving that was process-oriented. He retrieved the retained information when working on problems 3 and 4. He worked on organizational skills. By working on these skills with explanations of their purpose, he built connections in his brain that will make him a more skilled learner.

Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, developmentally appropriate

Developmentally Appropriate Learning

I want to emphasize the huge range of learning abilities in this age cohort. If any of the advice in this talk does not seem developmentally appropriate for your children, please just ignore it. Children learn at different rates. This makes it important to provide children with developmentally appropriate learning that makes sense for their age, stage of development, and individual needs.

Motor Skills

Fine and gross motor skills go through rapid development during the early childhood years. Most of us take this for granted, but if you have a child who is struggling with fine motor skills, you are aware of the big effect this has on academics. If you are concerned about your child’s fine or gross motor skill development, talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric occupational therapist. They can assess your child’s skills and provide you with specific recommendations for activities and interventions to help your child.

Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, educational philosophy
Homeschooling Elementary School, Grades K–4, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, Neurodiversity


No article on homeschooling in elementary school would be complete without discussing neurodiversity. It is often during grades K through 4 that parents with neurodivergent children notice their children are not accessing and processing information the way their neurotypical peers do. The issue when writing about neurodiversity is that it is an umbrella term including people with ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, autism, dysgraphia, giftedness, Down’s syndrome, and other diagnoses. If you suspect your child is neurodiverse, I recommend finding resources that give help and information targeted at the condition you think your child might have.

It is also important to get a medical diagnosis. However, that can take years and be prohibitively expensive. For that reason, many experts recommend you “Act as if…” That means that you work with your children as if you have a medical diagnosis that confirms your child has the suspected condition.


To help you identify if your child has neurodiversity, we put together a series of articles listing the signs to look for. You can access them through this link. (Coming soon.)

This is part of a series from Blair Lee.  Check out the SEA Homeschoolers Magazine and SEA Homeschoolers Online Conference Series to review what neuroscience tells us about learning in the middle school years.

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

For more information, check out Blair’s article, 10 Teaching Tips for Homeschooling Elementary School.

How to Homeschool 101

blair lee, secular homeschool conference, homeschooling 101, SEA homeschoolers, how to homeschool 101

How to Homeschool 101

You Have Decided to Homeschool! Now What?

This practical How to Homeschool 101 article gives you the information you need to get started. Includes a free PDF download.

Let me acknowledge the elephant in the room right away: yes, it is a big responsibility to choose to educate your child. You won’t hear that many places in the homeschooling community, and that’s too bad. It makes new homeschoolers feel as if everyone has it figured out but them, when in fact, it’s a learning curve.

Like any new endeavor, it can be challenging to figure out all the pieces and how they fit together. You will have a much clearer idea of the basics after you have some experience. There are pieces that must come together to help you and your children succeed with homeschooling, but the good news is that most of these are simple and straightforward.

How to Homeschool 101: Step 1

Know Your Homeschooling Laws

Before doing anything, make sure you are homeschooling legally. In the United States, homeschool laws vary by state. The best place to find information to ensure that you are complying with the laws in your state is through a state homeschooling organization or your state’s Department of Education. On the SEA Homeschoolers 101 page, you can find links to every state’s laws.

At this initial stage, you will learn if there is paperwork you need to file, a date to register by, the compulsory school age, and/or if there are attendance requirements. You will want to know if your state has a portfolio requirement for homeschoolers, and if they do, what it looks like in your state.

Some states have testing requirements and restrictions on who can administer them. In addition, some states have restrictions on the curriculum you can use. There are also states where evaluations must be completed by a person on their approved list of evaluators.

If you think your child needs an IEP or accommodations, it is important to investigate how that works in your state. Learn the process for getting these for homeschooled students in your state.. Find out what services are provided for homeschooled learners with an IEP. In some states, no services are available.

After you have discovered your state’s requirements, members of the SEA Homeschoolers Facebook group who live in your state are a great resource for any questions you may have. For example, California does have a deadline by which you must register, however, there are no penalties for filling the form out after the date. As a resident of California who homeschooled her son, I am able to offer that information to members of the SEA Homeschoolers Facebook group! We are a diverse group with members all across the country, and all members can benefit from that base of knowledge and experience.

Homeschool Laws, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee
How to Homeschool 101, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

How to Homeschool 101: Step 2

Dare to Dream

At its best, a homeschooled education is a handcrafted education that focuses on the unique strengths, challenges, and passions of the individual. It gives students an education that honors who they are as a learner and how their unique brain works. The benefits of homeschooling in this way are profound, empowering, and the best path for helping your child gain the tools they need to get to do what they want with their one wild and precious life.

Take some time early on to answer the following questions. When you think about your child as a learner, what do you want for your child? What do you hope is the end result that comes from homeschooling? What does the ideal learning journey look like for you?

Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People has as his second habit – Begin with the End in Mind. According to Covey, all things are created twice – there is the mental creation and the physical creation. Your homeschooling is much more likely to be successful if you write down your dream for your child’s education, crafting a mission statement for homeschooling. This is the mental creation for what homeschooling will mean to your child and your family. Make it big and profound. Ask yourself what your journey will look like. Do not let your nerves or doubts keep you from dreaming big. The journey starts with a direction, then you put one foot in front of the other.

After that, you can work on the physical creation by getting started making the mental creation a reality. Because this journey starts with one step, the beginning is important too. It is a good idea to give some thought about how, on day one, you might actualize your dream.

A learner-centered education like this is a profound gift to give a learner. It might not seem that way every step of your journey, but it will benefit the learner’s relationship with learning overall.

Read The Renaissance of a Handcrafted Education for more on this topic.

How to Homeschool 101: Step 3

How Does Your Child Learn?

Every day, new (and even experienced) homeschoolers enter Facebook groups and ask about curriculum. There is no information offered about how their child learns, and they do not ask the people recommending curriculum about how their children learn, either. One of the most fundamental tenets of homeschooling is that it is an education that focuses on the individual. To provide an individualized education you need to know how your children access and process information. If you use this information when you do ask for information, you will get better answers.

Are you thinking, “I have no idea where to even start figuring this out!?!”

Tip 1: What learning modalities does your child primarily use?

Watch how your child approaches academic endeavors. Focus on the primary modalities your child uses for new or challenging tasks. This gives you important information about how your child instinctively chooses to access and work with information.

How to Homeschool 101, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, auditory learner

Auditory learners learn by listening. Podcasts, webinars, audiobooks, or face-to-face instruction are good paths for them to process and access information. Group discussions or debates can also form part of auditory learning.

How to Homeschool 101, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, kinesthetic learner

Kinesthetic learners process and access information through doing. Good lessons for these learners often a combine other types of learning. For example, when learning a historical event or topic in science hands-on projects with videos or reading will benefit learning for kinesthetic learning.

Visual learners process and access information more effectively when graphs, infographics, cartoons and illustrations, videos, artwork, flowcharts, and diagrams are included in lessons, things that stimulate the learner’s eyes. Making visual observations, such as through drawing, can benefit this cohort of learners.

How to Homeschool 101, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, visual learner

Reading and writing learners process and access information through text-based courses, PDF’s, documents, books, and eBooks. These learners are often good test takers. We are most familiar with this type of learning primarily because of the systematic teaching of this method in traditional school.

Struggling to find a reading curriculum? Check out this article.

How to Homeschool 101, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, reading writing learner

In addition to learning modalities look for:

  • Do you have a child that asks lots of questions? I know that sometimes this drives parents and teachers nuts, but ask yourself: is this how your child processes information. Is that how they start to puzzle out the answer? Or maybe your learner doesn’t ask questions. That can be frustrating too. In either of these situations, or if you have someone in the middle, start to think about how your child processes information.
  • Does your child learn through collaborative learning or are they a solo learner? these are the extremes. Most people are somewhere in the middle. Where an understanding of this can help you is, for example, if you have a child who learns best in a collaborative setting, you might want to pick a live online class or a co-op for subjects your child finds challenging. That way they will be more engaged as they’re learning. Some students really benefit from learning where there is a discussion component and/or brainstorming.

Or perhaps you have a learner who prefers to learn things on their own. Some learners find collaboration to be a distraction to thinking. With a solo learner you need to pay more attention, in case they need your help to puzzle through things, they might have missed. It’s actually good to be able to work collaboratively and as a solo learner. It helps to scaffold students to work in both situations. However, you have to be careful with this, some kids who are solo learners will turn off in collaborative settings.

  • Does your child need a lot of validation about whether they’ve learned something or not. My recommendation is that if your child needs validation, give it. It can be an age or a stage situation. Make sure that your validation is genuine and specific about something that they know.

It can be a situation where a learner is not strong in their metacognitive skills, so they really don’t know what they know. Some people need to know they have learned something,  completed one task, to go on to the next.

Tip 2: Learn from Your Prior Teachers

The good news is, you can draw some parallels from how a child’s biological parents learn. Studies have shown there are genetic components to how people access and process information. Be thoughtful, however, if you use this information from how you learn as an adult. It isn’t about how a child’s biological parents learn as adult. What matters is how they learned best as children. As a secondary caution, genetics is complicated, so this tip might or might not be helpful.

Because of the genetic component, it can be helpful to think about teachers you responded too. (This is a good exercise even if you are not the biological parent.) As you are figuring out how your child learns,  there is absolutely no reason to reinvent the wheel. Think about the techniques used by your favorite teachers. Could you incorporate those into your homeschool?

What about the techniques used by your least favorite teachers. Let’s just say 3 grade was really bad for me, with a teacher who insisted we all do the same phonics and vocabulary programs at the same pace in class every day,  no matter what our reading level. That experience had a big impact on my understanding of the importance of individualized learning.

Check out this article filled with homeschooling advice for a former school teacher.

Tip 3: Methodologies

Educational methodologies are based on educational pedagogy. There are several you hear about in the homeschool community. Several popular homeschool curriculums are based on specific methodologies, and good educational philosophy exists in many of them. It is worth taking the time to read those over with a highlighter in your hand. Do not assume that because a methodology resonates with you, that it will be a good fit for your child. If it appeals to you, it simply means that, as an adult, you could learn from that methodology. The word eclectic in Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers refers to using a hodgepodge of these.  Eclectic Homeschoolers use whatever works best for the child and the academic subject.

If you are interested to learn how to incorporate travel into your homeschooling, read our worldschooling article.

Tip 4: Learning Skills

Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, metacognitionThere are three primary strands of learning skills that should be incorporated into learning. Students with weak learning skills can find academic challenging. They can get in the way of a learner’s ability to access and process information and skills. Take some time to figure out which skills you will incorporate into your homeschool will have lifelong benefits.

  • #1. Balanced learners are multimodal learners. As the word suggests, multimodal learners learn using all four modalities. Most people are strong in one or two of these. A multimodal approach incorporates work done using all of these modalities. This enhances the likelihood that a learner will be a balanced learner, able to access materials using the best modality for the job, instead of a heavy reliance on one or two modes. Balanced learners are strong enough using each of the four modalities to choose the one best suited to the learning task.
  • #2. Metacognition is the ability of a student to know what they know and how to retrieve it for use in all settings. With a metacognitive approach, students use prior knowledge to organize, monitor, and adapt the way you approach new learning material and situations.
  • #3. Too often executive functioning skills are worked on outside of academic settings. That’s too bad, because executive functioning skills are often the easiest way to work on as a part of learning. Executive functioning skills are also critically important for academic success. I was a college professor before homeschooling my son, and there are numerous instances that I can think of where students struggled in my classes because they didn’t have the executive functioning skills needed to pass college science class.

How to Homeschool 101: Step 4

Choosing Curricula

For most home schoolers choosing curriculum is one of the most fun parts of home schooling and one of the most frustrating. The good news is there are so many options you can find something that is a good fit for almost any learner. The bad news is there are so many options you can lose whole years of your life while searching for just the right curricula and programs. I have a few tips to help.

  • #1. It should come as no surprise that curricula that have been around for a while have more reviews than those that are new. In addition to general reviews, since more people have used the materials, it is easier to find people whose children have a similar learning style to yours who were either successful or unsuccessful using the materials. If user reviews are a major criterion that you use, then you are likely going to prefer time tested materials. There are established publishers who are known for the quality of their materials, and my experience in the home school community is that you can assume that new materials from them will be consistent. The shiny new curriculum that no one has ever heard of, however, you probably want to ask about it in a an online group.
  • #2. Using what you have learned about how your child learns helps immensely when choosing materials and will likely save you money.
  • #3. If you want to work on learning skills, and you don’t want to do all the planning of how to integrate those on your own, look for curricula and program that incorporate them into their materials. If it’s not obvious to you how this is done, reach out to the publisher or author and ask if they do this and state that you would like some concrete examples of where it’s done in the materials.
  • #4. It is hard to know what delivery of materials will work best for your child when you start out. Some learners thrive online, others need printed course materials. Some homeschoolers prefer handcrafting a year where they choose the subjects, others prefer an all-in-one curriculum. There is no right or wrong, it’s simply what works best for your child and your family situation.
  • #5. Even though you are just starting out, it’s a good idea to discuss the pluses and perils of switching mid-year. If your child is struggling with a subject your first thought might be that it’s the curricula. Before deciding that you’re going to switch, take the time to diagnose to make sure that’s the issue. Good curriculum has a comprehensive structure where topical information builds on itself. If you switch, you can create a situation where your child does not get a comprehensive year of learning in that subject.
  • #6. Curricula and programs take time and money to develop. It has to be sustainable for the writers and publishers to put in their time. If you have a budget, it can be helpful to do your planning ahead of time. Budget for the materials, and ask online about when companies have sales.
  • #7. It’s homeschooling, which means you can write or piece together your own materials. This is how I came to write my first course, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Chemistry 1. I could not find  a secular chemistry course for my son when he was going into third grade. I did not start out with a yearlong course, and I don’t recommend you do that either. A unit study is a good place to start. BY starting smaller you can become more skilled as you go along. I wrote this article, How to Handcraft a Unit Study, to walk you step-by-step through the process of how to do that.
Homeschool curriculum, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee

How to Homeschool 101: Step 5

Get Organized

I hear some of you groaning, but…

Effective organizational strategies in homeschooling helps create a structuredHomeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee and efficient learning environment that maximizes productivity, promotes engagement, and supports the educational growth of your child. Organizing can mean resources management, time management, or a dedicated homeschool space. What will work best for you, depends on you.

  • You annual academic schedule is totally up to you. You should use whatever works best. A lot of homeschoolers, even if it is not what they plan,  end up doing year-round. OA major benefit of homeschooling, is the flexibility around scheduling. However, if your child takes online classes, there will usually be a start and end date.
  • Do yourself a favor right from the start, organize your homeschooling resources, such as books, educational materials, and online subscriptions. Even over the course of a year, you can amass so much!
  • Implement a system to track and monitor your child’s progress. You do not need to keep everything, but you should keep work samples. This can include maintaining records of completed assignments, assessments, grades, and any other relevant information. Organizing these records helps in evaluating your child’s development and providing necessary feedback. Staying up on this can save headaches if you ever need their school records.
  • Establishing a daily or weekly routine provides a predictable schedule for both students and parents. Establishing set times for different subjects, breaks, and activities helps create a sense of order and consistency in the homeschooling routine. Some students need a routine to thrive.
  • The number of learners you are homeschooling requires different organizational strategies. For multiples, the more organized you are the easier it is to homeschool. Combine if you can. If you are thinking the age range is too great, or the kids fight like crazy, you can give different assignments. So, on the teaching end it looks the same topic but on the student end they are working on different assignments. For an only, some organization that includes collaborative learning can be important. This often means you are their co-collaborator.
  • Do you like to plan? I do! While organization is important, remember to be flexible and adaptable in your homeschooling approach. Allow room for spontaneous learning opportunities and adjustments as needed. Organization should support your homeschool journey, not limit it. One thing that can be stressful for people who like plans is when, for example, an assignment you schedule for 10 days takes 5 or not 5 but 15. If it takes 10 – perfect planning – if it takes more or less – the plan wasn’t perfect – it is not a reflection of the learner. And if it is important to learn,  it takes the time it takes for your unique individual. For example, if your child takes two years to learn multiplication tables and you planned for one year, they took two years. The plan was the problem.
Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee

How to Homeschool 101: Step 6

My Final Tips

  • Socialization: Socialization is finally easier again, especially in states that have large secular groups. Unfortunately, it is still a struggle for those who do not. If you’re struggling to find a group where your child can socialize, get into the SEA homeschoolers Facebook group and look for people in your area. The good news is through the Outschool platform, if you’re struggling to find local socialization for your child there are online socialization clubs.
  • You have to be careful when you’re homeschooling that it isn’t school all the time. You are thinking about your child’s education a lot. It is easy to get stuck in school mode.

One thing that can be kind of tricky when you are both a teacher and a parent is discipline around academics. It will likely happen that you need to discipline your child around an academic issue. It can be so easy to let things slide that you would never let slide if your child did it to a teacher who wasn’t you. It’s good to have a plan, how you’re going to handle it if that happens.

  • Be kind to yourself as you learn your new job. Give yourself the same space and respect that you would give others who were trying to gift their child with an education that honors who they are. It is important to have expectations that are reasonable based on where you are at.

Do not expect yourself to be perfect.  I am not a big fan of that word. I believe that perfect is an opinion word. If you are a person who thrives on perfection, every day that you show up for your children and do your best I will define that as perfect for you.

As a side note, if you are a person who expects yourself to show up and be perfect right away, that is something that you want to be very careful of as you homeschool your children. We are models for our children about normative behavior. It’s important that we talk to ourselves and about ourselves in a way that models how we hope our children talk to themselves and about themselves.

  • I urge you to find a support community. You need a group of people, even if it is online, to support you on this journey.

Welcome to Homeschooling, Blair Lee & the Entire Team at SEA Homeschooling

Free How to Homeschool 101 PDF workbook to help you get started.

Join Host Blair Lee for SEA Homeschoolers Book Club. Each month we will read a book focused on helping us teach our kids.

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!

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.

A Learner-Centered Education

A Learner-Centered Education, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, Guide

A Learner-Centered Education

A learner-centered education is powerful and profound. It impacts the value students place on the act of learning. It affects their view of how they think and their academic knowledge and skills. When education is learner-centered it gives confidence and can even benefit a student’s mental health.

Centering Learning on the Learner

If you are not sure what a learner-centered education is, you are not alone. The term is often confused with student- or child-led learning.

A learner-centered education focuses on the learner and their learning. This type of education is handcrafted to meet the unique strengths and challenges of the individual. It thoughtfully teaches learners at their academic level. There is no arbitrary timeline about what should be mastered when, or how long mastery should take once learning begins.

A Learner-Centered Education, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, Guide
A Learner-Centered Education, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, Guide

A learner-centered education honors how learning best happens.

In a learner-centered education, learners have some say about the projects and materials they use. They may even choose some of the topics. However, learners do not decide if they learn something or not. It simply is not reasonable or realistic to assume a young person understands why information and processes need to be learned. In addition, it places an unfair burden on someone who does not have the experience or maturity to understand this. To ask learners to decide what and when something should be learned is antithetical to a learner-centered education.

A learner-centered approach engages learners in the act of learning.

With a learner-centered approach, students are expected to actively engage in their learning. It honors the way real learning happens. Inherent to this approach is that you understand how each learner learns. It is unfair to expect learners to actively engage in their learning if the instruction and material do not meet them where they are.

When you teach using a learner-centered approach, you are learning along with your students. It is important to actively assess for understanding. A good technique to use is to orally ask assessment questions that encourage students to reflect on what they are learning. If the conversation veers off topic, go with it, while looking for a way to pair it with the topic. While you are at it, talk about yourself as a learner. In this way a learner-centered education has a self-reflective component, where all involved see themselves as learners. By thoughtfully incorporating this into your homeschool, you are creating a culture of thinking where your children understand that, like you, they are lifelong learners.

A Learner-centered education, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guide
A Learner-Centered Education, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, Guide

Learning skills like metacognition, accessing all four primary modalities, and executive functioning skills are intentionally taught.

Learners are asked to work on the skills used when learning. A learner-centered education does not focus solely on academic topics. It recognizes that learning is a skilled endeavor. With this approach, learning skills like metacognition, accessing all four primary learning modalities, and executive functioning skills are intentionally taught. In this way overall learning skills needed in all disciplines are included. There is also instruction about the specific skills needed for different disciplines. A learner-centered approach in science, for example, scaffolds with instruction and discussion the skills of how to think through and logically approach science questions, generate hypotheses, evaluate data, and develop conclusions.

It is important that not only do you teach learning skills, but you also discuss them in the same way that you discuss working on academic topics. For example, if your child needs to work on the skill of note taking. Discuss why this is an important skill. Take time to teach it in a way that reduces the stress, perhaps by pairing it with a subject your child finds easy. Acknowledge the learning of this skill with the same level of praise you would an academic one.

The concept of using a learner-centered approach in education is not new. Its primary use has been in traditional school settings. This is good because it means there are plenty of studies about its effectiveness. Those studies consistently show a learner-centered education to be more effective for learning. The issue with implementing it is much harder in a traditional school setting. At home, a learner-centered education is much easier to use. It starts with coming to understand how your child accesses information and what their level is within academic subjects. Next, do some research to make sure the materials and programs you are using incorporate best learning practices in them. Finally, choose what academic and executive functioning skills your children need to work on. With a bit of planning, you are ready to provide your kids with a learner-centered education!

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!

5 Tips that Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused

Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused, Blair Lee, guide, SEA Homeschoolers,

5 Tips that Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused

By Blair Lee, M.S.

Homeschoolers are dreamers. We spend months dreaming about what the school year is going to look like for our learners. It is easy to romanticize how it is all going to go academically. There is only one problem standing between our hard work and making our secular homeschool dreams a reality — our children.

Don’t they realize how long and hard you worked to make this year perfect? Are you beginning to wonder just what you got yourself into? Or, you might be reading this and patting yourself on the back because your kids agree with you and think you put the perfect academic year together. Regardless, we are homeschoolers, which means we care a lot about how engaged our kids are. Even in the best of times, it is a good idea to have a few easy-to-implement teaching strategies to help keep learners engaged and focused. Read on for five tips that keep learners engaged and brains focused. Looking for more support? Check out The SEA Homeschoolers Masterclasses!

Tip 1 Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused

Get Up and Move Around, but Keep It on Topic

In the hour-long, Elementary-level online science classes I teach, I weave periods of movement throughout each lesson. For example, I might ask kids to jump up to investigate the pulling force of gravity, twirl around to model planetary rotation, vote using thumbs up and thumbs down, vibrate like a greenhouse gas, fly like a bee, and call out answers. Why would I introduce what could easily devolve into a chaotic Zoom debacle into my science lessons? I do it to keep kids focused on the science, that’s why. When I write my teaching notes for each class, I am intentional about adding in movement that relates to the topic. This way, I am able to keep students “on topic” while grabbing their attention and energizing their brains.

This is not hard to do, either. For example, if your child is learning a basic multiplication fact like 3 times 2, ask them to do 3 movements 2 times, for example, 3 claps with their hands 2 times. For spelling, you can use a version of the YMCA song. For grammar and vocabulary, act words out. For history, act out historical scenes. Don’t be shy about doing these movements with your kids. In my science classes, I do the movements along with my students and explain what we are doing while we do it together. Usually, these movements take 30 seconds to 2 minutes. They do not disrupt or take over the class because I design them to dove-tail into our next lesson.

This technique is not something I thought up all on my own. The fact that movement engages the brain and helps kids learn has been well-documented by pediatricians, pediatric occupational therapists, and elementary school teachers. As pediatrician Dr. Niran Al-Agba says, “Exercise stimulates the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for focus, concentration, planning, and organization. Movement is a natural way to help kids focus and pay attention better.”

5 Tips that Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee,, Keep Brains Focused and Learners Engaged
a mother and daughter working on the ABC's

Tip 2 Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused

The Power of Touch

What would happen if someone touched you right now? Would it draw your attention away from this article? My hypothesis is that it would. Many years ago, I read an article that stated that an effective technique to bring a child’s attention back to you is a gentle touch. I began using touch while doing academics with my son when his attention would drift off or when I noticed he should be working on something, but instead he was staring at the wall. This doesn’t work with every child, but if yours is like mine, this gentle and warm act can grab the learner’s attention and help them refocus on the task at hand. This is especially effective when you use a warm tone of voice to gently remind them what they should be working on.

There is science explaining why this technique works. In her 2015 article, “The Social Power of Touch”, Lydia Denworth explains that touch is the first sense to mature. A gentle, affectionate touch reaches the brain through a class of nerve fibers in the skin called c-tactile (CT) afferents. The CT afferents are nerves, which respond to slow, gentle strokes and touches to the skin. These nerves are fully functional soon after birth. Stimulating these nerves activates a network of brain regions that process information. The hormone oxytocin, for example, is released by gentle touch and increases our social interest. In the context of learning, I have observed that a gentle touch is a very effective method for bringing a learner’s focus to you and then back to what they were working on.

Tip 3 Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused

Teach in Small, Manageable Pieces

There is no timeline for learning. This should be part of every homeschooler’s mantra. Do not get caught up in the rat race of thinking that there is one schedule that should be used for every child of a certain age and grade level.

It sounds a little ridiculous when spelled out, doesn’t it? And yet, that is what happens all the time both at home and in traditional settings. I write and use curriculum, and I really dislike programs and materials that do not have a schedule. However, it is important to remember to use these schedules as guides, not as a hard timeline. If a learner takes two months to complete a lesson that was scheduled to be completed over two weeks, who cares, as long as they learn the material. If a learner takes two days to complete a lesson that was scheduled to be completed over two weeks, awesome. Once you’re confident that they’ve learned the material, I recommend adding related material that brings breadth around the topic.

The crucial point here is that you show that what is being learned is important for the student to learn, and that meeting an arbitrary timeline is not the goal. This means you have to pay attention. If your child needs more time, you need to make sure that the material is presented in small manageable pieces. A course I wrote, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2 is a great example of this. The course comes with a 36-week schedule. I know of homeschoolers who used the course over two years, while other learners finished the course in less than 36 weeks. In both situations, by the end of the course learners had a solid foundation in biology.

Ask Blair, How do I balance their want for nothingness with academics, SEA Homeschoolers, 5 Tips that Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused, Blair Lee,, Keep Brains Focused and Learners Engaged
a family baking together

Tip 4 Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused

Use a Non-Traditional Approach

What do Bear the tardigrade, space dust bunnies, and qwitekutesnutes have in common? They are all fictional characters that I made into core parts of academic, non-fiction science courses. This approach is unconventional and at times silly. It is also a very intentional strategy and a great way to introduce and discuss higher level content. Both Bear and the space dust bunnies are in elementary level courses in the R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey series. They are humorous and have distinct personalities that make them good vehicles for introducing topics that are often omitted from elementary level courses. Once you engage a student’s interest, however, you can get them making intellectual leaps and bounds.

This is a technique you can adapt for any subject in your secular homeschool curriculum. For example, if your child loves art, but not more technical subjects, weave math and science into art. Or perhaps you have a child who loves science and math but not language arts. You can use science and math as vehicles for writing instruction. Music is a wonderful way to teach almost anything. Think outside the box, like discussing X-Men when learning about genetic mutation, or using comic books to teach vocabulary or the structure of writing.

This technique, like movement, is also a great strategy for refocusing a learner’s attention. Can you remember a time when your attention was drifting and someone said something unexpected that reengaged your attention? It is sort of a “Wait a minute. What did you just say?” moment. If this is done with a meaningful tie-in, this can renew focus and enhance learning.

Tip 5 Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused

Show Your Own Interest

Showing your own interest in a subject area makes a big difference in how engaged your learner is. If you cannot figure out why something is interesting and important to learn, it can be hard to convince others that it is. In extreme cases, if you know a subject is important but you just cannot find a way to be interested in it, you might want to outsource the teaching of the subject. Before you go looking for an alternative teacher, however, there are some techniques you can use to show your interest.

Sometimes, (this happens to every homeschooler sooner or later) it is that you don’t really understand the topic. The best way to show interest in this case is to learn along with your child. Discuss what you are both learning. This happened with history for my child and me. My history education was pretty spotty. My son and I learned history together. He and I became most fascinated with the stories that were too often left out of traditional history books. We became immersed in learning about the history of the indigenous peoples of North and South America. My son, now a sophomore in college, is taking American Indian Heritage this semester. He still finds this area of study fascinating. He recently told me it is the most interesting college class he has taken.

5 Tips that Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee,, Keep Brains Focused and Learners Engaged

One way to show your interest is to discuss what you are learning outside of the classroom. For example, one of my stepsons really struggled with math. I would make up fun (yes, he really thought they were fun!) math games and brain teasers using his favorite super heroes to bring math into casual situations, or when we were stuck in traffic. I thoughtfully paid attention to the subjects my son was studying and made real-world connections when they came up. I shared 60-Minutes’ segments, emailed articles, and texted memes that related to what we were studying.

Did you catch that I said “we” not “he” in the previous sentence? Another way to show your interest is to work alongside learners. In her 2012 article, Cindy O’Donnell-Allen states that “the best writing teachers are writers themselves. Why? Because we know the writing process inside-and-out, we can support our students’ work in authentic ways.” I was lucky enough to read something along those lines early in my son’s homeschooling journey. I took this information to heart, and I wrote with my son. I shared what I was writing and occasionally received brutal feedback. In every case I can think of, he was right and a rewrite was in order. Writing alongside my child made writing a family affair. It made it easier to give him valuable feedback and it helped him see how writing happened. I didn’t just write science with him, either. He and I wrote pieces from numerous genres. I wanted to make sure he saw me writing in areas where I wasn’t very skilled so he could see me improve with practice. This is not a technique that I used just with writing. I made working alongside him a cornerstone, especially for those subjects he seemed to struggle with.

5 Tips that Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee,, Keep Brains Focused and Learners Engaged

Learning is an interesting phenomenon. It isn’t always easy to measure when it happens, and often learners are absorbing more than is obvious when you are in the thick of it. You might be surprised a few months from now when you realize that your plan really was a great one. And whether you use touch, movement, shared interests, a non-traditional approach, or none of these, one thing is certain, this journey you are on with your children bonds you in unique and special ways that really are idyllic.

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guide

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition

What are your plans for your secular homeschool curriculum this coming school year? Language arts? Math? Science? History? What learning skills are you planning on having your children work on? Wouldn’t it be great to handcraft a culture of thinking in your home that is personally meaningful for your learners while providing support for a learner-centered education?

An important component of fostering this culture of thinking is to incorporate learning kills into your child’s education. If you were thinking these skills are something kids will just pick up, think about how many adults you know who have not mastered all the learning skills. By weaving these learning skills into your secular homeschool lesson plans alongside academic subjects, you can prepare your students to be lifelong learners while helping them excel in their coursework. Paired with a multimodal modal approach, this is an important part of a learner-centered education.

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guides

Metacognition Defined

Metacognition is the ability to use prior knowledge to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task, solving a problem, evaluating results, and modifying an approach. When we do purposeful thinking about our thinking, we engage in metacognition. It encompasses an important skill set that enhances learning and helps learners understand their own learning processes, and how their unique brain works.

6 Metacognitive Skills You Can Weave into the Coming School Year

Metacognitive Skill #1: Retaining, Retrieving, and Discussing/Using Knowledge

Metacognition is the ability to retain, retrieve, and discuss knowledge. These might sound like three different skills, however, they are partnered when scaffolding them and when learners demonstrate skill with them.

How to Work on this Skill

Multi-Step Instructions – Give students multi-step oral instructions. They cannot start until you have given all parts of the instructions. Start with one step, then progress to two step instructions, and so on.

Socratic Method – Asking genuine “I wonder” questions followed by “What do we already know?” is a great way to assess what has been retained. When your learner retrieves information showing they are learning, stop and engage them in a discussion, casually and intentionally pulling in more retained knowledge. Let your child know you’re proud of them for pulling that sort of information into the conversation.

Casual Conversation – A great way to measure if learning is being retained is to look for learners to retrieve information and discuss it outside of a school setting. Incorporate work on this skill into the fabric of daily life, and don’t just make this about your kids! Discuss what you’re learning, too. Model how you retrieve and discuss knowledge you have retained.

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guides

Metacognitive Skill #2: Directing their Own Learning

In terms of metacognition, self-directed learning incorporates:
1. Critical thinking
2. Locating resources that support the growth and development of ideas
3. Exploring those for validity and impact
4. A combination of these practices leads to the ability to connect learning to new experiences.
Working on these four steps requires oversight from a mentor and benefits from scaffolding.

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guides

How to Work on this Skill

Scaffold good entry points that meet a learner academically – When your learner is interested in a topic, it can be difficult for them to know where to start. Provide the needed scaffolding to get them started at a level that is challenging enough to be engaging. As they progress and their learning evolves, new questions emerge, and new resources are needed. Pay attention when that happens so you can provide those.

Teach students how to find adequate & accurate resources – The more students feel the pride of figuring it out on their own, the more they will feel empowered to keep learning, and they will repeat the pattern of discovery when applied to other interests and subjects. The problem is that there is a wealth of information at our fingertips, including a lot that is not credible. As students direct their learning, they need intentional teaching about how to select materials from good sources.

Promote Design Thinking – One way to foster self-directed learning is to use Design Thinking. You can scaffold this by asking, “How can you design something to solve a problem?” With design thinking, learners define a “problem,” something that needs attention, they brainstorm to come up with a possible solution, they build a prototype, and they test it. These last two steps can go on for a while in an iterative process. Scaffold this as needed and look for evidence of learners retrieving retained knowledge during the design process.

Metacognitive Skill #3: Using Subject Specific Vocabulary

The ability to think about your thinking in the context of learning new information requires a certain literacy with the words being used. For example, in a science course, if a student encounters unfamiliar words they will likely be unable to assess their knowledge. It may keep them from knowing what they know. If that happens, the learner will not recognize what information they have retained in order to retrieve it.

How to Work on this Skill

Learn Vocabulary with Learner – If you see issues with vocabulary, look at where students are using the vocabulary. If it is only in the context of coursework, that is the likely problem. The best way to learn subject specific vocabulary is to begin using it regularly in and outside of learning time. This can mean you have to learn the vocabulary too.

Words in Context – Retrieving the correct meaning of a word based on its context is a metacognitive skill. Understanding the specific definition for certain contexts is important. Think of the word “theory.” Is it used casually or in a science class? Knowing the context provides the information needed to understand ideas.

Latin Root Words or a book like Decoded – Studying Latin roots are a good way to work on this skill. A root has a specific historic meaning that relates, morphs, and evolves in modern day language. For older students, a book like Decoded (which has a lot of cursing and some drug use) where there is a collection of lyrics and their meanings in the context of rap music tells the story of a culture, an art form, a moment in history, and is also part memoir.

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guides

Metacognitive Skill #4: Making and Using Models

Speaking of words in context, here are some tips for two types of modeling — modeling metacognitive skills, and two- and three-dimensional models that are simplified, stripped down presentations to help focus in on specific concepts and thinking processes.

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guides

How to Work on this Skill

Demonstrate Metacognition – Model Metacognition for learners by interpreting information, data, and vocabulary, analyzing statements, and making conclusions about learning. In this way, you are explicitly articulating the underlying thinking process you use. Just make sure that when using modeling to scaffold, you meet students where they are.

Use two- and three-dimensional visual models: Visual models help learners think through what they are learning. They are great tools to draw out the information students have retained and help to scaffold them with retrieving their knowledge.

Metacognitive Skill #5: Perseverance and Stick-to-itiveness

The ability to purposefully work through the “steps” for better understanding is an important metacognitive skill. Think stick-to-itiveness as a demonstration of this skill. Does your learner bounce from activity to activity without finishing them, or do they work toward completion? Learners who generally see a project through to the end learn more. They have deeper, broader, and more nuanced understandings of knowledge and information. This skill is also important for making connections across disciplines. I have seen cases where people didn’t do this for learners. It creates situations where students know topics at a high level within a very narrow scope that is difficult to connect to other topics and information. It limits a student’s ability to do anything outside of a specific area.

How to Work on this Skill

Model this behavior – The best way to teach this behavior is to demonstrate it in action.

Discuss the importance of perseverance – Make perseverance a focused-skill that everyone takes seriously.

Incentives – Use incentives if you must but do what it takes to have students work on the habit of completing projects.

I really think homeschooling would be great for our family but, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers

Metacognitive Skill #6: Evaluating their Own Work

Metacognition is the ability to think about your thinking. It is important that learners can evaluate what they know as they do that. Students who have an awareness of their own knowledge do a better job of recognizing when they are working on new skills and learning new things. This is where real learning occurs as students build on retained knowledge. This ability to evaluate your own work is an important metacognitive skill that will help build confidence. Too often learners doubt they are up for the task, even when it is obvious that they can do it. It can be frustrating, can’t it?!?

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guides

How to Work on this Skill

Knowing What You Know – A learner with strong metacognitive skills knows what they know. They have access to information they retain, then retrieve to use and build on. One of my favorite sayings of all time is John Wooden’s saying “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” When you know which knowledge and tools in the learner’s toolbox to pull out to use on a job, you can engage in increasingly sophisticated and larger projects with a greater awareness of your learning. To help learners know what they know, use phrases like “you know that” and “you taught me something today,” to help your learner assess their knowledge and be more confident in their self-assessment.

Scaffold Skills #1-5 – There’s a reason this skill is number 6 on this list. It is through the scaffolding of the other metacognitive skills that learners can adequately and accurately evaluate their own work.

Growth Mindset for Evaluating Work – Use a growth mindset where evaluations are treated as an opportunity to grow. This is a learner focused approach where students know what they know and are encouraged to investigate new knowledge and skills.

A Final Thought

Metacognition is about creating a culture of thinking and learning that results in thoughtful and reflective learners who are motivated to engage in independent, lifelong learning. Strong metacognitive skills help learners connect to the unique way that their brain works. These are the skills of lifelong learners. This school year, in addition to planning for language arts, math, science, and history, make an effort to weave metacognitive skills into your lesson plans, too.

This is a 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.

A Multimodal Approach for Balanced Learning

A Multimodal Approach for Balanced Learning, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, Guide

A Multimodal Approach for Balanced Learning

Secular homeschoolers are planners. Have you ever thought about the process you use when doing this planning? Do you think about the subjects you will have your child focus on and what secular homeschool curriculum or online programs you will use? What about how you are going to help your child learn how to learn? Do you plan the specific learning strategies you will deploy to help your child become a lifelong learner? If you do not, you might want to think about how you can use a multimodal approach for balanced learning. Doing so will have both short-term and long-term benefits for your child and their primary teacher.

Raising Lifelong Learners

Homeschooling parents often say that they want to raise lifelong learners. That is a worthy goal, but as your child’s primary teacher and mentor, how can you help make that happen? One thing you can do to help your child fall in love with learning is to make plans to help them become a more balanced learner. Balanced learners can learn from a wide range of materials that are presented in a variety of ways.

Most people access information at a higher level when it is presented in a way that supports one to two of the primary learning modalities (modes): visual, aural (auditory), reading and writing, or kinesthetic learning. For each individual, this is a natural outcome of how their brain works. As a long-term strategy for secular homeschoolers, it is best to become a balanced learner who can access information across all of the learning modalities.

A Multimodal Approach for Balanced Learning, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, Guide
A Multimodal Approach for Balanced Learning, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, Guide

What Is a Balanced Learner?

Balanced learners are multimodal learners. As the word suggests, multimodal learners learn using all four modalities. Instead of a heavy reliance on one or two modes, there is a balance with the strategies they use. Balanced learners are strong enough using each of the four modalities to choose the one best suited to the learning task at hand.

Being a lifelong learner is difficult if you rely heavily on only one or two of the learning modes because you can’t always control how information is presented and taught. As a balanced learner with command over all of the learning modes, you will be able to use the strategy that works best based on how the information is presented.

How to Homeschool 101, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, auditory learner

Auditory learners learn by listening. Podcasts, webinars, audiobooks, or face-to-face instruction are good paths for them to process and access information. Group discussions or debates can also form part of auditory learning.

How to Homeschool 101, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, kinesthetic learner

Kinesthetic learners process and access information through doing. Good lessons for these learners often a combine other types of learning. For example, when learning a historical event or topic in science hands-on projects with videos or reading will benefit learning for kinesthetic learning.

Visual learners process and access information more effectively when graphs, infographics, cartoons and illustrations, videos, artwork, flowcharts, and diagrams are included in lessons, things that stimulate the learner’s eyes. Making visual observations, such as through drawing, can benefit this cohort of learners.

How to Homeschool 101, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, visual learner

Reading and writing learners process and access information through text-based courses, PDF’s, documents, books, and eBooks. These learners are often good test takers. We are most familiar with this type of learning primarily because of the systematic teaching of this method in traditional school.

How to Homeschool 101, Homeschooling 101,, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, reading writing learner

A Metacognitive Approach

Metacognition is the ability of a student to understand how they learn best, and it should be applied in your secular homeschool curriculum. With a metacognitive approach, students use prior knowledge to organize, monitor, and adapt the way they approach new learning material and situations. Another benefit of working with students to learn how they learn is that it directly strengthens a student’s metacognitive abilities. When there is a focus on learning how to learn in order to become a balanced learner, students come to see the different learning modalities as useful tools. Balanced learners can pick and choose the best tool based on the information and how it is presented. Interested in learning more about metacognition? Read our blog on the topic.

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition, Blair Lee, SEA Homeschoolers, guides, A Multimodal Approach for Balanced Learning
A Multimodal Approach for Balanced Learning, SEA Homeschoolers, Blair Lee, Guide

Using Strengths to Handcraft a More Balance Learner

All this theory sounds great, but are you wondering how to handcraft a more balanced learner? The good news is, it is easier than you might think (based on the dense theory😊).

1. The first step is to identify the learning modalities primarily used by the learner.

2. Make a list of the academic disciplines the student finds challenging, and those that they don’t find challenging.

3. Pair Strengths with Challenges – Using this information to help you choose secular homeschool materials and programs, is an important part of a learner-centered education.

  • If a student finds a subject challenging, find materials that primarily present the information in a mode that is a strength for them. They are already working hard enough to learn the information.
  • Pair the learning modes that are not as strong with subjects that fall within a student’s academic strengths. You can work on creating a more balanced learner by pairing materials that have a multimodal approach (use all four modalities) with a student’s “easy” subjects. You can also use present materials using a mode that is not a student’s strength.

Read our blog about a learner-centered education.

Learning modes are important tools, and the ability to use each is a skill that should be developed in your secular homeschool. Like any tool and skill, the more practice you get with them, the better you will be using them. By thoughtfully pairing academic strengths with modalities that need work, you can handcraft a more balanced learner. This will have lifelong benefits, as your multimodal learner will be able to pick and choose the optimum learning tool to match the presentation of information in any educational scenario.

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!

What is the best secular homeschool curriculum?

the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

What is the best secular homeschool curriculum?

A common question asked by secular homeschoolers is, “What is the best secular homeschool curriculum?” It is easy to understand why a secular homeschooling parent would ask this. Wouldn’t it be great if there was one well-planned curriculum provider who you could go to for the purchase of all your curriculum needs?

Unfortunately, the short answer is that there is no one best secular homeschool curriculum. That doesn’t mean you will not hear from other secular homeschoolers that they have found the latest and greatest secular homeschool curriculum to use with their kids, and you should give it a try too. You will also hear from homeschool curriculum providers that they have developed a secular homeschool curriculum that will be a perfect fit. The issue with the “curriculum de jour” and the companies that pay to advertise around certain terms, is that no one set of materials is ever going to be the “best” for all learners.

the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history
the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

The entire idea that there is a one-size-fits-all curriculum out there that will meet the needs of every learner is ingrained in us from a traditional school mentality. You are a homeschooler for a reason. You can find a better way! Instead of buying into this falsehood, secular homeschoolers should rephrase this question.

The better question to ask is, “What is the best secular homeschool curriculum for my learner?” The answer to that is simpler than you might think, but it does require some learner-focused homework for you to do before even looking at the secular homeschool curriculum.

To find the best secular homeschool curriculum for your learner start by asking, “How does my child learn?”

This is the number one question every secular homeschool provider should ask before looking at homeschool curriculum. A good secular homeschool curriculum takes a multimodal approach that incorporates all four primary learning modalities: auditory, kinesthetic, aural, and reading-writing. There is generally more work using one or two of these modalities than the others. Your child’s success with the curriculum will depend on how well this focus aligns with the primary modalities they use when learning. Your goal should be that children are balanced, multimodal learners, however for challenging subjects you want to choose a curriculum that primarily aligns with how your child best learns. Pair the secular homeschool curriculum in the subjects they find easy with any modalities they struggle with.

secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history
secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

Find a methodology that works well for your learner.

Often, homeschooling parents will become attached to a teaching methodology, such as the Classical method or Charlotte Mason. The issue is when those do not work for a learner. For example, some learners benefit from learning that is more flexible and free-flowing than the Classical method. For others, this method leads to real intellectual growth. This directly relates to the first tip. Before purchasing a secular homeschool curriculum that aligns with a methodology, make sure it is a good learning methodology for your child.

The best secular homeschool curriculum for your learner should engage their intellect.

It is important to have an idea about what your children will be learning. One of the best parts of a secular homeschool is the freedom and flexibility to choose the subjects you want to focus on. Make some sort of outline before you start shopping. Ask yourself, “Does my child have a passion I want to make a focus for their learning?” “Are there learning challenges that should be addressed?” “Do these materials promote a culture of thinking?” “Will these materials engage my child.” and “Is there something I think everyone should learn?” If your goal is to choose a secular homeschool curriculum that best fits the needs of your learner and you as their primary teacher, do not start looking until you have an idea of the subjects you should be looking for.

secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history
the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

What format will work best for your family?

Next, you will want to give some thought to the scope of the curriculum. Are you looking for a secular homeschool curriculum that you piece together subject-by-subject, or do you want an all-in-one curriculum? For the most part, piecing it together is best. Honestly, no one does everything well. However, an all-in-one curriculum can be less time-consuming for you to put together. When considering this, also think about how you want materials delivered: online, live or taped, print, or as an ebook. Take your learner into account when making these decisions.

Make sure the materials are secular and evidence-based.

If your goal is to find the best secular homeschool curriculum you will want to make sure the materials are secular. After you find materials that are a good fit, you should go to the number one place to get accurate information about this, the SEA Homeschoolers Facebook Group. Many homeschool curriculum publishers claim to have secular materials that are not secular. Other secular groups and websites often use information from other homeschoolers, some of whom are not secular, or the publisher’s own website.

the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

Now that you have the five tips to help, choosing the secular homeschool curriculum should be much easier!

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!

10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling

10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling

10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling

Deciding to homeschool is a big step. It is a big responsibility to oversee your child’s education. Deciding to secular homeschool can make the job seem even more challenging. In this article, we give you 10 tips foe secular homeschooling that can make your job much easier. Continue reading to learn more, and if you’re interested in joining the SEA Homeschooling community, join our Facebook group or become a member today!

We have 8 Facebook groups. Links to all of them are in this post.

1. Know why you are choosing a secular homeschool path

For most homeschoolers, the How (to do it) takes up most of their time. Before working on the “How”, it is a good idea to document the “Why.” Every secular homeschooler I have ever met had one thing in common. We care deeply about our children’s education. This is part of our why, but there is usually more to it. Writing a mission statement, a brief statement of your Why, will keep you grounded and on track.  

A well-crafted Mission Statement acts as a compass. It sets boundaries and provides clarity and direction. It provides a guidepost when you feel scattered or overwhelmed. It can also be used in moments of indecision when choosing between options and paths. And the more innovative and eclectic you are, the more options and possibilities you will look at. Your Mission Statement can help you narrow these.

10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling, Blair Lee, Secular Homeschooling, SEA Homeschooling, SEA Homeschoolers Featured In National Publications

2. Get to know how your learner learns. 

Children learn in different ways. A major benefit of homeschooling is the ability to develop a learner-centered education for your child. When you focus on how your child learns, you can connect them with the unique way their brain works. Getting to know how your child learns allows you to implement strategies for promoting learning paths where they are naturally skilled as well as provide scaffolding for those your child finds more challenging.

3. Find your state groups, local co-ops, and local playgroups.

In the US, homeschooling is regulated on the state level. The first thing to do when you decide to homeschool is to check the regulations for homeschooling set out by your state’s board of education. Each state has some differences in the procedure you need to go through for homeschooling. While you are at it, check to see if there is a statewide secular homeschool organization. That is a great place to get the information you need. Many of these organizations also have information about local secular homeschool co-ops and playgroups that can help you connect with homeschoolers in your area.

Check out the SEA Homeschoolers 101 page for a link to the laws in your state.

10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling, SEA Homeschoolers

4. Find an online community.

Finding an online community is especially important for secular homeschoolers. When you decide to secular homeschool, it puts you in a smaller cohort of the homeschool community. The good news is that the secular homeschool community has a large online presence. There are free online secular homeschool conferences, secular homeschool magazines, and on Facebook, there is the SEA Homeschoolers Group with 77,000+ members. Our group functions like a huge teacher’s lounge where you can ask questions and get input and trusted advice from experienced homeschoolers.

5. Find secular homeschool curriculum (which can be harder than you might think!)

The most frustrating part of creating a secular homeschool is the amount of misinformation about whether resources are secular or not. Many publishers have misleading statements about what should be in secular materials. It is not just publishers, either. There are blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook groups, and websites that list materials as secular that are not. This is another reason you will want to find a trusted online secular homeschool community. The best place to get information is in a public forum with a reputation for being honest about what is and is not secular.

10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling, Secular homeschooling, SEA Homeschooling

6. Customize to honor you and your learners.

A major benefit of homeschooling is that you can choose and customize resources. This can be done to reflect your student’s metacognitive needs. It is also increasingly being done to teach topics within subjects that parents and students feel are undertaught. For example, in the secular homeschool community, first-person African American, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ voices are often added to history lessons. Customizing resources is also done to address the underteaching in traditional schools of core topics like science. Secular homeschool students generally get much more science learning than their traditional school peers.

For some secular homeschoolers, it can be scary to customize curriculum. As long as they are academically rich, alternatives aren’t just okay, they can often be better. As secular homeschooling has gained in popularity, potential bosses and colleges are coming to realize the benefits of including this cohort at work and on campuses.

7. Go into it with your eyes open about the workload.

Homeschooling is work. As obvious as that statement is,  the amount of work that goes into planning and implementing it can catch new homeschoolers off guard. Toss in the work needed to ensure resources are secular, and it can feel overwhelming. If you begin to feel that way, take a step back and focus on why you are homeschooling. The rewards and benefits for your children and family are significant when there is a focus on meaningful, learner-centered education. 

You will want to relax too. Enjoy this time with your child. Do the best you can do, and that is the best you can do. In addition, choose good secular homeschool resources that work for your learner and then relax. You are doing a great job!

8. Collect, compare, and share work samples. 

Collecting work samples can relieve so much stress. These samples are the best way to track a student’s progress. The best time to collect work samples in every subject is at the beginning and end of each semester. It is also a good idea to collect monthly samples. Put these in a folder with a date on them. Compare work to monitor progress, and then share that work with your child so they can see their progress. You, as the person facilitating their learning, and your children, the learners, should feel proud of their progress.

Work samples can also help when troubleshooting. If progress is stagnant, it could be the materials being used. It could also be a cognitive or developmental issue. If this turns out to be the case, it can feel scary. However, for these issues, early intervention is important. The good news is that once you know what issues need accommodations, there are a plethora of resources available to help you help your learners. 

If your child is flying through the material, it generally means their needs are not being met. Make sure that the choices meet your learner where they are at academically. Learners with high academic needs benefit from regular check-ins to ensure the materials are a good fit.

9. Evaluate with a growth mindset and a mastery approach.

In an age where multiple-choice tests and red pens to essays are the norm, is it any wonder that evaluating work has negative connotations? The issue is not the evaluation, however. It is how and why it is done in traditional school. Just remember, you have a secular homeschool. You can evaluate in the way it should be used.

The evidence that evaluations done right benefit learning is substantial. The phrase “benefit learning” is where energy should be focused. Evaluations give information about whether a student has mastered course material. If not, take the time to slow down and focus on those areas the learner needs more time with. Be thoughtful when giving feedback. Learning is a process and scaffolding through the thoughtful and kind feedback of a limited number of skills is the best way to mentor student progress.

10. Decide whether you want to leave it open for kids to go to traditional school.

Many homeschoolers want to leave it open for their children to go to traditional school. Homeschoolers that want this should definitely choose to secular homeschool. History and science materials used by secular homeschoolers align closer in topic with traditional school than non-secular homeschools do.

Whatever your reason for wanting to secular homeschool, you have got this. You really do. It starts with one step, and then gets easier as you go along. There is so much joy and pleasure to share learning with your child. Relax, get advice when you need it, and know that you are a part of a big, warm, and welcoming community!

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!

Secular Homeschooling – Vetting Secular Science Curriculum

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum, SEA Homeschoolers, Secular Science, Blair Lee,

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum

10 Ways to Make Sure Your Science Curriculum IS Secular

Phew! You have finally done it. You spent hours, days, and weeks planning the courses and materials you will use for your secular homeschooling during the coming year. Your excitement over planning the best year of homeschooling EVER results in you sharing your plan at a park day or on Facebook. Instead of the expected accolades, you hear from people that your choice for science isn’t secular. Wait… what? The website you purchased the science from didn’t say the science wasn’t secular. Or worse yet, the website said the materials were secular and you are now learning that is not the case. Or perhaps you are using another homeschooler’s recommendation. Whatever the reason, you now have to go back to the drawing board and figure science out, AGAIN. What is a secular homeschooler to do! Vetting secular science curriculum can be tricky, but we’ll discuss some ways you can make sure your curriculum is truly a secular science curriculum. At SEA Homeschoolers, we offer secular materials and more for your homeschool science curriculum! Be sure to check out our site and read on to learn more.

All SEA Homeschoolers Facebook groups only recommend secular academic science programs and materials.

Why Vetting a Secular Science Curriculum is Important

Secular science curriculum and materials use empirical, evidence-based information that include and present scientific facts, principles, models, and theories as recommended by a majority of practicing experts in each scientific field. Even with the extra work that vetting secular science curriculum entails, there is a good reason to ensure you are using exclusively secular science materials when homeschooling.

That reason is academic integrity. Academic integrity is the ethical policy that forms the guiding principles for what and how academic materials are presented. Companies and individuals who present themselves as entities that have the credentials to determine what people learn should be held to the highest standards of academic integrity.

From the standpoint of materials and programs that are created to teach children, academic integrity has to do with the honesty and rigor science authors use when determining what and how facts, principles, models, and theories are presented. Only science materials that are secular are developed by people who have academic integrity. Now that you know why you should put in the extra time vetting secular science curriculum, how can you make sure your homeschool science curriculum really is secular?

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum, SEA Homeschoolers, Secular Science, Blair Lee,

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum: 10 Tips to Make it Easier

We hear all the time in the Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Facebook group what a problem it can be to make sure the materials you choose are secular. There is obfuscation on the part of some textbook publishers and authors. There are also new materials being published regularly. Let me share some of the tips we use when we are vetting secular homeschool science curriculums.

The Science of Climate Change textbook.
Vetting Secular Science Curriculum, SEA Homeschoolers, Secular Science, Blair Lee,

1. Search the publisher’s website.

My favorite word to search for is evolution (but climate change and the Big Bang are good choices too). Evolution is the central thematic element that should be woven throughout biology. No secular biology course above the early elementary school level will be missing a discussion about evolution. In short: your secular science curriculum should not avoid or shy away from teaching evolution. This example from Friendly Biology shows you how this is explained by nonsecular publishers.

“What is the difference between the Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology and the secular version of Friendly Biology?

The Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology gives credit to God as the creator of all living things. This credit is omitted from the secular version. The theory of evolution is not included in either version as it was our goal in writing the course to present currently accepted observations of living creatures in today’s world.”

Even if you are not looking for a biology course, the omission of this word from a biology course indicates that all science materials put out by the publisher are not secular. Note the phrase “currently accepted observations.” Advocates of “observational science” will tell you that they only teach students science where the material presented in the theory can be observed. Nonsecular publishers attempting to publish a “secular” version will tell you that evolution cannot be directly observed. (Neither can climate change, the Big Bang, geologic time, or a cosmological explanation for how heavy elements are created in stars.) Anyone who writes a biology course without evolution as a thematic element of the course will not have secular chemistry, astronomy, earth science, or physics.

2. Look for science materials that advertise you can skip the chapters containing core science theories like evolution or the Big Bang without it impairing the course.

In fact, you cannot omit central concepts that are essential for making connections across disciplines without it impairing the course.

Evolution is a thematic element that gives context and meaning to the whole of biology. The Big Bang is a scientific theory for how the universe and everything in it came to be. A homeschool science curriculum course written so that the section on evolution can “just be skipped” is not presenting entire areas of biology, such as genetics, anatomy and physiology, systems of classification, and medicine, as would be recommended by a majority of practicing experts in the field of biology. Here is an example of the publisher of Elemental Science and Sassafras Science omitting these.

“In the intermediate years, the pages that deal with the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are included as optional studies.” Secular science courses do not consider the two central scientific theories, one explaining how all organisms and the other explaining how all matter got here, to be optional.

This same publisher goes on to say this.

“In the high school years, we do schedule the chapters from the standard CK-12 textbooks that deal with the theories of evolution and the Big Bang as we believe it is important for students to be familiar with these.”

This is an interesting word choice to use “to be familiar” instead of “to learn.” Publishers of secular science curriculum courses recognize the importance of learning these theories and all the science topics they are woven through in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of science.

3. Search through the FAQs on the publisher’s website and Facebook groups for information about the worldview of the materials.

Another good search term is “opposing viewpoints.” Many products written from the perspective of intelligent design claim their science products are more credible because they encourage students to explore opposing viewpoints. In the series Real-Science-4-Kids, a science curriculum written from the intelligent design perspective, Rebecca Keller makes the following claim:

“All of the books introduce real science to students and this means scientific facts and theories that are currently accepted by the scientific community. However, the books also introduce students to the philosophy of science and encourage students to explore opposing viewpoints when it comes to interpreting what these facts and theories may mean to individuals, groups, and the larger community.”

The above statement is misleading for two reasons. The first is that the materials DO omit key topics such as evolution which most certainly IS currently accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. The second and possibly more serious issue is that Keller puts a family’s worldview on par with centuries of scientific research, conclusions, and evidence, something not done in secular homeschool science curriculum materials. It isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works.

Here is an example of how the worldview of the publisher Friendly Biology makes it important for them to redefine secular science curriculum as only presenting “accepted observations” that omit evolution.

“What is the difference between the Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology and the secular version of Friendly Biology?

The Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology gives credit to God as the creator of all living things. This credit is omitted from the secular version. The theory of evolution is not included in either version as it was our goal in writing the course to present currently accepted observations of living creatures in today’s world.”

If you are looking for secular science courses, you do want those that present accepted observations. However, that should include ALL accepted observations, such as the theory of evolution.

4. Search the website to look for terms the publisher redefines from their science usage to everyday usage.

“At Elemental Science, we treat scientific fact as fact and scientific theory as theory. So we are not Christian or Secular – we are just science.” This is an important distinction and good to understand if looking for secular science. Science curriculum should treat scientific facts as scientific facts and scientific theories as scientific theories. Many nonsecular science materials use the definitions for fact and theory based on their everyday usage, not on their science definitions. In everyday usage facts take precedence over theories. In science the opposite is true.

“Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true”. … Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” National Center for Science Education

In science, facts are an observation of a phenomenon. Theories are big and profound, weaving numerous facts, experimental results, and scientific laws into them. The concept of scientific theory is a central dogma of science. No mainstream scientist or science educator would intentionally misuse the term or attempt to redefine it. The end goal when a publisher works to redefine a term like scientific theory is to undermine those scientific theories the nonsecular community takes issue with, such as the theory of evolution, germ theory, and the theory explaining the climate crisis.

Here is an explicit example from Paige Hudson, the publisher of Elemental and
Sassafras science doing this. “In other words, using the word theory tells other scientists that this idea is still be (sic) worked on, but the word fact says that this idea is proven to be true.”

There are several parts of this statement to unpack. Scientific theories do not become facts. Scientific theories explain facts. To call something a theory does tell scientists that an explanation for how something is happening (“this idea”) is being worked on. This is not a weakness of a scientific theory. Instead, it is important as a central concept to science that our understanding of the natural and physical world continues to “be worked on.” Hudson also states that “the word fact says that this idea is proven to be true.” This is an incorrect definition of a scientific fact. It is also incorrect to indicate that facts prove theories to be true. Scientific theories do not give absolute proof of a science phenomenon.

Hudson is not the only curriculum developer to do this. In fact, this is one of the most common tactics used by nonsecular publishers. Here is another example from Layers of Learning.

“Layers of Learning is a springboard for pursuits of knowledge. We provide facts, topics, resources, questions, and experiment ideas, and then allow you to explore and establish theories, beliefs, and ideas.”

In this case, scientific theories are being equated with beliefs, which is an incorrect analogy. Another issue is that young learners do not have enough science knowledge, nor do they have access to the type of science equipment and research needed to “establish their own scientific theories” and neither do most of their parents. Keep this in mind when choosing secular science curriculum materials for your homeschool science curriculum.

5. Use the contact form on the website; this should be the first step if the website does not have a search function.

Ask the publisher directly if the materials are proper for a secular homeschool, and how the publisher defines secular materials. Make sure the publisher knows what criteria you expect when choosing a secular science curriculum. While you are on the phone ask if evolution, the Big Bang, climate change, and the age of the Earth and the universe (in billions) are discussed in their science courses. If you are still in doubt, ask for the specific language used to explain evolution, environmental topics (especially climate change and global warming), and the age of the Earth. Make sure the publisher knows you will return the materials if they are not secular using your definition for secular not theirs.

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum, SEA Homeschoolers, Secular Science, Blair Lee,

6. Visit a secular homeschool conference or curriculum fair.

These are a fantastic place to get your hands on the materials which can make vetting secular science curriculum much easier. They are limited to the vendors who are there, but nothing compares to perusing materials yourself. Look for the same key concepts and terms that you look for on a publisher’s website.

7. Check out the speakers and vendors at the Great Homeschool Convention.

The Great Homeschool Convention (GHC) is known for excluding secular science materials at its conferences. In the area of science, if a speaker or vendor is at GHC they are not secular. This group is not open to or welcoming of secular scientists as speakers. GHC regularly has Jay Wile, author of the Apologia series, Jonathan Sarfati, author of Refuting Evolution, and Paige Hudson, the author of the neutral science series, Elemental. By looking at the list of speakers and vendors at GHC you can learn which materials are NOT secular.

8. Facebook groups and pages can be great sources.

Unfortunately, these sites are also one of the reasons there is so much confusion over which science materials are secular. Determine what the operating definition for the word secular is for groups and sites you get curriculum recommendations from. If inclusivity is a part of the organization’s definition of secular, it generally means intelligent design and neutral materials are reviewed and recommended as secular.

Another issue arises when nonsecular publishers use their social media platforms to confuse and miseducate about whether their product is secular or not. This is an example from the Supercharged Science Facebook page.

“You will not find any mention to timelines. We present facts and then encourage you to experiment, research, and pursue further knowledge. That’s what scientists do! They are always trying to experiment and explain. Layers of Learning is a springboard for pursuits of knowledge. We provide facts, topics, resources, questions, and experiment ideas, and then allow you to explore and establish theories, beliefs, and ideas,” (like “millions of years”) or origins or evolutionary changes. Since we have so many students from all over the world, we’ve found this approach to be best in order to serve such a wide audience.”

At least the last part of this statement is honest that the intent is to sell to as many people as possible. The issue with this is that the geological timescale and evolution are core thematic elements that cannot be omitted from science courses without compromising the science taught in the course. However, as with Layers of Learning, this claim states that users will be able to “establish their own theories.” In this case specifically about the Big Bang theory and the Theory of Evolution. Under no circumstances would a secular science curriculum or publisher make the claim that by using their materials that your child would be qualified to establish their own theories explaining how the universe and all the organisms in it came to be.

9. Google science authors to see what they’ve published and/or where they teach.

This isn’t foolproof however, as evidenced by Supercharged Science, developed by scientist Aurora Lipper. Lipper taught at Cal Poly and worked on a project for NASA, credentials she uses to sell her products. However, Lipper has developed a science program she defines as “creation neutral.”

“This program is designed to serve all families, regardless of individual beliefs. Each lesson has been carefully structured so that it is “creation neutral.” This means that if you choose to incorporate a religious perspective into your child’s education, this program will easily allow you to do so, and will not conflict with traditional religious perspectives. However, if you prefer to keep science separate from religion, this program will be perfect for your family as well. There are no references to any religious concepts or belief systems in any of the lessons. Religion is a very personal choice, and I totally respect that. As such, this program leaves it to you as a parent to decide if you want to incorporate religion or not.”

When you read a statement like this one, directly comparing science and religion, it does not matter what the author’s credentials are. Secular science curriculum does not take religion into account because science and religion are not the same academic disciplines. The purpose of science is to accurately and adequately explain how the natural and physical world works. When a science author leaves topics out because of issues of faith, the science is not being accurately or adequately taught.

While Googling, investigate if they are a part of the Intelligent Design community as Rebecca Keller the publisher of Gravitas Press is. Keller is a signer of “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” published by the Discovery Institute, a conservative think-tank that promotes Intelligent Design. Unfortunately, this information is becoming harder to find as those in the Intelligent Design community work to mislead that Intelligent Design uses empirical evidence-based information as they sow doubt about science information that is at odds with Creationism and conservative politics. The Intelligent Design community also misrepresents theories like evolution as controversial in the scientific community. Something they are not. This quote from an op-ed article by Keller shows how this is done.

“Not only should students learn that reasonable people disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data, they should learn that scientists disagree, too. In fact, disagreeing about how data should be interpreted is what scientists do. That is science. The history of science illustrates that disagreements in science are the very thing that fuels scientific discovery.

Evolution as a secular creation story is already being preached from the classroom pulpit. Teaching the controversy helps keep religion, of any flavor, out of the classroom.”

The majority of scientists would tell you that innovation and scientific research are the very things that fuel science, not disagreements about data. Scientific data is the information collected while conducting experiments. If a scientist does question the data, they conduct their own experiment and collect their own data. Scientists might disagree about the interpretation of the data or in rare cases how the experiment was set up, but they do not spend a lot of time arguing about it. Keller’s reason for attacking data instead of the interpretation of the data supporting evolution, is that outside of the Creationist community, there is no arguing about the scientific consensus that evolution occurs. The data supporting the theory of evolution is conclusive. That evolution occurs is a primary fact the theory incorporates and builds on to explain why and how evolution occurs.

The Intelligent Design community and Keller’s sowing of doubt regarding data is irresponsible and far reaching. If scientists spend a great deal of time arguing about data, then the data must be open for interpretation and not be well understood. It is untrue that scientists commonly put out information that is not well founded. The public health crisis surrounding the misinformation and disinformation about vaccines and masks as well as climate change denialism use this tactic to weaken the public’s confidence in scientific data.

Keller goes from a paragraph written to indicate that scientists often disagree about data to a discussion about evolution. This is artful in its pairing even if the former does not logically lead to the latter. After stating that arguments over data fuel scientific discovery, Keller uses religious metaphors to support her real purpose for the article, to convince people to teach the controversy in science classes. In other words, teach Creationism along with evolution in a side-by-side manner. She goes so far as to claim that teaching Creationism helps keep science out of the classroom. In effect, she is redefining Creationism as science instead of religious dogma.

10. Compare the table of contents of traditional textbooks,

like Holt, for instance, with the table of contents for the homeschool science curriculum. The materials will not align directly, but the same core subjects should be in both.

Remember, it isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works. To have an adequate and accurate understanding of science, it is essential that the science materials used are secular. Contact SEA Homeschoolers with any questions or to get started.

* Neutral science materials are not secular. They omit core science topics pandering to a non-secular worldview. You can follow this link to read my article, Why Neutral Science isn’t Neutral.

Also please see this article: The Definitions for What Constitutes Secular Academic Materials.

Check out this article about the ages and stages for teaching science.

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum, SEA Homeschoolers, Secular Science, Blair Lee,

Remember, it isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works. To have an adequate and accurate understanding of science, it is essential that the science materials used are secular. Contact SEA Homeschoolers with any questions or to get started/ 

* Neutral science materials are not secular. They omit core science topics pandering to a non-secular worldview. You can follow this link to read my article, Why Neutral Science isn’t Neutral.

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

Earth Day Online Scavenger Hunt

Earth Day Online Scavenger Hunt

It’s Earth Day! Normally this is a day when communities have lots of organized activities to help people learn about and improve the environment, but with the current global pandemic that is not an option this year. So, we created this fun and educational online scavenger hunt that families can complete together while sheltering at home. We hope that as you check off all of the challenges on this list, you will learn about important environmental issues and find ways you can reduce your family’s environmental impact & help solve the climate crisis.

1. Find pictures & population data of 5 endangered species.

2. Find an image, video, or article about rain bombs.

3. Find a picture of an invasive species (plant or animal) that has been found in your area and look up information on why it is problematic.

4. Find information about local recycling programs. Make a list of items that can be recycled in your area and hang it near your trash bin as a reminder.

5. Find pictures of healthy coral reefs and pictures of coral reefs affected by ocean acidification. Discuss the differences and the environmental effects of ocean acidification.

6. Use a website like to calculate your household’s carbon footprint. Examine the results and discuss ways you can reduce your carbon footprint.

7. Look up water usage for baths vs showers of various lengths. Calculate how much water your family uses for baths and showers over a week, month, and year.

8. Locate an area impacted by severe drought. List at least 3 ways the region has been impacted by drought beyond water needs.

9. Look up data on sea ice loss since you were born. Find a video or graphic to help you visualize what that loss looks like.

10. Look up information or watch videos about the pressing environmental issues related to disposable and one-time-use plastic products. Take a tour of your home and make a list of plastic products you can commit to replacing with items made of other materials and disposable products you can replace with reusable versions within the next year.

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.

Why “Neutral” Science Isn’t Neutral

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral - Secular Homeschooling

Why Neutral Science Isn’t Neutral

by Blair Lee

Are there any science types reading this title wondering who I am? Or do you know who I am and think I’ve finally lost it? I am not talking about science as it is practiced and taught at most universities throughout the United States. I’m talking about the special brand of “neutral science” found in the homeschool community and increasingly in public schools in the United States.

The neutral science I’m referring to is science that suffers from omission. These are middle and high school level science courses that leave out the bits they think will offend people because of their faith and philosophy of life, or omit things to obfuscate the importance and acceptance of science principles and theories. Any middle and high school level science course that does not include the main principles and theories that are the foundation of that science is not neutral at all. In fact, they would be the opposite of neutral. “Neutral” science allows for a pernicious form of proselytizing that for the most part goes unnoticed. It allows for groups such as the intelligent design camp to sneak their views and beliefs into texts that look like they only teach science. Texts that are infused with someone’s religious beliefs are actually well-disguised religious treatise and dogma. They are not neutral, and do not represent mainstream science.

If you had told me a decade ago I would be arguing against religious extremism in science I would have thought you were nuts. I am a scientist, not a religious scholar, or a religious philosopher. As such, I write about science not religion and not philosophy. Unfortunately, there are authors of science texts who allow their faith to affect their writings about science. For someone who is a passionate advocate for the teaching of science this is actually offensive to me. It is also disappointing when I see people unwittingly recommend courses that have this sort of religious dogma hidden within them.

Personal beliefs don’t have a place in science courses. It isn’t the job of science to support an individual’s philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works, even when scientific explanations are at odds with the person’s philosophical beliefs. Science by its very nature is neutral. What is neutral for science is to report the facts, accepted principles, and current theories. As a textbook author, I do decide what to include and what not to include in my books. My decisions for this are based on what is taught at well-regarded universities. I choose the best of those courses, look at what they include and how they are structured, and then write courses structured similarly, for the appropriate grade level. This is what you should expect from a course you are using to educate your child.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral candy chromosome

Candy chromosome: Basic genetics is often left out of or under taught in neutral science courses, because a good understanding of genetics leads to an understanding of how evolution occurs.

How can you as a non-scientist figure out what to use? There are some key things to look for in a middle school or high school level science course that is truly neutral:
• The inclusion of evolution: Here is a neutral statement from the science of biology, “Evolution happens.” When we talk about the theory of evolution, the theory part refers to the processes of how evolution works. For example, there are theories about how multi-cellularity and eukaryotic cells evolved; no one knows exactly how either of these evolutionary steps occurred. That evolution occurs is a fact. No neutral middle school or high school biology course would omit it. No neutral biology course would omit how all the organisms on earth came to be here.
• Is the word design used in place of the word evolution? Fashion designers design clothes. Scientific researchers design experiments. Organisms evolve; they are not designed.
• Is the word created or creation used when discussing how organisms, the universe, or matter came into existence? Organisms evolved; they were not created. The universe and matter formed from events starting with the Big Bang; they were not created. There is simply no evidence any of these were created. The only topics and statements that belong in science courses are topics and statements that have evidence supporting them. Topics and statements based on a person’s beliefs with no supporting evidence belong in a philosophy course, not a neutral science course. When scientists do not know the answers to questions, for instance: “how the first organism evolved, and what its exact chemical makeup was” or “what was it like right before the Big Bang,” it is inappropriate to answer with personal beliefs.
• The inclusion of the Big Bang Theory: Here’s a neutral statement from the science of astronomy, “The universe is over 13 and a half billion years old. The best explanation for how it came into existence is the Big Bang Theory. The evidence for the Big Bang Theory grows all the time. The Big Bang Theory explains how all matter and antimatter in the universe came to be, even the matter that makes humans.” This is a scientifically neutral statement. An astronomy course that does not include an explanation similar to that about the Big Bang Theory is not neutral.
• Another neutral statement, “Humans have been burning fossil fuels in increased amounts since the Industrial Revolution. This has led to an increase in carbon dioxide and other molecules in the atmosphere that absorb sunlight in the form of heat. The more heat trapping molecules that are in the atmosphere, the more heat that is trapped, and the warmer the planet becomes. It is simple thermodynamics. The increase in absorbed sunlight is causing climate change on a global scale.” Any geology or environmental science course that does not include this topic is not neutral.
• Does the middle or high school level biology course only teach the old Linnaean system for classifying organisms? This is the system that uses kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. This might seem like a minor point, but scientists and universities only use the Linnaean system for naming organisms. The Linnaean system is popular with courses that are not neutral because it supports the philosophy of the “Great Chain of Being.” The modern method for classifying organisms used by scientists and taught at universities is phylogeny and cladistics.

You might think chemistry and physics are immune and you don’t have to worry about these two subjects. The problem is what is being left out. What key parts of these courses are omitted? As Bob Seger says, “Deadlines and commitments; What to leave in, what to leave out.” If scientists are writing these courses, and I’m not always sure they are, what are they committed to? No scientist committed to adequately educating people in these areas of science would omit these facts and theories. They must be omitting key parts of these science disciplines to further an agenda other than quality science education.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral

Here’s the problem with a chemistry or physics textbook that omits key parts:
• Chemistry is the science that definitively proves evolution occurs.
• Physics is the science that gives the clearest evidence the Big Bang is how the universe came into existence.
• Physical chemistry is the area of science used to study and explain climate change.

Many of the so-called “neutral” science courses omit the parts that provide the evidence supporting these facts and theories. If you use these “neutral” science courses for your middle or high school chemistry and physics courses, your child will be left without the necessary science background to understand evolution, the Big Bang Theory, climate change, and other key science principles. If you use these “neutral“ science courses for middle school and high school biology, astronomy, geology, or environmental science, your child will not even be getting the necessary background in these areas of science to understand that science discipline. I think you’ll agree with me, that isn’t neutral at all.

Blair Lee M.S. is the the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. When she’s not busy doing these things, she’s busy writing or working on service projects. She is the author of the primary author for the critically acclaimed and award winning Real Science Odyssey Series, Microbiology and The Science of Climate Change from SEA Publishing, and Project-Based Learning. She has degrees in chemistry and biology.

Blair Lee

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