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Totally Together

I’m a Closet Homeschooler (teaching kids at home even if they go to school)

July 9, 2015 by  



games and activities to do with your kids over the summer to keep their little brains active and juicy!

What is “Closet HomeSchooling”?

When I was pregnant with my first (10 years ago), I informed my husband, Adam, that I “reserved the right to homeschool.” He was (skeptically) agreeable, so I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about homeschooling in case the day ever came when I felt that I could do a better job teaching the kids than our local school.

We now have three little girls: 9 1/2, 6 1/2 and age sixteen months. We’ve moved a few times since I “staked my claim” to homeschool ten years ago, and now live in a very good school district.

so my kids go to public school (the baby is home, of course).

The children are happy, and are thriving. They continue to excel in class and are all naturally inquisitive and have a thirst for learning. I’m happy with a lot that the school provides, but continue to supplement at home as much as I can. I try to be “around” the school a lot, which allows me  opportunity to see firsthand behavior issues, and the time wasted moving from activities or lessons. I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing–it’s just something I’m very aware of. Adam says I’m keeping score. Maybe I am!

I’m greatly looking forward to having the kids home with me when school lets out (8 days!). No matter how involved I am in the school, during the school year, Adam and I are not in charge. The teacher is. I wish I could say this doesn’t bother me, but I’d be lying. The school calendar dominates our day to day life, and I’m looking forward to getting a more natural flow to our days.

It’s Pretty Much “After-School” Homeschooling

I have gotten a few emails in the past week or so asking what activities I do with my children during the summer. My oldest is going to attend a 2-week enrichment program (3 hours a day), [updated, 6/1: just got an email that the program has been canceled due to lack of funds/enrollment. NOT HAPPY. ] and my 6 year old will attend a gymnastics class twice a week. I’ll probably throw in a week of swim lessons, and we’re hoping to get a sponsor for a late-summer book tour to Albuquerque, and will visit the Grand Canyon.

Otherwise, our days will be pretty loose— park trips, library visits, and playdates. The television will be turned off for the day by 10am, and the kids will have free range of the art supplies, books, games, and the back yard.

will they fight?


will I lose my temper (more than I should)?

Y.O.U. B.E.T.C.H.A.

will they complain that they’re bored?

W.I.T.H.O.U.T. A. D.O.U.B.T.

I can not wait.

Beat Summer Brain-Drain with these "totally not boring" activities and workbooks.

Beat Summer Brain-Drain with these “totally not boring” activities and workbooks.

Resources shown above, and what I use in our (closet) homeschooling curriculum:

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons — I taught my big kids to read with this book. It’s actually not shown in the above picture because I lent it to our neighbor to use with her 3-year-old. I do not use the writing exercises at all. At the end of the 100 lessons, your child will be reading on a 2nd grade level. I started just for fun at around age 3 1/2 with my girls. I followed the lessons in order, but didn’t have a set time frame. If the kids wanted to sit with me and practice, we did. We would go months without even opening the book, but sometimes we’d do 4 lessons in a day. They each finished the book in it’s entirety before entering first grade.

BOB Books. — I’ve put these books away until the baby is ready. Warning: they tear easily! These are fun, whimsical books that teach reading both through phonics and memorization. I actually think it’s mostly from memorization, but many disagree. Empowers young children that they can read an “entire book.”

Brain Quest decks — we have at least a dozen of these decks. I love giving them as gifts, and love receiving them! I toss a deck into the diaper bag to pull out at restaurants when we anticipate a long wait, I use them in waiting rooms, in the car when waiting for music lessons to dismiss, etc. I keep a basket on the shelf on the end table and the kids pull them out when they’ve got some time to kill.

Brain Quest Workbooks — we were given a few of these, and the kids use them, but there’s definitely a workbook feel. I keep them “out” and sometimes they’ll do a page or two on their own, but mostly they are used for playing school with playdates.

Summer Bridge — I bought a set of these a few summers ago mostly to pacify myself that the kids were on the right track and their brains weren’t turning to mush. I’ve since relaxed a bit on worksheets, but if you are a person who likes order and want the confidence of knowing the kids are *actually* learning or your kids like completing worksheets this is a good summer project.

Never Bored books — Mazes, word searches, brain teasers, coloring pages, etc. My kids like these better than traditional workbooks. I would recommend buying up an age group for a bit of a challenge. Some of the activities require scissors and glue.

The Story of the World series, by Susan Wise Bauer — This series of books is written by the same author of The Well-Trained Mind. We only have the first book and are only a third of the way through. It starts with Ancient Times: Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor. The book is written in story form, and is written from a secular perspective.

The Daring Book for Girls and The Dangerous Book for Boys — We have both of these books. Practical guide to pretty much anything: letter writing, fire building, camping, tying a variety of knots, how to be a good friend, proper restaurant manners. These aren’t books to be read cover to cover, but used as a reference guide. I like to give these as gifts.

The Little House on the Prairie books — I have girls, so I’m not sure how well this series would fare in a house full of boys. I read this series outloud to my big girls, starting when my oldest was 6 (I skipped over some of the Laura and Alfonso stuff). Reading this series outloud was hands-down the best history lesson my kids have ever had (thus far. they are still quite young!). We refer to “Laura and Mary” quite often in our house, and apply the knowledge of this time period to other history lessons to provide perspective. I plan on rereading the series in a year or so to refresh all of our memories.

I Can Draw books and Pocket Doodle books — My first grader loves to draw and doodle, and will happily work for hours creating and recreating animal or people pictures. These are the easiest-to-understand for little kids drawing guides I’ve found.

Soduku Unifex game — If you’ve never played soduku, or are intimidated by it, this is a FANTASTIC way to learn the game– for little kids and for grown ups! This is a one-player game, and once the fundamentals are learned, soduku is a solitary game enjoyed throughout your whole life. Math, reasoning, strategy, and spacial awareness are all key aspects of this game. The box says ages 7 and up. My kids enjoyed playing (with help) at age five.

We play a lot of board games! These are our family-favorite board games. 

Post a comment · 31 Comments »


31 Responses to “I’m a Closet Homeschooler (teaching kids at home even if they go to school)”

  1. Mrs. Petrie on May 23rd, 2011 12:28 pm

    Let us know when you are in ABQ! I’d love to come and see your book talk.

    • Stephanie on May 23rd, 2011 12:33 pm

      I will do that! My fingers are crossed that the sponsorship works out. I’ve never been able to do a booktour, and would love to explore a bit! My friend, Danielle, owns Bookworks in Albq.

  2. Shiree on May 23rd, 2011 1:26 pm

    I’m gonna have to check some of these out for our summer break and maybe for next year with my girls. BTW: I read the Little House series to my son (we started when he was 5) and he loved them. We refer to them all the time, too. I think the story we revisit the most is from the first book when the bear was in the cow pen and Laura instantly obeyed Ma and went back to the house. It has been the perfect example of listening right away.

    • Stephanie on May 23rd, 2011 6:53 pm

      yes! I love to use Laura and Mary as examples for good listening. :-)

  3. Sarah in Georgia on May 23rd, 2011 1:43 pm

    The series The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald is not set is the same time frame as the Little House books, but it is another semi-autobiograhical, historical series my mom read to us growing up that may apeal to boys more than the Little House books.

    Thanks for the other tips!

    • Stephanie on May 23rd, 2011 6:52 pm

      Thank you for the recommendation, Sarah! I’ll look for that series at the library.

  4. Elaine Shanks on May 24th, 2011 4:26 am

    You know, my “kids” are now 34 and 37. So I am a bit removed from this.

    But, I was trained as an elementary school teacher and taught for 4 years before having kids of my own. And at the time it never crossed my mind to home school. But looking at these materials I can see that I totally ignored a possibility.

    Maybe it was because home schooling wasn’t as much of an option then, I don’t know. I know we lived in an excellent school district – one of the best in the nation. So the need to pull them out was not ever considered. I also felt and still feel that the socialization they receive in school is an important part of getting along and coping with life as an adult. (not the most important part, but a valid addition to their life experience.) Of course the drug culture and the bulling issues weren’t so large then. It is a complicated decision and in some instances the only viable choice.

    If definately puts you in the driver’s seat, and for that reason, is only right for some parents. Taking on the full responsibility of educating your child is a very big deal and unfortunately, some really could not handle it well – well enough that a child could be well educated.

    I am truely in awe of those who take this road and whose children can educationally compete in later years. It is the harder path, but very rewarding I would guess.

    • Stephanie on May 24th, 2011 6:53 am

      thank you for sharing your experience, Elaine! I agree with everything you wrote.

  5. Bianca on May 24th, 2011 5:15 am

    Wow, this post really speaks to me! I must admit, i’m not a very good hands on mum when it comes to playing with my children. Board games, yes. Imaginative play, no :( I find it… boring (there I said it). But, I do love learning with my kids! I will happily create all sorts of lessons and worksheets and educational crafts for them since I love seeing their little minds absorb all this wonderful knowledge!
    I admire those who homeschool and I reserve the right to homeschool my children, but don’t think it would be ideal FOR US. I, will, however be taking a leaf from your book and supplementing my children’s education with my own life lessons.
    Thanks xo

    • Stephanie on May 24th, 2011 6:51 am

      I think being aware is a very positive thing. I don’t think I’ll ever actually pull the kids from school unless we move out of the area (not likely).
      I’m not a good hands-on person with imaginative play, either. although I do set up pretty cool Little People villages… ;-0

  6. Debbi Does Dinner Healthy on May 24th, 2011 5:41 am

    I do homeschool and the arguing, temper and complaining happens all the time. I wouldn’t change a thing though! That’s one thing that I like is that we can set our own schedule. We can take off shopping or to Chuck E. Cheese in the morning (when it’s not so busy) rather than doing school if we want. I totally feel like my kids are learning more and better from it. Stressful? Yes, but I wouldn’t change a thing!

    • Stephanie on May 24th, 2011 6:50 am

      I think this is the first time I ever heard Chuck E. Cheese portrayed in a positive way. :-) we’ve never gone when it’s not crowded. good to know!
      thank you for sharing the bit about the arguing and complaining. I think many of us (myself included!) romanticize about sitting peacefully around the table and thoroughly enjoying all aspects of all-day togetherness.

  7. Shirley @ gfe on May 24th, 2011 8:13 am

    What a terrific post, Stephanie! I love that you are a closet homeschooler! :-) I think it’s more about being sure that your children are on track, intellectually stimulated, engaged in the best parts of life, etc. As a former 3rd grade teacher, there is definitely a lot of wasted time during the day. Often it’s doing things we the teachers aren’t even behind. I like that you fill those holes when your kids are at home during the summer and during the school year (I like seeing what you guys are up to via your tweets!). I used the BOB books with my son; they were great. Wish I’d known about the first book you mentioned. It sounds amazing. Since I had a son, we didn’t read the Little House on the Prairie books. We read tons of other books, but I’m not sure there’s a “boy” series that was similar in its teaching of history. Your summer sounds great … just the right mix of fun and learning, and normal kid stuff. 😉 The book tour and the Grand Canyon trip sound fantastic! Enjoy, dear. :-)


  8. Kelly on May 24th, 2011 8:57 am

    Such good suggestions. I just adore you :-) Have you guys ever read Burgess books? Zoe has like 10 now. We love them :-)

  9. Kristin on May 31st, 2011 7:09 pm

    I LOVE that you take so much time to do enrichment with your kids! I’m a fourth-grade teacher and I wish every parent would do that during summer vacation.
    Also, I LOVE anything and everything related to Laura Ingalls Wilder. Thanks for introducing your kiddos to great literature!

    • Stephanie on June 1st, 2011 12:45 pm

      thanks, Kristin. I’m having so much fun learning right along with these guys.

  10. Danae on June 1st, 2011 12:09 pm

    We homeschool and have found some wonderful history books that my kids read until the covers fall off. They are full of interesting pictures and information. Check out Sonlight curriculum (The DK books are the best). We love history at our house after discovering these books.
    My mom was in college to be a teacher when I was in early elementary school. She spent her summers practicing on us. She read out loud to us and let us read each day if we didn’t want to take a nap. That was great incentive to read. Who wants to take a nap at that age.

    • Stephanie on June 1st, 2011 12:45 pm

      I need to order a Sonlight catalog. I keep hearing great things. lol on the naps. now we hope and hope for one! ;-0

      • Sheryl on June 1st, 2011 7:41 pm

        We keep on having “rest time,” which is now quiet play time or reading time or even nap time. Some days my kids beg for it because THEY need the break, too! My oldest is 11.

  11. Marilyn Smith on June 1st, 2011 12:24 pm

    LOVED your description of what your summer plans entail. We live in a town where kids are expected and encouraged to spend summers either at a sports camp, a science camp, a nature camp, a space camp….and we just don’t. I laughingly call myself the Cruise Director. I love nothing more than a wide-open unscheduled day. My kids and I (three boys, 13, 11 and 8) have discovered strawberry picking, blueberry picking, a Duct Tape festival (seriously), creek-walking and catching many critters, hiking, morning breakfast picnics and the serious joy of an unplanned trip to a far-away Dairy Queen :) I don’t homeschool but I feel that I “home-supplement”! Summer rocks!!!

    • Stephanie on June 1st, 2011 12:44 pm

      a duct tape festival! I love it!

  12. Michelle on June 1st, 2011 1:53 pm

    I am all set with ideas and workbooks for the summer to work with my 8 year old and almost 5 year old. I taught before having my kids so I know it is very important to continue working on skills over the summer so they don’t lose 2 months and regress. We will also have fun too going to the beach, playdates and day trips.

  13. Casey on June 1st, 2011 5:48 pm

    My daughter homeschools her 4 kids (has done so since the oldest was 2 yrs. old), and they love it (me, too, ‘cuz I get to help!). Not only is their school time condensed into learning-only periods, the lessons include a myriad of relevant other subjects, i.e., if they’re studying English, the lesson might include geography, history, or other topics. And all lessons follow a faith-based curriculum which is awesome! All the kids attend an “enrichment” program one day a week with other homeschoolers, and they all thrive and even excell in other areas: piano, dance, guitar, soccer, baseball, drama, and art. I started a book club for them for which they give me a synopsis of the current book they’ve read; when they reach a certain number of points, they can “buy” a treat (an ii-Tunes card, a lunch or craft session with gammy, etc. Homeschooling allows the family to take trips to enrich their studies (daddy has a flexible work schedule, so that sure helps!), and they all just love the learning arrangement. One granddaughter decided she wanted to try public middle school, but she only lasted one semester. She was shocked by the foul language, the disrespect toward teachers, the lack of completed homework assignments, the preoccupation of clothes/makeup/boys, and the constant gossiping. By contrast, in the enrichment program with 500+ kids, the older ones “mentor” the younger ones, they help as much as possible, their homework is turned in on time and in very neat order, and the families have gotten very close (so kids know they can’t get away with anything!). When my daughter first decided on home schooling her kids, she wasn’t sure she could do it. But, since I know she’s an extremely bright gal, her husband and I encouraged her, and she has done wonderfully well – and so have her kids. Yay! (Oh by the way, the principal of the middle school and some of the teachers begged my granddaughter to stay the full year; they said they needed examples like her to teach the other kids. Thank goodness she refused. It’s their job, not hers! They also asked my daughter if she would be interested in a teaching position. How sad that some schools have gotten so far removed from their original intent.)

  14. Carrie on June 1st, 2011 5:55 pm

    I like the hot dots pens and the related activities. I also love star fall. I am a teacher so I do use a lot of reading strategies from Project Read and other programs. We have letter tiles that we use to make words. I use handwriting without tears conceptsmfor writing and my 3 year old can write every letter except for s and z. We also use iPad apps for handwriting and some educational concepts. I love the BOB books on the iPad. As for tv, I am mean! She gets 15 min a day. Of course she has some iPad time too. I am not sure what our summer will bringnwith a 3 year mold and 6 month old.

  15. Gabe Harder on June 2nd, 2011 8:31 pm

    We do homeschool, even so I set goals for our summer break. I don’t want my kids’ brains to turn to mush, but I also want to take some time off for “fun”

    I’m working on “100 easy lessons” with my six year old too, and he loves pulling out the “Bob” books to read.

    I’m running a “Summer School” link up all summer on Tuesdays. I’d love it if you stopped by!

  16. Laurie Carlson on June 6th, 2011 9:13 am

    I remember those days when my children were small. All of you have such great ideas. I also felt like I had accomplished something when my kids said they were bored, because that is when they have to get creative. Then I had to remember that creativity also means messy, but it was worth it.
    My son loved the REDWALL book series when he was in 5th or 6th grade. He and his friend read lots of those books that year and we did a REDWALL feast at the end of the summer. The boys made their own weapons out of cardboard and sticks and I found a website with recipes of the food mentioned in the book. We also had a hunt complete with a treasure map. Think medieval times but the characters are animals. We still have photos of that day and talk about Deeper ‘n ever Pie and HotRoot Soup.

    • Stephanie on June 6th, 2011 11:42 am

      thank you for the book recommendation! I’ll look for them— this is great.

  17. Hilary on June 8th, 2011 2:15 pm

    I’m a public high school teacher, and I have to say that I wouldn’t call what you’re doing “closet homeschooling” but just good parenting. It drives me crazy how many parents seem to think that just because their kids go to school that they can completely abdicate all responsibility for educating their kids. If more parents looked at summer and school vacations the way you do, maybe I wouldn’t have to spend so much time re-teaching the things that I know were taught in earlier years. There’s really so much to learn out there in the world that can’t be taught in a classroom!

    Also, if your girls like the Little House books, have you ever read Caddie Woodlawn? It has a similar feel and was one of my favorite books growing up.

  18. Sandra Davidson on June 13th, 2011 3:58 pm

    I started to read Little House book to my grandson,he is four and blind so he likes books that tell a story. He loves the book and asks all kinds of questions about how they lived back then. I had both a son and daughter and I use to read the books in the car when we went on holidays, and even my husband enjoyed them.

  19. Megan on February 8th, 2015 5:38 pm

    Just wanted to let you know that your link for “Best Board Games for Family Game Night” on the right hand side of the screen leads to this article. :)

    • Stephanie O'Dea on February 9th, 2015 11:28 am

      :-) thank you!! I’ll see if I can figure out how to fix it!

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